AdSense Alternatives for Startups and Small Websites

This was originally posted on It is reproduced here to preserve history.

In starting WbSrch, a search competitor to Google, I knew that at some point Google would find a way to “invite us to leave” AdSense. The Terms of Service make it clear that it is incompatible with a search engine (can’t have ads on pages that link to adult content, gambling, etc.)

That day came a little over a month ago when I received a message that ads were no longer running on the site because Google discovered a violation of their TOS in one of the result pages for a particular adult-oriented search term.

Sure, I could remove the offending link from the search results page (which I did because it also didn’t fit with the WbSrch inclusion policy), but that sort of thing would be sure to happen again. Around one sixth of the URLs on the web are porn, so it’s virtually impossible to exclude it all. Be very skeptical of anyone who claims they’re able to block all porn.

The Advertising Options

From my research, these are the notable companies that do online advertising:

Conversant (formerly ValueClick)
Vibrant Media
Yahoo/Bing Ads (formerly
Link Worth
Tribal Fusion

Contacting the Advertisers

I looked into all of them, eliminating those that
require massive traffic volume to get started or have a reputation for
spreading malware.

These are the ones I tried to contact (at the end of April) asking whether their service would be compatible with WbSrch:

Yahoo/Bing (formerly
Conversant Media

I asked the same question of every site:


I run a small but growing search engine at

I would like to know whether your service would be appropriate for use as the advertising provider for this search engine. indexes and links to most of the internet. We try to
exclude adult and other “icky” sites from the index, but that’s not
possible to do with an automated crawler. This means that at any given
time there will be links to things we don’t want to index per our policy
but that will eventually be removed. None of this content is hosted on
our site, but it is linked to depending on the search phrase used.

The search engine has indexes in 25 different languages, though most traffic is for the English-language index.

Given the nature of search engines, would be compatible with your advertising platform?

What follows are the responses to this message and the action I took based on the responses.

Outright Failures

Bidvertiser had a broken captcha on their contact form, so I couldn’t contact them. Their policy says that they don’t allow linking to some content types, so
they probably would have said no.

Bing did not have a contact form. They might now. I think
they are still in alpha/beta/whatever. Even so, they’re still a
competitor, so not something wise to use long-term.


Chitika never responded to my inquiry.

Conversant Media never responded to my inquiry. never responded to my inquiry.


Qadabra responded the fastest, saying that they were totally
compatible with search engines and that they already had some search engine
customers. The message had a friendly tone.

Kontera was the second response. They said they they are not
compatible with search engines, but they were polite about it.

Infolinks replied three days later (on a Sunday) with a
fairly rude message that said “our quality assurance team found that your site
does not meet our publisher criteria” and “We at Infolinks
have the responsibility to keep our advertising environment up to certain
standards to ensure the success of Infolinks for our
publishers, advertisers and those viewing our ads.” OK, that’s fine if you don’t
want to work with a new site, but don’t be rude about it. At least now I know they’re too special and important to ever do business with.

The Winner

Based on these responses I went with Qadabra. They also said
that they work with traffic in all languages. Great!

Setup was easy, and ads started working immediately. I had a
few glitches with some ads behaving strangely, but it was a minor thing. Every
time I contacted them they were very helpful and friendly.

You don’t really get control over the types of ads that are
shown. Most of what I saw were ads for video games and the occasional ad for Russian

I did not enable any of their rich media ads, just banners,
so I have no experience with those. I know they earn more, but I’m generally opposed to popups, popovers, flyouts, videos, and things that make noise. If I visit a site that uses them I’m less likely to return.

Qadabra revenue was significantly less than AdSense, earning about
one sixth as much per thousand impressions. Their system documentation says
that they optimize it over time, so if I gave them a longer trial period, income
would probably go up.

Now that WbSrch has switched to SSL-only (inspired by Reset the Net), I can’t use
Qadabra. They don’t have SSL support, so even if their ads
were enabled, they wouldn’t load. If they add that I’ll consider using them
again, if not for WbSrch then for other sites.

I like the people at Qadabra, and I’m happy with their tech
support, but this experiment has ended after only one month, and there don’t
appear to be any other reasonable alternatives.

Qadabra is relatively new, created in 2011, so
they are still polishing their game. If you want a reasonable AdSense
alternative for lower-traffic sites and don’t require SSL, I recommend them.

The long-term plan always was to build an ad platform
internally to use with WbSrch. Not finding a platform that is a perfect fit for
us is just another motivating factor.

For now, I’m just going to focus on improving the search engine so we’re in a better position to monetize it later on. Since traffic has been increasing by around 100% per month for the last few months, it shouldn’t be too long.