Are You Working in Google’s Sweatshop?

Are You Working in Google’s Sweatshop?

blue_pillIf you have Google’s AdSense on your site then please raise your hand and say YES [You can add Amen if you like too].

Do you remember the scene in the first Matrix film where they show the reality of the earth and the humans are all being used as batteries. Even though their life energy is being sucked out of them they are content because they are fed a constant illusion of how great life is.

Using AdSense on your website is just like that. You may have a good income…maybe even great income, by most measures, but do you have a real business…no.

Do you have control of your customers? No. You give away the rights to monetize your customers for 35 cents a piece and you have no way of ever contacting them again.

Can Google turn off you revenue without reason and without warning? Yes. Did you know that even if you had earned $10,000 dollars and it was the 29th of the month and Google decided that you have committed click fraud they can terminate your account and you’ll lose that month’s revenue? That sounds a little sweat-shopish.

Think of AdSense as this huge harvester of Internet traffic. It goes around to all the little websites and practically steals their traffic for pennies and gives it to merchants who turn it into big bucks.

This kind of thing gets people pretty excited…they read about how Nike makes sneakers in the Philippines and pays workers $3 a pair and then sells them for $150, but it’s the same on the web with AdSense. You sweat on your blog creating content and building traffic and then you sell it at sweatshop prices because you don’t have enough business sense to realize where the real value is in your traffic.


red_pillWhat if that click that you’re getting 35 cents for on average is turning into $20 on average on a merchant’s site? Wouldn’t that be kind of the same as with Nike? But what’s more amazing is that all us blogsters think it’s so fantastic that AdSense graces us with a couple bucks each month.

We really are living in the Matrix. I have no evidence that such a ratio is the reality, just call it a hunch…think of it this way, why would so much money be pouring into the AdWords system, if it wasn’t yielding a very good return.

At least think about taking the red pill and having a look around at what is really going on on the web. Here’s a chart of what I call the “Internet business food chain”:

  1. Sell Your Own Products
  2. Sell Other People’s Products to Your Email List
  3. Sell Other People’s Products off of your website [Affiliate]
  4. Create Content and Sell Your Traffic with AdSense
  5. Buy Traffic [keyword bidding] and direct it to someone else’s products

The higher you are on that list, the more you have a real business, the more money you can potentially make and the less you are vulnerable to the whims of other people, some of which don’t care very much about you.

Okay that’s my rant for today…say it once with me…”Just Say No to Crack-Sense.” You can do it, it isn’t as hard as you think to begin to move up the Internet business food chain. Brainstorm a few product ideas related to your site and spend some time developing them.

Previous Comments:

Jon – I really liked this post, and have linked to it from a forum I recently set up where people can discuss Canadian entrepreneurial issues.

It’s very early days for the forum – not much traffic yet and I’m still working out how I want to proceed with it, but you are very welcome to come by and have a look. Any comments you have would be appreciated and, of course, feel free to post.

By James D. Brausch, July 7th, 2006 at 3:02 pm

Welcome to the real world Jon! There aren’t many of us awake yet and we need your help to wake up the others.


-James D. Brausch
By Andrew, July 11th, 2006 at 11:34 pm

Just because Adsense carries risk doesn’t mean everything else is a smooth ride. The people I know personally who have made the most money online have done 3,4 and 5. Selling your own product is not always the best or most profitable path.

I’ve read case studies of people trying to sell their own products on their sites and barely breaking even, switch to PPC ad monetization and their incomes jump to six figures.

Of course, it will depend on what your business is. As a general rule of thumb if your site has a large volume of content Adsense and other PPC programs will work well because you are pulling in such a diverse range of traffic from search engines that is not interested in your product but rather looking for something else.
By Jon, July 12th, 2006 at 8:53 am

Hi Andrew,

What is boils down to for me is just trying to see things a little differently with regards to AdSense.

“I�ve read case studies of people trying to sell their own products on their sites and barely breaking even, switch to PPC ad monetization and their incomes jump to six figures.”

When you say this it just means that other people [the ones buying the PPC traffic] made better products.

If you’re making six figures off of AdSense, then someone else is making seven figures off of the traffic you are sending them…it has to work like that.

My article is suggesting [more to myself than anyone else...since I have made six figures from AdSense too] that it is better to be getting the traffic sent to you rather than sending it away for a few pennies.

Yes it is more work to make good products…but the payouts are exponentially bigger too.
By Andrew, July 13th, 2006 at 12:08 am

“If you�re making six figures off of AdSense, then someone else is making seven figures off of the traffic you are sending them�it has to work like that.”

Absolutely not true, there are a lot of advertisers who are bringing in a negative return on investment. Online dating companies are so desperate to keep the numbers of users from dropping that they now routinely spend between $5-$10+ just to get a single free registration to their site. Why do they do this? Possibly to keep their stock prices up or to make them more attractive for an aquisition.

Additionally, it is simply not realistic to have a product for every single visitor coming to your page. The specific case study I was referring to was a home improvement columnist, Tim, of There is no way he, as a writer, is going to sell faucets, landscaping, bricks, chimenys, gas fireplaces, etc. etc.

I think you are right in telling people they should be selling their own products, but you are wrong in ranking it at the top. Making money online is all about traffic and how you efficiently monetize it. Sometimes that means selling your own product. Sometimes selling your own product is the worst approach.
By Jon, July 13th, 2006 at 9:06 am

Hi Andrew,

There will always be specific cases that go against the generalities that I am presenting. If people are willing to operate at a negative cash flow, they won’t be doing it for long.

All I know is that it is clear to me, in my internet business, that making products that people are willing to pay for, is more stable and has more growth potential than selling my traffic to other sites.
By FashionMista, July 13th, 2006 at 11:48 am

I sell my own products on my website. I developed a blog to promote my website/online shop, but it turned into a blog featuring other designers and neat oddities. I just said no to Crack Sense on my website (no way!), but do have it on my blog as a thank you to Google for freely maintaining my blog space…which I guess they could take away at any moment, as you indirectly pointed out…But I go back and forth on it. The revenue from it lets me by half a loaf of stale bread if I lived in the late 1800s, but it’s the gesture I participate in. I also own a whopping two shares of stock, so I’d like to help keep their ad revenues up. :)
By Alberen, July 15th, 2006 at 1:52 pm

In general you are right. I am an Adwords buyer and in my case it costs me $3 in adwords to make $29 in revenue.

I am really amazed at the amount of dollars people are making by generating traffic. That will only keep working if there are good products on the web.

Now, here is what I would like to know, if I have a product or service how would I generate business WITHOUT a PPC program. Even (some) web designers/hosts catch flak for having ads on their site.

What needs to happen is that the online community needs to figure out how to accept more commercial endeavors without going through adsense or selling their soul (I am surprised the PayforPost thing has any legs at all.)

I would much rather pay someone a full $5 to get me a customer than to pay adsense $3 and hope it happens. I know that I just described an affiliate program…. what needs to happen is figure out how bloggers can generate revenue other than the ways currently available to them.

By the way, your sweatshop analogy is a good one.
By stas bekman, July 16th, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Very nice article, Jon.

I think what bugs me the most is that publishers have no control what so ever over their AdSense accounts. I’ve written the article: “How to Bring Google AdSense Down” Or “You are Guilty but We will not Tell You Why” and “How to Resurrect Your Google AdSense Account”, where I cover a story with my account being shutdown, no reason given and then the hard process of ressurecting. It’s the most popular article on my site – My guess is that there are thousands of publishers who lose their accounts daily.

As for selling your own products, it seems that it’s actually easier to sell someone else’s products. Most affiliate programs offer 50% and more. And in my personal case, I wrote a book Practical mod_perl, but the funny thing is that my Amazon associate revenue for that book is higher than the amount I get paid by O’Reilly as an author!

Oh well…
By The end of AdSense sweatshop? at Seeking Revenue, August 4th, 2006 at 5:16 am

[...] Increasingly publishers are turning away from what they feel is the “Google’s AdSense Sweatshop“. [...]
By Rich Dad and Your Internet Business | Art Of Money, September 20th, 2006 at 8:52 pm

[...] I’ve spent my fair share of time slagging AdSense as a bad foundation to build an Internet business on so I thought I’d explore the concept of what is a good idea in this post. [...]
By Ei, March 4th, 2007 at 4:17 am

Awesome, man
By The Kaizen Business › Get Off The Crack Ads, March 26th, 2007 at 8:33 am

[...] Don’t believe it? Check out the points made by Jon over at Art of Money about the crack ads sweatshop. [...]
By Are You A CrackSense Whore?, March 29th, 2007 at 9:09 am

[...] once read an interesting article where Google’s AdSense marketing was referred to as “CrackSense“, I had to laugh when I heard this phrase, because it rings so [...]
By Abi, March 31st, 2007 at 3:49 pm

Well Jon, you are so right.. But you can look at it this way, create content and bring visitors to your site, do your affiliate promotion, get them to subscribe and make them leave by paying via adsense..

Step 2, 3, and 4 in one…:P
By Tom LeDree, May 14th, 2007 at 9:06 am

I’d Just like to say I love the fact the bottom of this post has a Google AdSense advert. :-)

You make some good points in your post. I enjoyed reading it.
By Google Adsense- A reality check-Just how much can one make? – Idiot Affilate, June 18th, 2007 at 2:57 pm

[...] of money has a very interesting article on adsense that I believe is worthy of checking out called “Are you working in Google’s Sweatshop?” Jon kind of highlights what most of us already know- The make money online food chain would place [...]
By Make money log, October 10th, 2007 at 1:56 am

I agree your“Internet business food chain”. Google adsense cann’t a main revenue of a site. I plan to post some related affiliate programs to my site. Adsense not a real online business i think, just only a popular earn money way.
By elvin, February 29th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

I have digg this.great post
By Digerati –, September 27th, 2008 at 6:52 am

This was a very informative post and I am so glad you broke in down like you did and really have given me a reason to come up with my own product to sell on some other niche site. Thanks.
By finding-people, October 6th, 2008 at 3:49 am

Great post. I have about 30 sites up and running with adsense on them, and I have heard all of the comments “adsenseless”, “cracksense”, but I love that “Adsense Sweatshop” phrase you coined. It rings so true.

After reading your article I felt a bit distressed, but then thought that there is a huge market niche opened up for someone to come along and create a more equitable model and take a mere commission on the linking of buyers to sellers.

Adsense is exercising Google’s market power at the moment, so one can only hope that someone sees these profits and comes up with a better model (for advertisers and publishers) and people will suddenly replace their adsense with something else.

So far, I have tried ad-brite, and it just is not the same… I have it on one site for a test, and all I ever seem to see advertised are half naked women plugging dating sites. These girls are always near me. :)

Great article.

…Stay tuned for more info on getting Crack-Sense free.

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