I don't think many people will argue that Google's AdSense program has been a major catalyst in increasing the amount of content/search spam on the web. This may not have been Google's intention for the service, but it has clearly contributed. I'd love to see the ratio of sites that were hit by the Panda update that displayed AdSense ads to sites that were hit and didn't display these ads.
That's not to say that simply using AdSense will get you penalized. Of course Google doesn't want that. It makes money from these ads, but it is interesting to see how AdSense publishers of all kinds have been impacted by the update.
One can't help but wonder what Google's search results would look like if sites using AdSense ads were removed. Would the quality be better? Maybe. Maybe not. It would be interesting to see either way. Obviously that will never happen, unless Google one day pulls the plug on AdSense, which is also highly unlikely.
Google recently released a list of questions "that one could use to assess the 'quality' of a page or an article," in light of the Panda update. How many sites do you come across regularly that meet all of these criteria and run Google AdSense ads? To recap, here's the full list:
Would you trust the information presented in this article?
Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
How much quality control is done on content?
Does the article describe both sides of a story?
Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
It is certainly possible to have a "quality" site and use AdSense ads. There are plenty of examples out there, but is that the norm?
Interestingly enough, Google is reportedly turning away some advertisers that were hit by the Panda update from advertising with AdWords. Aaron Wall of SEOBook tells an interesting story about a guy this has happened to. Here's the situation as Wall presents it (pulling no punches):
Google algorithmically penalizes your site
Google won't say why it is penalized, other than some abstract notion of "quality"
Google offers no timetable on when things can improve, but suggests you keep spending increasing sums of capital to increase "quality"
Google pays scraper sites to steal your content & wrap it in AdSense ads
Google ranks the stolen content above your site (so the content has plenty of "quality" but it is just not "quality" on your website)
Google ignores your spam reports & DMCA notifications about how they are paying people to steal your content
Google tells you that you can't even buy AdWords ads, because you are now duplicate content for your own content!
That’s not everybody’s experience, but it’s also not the only such complaint we’ve seen. It’s not hard to find a similar analysis in any webmaster forum or comment section on a related article.
We reported before, that another Panda victim, Xomba, had its AdSense ads completely removed following a bogus takedown notice, though Google did restore them shortly thereafter.
For another Panda victim - HubPages, a Googler went so far as to write a guest post on the company blog telling writers how to produce better content for AdSense. Granted, that was before the global roll-out of the update.
One thing regarding Panda and AdSense seems pretty clear. Don't overdo it on the ads. Don't "have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content."
[Image credit: kawanet