Is it worth advertising Mac software on Google Adwords?

I learnt a long time ago that people will happily click on totally irrelevant pay per click ads. For example, if you bid on “seating plan” I can assure you that a significant percentage of people searching for “boeing 747 seating plan” will happily click on your ad titled “wedding seating plan”. They won’t buy anything, as they aren’t interested in wedding seating plans, but you still have to pay for each click. You can stop your ad showing to these searchers by adding “boeing” and “747” as negative keywords. Problem solved.

But what do you do if you are selling software that only runs on Mac OS X? The vast majority of searchers are running Windows. Indiscriminate clicks by them could quickly turn your Adwords ROI negative. In your Adwords campaign settings you can choose to only show ads on desktop computers and laptops. But you can’t choose the operating system.

As discussed above, putting “Mac” in the title is unlikely to be enough. You can’t use negative keywords, because the vast majority of Windows users searching for, say, backup software will type “backup software” not “Windows backup software”. You can just bid on searches containing keywords “Mac”, “Apple” or “OS X”, but will this be enough? My general advice to Mac only software vendors was to avoid Adwords, unless the ticket price of their software was in the hundreds of dollars. But, as my software runs on both Windows and Mac, I didn’t have any data to back this up.

Recently I got some data on Adwords clickthrough rates for a Mac only app ( by Hokua Software. They have kindly allowed me to share the data.

Initially they bid on generic keywords, such as “crossword maker” and ran ads such as the following with “Mac” displayed prominently in the title:

The results from analytics: 60% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 40% on Mac.

Then Google banned them from the word “Mac” in their ads (it is possible to get this reversed with the express permission of Apple, but I don’t know how likely they are to grant this). So they switched to “OS X” in the ad, which hasn’t been blocked (yet).

The results from analytics: 73% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 27% on Mac.

Then they restricted their bids to Mac targeted keywords such as “mac crossword maker”.

The results from analytics: 23% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 73% on Mac. But there was a big drop in the number of impressions.

I think it is going to be almost impossible for anyone to get a return from Adwords when the majority of their clicks have no chance of generating a sale. So only bidding on Mac specific keywords seems to be the way to go. But there will still be a significant number of wasted clicks from Windows users. Also any Mac users who don’t use the appropriate keywords won’t see your ad. Consequently the return on time and money invested is likely to be a lot lower than Windows, cross-platform and web developers can expect. If you have a Mac only product with: a high ticket price product, well-defined keywords and limited competition, it might be worth trying Adwords. But otherwise it is probably better to wait and see if Google release OS targeting.

Of course, you could always use one of the free Adwords vouchers that Google are handing out like confetti (I get one every month in my PC Pro magazine) and try for yourself. This is how Hokua software got the results above. If you do, I would be interested to know how your results compare.

8 thoughts on “Is it worth advertising Mac software on Google Adwords?

  1. Dan Wood

    We had a similar experience. I have had a request in to Google for a long time to let the ads be targetted to particular browsers and computers via the user-agent string, but it has gone unheeded. Perhaps if more developers requested this capability with Google, it might happen eventually….

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      >Has anyone explored other Ad networks?

      Yes. Yahoo, MS, Linked In, Facebook and others. Only Google Adwords has given a worthwhile return.

      >I know Google is the 600lb gorilla, but cost for certain terms is getting outragious.

      Try long tail keywords. Also make sure you understand the system, or you could be paying a lot more than you need to. But yes, some keywords cost more than you can get a return on.

  2. Crave Invoice

    Nice analysis…I have Windows only software tools and I want to exclude Mac people from my visitors list. I hope Google releases the OS inclusion / exclusion feature soon.

  3. Mac

    Nice post. Same experience for us. It’s better to cooperate with famous Mac-related website, but that really costs much more.

  4. saurabh

    Why is crossword maker for Mac unacceptable but mac crossword maker acceptable?

    1. Alex

      There’s no rule about bidding on the search terms “mac crossword maker”, but the issue Apple has with it is you’re using one of their trademarked names in the text link for your ad, and that’s a Google no-no.

  5. jk73

    I completely understand your point. Google has such wide reach it is hard to ignore Adwords for a campaign however niche/specialized products can often waste advertising spend through Adwords. The fact that your ‘mac’ keywords increased your mac clickers but your impressions dropped does suggest that your market might need to be found elsewhere.

    Perhaps the best way to target Mac users is through the Google Display Network and on Mac-info sites. Alternatively, Google Correlate might provide another good opportunity to try and find out what mac searchers are also searching for to try and target them via another keyword avenue.

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