Google Apparently Penalising Adwords Advertisers With Flash Landing Pages

Posted by on Jan 7, 2011

EDIT April 12 2011: This post was published in January 2011. Recently, more and more people are hitting this page which is telling me that more and more people are having the “rendering issues detected; landing page not serving on mobile devices with full browsers” message in Adwords. I’ve popped an extra update at the foot of this post with some steps on how to rectify the problem.


Here’s a bit of a weird one. A couple of campaigns I have a hand in running have experienced an almost total bottom-out in activity, both on clicks and impressions.It happened at around the same time (within a couple of days of each other) and they both went from happy, healthy, productive campaigns to utter graveyards.

When you see something like this, your first thought is to check the Change History to look for a cause behind the effect; on both campaigns, nothing that I or any other user with access had done had brought about the change.

With no campaign alerts, no obvious changes to competitor advertising, one token browser cache refresh and a lot of digging, it looks like this is the culprit:

Adwords Rendering Issues Detected

Ads are in an “Approved (limited)” state which the tooltip tells us is owing to “rendering issues detected; landing page not serving on mobile devices with full browsers.”

Zoiks. I’d not seen this particular error before, and an obligatory trawl of Google’s support forum didn’t tell me anything.

Both campaigns sent Adwords traffic to generic landing pages, which followed the template of the main site. That template happened to include a Flash header — not the most SEO-friendly design choice, but in their niches the eye-candy was working well with conversion rates.

Okay, so we know that Flash won’t render on iOS devices. And technically, I guess that’s the same as sending desktop browsers to content that they can’t access. But here’s the kicker: by default, all Adwords campaigns are set to target all devices, including those that don’t support certain content.

Further, both campaigns were stopped completely in their tracks because of this — they weren’t showing to full browsers, or mobile browsers that are able to render Flash.

In short — because certain devices couldn’t load an element on your landing page, your whole campaign suffers.

Naturally, if you’re seeing the Approved (Limited) ad status with the “rendering issues detected” tooltip, the first thing you’ll want to do is to pull the ads from displaying on mobile devices. This is done via the “Settings” tab at the Campaign level.

Once you’ve done this, it’s a good idea to resubmit your ads. If you’re using Google Adwords Editor, deleting and then reposting all ads will accomplish this. If you’re not using Adwords Editor, you could make some small changes to the ad copy to have them reconsidered (as “new” ads) or — best of all — use this opportunity to run with some brand new text ads, getting some new ideas into your display lineage.



UPDATE: April 12 2011 If you’re pressed, and if you’re having this problem across your whole campaign (as is likely the case), the quickest and most sure-fire way of removing the penalty completely is: start a new Adwords account.

It’s kind of a mercenary step to recommend, but it’s the only way of being ultra-sure that you’re not going to have the campaign-wide penalty still applied. Even if it’s only temporary and partial, if your site depends significantly on Adwords to maintain a steady ROI then you’re going to feel the pinch from this penalty.

There’s an added bonus in creating a new account. Quality Score is hereditary, meaning that the QS you have on your current keywords is affected by historical campaign CTR as well as keyword relevance. So, if for a while your campaign was sandboxing and generally having freestyle experiments with keywords, ad text, and other settings then you might have had very low CTR for a time. If you’re seeing Quality Scores around the 3 and 4 mark, you can bump these up to 6 or 7.

Chances are, almost every Adwords campaign starts out with heavy experimentation before settling on the optimum settings. Taking this penalty message as an option to start out afresh with a new, “phoenixed” account is good practice by itself.

Here’s a summary of the steps you’ll need to carry out:

  • Pause all currently-running campaigns in the outgoing Adwords account. (Don’t delete them, as you’ll want to refer back to their data further down the line.)
  • Create a new Adwords account under a new Google Account
  • Using Adwords Editor, copy the campaign data from the old account to the new account. If your old account has an¬†unnecessarily¬†complex structure with old, disused campaigns then this is an ideal time to simplify
  • Check all settings, bids, keywords and ads have been correctly copied (you can rely on Adwords editor about 95% of the time, but the devil is in the detail with that 5%!)
  • Ensure that all campaigns on the new account are only targeting Desktop devices and not mobile devices
  • Change the status of campaigns in the new account to Enabled (triple-checking that the old account is all Paused)
  • Upload data via Adwords Editor, and your new account is running.


If you’re stuck, or if you’d like more of a helping hand on how to turn this around, reach out via the comments below or contact me.


  • John Guelph says:

    Just got this problem . Got rid of the flash on the site and it went away. Thanks for the tips.