How to make $250 a day (and get banned from the Android Market)

Logo for the Google+ Invites App

A few weeks ago I did something which, in retrospect, was probably rather stupid. But it was surprisingly successful while it lasted. As I wrote earlier, I’ve been using Google+ since the day after it was launched. I myself received an invite from a stranger who was offering invites publicly. For this reason, I’ve been keen to share invites with anyone else who’s looking for one. I put up a post on this blog offering free invites, and got a huge response from the Android community. In fact, there were so many responses that it overwhelmed my email after a few days. There’s no way I could have kept up with the demand.

Rather than stop accepting requests altogether, I wanted to make it easier to handle the load. (NB: At this stage there was no limit to the number of Google+ invites you could send.) My first thought, trying to work out a faster way to do things, was “hey, is there an Android app for this?” A quick search turned up a negative. No Android apps offering Google+ invites. So, why not make one? It seemed a pretty good idea, so I spent that afternoon writing a simple app that accepted an email address, and a description of the request. The data was sent to a PHP script on my server, so I could go through and invite the email addresses stored in a database.

Actually, it’s not that simple to write an Android app that POSTs data asynchronously to a server, checks the response, and handles errors gracefully. I re-used some classes from another unreleased project, but it was still a bigger job than I expected. But the actual coding is an issue for another day. The most interesting part came when I released the app on the Android Market.

First release

I titled my app “Google+ Invites” – since that describes it pretty well. Because I was in a bit of a hurry, I decided to just modify the official Google+ logo, so that people could easily identify it as related to the social network. This is the logo that I came up with: Logo for the Google+ Invites App

A little too similar to the original perhaps? Well, I thought it was a creative adaptation and went with it. Looking in retrospect, it wasn’t the wisest idea. But that’s how the app was initially released to the Android Market, on the 9th July. By the 10th July, the Developer Console was showing 326 installs. I thought that was pretty good – about the same amount as when I first released Tap That! Number. That number of installs, you can attribute to being in the “Just In” category. But this time, the downloads kept coming in. The next day there were another 300 installs. The day after, 500, then 700. By the 13th, this app had about 1,730 total installs.

By this time, there were so many people asking for invites that I simply wasn’t able to complete them all. Even with a plain-text list of email addresses, inviting someone to Google+ was (at that stage) a very manual process. I had to copy & paste every email address, click “Invite”, and then add them to one of my circles so they could see my welcome post. So I was hit with the same dilemma I had offering invites on the blog – how to cut down the number of requests, or prioritise them somehow.

The “Points” System

In the back of my mind, I knew there was some kind of advertising network that used incentive advertising. For those not familiar with the terminology – in “normal” advertising streams, the advertiser pays the publisher (app developer) when a user clicks the ad. For obvious reasons, you’re not allowed to encourage people to click these ads. But with incentive advertising, you are. Because you don’t get paid when they click an ad – you get paid when they complete an action (such as signing up, downloading an app, etc.). Looking around a little bit, I found TapJoy, which is a fairly well established incentive advertising network. The SDK is pretty easy to setup. You actually download the source files, and include them in your app TapJoy currently doesn’t offer a JAR library option, although I’d like to see this happen some time soon. Other networks such as AdMob use the JAR method, and it’s a lot simpler to integrate with source control.

Google+ Invites

Clicking "Get Points" loads the TapJoy offerwall

Using TapJoy, I implemented a “points” system in my app. When someone downloads the app, they can submit their email address to request an invite immediately. But at this stage, they’ll be placed at the bottom of the queue. With about 2,000 invites to be processed, it could take a while to get one. If someone wants to get higher in the queue, they have to get more points. You can earn points by completing offers on TapJoy. This basically involves downloading a game, or “liking” something on Facebook. Simple tasks, mostly free, but the TapJoy pays me a small amount every time someone completes an offer. Using this method, I can hand out the first invites to people who are willing to put a bit of effort into to get one.

I’ve noticed that this system is a bit controversial. Some people see the money-making side of things, and say it’s all a scam to make profit. Well, sure – I’d love to make some profit from this app! It actually takes a lot of time to invite all those people. I don’t see anything wrong with offering people the option of paying (with their time) for priority access. I’ll still try to invite everyone, whether they’ve completed offers or not. Just the people with more points, will get processed first.

Basically I could choose between taking down the app from the Android Market due to high demand, or implementing this points system. So I opted to use TapJoy, as an experiment using incentive advertising. I actually included AdMob advertising in the same app, as a comparison. Didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a great chance to try a new system.

The Rise….

One day later, I got some pretty amazing results. Another 1000 downloads on the Android Market, 717 views of the TapJoy offerwall, and a total of $20 from TapJoy alone. In 24 hours, I made more from TapJoy than an entire month with AdMob. The eCPM for TapJoy was $28, while AdMob was about $0.10.

But I thought, maybe it won’t last. Maybe that was just a spike, and we’ll see some slightly more sane figures come out tomorrow. The next day there were over 2,000 page views, and total revenue of $56. Doesn’t look like it was a spike after all. The eCPM was very similar. So, given the huge success of the TapJoy experiment so far, I kept inviting people on Google+, so that I could justify keeping the app on the Market. I thought $50 a day was amazing, certainly considering the amount of effort it took to write the app. I’d be more than happy if it kept up the pace, and didn’t grow any further at all. But there was even more of a surprise in store. Take a look at the graph below (left hand column), showing the download figures for the “Google+ Invites” app:

Screenshot of Andlytics

Columns (left-to-right): Date, Total Downloads, Active Installs, Increase day-over-day, Percentage Active (Screenshot taken with Andlytics app)

And then look at the TapJoy revenue for the same period (up until July 17th): As the downloads shot up, so did the revenue. On the 17th of July, with 7,600 downloads I actually made $300 in a single day, just from TapJoy ads in this app! At that stage about 3,700 people had requested an invite.

….and The Fall.

But sadly, the 17th was my last day of triple-digit income. Not because of any changes by TapJoy, and certainly not due to lack of interest by users (in fact, I had just reached 2nd place on the AppBrain “Hot Apps” list). But just before mid-day on the 17th, Google suspended my app from the Android Market. And that’s it, really.

Once the app was suspended, all the charts dropped off completely. I had the app listed on a few third-party app stores (including SlideME and Amazon), but the number of actual downloads was miniscule. The Android Market was the only one that mattered.

It was a bit scary actually – receiving an email from Google that one of my apps has been suspended. I’d always been prepared in the back of my mind, thinking that if Google has a problem with it and wants to take it down, that’s fine. I wasn’t aiming to do anything sly, and did read the terms & conditions of the Android Market and Google+ to make sure that offering invites like this wasn’t illegal in some way.

But the actual email had absolutely no information about why the app was suspended. Not a word. Here’s the full text:

Subject: Notification from Android Market

This is a notification that the application, Google+ Invites with package ID com.bb.plusinvites has been removed from Android Market due to a violation of the Developer Content Policy. Please review the Content Policies and Business and Program Policies before you create or upload additional applications. Note that repeated violations may result in a suspension of your Android Market Publisher account.

For more information, or to contact us, please reply to this email, or visit the Android Market Help Center.

Thanks,

The Android Market Team

After re-reading the policies mentioned in the email, I concluded that the most likely cause for suspension was trademark concerns. I had been very careful in the Market description (and in the app itself) to include disclaimers, mentioning that my app was in no way affiliated with Google, etc. But the logo was a major slip-up. It’s quite possible that somebody could mistake my app for an official Google app at first glance, simply due to the logo. I should have been more careful with that, but at the time I didn’t lend it a thought. I think Google would be perfectly justified in complaining, if that was indeed the problem.

What I’m not so happy about though, is Google’s communication once an app is suspended. There are absolutely no details provided about the cause. In my case, I had identified an area which was probably the cause of concern. But how do I know they won’t find some other issue to complain about? The email mentions “repeated violations may result in a suspension of your Android market Publisher account.” Should I risk losing my entire account, by changing the icon, and fixing what I could only guess was the problem?

The actual liason (if you could call it that) with the Android Market team is a topic for another time. But to cut a long story short, I eventually got a hint that trademark infringement was indeed the concern, and that I could try uploading a new version that fixed this issue. But due to some “internal accounting issues”, Google claimed they could not re-instate my app. I had to upload a new version, with a different package ID. Basically I lost my entire user base for that app, and risked losing my Android Market publisher account if I hadn’t correctly guessed the cause of infringement. A pretty big gamble if you ask me.

Social Invites Plus Logo

The new logo, sans any Google references

I did take the gamble though – and uploaded a new version called “Social Invites Plus” with a completely new logo. It seemed to pass the test, and has remained active to this date. But it hasn’t taken off like the first app did – and I’ve lost all the ratings, comments and active installs from the previous version. I can’t even release an update telling people it’s been removed.

Conclusion

I’m not too concerned about the evanescence of the current app. It was always intended to be a kind of experiment – it just happened to be a very successful experiment. Recently Google set a limit to the number of Google+ invites you can send per account. I’ve now got 150 invites remaining, so obviously I won’t be able to continue inviting everyone (although I did get through a few thousand in the preceding weeks). This means, for all intents and purposes, the Google+ Invites app (“Social Invites Plus”) is now dead.

I made note on the Android Market right from the beginning that this was an unofficial app, and therefore holds no guarantees of continuity. I’ll try to invite everyone who’s earned points so far, in consideration of the effort they put in. But for everyone else I’ve posted a message explaining the situation, and will be releasing an update on the Android Market with more details. Not much else I can do until Google opens the doors to more users. Which will happen sooner or later – but who knows when.

Despite the abrupt ending, this was a very interesting and worthwhile experience – the first app that I could really call successful, and my first experience with incentive advertising networks. What are some of the lessons I’ve learned?

  • Incentive advertising can be very effective
    If you’ve got some goods or services of value that you can offer from within your app, incentive advertising (from companies like TapJoy) can be far more effective than click-based alternatives such as AdMob.
  • The Android Market is key to success
    For many apps, the third-party app stores have a significant impact on sales and revenue. But for all my apps so far, the Google Android Market has been the predominating revenue generator. Without the Android Market this app would never have taken off.
  • Positive comments (and ratings) are worth a lot
    Many people who downloaded this app did so because of the positive comments. After inviting people to Google+, I shared a post with them, asking if they could spend a few moments to post about their experience on the Android Market page. I learned later that many people thought the app was a scam based on the description, but were won over by the dozens of happy users posting positive comments.
  • Relatively few installs are needed to drive rankings
    My app had only got 6,000 odd installs in a few days when it started to hit the trending charts. These aren’t really big numbers, so it doesn’t take a lot to become a trending or “hot” app. Once you’ve got that rank, it can become self-perpetuating and drive even more downloads.
  • Don’t copy other people’s stuff
    It seems obvious – but don’t copy Google’s (or anyone else’s) trademarks or logos. Even for a short-term experiment. It might seem tempting to piggy-back off the success of a popular name, but it’s not worth the risk. Big corporations don’t understand, even if you’re “trying to do the right thing”.
  • JasonArias

    Great story! But i do wish you still would have posted the income reports for your other apps so we could see how they are doing so far. Or is that still yet to come?

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      That’s still to come. I’ll be publishing my monthly income reports as normal, encompassing all the apps. Just thought this one was significant enough to warrant a separate post :)

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      That’s still to come. I’ll be publishing my monthly income reports as normal, encompassing all the apps. Just thought this one was significant enough to warrant a separate post :)

  • Peakmobiledesigns

    Great story. Do you mind sharing what your total profit was from this experiment, or did I miss that? 

    And one can only wonder how much farther it could have gone if it hadn’t been taken down. How much time passed between your take down notice and Google limiting the number of invites you could release? You’ve probably made more money from that than I’ll make in my first 6-12 months as a developer!

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      From memory, my total profit was about $500 at the time Google suspended the app. Since then I haven’t checked the earnings so regularly, but there’s still been a bit coming in. All these numbers will be in my next two monthly reports though. So stay tuned for more details!

      The app was suspended on the 17th July, and I first heard of Google placing a limit on the number of invites August 9th. So there was a fair while between the two events.

  • Jordan

    This is total hotness.  I too have made more from other ad platforms than from admob. That is too bad about the google suspension, however you can still offer the downloads by setting it up to take users to your own landing page and clicking download.  The way it works is by providing the access via your own host that once someone clicks download, it will download to their android phone.  However, I just read something about how it cannot be from third parties but not sure if it means bc of privacy issues or what, regardless you can still get your app to work on using it with in compliance with opensource some how or you could make it a webapp or shoot just make it a sign up form via a regular website and that it sends you the updates via email and even to your selected mobile email provider.

    If you want to partner with me, let me know. I just made 3 bucks from one user alone who filled out an offer one of my apps.  It’s awesome with mobile!

    Where there is a will there is a way!

  • Anonymous

    How do you make your icons?

  • Kimble

    Good to see google being hypocritical as usual. They’ll aggressively
    defend their own IP but don’t lift a finger to remove the thousands of
    IP infringing apps on the market. Most of them so blatant that it
    shouldn’t even take a complaint to be removed.

    • apd230

      that’s not how the world of business and law works, you can’t protect someone else’s IP. IP holders have to do it themselves. Google is smart about not getting into judgement calls about every single app that comes into their app store.

  • http://twitter.com/jkymarsh J. Ky Marsh

    Uhh, not to be a dick, but how in the hell would you think they would let that app remain in the market? I can name probably 5 different reasons why it was moronic in the first place…

  • Oleg Godovykh

    Now you’ve got app icon that totally looks like logo for CANAL+ (one of the main french TV channels) app: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.canal.android.canal =)

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      That’s pretty ironic – never heard of that app before, but it is quite similar!

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  • http://twitter.com/sandrum Ivan Sanchez

    The suspension problem happened to me as well.  As a developer, all it takes is a legitimate (looking) complaint to have Google “suspend” your app from the market.  It is possible to get the suspension lifted, but it takes weeks and a lot of email back and fourth between google and the 3rd parties who sent the complaint in the first place.  There really is no warning at all and a whole heap of fight to get back — but it can be done.

  • http://twitter.com/Clogish Nick Stevens

    David, I have an idea how you could potentially keep the app running despite your 150 invites limit. Hit me up with an email address (or send me an email) and I’ll share it with you.

  • Ufuk Kayserilioglu

    Now that you have started going down the rabbit hole of border-line behaviour, I guess you could send yourself a Google+ invite (to another Google account that you create) and get yourself a fresh set of 150 invites. Rinse and repeat as many times as you like. :)

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      I *could* do that – but I’m pretty sure it would be against the TOS to create multiple accounts for that purpose. Probably not the best idea, after being suspended for violating some un-specified TOS already :)

      • Ufuk Kayserilioglu

        I think so too. My comment was more of a tongue-in-cheek, first-thing-that-sprung-to-mind-regarding-an-arbitrary-limit; as you can probably tell.

        Anyways, thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • http://kwpolska.co.cc/ Kwpolska

    You are crazy.  Why didn’t you do this through a bloody website?  I’d be happier to get a G+ invite through my PC, easy and fast, rather than grabbing the phone, praying for the battery to be still alive, turn on WiFi/data connection, fire up Market, search for an app, download it, and THEN get my bloody invitation… yeah, I’d stay with the PC way.

    • Kimbert Bartiquel

      Just simple answer man, Android made him get more money than what websites do.

  • Anonymous

    How is a JAR file “a lot simpler to integrate with source control”? You can’t diff a binary blob. In any case, if you really want a JAR, it’s easy to create one from the source files (certainly much easier than reconstructing the source code from a supplied JAR).

    The fact that the advertising network supplies the source code seems like a purely positive thing to me. If it were licensed under an under an open source license (is it?), it would enable developers of GPL-licensed applications to use advertising, which isn’t possible with AdMob for example.

  • http://www.floor4.co.uk Oli Wright

    David, this prompted me to go off in search of the official line on putting a Google+ button in an app, and I can’t seem to find one.  Whereas both twitter (http://twitter.com/about/resources/logos) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/brandpermissions/logos.php) provide a page of image resources and guidelines, the Google equivalent isn’t as easily found.  Any ideas where this might be?

  • http://www.mypassiveincomejourney.net Kelly

    Hi David – what i love about this post is your willingness to break the rules (even if you wouldn’t do it again).  You learn the most this way, uncover some awesome things, expanded your creativity, etc.

    True innovation never came from laws and legalism, but of the willingness to do something different.  Good stuff :)

  • Gilimor

    thats easy, check this http://jobs4you-online.blogspot.com/

  • MG

    You are wrong. The Google + like logo contribute 80% of your success. You do the left 20% (You done it well I’d say)

  • Anonymous

    this is quite sad :'(  F U, Google!!!

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  • Christopher Merlin Johnson

    This is hilarious. I wish I had thought of that idea. Instead I’m still only making about 20 cents a day from 6 apps.  Good job for trying something out!

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  • Nikola DJukanov

    thats not truth, i dont understand why u need to get banned……
    http://jobs4you-online.blogspot.com/

    • Mikechuks007

      I am telling the truth.. I did post my experience here for you to believe it or not. I posted so we can figure out i am now being tracked as a published because of one banned app. any thoughts?

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  • SuperDroidDev

    My own experience as a publisher on Android Market is annoying. My first app was removed from the market and subsequently my pushlisher acct was suspended. So i created another account and uploaded same app with same name and it was removed again after 3 days. I created yet another publisher account with same app but different name and my publisher account was suspended the 3rd time (due to previous violation of T&C). I am wondering how i am being tracked. Because there is really no concrete reason for suspending the app in the first case. why are they so interested in me..I had over 10,000 downloads in 2months for my 1st app. I think Android market is unfair..They have not responded to my appeal..

    • Kimbert Bartiquel

      Same with me, my first app was also suspended, according to the support it shows that my app is a dangerous product, my app is an sms sending app, that will send multiple sms to the user, yet i accept that my app is dangerous and will harm devices, but the point is there are lot of apps live in G market with the same functionality of my app. just wondering, i see its unfair.

  • Swanidhi Singh

    Just one quick question. Did you get to keep the $300? 

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      Yep – sure did :)

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  • nr7

    good m8

  • Ravi Rao

    Hey David, Good read..
    I would like to develop apps for G Market.. just for fun.. can you please suggest any documents/materials that I can refer to start developing apps?

    Thanks,
    Ravi

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      Check out the forum, there’s some good advice been posted about this: http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=33 and http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=9

  • Francisco M. Marzoa Alonso

     Erm… What is exactly an invite? Excuse my ignorance.

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      When I wrote this, the only way you could access Google+ was if someone sent you a special invite through the website. This came through as an email.

  • http://www.socialcubix.com/ Facebook Application Developer

    Pretty cool. Amazing and prestigious to me, all stuff here is informative.

  • Amber.L.Gardner

    I can download and many offer android.
    If anyone has more android offer higher pay and daily pay, please contact me via email: Amber.L.Gardner2243 @ gmail.com

  • Kimbert Bartiquel

    Hi David, Nice article, just a question, using tapjoy into your app, so you are using virtual currency how long it did take to make your virtual currency enabled? because mine until now i didnt received any reply to their support, still disabled. Thanks. can you give me some tips? Thanks Thanks.

    • http://www.makingmoneywithandroid.com/ David Webb

      It’s been a while since I deployed a new app with Tapjoy, but I remember the process being quite fast. Certainly less than 24 hours after I emailed support.

      • Kimbert Bartiquel

        Ahh, I see, I’ll just wait until tomorrow, its been just 10hours ago that i emailed them. Thanks. I was lucky that i found your article, then Ive learned from your experience.

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  • Guest

    Greed and fear; Google provides both. If you chase every reward presented and flee every punishment threatened, then you are more or less determined by your environment, and you exist therefore to a lesser degree.

    Don’t let Google or anyone else put you in a Skinner box; there is meaning, but it lies beyond those four walls.