Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Fine Line Between Aggregation and Splogging: Part One

On Splogging

Do you see any big, paid sidebar ads on this blog?

No. At least, not at the moment.

I'm not against ads, mind. I myself work in marketing, which is really not even a skip and a jump across the way from advertising; the two professions are so intertwined it's sometimes difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

Besides, I'm a writer. A writer who has studied the lives and work of other writers rather extensively, in order to gain a perspective on writing, to improve my own writing, and also to gain a pretty piece of parchment inscribed in Latin that says I'm qualified to write critically about other people's writing. Fancy.

So, because I'm a writer, and I've studied other writers, I know that the one of the primary ways writers, and other artists for that matter, have traditionally supported themselves throughout history has been through sponsorship. Five hundred years ago, it may have been sponsorship by petty kings or religious orders; these days, it's sponsorship by Apple or G.E. or Toyota or Nike. I get it. Really, I do. Magazine ads support magazine writers. Newspaper ads support newspaper writers. And blog ads support bloggers.

So I am not opposed to ads on blogs. As a matter of fact, sometimes I make a point of clicking on those ads when I'm on other blogs, and looking at the sponsors. Bloggers, being individuals, and therefore both much more vulnerable to scrutiny than large organizations, and much more able to make decisive judgements on how to present their own material, are often very choosy about what sort of ads they will put on their sites. Bloggers often choose to allow advertising from small businesses or non-profits with a corporate ethic I respect. I am interested in the companies my fellow bloggers choose to support, and I am interested in what kinds of companies are willing to support bloggers.

So, the lack of ads here is not due to some sort of deep-seated philosophical opposition to blog ads on my part. The lack of ads is more due to the fact that, being this is a personal blog, I want to be careful about what sort of business relationships I enter into here, because this place is an outlet for the creative energy that spills over and out of the tidy container of my professional writing work, and a place to vent my frustrations, and a place to have open discussions with other people of like mind, and so it feels in a way almost sacred to me, this place, and I don't want to let just any old business partner in here with muddy boots, marking up the carpet. (Note that this feeling obviously doesn't apply as much to muddy boots in the comment section. The comment section is sort of like my mudroom.)

And I'm only pointing out my lack of ads to show you that, when it comes to splogging-- which, for the uninitiated, is the practice of deliberately copying content from blogs, without the original blogger's permission, to another website, in order to draw search engine traffic to that site and thereby increase the splog site's ad revenue, at the possible expense of the uncompensated blogger, whose traffic may decrease, all without providing any meaningful service or original content-- when it comes to splogging, from a financial perspective, I currently, technically, have no dog in this fight.

But I still like to speak up, and loudly, whenever I find someone splogging, even if that splogger is not splogging my content. Why? Partly on principle. The splogger may not be taking my work today, but that doesn't mean he won't take it tomorrow. And the splogger may not be diverting any ad revenue from me now, but that doesn't mean revenue isn't being diverted from sites that belong to other writers, writers whom I consider to be friends, who might actually need that ad revenue to cover the costs of web hosting and maintenance so that they can continue blogging. And it doesn't mean that same splogger might not divert revenue from my site in the future, should my site eventually become a revenue source for me.

Why do sploggers do what they do?

Well, it has a lot to do with how search engine ranking works.

I know a fair bit about how search engine ranking works, because, as an internet marketing writer, I often write search engine optimized copy.

Search engine optimized copy is text on a website that is written in such a way as to improve the site's search engine rankings for particular search terms. Say I have a client who runs a store selling clothing on the internet. My client wants me to write a description of a hoodie they sell that will bring more customers in to the site through major search engines like Yahoo and Google, by targeting customers who are searching for hoodies because they want to buy one. Let's say my customer's current description of the hoodie on the website is this:

Cotton/polyester blend garment. Machine washable. Available in three sizes.

Now, this is an accurate description of the product. But it's not a good description, from an SEO standpoint. Think about it. You want to buy yourself a cute new hoodie. You want to buy it on the internet. What do you type into the search engine?

Do you type "Cotton/polyester blend garment"?


You type something like "Blue striped hoodie," right?

But when you type this phrase into Google, my imaginary client's site will never come up in your results, even if they do, in fact, carry exactly the thing you are looking for. Why? Because search engines find sites for searchers by looking for the text the searchers type into the search box. And the text you are searching for is not on the website belonging to my imaginary client.

The point I am trying to make here is, even just to show up in the search engine rankings for a particular search, a website must have rich, descriptive text that relates to the search.

Sploggers know this.

And so, they also know that blogs, which are sites with a lot of text-- text that is rich in a wide variety of common phrases, text that is updated frequently, text that often mentions current events or popular trends-- are likely to come up in search engine results for a wide variety of searches.

Rather than going to the effort to write such rich, quality text themselves, sploggers steal it. To draw searchers away from the site where the text was originally published, and to the splogger's site instead. And often, the sploggers don't just copy text from one blog; they copy text from hundreds or even thousands of blogs, creating a massive wealth of rich text on their site to lure in searchers from all over the web. Thus the sploggers are able to draw in an audience using someone else's work. And any time an audience is present on a site, there is the potential for ad revenue.

So, sploggers are essentially opportunists and thieves. And lazy ones, at that.


Anonymous said...

Rat Bastards.

Unknown said...

Wow! Excellent and insightful post.

Gives me a better understanding of what has been happening with lots of my recent blog posts, and the odd references. They are splogs.


Craig Mayhem said...


Anonymous said...

This is a great explanation for why splogging has become more popular -- thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for explaining this. Now I'm even more mad about my content being stolen. Unfortunately, there are always going to be others trying to make a buck off someone else's work. I don't know how they sleep at night.

R said...

your writing never fails to amaze me. i so enjoy visiting you and reading your mind's latest journey.

Stefania/CityMama said...

Thanks for this post. Sharing it with everyone I know.

PS My 5yo has a "unique" name I read in a book. :-)