Use the Foreign to Serve the Domestic

Chairman Mao Zedong once said, 古为今用 洋为中用, “use the past to serve the present, the foreign to serve China.” I wonder if the same is true for my relationship with Google.

This week I signed up for Google Adsense. It wasn’t my intention to seek out advertising revenue, and frankly, my hosting costs are not that substantial. But while reviewing 4xx errors in my server logs, I saw that Google was repeatedly trying to retrieve an “ads.txt” file. It didn’t make much sense at first, but then I got to thinking: Does this mean that Google saw some value in my site(s)? Google Search Console has shown me steadily improving pagerank scores over the last year, but seldom had I appeared on first-page search results (which for most users means the first ten results). So then it occurred to me: why not use the present to serve the future, why not co-opt Google to serve me?

What I mean to say by this is, all things being equal, wouldn’t Google be more likely to privilege a site that shows Google’s ads over a site that does not?

So I am now serving Google ads on my site. I’m not selling out, I’m selling up. I’m certainly open to hearing anyone’s thoughts on it, and I’m DEFINITELY happy for click-throughs from as many different IP addresses as I can get. Google doesn’t say it outright, but it was a practice in the latter 1990s to rescind payment where there were inordinate click-throughs from the same IP (the thought being to prevent site-owners from clicking their own site’s ads).  Intuitively, I also suspect that advertisement click-throughs factor equally or greater than search click-throughs. In other words, Google knows when someone conducts a search and then follows a link displayed in those search results. But Google cannot always know when people follow a link from elsewhere such as social media or email. But when a user clicks a Google ad, Google definitely knows that, and surely runs that click through some intricate calculations based on statistical response rates and thereby gets a far better insight into site traffic.

Some site owners use Google Analytics to try to accomplish this, but I have fundamental misgivings about the practice. For those who don’t know how it works, any and all analytic services function by embedding an invisible resource within the page. That could be an empty css file or a 1-pixel image. It works (sort of) by causing the visitor’s browser to retrieve that resource from the alternate web server which in turn allows said server to log the visitor’s IP, OS, UA, etc, etc. I just don’t find merit in the practice and I suspect that was part of the logic that gave rise to GDPR and CCPA. As a Libertarian, I think that GDPR and CCPA should be the norm everywhere. It makes perfect sense. I don’t allow the phone company to tell Data Broker Bob that I called Pizza Hut so that Data Broker Bob can then inform Domino’s of my patronage to its competitor. No, the fact of the call should be privileged to myself and Pizza Hut. If a promoter happens to be in the Pizza Hut parking lot and hands me a Domino’s coupon flyer while I’m walking to or from my vehicle, that’s fine because the choice to reveal myself as a potential customer to Domino’s remains entirely mine, depending on whether or not I take the initiative to reach for my phone and make the call. I see internet advertising the same way. If GDPR and CCPA were the norm everywhere, then only by clicking the advertisement do I agree to disclose anything about myself. It’s Contract Law 101: I agree to provide you with my name and number in exchange for your proffer of goods and services.

Anyway, these are my reasons for introducing advertising on my site(s). Please receive my broad invitation to light my site on fire—especially on the topic of skirts—so as to use Google for Everyman‘s benefit.

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