In an article called “The word farms of the web“, the Guardian discusses a disturbing trend: more and more Made For AdSense (MFA) sites are being published that “post content optimised purely to drive ad traffic rather than having any value of its own”.

Apparently, some of that content is produced by the unpaid interns of companies like Privila (that will get no link love from me). Interns, who commit to 150 hours of work, are expected to write at least 50 articles; so that’s a maximum of three hours per article, including research. If we ignore the wonderful world of unpaid internships and assume that you should probably pay around $5 to $10 per hour to hire a student, the cost per article should be somewhere between $15 and $30.

So, what’s the quality of these articles? It turns out that they are not very good. According to Richard Clayton, a security researcher at Cambridge University who received an e-mail asking him to link to an MFA site from his own website, “There were spelling mistakes, ridiculous bits of grammar, words missing from sentences and so forth.”

If you think that an implied cost of $15 to $30 for a student-written article is rather low (even if the article isn’t very good), think again. On various sites, freelance writers from emerging countries like India and Pakistan offer their services at a rate of $5 to $7 per 500-word article. If you’d rather use authors from, say, the US or Canada, you’ll pay between $10 and $15 per article.

It would seem that it is very hard, if not impossible, to compete against this sort of “cheap content”. For example, I have a site called Lenen voor beginners that contains about twenty articles about different loan types, fiscal aspects, potential pitfalls, etcetera.

Let’s assume that I spent, on average, one hour to write each article. Based on their experience level, Dutch journalists earn somewhere between €50 and €90 ($70-$130) per hour. So my articles “cost” about $70 each, right?

Not quite. I happen to know a thing or two about loans: I invested about 40 hours in studying the official course (and passing the associated exam), which adds another two hours per article in “research” –so the “cost” of each article is actually closer to $200…

Needless to say, professionally written, useful content will only be able to compete against hastily written, clueless gibberish if search engines are somehow able to identify the latter as such. According to Internet expert Ben Edelman, the content used on many MFA sites “is not useful. The world would be better off if these pages didn’t exist.”

That sounds like a big responsibility for Google with its motto Don’t be evil