Before Google launched their Google Adsense for Feeds advertising program (ads within RSS feeds), an "enterprising lad" couldn't wait for the Google Adsense for Feeds to be launched, so he decided to hack his own Adsense ads and add them to his RSS feed. This was a big No No in the eyes of Google, violating Google's TOS, which resulted in his site being banned from Adsense. The site Pentago, writes:
Ok I knew it wouldn't last, my Google AdSense account has been revoked. I was experimenting with ads in rss feeds. I have some scraped feeds that are hit a couple of thousand times a day, and I decide to 'hack' adsense ads in them. Mind you, I wasn't generating fake adsense clicks, I just put the ads in the feed. The clicks generated from the feeds where real clicks. People clicked on the links they saw in their feed readers or on web pages that parse my scraped feeds. I know this is not the way Google wants you to use their system, but hey I was curious to see if anyone was going to complain about the ads and if they were going to click on them. Well they didn't complain (at least not to me) and they did click. As matter of fact, if you own a blog / feed that is read by a lot of people you can make a nice income. I think Google should take a look at their policy for not allowing adsense ads to be put in rss feeds, they should have a look at what Yahoo is planning to do. At the Web 2.0 conference Yahoo chief operating officer Dan Rosensweig said the company plans to offer advertising for the RSS. I personally feel Google should consider this as well. Hopefully by then they will allow me to start generating revenue for their customers again. They could even add audio ads, to target all the PodCast Listeners out there. Well it was fun while it lasted.
Well, I have just the opposite problem. Instead of "regular Adsense ads" appearing within my RSS feed (illegal) I have my Google RSS Adsense ads appearing on HTML websites from splogs that are picking up my RSS feed with the Google Adsense for Feeds - including this site, this site, and this site. I have no idea whether or not Google frowns upon Google Adsense for Feeds appearing on HTML websites when they are intended for RSS feeds and whether or not this is grounds for "banning". I wouldn't be surprised if a splog aggregating a RSS feed from another site containing Adsense ads causes the original site to get banned from the Google Adsense program. I also wouldn't be surprised if advanced splog sites use regular expressions to REMOVE the Adsense for Feeds code and replace it with their own Adsense code. I recently wrote about splogging in Splog away! Splog away! Splog away all! and Splogs Go Away Quietly into that Good Night.
I should be cautious in categorizing the aforementioned sites as "true" splogs, since at least one of them (planet.tearle.com) doesn't appear to be placing any of their own Google Adsense ads on the page - or any ads for that matter. So it doesn't appear that at least this site is attempting to generate revenue off of other people's hard work.
The site simply appears to be a "public" web-based RSS reader, similar to what Bloglines does, as seen by my blog's Bloglines ID here and which also displays my Google Adsense for Feeds ads. Another example is http://planetweb20.com/, which aggregates full RSS feeds for several sites. I'm cool with these kinds of sites. Technorati is another site I don't have a problem with - though at least they only display excerpts of blog entries, not the whole damn thing - they're simply a blog search engine. Google and Yahoo also only display excerpts or most any SE for that matter. Can you imagine if Google or Yahoo displayed your entire content on a nicely designed web portal that they created organized by categories? There would be one less reason to ever leave the search engine site to visit other sites.
As previously stated, Bloglines is displaying my Google Adsense for Feeds ad on their website, which means that I receive the revenue for any click-throughs. However, Google has a limit of 3 ad units per webpage, so in theory, if Bloglines already has 3 Adsense ad units, my RSS Adsense ad can "bump" one of their ads off. Of course, Bloglines could simply use CSS with proper HTML markup to ensure that their Adsense code is always located higher than my RSS feed's Adsense HTML code.
Regardless, I don't necessarily mind big sites used by many users, such as Bloglines from aggregating my content and putting their own ads around it. These sites still help drive traffic to my site, especially if you want to check for comments. They also serve a useful purpose allowing you to search the blogosphere or subscribe to your favorite sites and view them all from one web portal. I use Bloglines, but I still click-through to the main blog page to check to see if there are any comments/trackbacks.
On the other hand, I have a big problem with websites that simply take a full XML feed and slap it onto their blog surrounded by Adsense ads. Typically, these sites have no unique content and are simply playing a numbers game of throwing as much content on their blog as possible so Google picks it up and they make it into the SERPS (Search Engine Result Pages) in hopes someone clicks through to their site and then clicks on an advertisement.
[Side note: Why is it that lately I've been seeing more Wordpress splogs than any other type of blog (i.e. Blogspot/Blogger, Movable Type, etc.) Is Wordpress really that easy to use that anyone can aggregame another person's blog? Must have an integrated XML plugin. I wonder how it handles duplicate blog entries though.
My blog's RSS feed changes if someone posts a comment or trackback by updating the comments & trackback count within the feed, but I've yet to see a Wordpress splogger of my site post multiple posts of the same blog post. In fact, I have noticed that many Wordpress splogs keep track of the number of comments and trackbacks. I've used the MyRSSMerger.pl MovableType aggregator to create a "news" channel and the problem with this XML aggregator is that it doesn't prevent duplicate entries. If you run it multiple times it will create a duplicate entry unless you perform a date compare and make sure the date range is greater than the last time you ran it. Which leads me back to "How the heck does Wordpress continually update the comments & trackback counts?" I may have to install Wordpress just to play with it myself. ;) ]
Anyway, the way I see it, there are three-levels of splogs
1) Splogs that take RSS/XML feeds but with no Adsense or other ads displayed - simply a web-based RSS reader site. Technically, you could consider this not be a "splog" at all. Still, I give this a 2.5 stars out of 5 for my Splog Scammer rating.
Splog Scammer rating:
2) Splogs that take RSS/XML feeds and have Adsense or other ads displayed, but they don't modify the feed at all (i.e. remove links back to original site, remove original blogger's affiliate links, their original Google Adsense for Feeds ads, Feedburner ads, or any other embedded ads in the feed)
Splog Scammer rating:
3) Splogs that take RSS/XML feeds and have Adsense or other ads displayed but they modify the feed by removing links back to original site, they remove original blogger's affiliate links, and they remove their original Google Adsense for Feeds ads, Feedburner ads, or any other embedded ads in the feed. In addition, these sploggers often manually copy/paste blog posts from other sites and then slightly change them to "appear" unique. Something similar to this happened to TechCrunch/CrunchNotes and I've seen several of my posts slighly modified as well.
Splog Scammer rating:
I should point out that Mashable.com has a differing point of view in response to a blogger stealing TechCrunch/CrunchNotes posts. Mashable thinks bloggers should "embrace the Splogosphere". Mashable makes some valid points, of which I was aware, including the extra links coming from the splogs to your own blog, thus increasing your SEO. It's one of the major reasons why I haven't aggressively pursued those splogging my blog.
By the way, TechCrunch which complained about plagiarism, is also aggregated by Planet Ajaxian, but in this case, it's a well-designed website that aggregates news content from dozens of blogs and they do have Adsense on their site. So here's the question bloggers need to ask themselves. Do you not go after sites that aggregate dozens of sites and only pursue those that simply aggregate your site and maybe a couple of others? Do you only go after splogs that don't look all "nice and pretty" and go after "ugly" poorly designed splogs?
Many bloggers are fine with seeing their content on sites that appear well-designed since it given an inherent aura of "respectability" and they think to themselves that it may even help to drive traffic to their website. So it's a tough distinction for any blogger to make. I wonder what will happen when Wordpress and other blogging software offers "pretty" default templates making it easy to make it appear as though a site is a well-known, established, and respectable website. It used to be that the best content brought you web traffic, now you simply need a well-designed "pretty" template and then simply steal the content from other sites using their XML feed. :(
In the end, I think it's probably not worth fighting this battle against splogs. Just as long as the sploggers keep my XML feed "as is" and don't start arbitrarily removing stuff, I guess I can live with it. Though it's not like I have much of a choice - battling sploggers is a losing battle just like the battle against spam. I still don't know if my Google Adsense for Feeds ads appearing on other websites violates Google's TOS, so here's to praying to the Google Gods to not ban me! ;)
Seriously though, Google needs to step up the plate and do something about these splogs before things get out of hand and innocent sites are accidentally caught in Google's cross-hairs by being banned and losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I say when Google finds a site that is clearly a splog that they redirect the click-through revenue to the original blogger's website. :D I'm sure Google has the technology to detect original content, whose content was indexed first, etc. I'm sure there are some technical challenges to this, plus I'm sure some splogger would probably sue claiming "I was first to push the news about the new Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system. I did it before Engadget did. I deserve the click-throughs. wah!! wahh!!! boohoo! I want my Adsense money!"
Relatedly, several other bloggers were caught in several sploggers cross-hairs and provided some interesting analysis of their own :
I'm sure there are other bloggers who have been splogged. If so, feel free to post a comment or if you simply want to provide your own thoughts, feel free.