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closeLook how old this is!
I post at now, and this post was published 14 years 3 months 29 days ago. This industry changes FAST, so blindly following the advice here *may not* be a good idea! If you're at all unsure, feel free to hit me up on Twitter and ask.

An attorney got in touch with me a couple of months ago after reading a blog post I had written at SEMpdx. Google had just drastically lowered visibility of the option where new advertisers could opt out of the Content Network in Google AdWords, and I was compelled to point out that I thought it was sneaky.

During our phone conversation, the subject came up of whether I might consider being the named plaintiff on this pending class action lawsuit against Google over this very issue! Scott Hendison vs. Google? Ummm… no thank you. 😉

What is the Content Network?
Google’s content network allows any website owner to sign up at Ad Sense and display “Ads by Google” advertisements, sharing in the revenue. A large percentage of these sites are known as MFA’s (Made For AdSense) and contain everything from scraped search results to recycled blog feeds. Many of them have simply have recycled content from article directories, and their sole reason for existence is to get visitors to click on an ad.

Google even offers certain display ad choices that can be integrated to look like a part of the site’s menu. My wife hates these sites, and complains every time she hits one, saying she feels “tricked”.

For years, most of my new clients have had pre-existing AdWords accounts. whenever I review them for the first time, nearly all of them are spending between 40% and 70% of their money in Google’s “content network”, unless another consultant had told them to turn it off before. The instant ROI improvement usually results in a very happy advertiser pretty fast.

Some experts believe advertising in the content network is primarily a waste of money, and hurts ROI. There are others that believe that it can be okay, and some are even reporting now that it’s getting better. This isn’t the place to debate that, however, because its the CHANGE that I am referring to. Besides, only 4 out of 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum, so what can ya’ do?

What did Google change?
The change that Google made last fall, was that they went from merely “defaulting” new advertisers into the content network, to actually hiding the fact from plain sight. Say what you want, but I think it was deceptive, and that’s why I wrote this. It seems somehow “slimy” to me, and further adds to the ever tarnishing reputation of search marketing in general.

So I get the call from this guy, and he talks a bit, and shows me his website, and I’m glad he liked the article, but I have to pass on the offer.

Why Did I Pass?
Am I scared of what Google could do to me? Well, I do enjoy some pretty nice SERPS right now for this business, not to mention some other domains I have that also rank on the first page for their niches. I’ve created lots of sites with good content, and have some high quality affiliates, and I’ve shut down any scraper sites stayed pretty much “white hat” for a few years now, and all of my domains are registered in my own name. As a registrar, Google could likely find out every domain I own, and conceivably devastate me with some “rankings of retribution”.

C’mon, do I think Google would really do this to me? Absolutely not. I can’t fathom any company risking the potential retribution for something like that, but I’d STILL have to be a complete idiot to want to take that chance. There’s just not enough reward for the risk, since I’d likely get very little anyway even we won. (Might be good for inbound links though )

But that’s not the reason that I wouldn’t do it. The real reason is because in my opinion, Google has the right to make as much money as they want. As a web marketer looking to improve ROI, I think moving their “opt out of the Content Network” to a less visible location was a good business decision, but I also think it was sort of a slimy thing to do. As a (teeny tiny) Google stockholder, I’m glad to see them extracting advertiser dollars, but as an ethical marketer, I’m bothered by it, and I think they’re taking advantage of peoples ignorance.

There are plenty of slimy insurance salesmen, used car dealers, contractors, electricians, lawyers, plumbers, etc. that all stretch the ethical limits without actually breaking the law. I think it’s ultimately the buyers responsibility to protect themselves, and the SEO industry is no different.

After all, if you give someone money to “submit your site to 100+ search engines” and they actually do it, does the fact that it’s really worthless make it something you can sue for?

Let’s face it; companies have blown tens (hundreds) of millions of dollars with “do it yourself” advertising, PPC advertising because they start out undeucated. Just yesterday I saw a company account driving five figures and 8k visitors per month to their home page. While they would have lost LESS money if they weren’t in the Content Network, they still more maximizing their investment. Can Google be sued for that too?

What about the totally stupid search marketer that ran up a $2200 pay per click tab over 3 weeks pointing to a URL that was down? Can I get my money back they get their money back too? Doesn’t Google also bear the responsibility of making sure that the property for which they except advertising exists? I don’t think so.

Again, I do think it was a distasteful move to bury the Content Network opt out, and give the hard sell, but just like anything in the world, it’s the buyers responsibility not to get ripped off. We’re taught to look both ways before crossing the street, not to take candy from strangers, not to accept rides from friendly people we don’t know, and we should know not to enter our credit card numbers somewhere unless we’re sure whe’re the right one for the job.

Hmm…. who can I think of that’s got a strong opinion of right and wrong, and is not afraid to take on Google?

If you or someone you know is willing to be the name on this lawsuit, contact the attorney directly at their website.

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