Last year I created a database of English language essay mill sites as a method to learn about the industry and to create a readily available list for institutions to utilized in the case they wanted to ‘blacklist’ the URLs from their campus networks (this is often listed as good practice for combating essay mills). With help from a researcher, the ICAI list as a starting point, and a list of published sites that Australia recently banned via their country’s ISPs, we have a list of over 300 sites which we’re happy to share far and wide (just contact us) should you want them blocked from your campus.
With a solid list, we started to fill in various pieces of data from a few sources to provide some directional (not scientific), from their own sites and a few third party analytics sites such as Similarweb.com and Zoominfo.com, this included:
- estimated web traffic
- estimated revenue
- domain server information
- plagiarism statements and policies
- corporate structure (if listed)
- social media presence
- cost per page
- estimated employees
- HQ address (if available)
This data has been terrifying in the sheer scale, enlightening with the insights if has offered, and actionable in several ways.
A few thoughts on the non-academic, unscientific research we’ve conducted:
1. Despite the widely reported death of essay mills at the hands of Generative AI, the web traffic a la similarweb.com does not suggest the industry has face planted. Average traffic appears to be steady (for sites where web traffic was available). Our original research charted web traffic from late 2022 (October or November, pre-OpenAI’s launch) and we’ve since added Feb, Mar, and Apr as available from the same source (for consistency).
2. Estimated revenue is around $4bn for these English language essay mills (based on Zoominfo data) which suggests that it’s a sizeable subset of the overall Contract Cheating market (estimated between $17-21bn, inclusive of degree mills, credential impersonators, homework sites, and other academic dishonesty enablers).
3. #1 state listed as corporate HQ? New York. #1 country USA (Cyprus is #4 on the list behind Australia and the UK)
While we plan to continue adding to the list and monitoring traffic estimates, one of the more actionable things we’ve been able to do is identify search ad placements using Google’s incredibly transparent and helpful Adtransparency tool (https://adstransparency.google.com/?region=anywhere&domain=EssayMarket.net).
Squashing Academic Fraud in Search Ads
Early in our research, especially as we were building the database, we were inundated with ad placements by essay mills against searches as innocuous as “writing” (no doubt because of our website visits, click history, and research these ad placements might have been more tailored to our perceived search result desires).
Ironically, we discovered that these very ads were prohibited by Google’s own policy as “enabling dishonest behavior,” but were missed by the automated filters:
“Examples of products or services that enable dishonest behavior: Hacking software or instructions; services designed to artificially inflate ad or website traffic; fake documents; academic cheating services”https://support.google.com/adspolicy/answer/6008942?hl=en#con
Learning about the Google Ad Transparency site from a friend of a friend gave us enough info to do a full review of which sites are using Google search ads (I’ve linked one of the most prolific), which are out of compliance, and to get some additional insight into the advertising tactics of essay mills.
One interesting advertising attempt? Claim that teachers will like you MORE if you cheat.
I’m happy to say that we’ve already had a few of the most egregious ads removed for non-compliance and will continue reviewing the ~3-4% which were actively advertising as of 6/27/23.