Google Adwords and Adsense Models are Not Compatible with Web Applications

Many blogs and websites use Google Adwords to advertise their product and/or use Adsense to bring in ad revenue. The Adwords model is strongly based on HTML content of the landing page to drive its mysterious "Quality Score" for keywords. The Adsense model uses the HTML content of the website to serve applicable ads. However, as non-HTML-based web applications become increasingly popular, can this current model survive? Or will Google have to rethink their algorithm to support this type of website? We've tried to use Adwords to drive traffic to our new web applications, but Google's current model is completely incompatible. In addition, we had to sacrifice some functionality in order to support the sites with Adsense. This post will describe our experience, layout our frustrations, and challenge the keyword marketing crowd to find a solution.

Let's start with Adsense. This adverting model is great for sites with large amounts of words, or content, like blogs or news sites. In general, the ad servers use the content to determine which ads to serve. So, if you have a blog that is about technology and discusses gadgets, Adsense ads will show up for that topic. Sounds like a great model. But did you know that the ad crawler doesn't read scripts, such as Javascript? So if you have links or content that is served using Javascript, that content or linked contact will not affect which ads you see.

For example, we recently released our new web application, Date Wheel. (Date Wheel was ironically written using Google's WebToolkit (GWT).) The only 'content' the ad server/crawler saw was the name of our So the ads served were for wheels, wheel rims, and assorted tire products. Is that what Date Wheel does? No. Date Wheel is a time between dates calculator. It's used by people to calculate lead times for project management, to determine pregnancy due dates, by the construction industry to do quick calcs on project completion, by someone who wants to figure out how many days to their upcoming wedding, plus more. A full listing of what can be done is listed in the "about" page, but not on the main page where the calculator resides--where we should get the most traffic. We also originally didn't have an HTML link to the "about" page, which also is crawled for ad content. When we first started the project, that link was not a HTML link, but in our Javascript portion, so it wasn't crawled.

So what, you say? Well, we wanted to write one page and program for both our desktop and iPhone versions, and just use CSS to style them. However, to accommodate Adsense, for relevant ads, we had to add HTML content (words) to our main page and add HTML links to the about and help pages. This accommodation led to a less optimized design, even though it is not really noticed by the user, but it added greatly to the complexity of the program. Does it make sense to modify your application to fit Google's Adsense model, especially when we were trying to use GWT the way Google intended? We accomplished the end result, but were quite frustrated in the process.

On a side note, we didn't want to add extra text or content to our iPhone web app, so we opted out of trying to use Adsense on that product. Besides, what iPhone users are going to click on ads for wheels? :D So we opted for a more logical source of mobile advertising, AdMob, and their iPhone optimized ads.

Let's move on to Adwords. We are trying to promote our Date Wheel web application using Adwords. We have logical keywords like [Date Wheel] or 'time between dates calculator', or 'date diff' on our list. Many of the keywords we selected are based on ones suggested by Google's back end tools. Our ads are relevant--"Date Wheel, Calculate the time between two dates,". But according to Google, our keyword "Quality Scores" are Poor. Most likely our landing page is the problem. It doesn't have enough "content". If we had left it the way we intended, no HTML whatsoever, it would be even worse. But the landing page IS relevant. If people want to use a time between dates calculator web software application, wouldn't they want to LAND on the calculator page? It's a simple app and doesn't need a huge demo or tutorial or tour to explain it. However, this relevance cannot be seen by a non-human web-crawler. So, that said, all our keywords are inactive, or require a $10+ bid to activate (which essentially means we can't advertise using those keywords).

So maybe the search-based Adwords isn't needed for our campaign? Perhaps the content network (the ads you see on web pages) is enough? After all, the content network is probably better for what we want for advertising. We already have decent organic placement in search for the keywords that have been deemed poor in Adwords. But we can't get these ads to run either. The only explanation is that the crawler, again, USES THE CONTENT ON YOUR LANDING PAGE to determine relevance. And, since we HAVE NO CONTENT (as in our iPhone web app) or LITTLE CONTENT (as in our desktop app), we essentially cannot advertise our product using Adwords. I've tried everything and I literally get NO impressions. When I have written to Google's offshore help group, I get the canned, a-page-from-the-customer-service-manual response to "increase the quality score" by improving my landing page. I've tried to explain that my landing page is a Javascript-based web application and content cannot be added, but it's like talking to a brick wall. They just don't get it.

In conclusion, if you are writing a web application, and want to support it with Adsense, you will have to ensure that you add fluff to the main application in the form of HTML content, plus you'll need HTML links to your "about" or "help" pages (a good "about" page is also recommended by Google). That way you'll get relevant ads served on your application's page that will more likely be clicked by your users. Otherwise, I would recommend trying a service that doesn't use the content to serve ads. If your web application is for iPhone, many good services have cropped up to use for ad revenue. We recommend AdMob.

If you want to promote your web application, then you'll have to either write a separate landing page, or use something else besides Adwords. We are very disappointed in Google's Adwords--you would expect a company so entrenched in its own free web application products, like Docs, Gmail, or Maps, that they would offer a solution for those developers with the same goals. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.