Is Google Ads a scam for indie developers?

It sure feels like it.

Ink Calendar is a hobby project for me. I work as a mechanical engineer for my primary income. I would love to be an indie Windows app developer full time, but it doesn’t seem like that is in my near future. I am frequently trying out new ways to get Ink Calendar in front of potential users. An easy way this can be done is use online advertising.

In early May of 2021 I launched a Google Ads campaign for Ink Calendar. The ad directed people to this blog InkCalendar.com where the “Get From Microsoft” button is right at the top eager to be clicked. I ran the campaign for 3 weeks and spent $179 for around 883 clicks and 55k impressions.

To judge the ads performance I used the stats from WordPress, and initially I was impressed… then I dug a little deeper. Here are the WordPress stats around the time of the ad campaign:

Week ofViewsVisitors
3/1/20217444
3/8/202110374
3/15/202110258
3/22/20219765
3/29/20218660
4/5/20219461
4/12/2021180103
4/19/20219453
4/26/20218048
5/3/20217750
5/10/2021 (campaign begins)308350
5/17/2021477388
5/24/2021 (campaign ends)495390
5/31/20219358
6/7/202111658

At first look these stats are impressive! The weeks during the ad campaign had on average 6x more traffic! Exactly what I wanted! However I did notice there was not a similar increase in app downloads, so I checked to see if these new visitors were clicking on the link to get the app. Here are those numbers:

Week ofViewsVisitorsStore Clicks% of visitors click
3/1/202174441023%
3/8/2021103742128%
3/15/2021102581729%
3/22/202197651218%
3/29/202186601118%
4/5/202194611525%
4/12/20211801031717%
4/19/202194531325%
4/26/202180481123%
5/3/20217750714%
5/10/2021 (campaign begins)308350216%
5/17/2021477388195%
5/24/2021 (campaign ends)495390154%
5/31/20219358712%
6/7/2021116581424%

These numbers were pretty shocking to me. The weeks during the ad campaign had no significant change in store link clicks. In fact when looking at what percentage of visitors clicked the store links the ad campaign had terrible performance.

I am aware advertising for Ink Calendar is not the same as general business advertising. Plumbers or restaurants in an area use ads to win customers from their very similar looking competition. I’m still not completely sure what is going on with this or what to make of these numbers. But here are the things I know for sure:

  • I am no closer to being a full time indie dev
  • I will never use Google Ads to promote Ink Calendar again

A side anecdote, I would wake up around 6:00am Central Time and by that time there were already a large number of views to Ink Calendar for that day. The ad only ran in the US and the new traffic to this blog was also only from the US. I cannot understand why I’d have a couple hundred of view before the day had even begun. Very suspicious in my opinion.

Let me know what you think, either in the comments below or on twitter @theJoeFin

Joe

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