Using AdSense on your blog to spot exploits

I got an email over the holidays from an AdSense publisher who was struggling with the fact her blog was being plagued by ads for Xanax, Tramadol and other prescription drugs.  But the problem wasn’t on all her pages, it seemed only a few were totally off-target for the site content at first.  So she ignored it (and you have to admit, many people do just that!) until the problem migrated to her index page and started annoying her, then she contacted me to see if I knew why her blog was getting such untargeted ads.

I didn’t even have to look at the site – a personal blog – to know what the problem was.  Yes, she was hit by a spammer (or very likely multiple spammers)  who injected hidden links onto many blog entries on her site.  It seems some of her older entries that had migrated past the index page were the first ones to be hit.  So I asked her to check which version she was running, and it was WordPress 2.0.4 back from 2006!  So I asked why she hadn’t upgraded, and because it was one of those “one click installs” that some hosts offer for the non-techy blogger wannabes, she had no idea had to do anything herself afterwards to keep her blog safe and protected.

So yes, AdSense is not just an ad revenue tool, but one that can give publishers a heads up that their site may have been hacked when totally off-topic yet $$ market areas begin showing up.  And with hackers doing all they can so their exploits won’t get noticed (likely why her older entries were targeted first), every little bit helps, especially if you may be a bit behind in upgrading your blogs.

Now, of course, not all cases of off-topic ads mean that your site has definitely been hacked.  But when you start seeing ads showing up that are for traditionally competitive market areas, such as prescription drugs or loans, it is worth taking a peek into your source code to see if anything else is going on behind the scenes.  Don’t forget that most of these exploits won’t be visible to you on the page, so you really need to look at the source code for pages that have those high money AdSense ads.

And, if you are thinking the road to AdSense riches is by allowing these kinds of ads, since webmasters often have the impression that they “pay well”, think again.  While you may see some ads you think are high value, your rankings will very likey shortly tank because of the hacker’s content.  And it also pays to ensure you are always running the latest version of WordPress – newer versions make it pretty obvious as soon as a new one is released!  Don’t make the mistake that upgrades are just to add features, they often fix bugs, holes and exploits too 😉

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