I performed a little experiment last year, I decided to spend a small bit of money on advertising one of my sites via AdWords. My budget was low as I didn’t want to spend more than 100$ and my daily allocation fluctuated between 1$ and 5$ as I made adjustments to my ads and spending. I was running text-based ads and used AdWords to generate some image ads for me.

The ads were getting clicks, and I was getting some sign ups. At the beginning, I wasn’t tracking referral or landing page URLs so I wasn’t able to get a clear picture of how many new users I was getting from the ads. I went ahead and got that tracking built into the system and then things started to get interesting.

I’m not going to get deep into the numbers, but my cost per conversion was north of 25$ and well outside of a range that I would consider a value or sustainable. The experiment went on though, perhaps time would drive the cost down as I was only working with a very small data set. Unfortunately, time did not heal the wound, in fact as the days went on a pattern was starting to emerge.

I already have mechanisms in place on my sites to detect spammers and after I started running ads, I noticed there was an increase in the number of spammers being caught in my trap. I didn’t pay it much mind initially, but after a few days, I started to check on where those spammers were coming from. Perhaps there was a post on some board that my site was good for spamming or something? Nope, it turns out these spammers were in fact getting to the site by clicking on my AdWords ad and hitting my landing page.

At this point, I set up my ads to only traffic the United States, United Kingdom and Canada as they are my top three traffic sources already. This didn’t curb the spammers at all, all of which had IP addresses residing outside of my country filter. By this time, I figured it was a good time to take a deeper look into the new users I was acquiring as it seemed like a high percentage of them were spammers.

Upon further investigation of the users I was acquiring, nearly all of them had IP addresses that fell outside of my filters and none of them had uploaded any photos. You don’t need to upload a photo to use my sites, but to have 30 or 40 users all coming from my ads none of which had uploaded photos or even completed their “about me” was a huge red flag. If I had to speculate, the spammers were setting up accounts to later use. Not an uncommon situation as many spammers will age or “season” accounts prior to actually spamming.

I’m not saying that all advertising situations wind up this way, but for me advertising was a waste of money and actually caused more harm than good. I had take measures against the spammers such as deleting their accounts and IP banning them, both of which are manual actions that take time away from being productive. Will I try my hand at advertising in the future? Probably not, not via AdWords at least.

On the bright side, at least I now have referral and landing page tracking built into my sites :)