Black & Grey Hat PPC

PushON | October 7th 2013

White, Gray and Black Hats

We have all heard about black hat SEO. However there does not only seem to be a fashion for black headwear in the SEO domain. Black hats can also be found in PPC, here some techniques are quite simple, some are more refined (usually the most sneaky ones) and require coding skills.

So why are we writing this article? Well mainly to tell you that if you use these techniques knowingly, you are a jerk. Secondly, to make it easier for you to spot, if one of your competitors is messing with your ads. And lastly, if you are a newbie in this business, we would like to make you aware that these techniques are against the Google regulations and guidelines, as many marketers are simply not aware that what they are doing it is not within the guidelines.

  1. Advertisers set up multiple accounts in order to show more than 1 ad per search query using different billing addresses, credit cards and different domains. Google does police this stating that the domains have to have a different look and feel and that there cannot be more than an 80% overlap between the sites. These guidelines might be fussy and it might take Google a while to detect this, however when Google detects you doing this, you will risk both accounts being suspended. Chances are your client will be less than impressed.
  2. Shady Geotargeting – some companies don’t want to bid on their brand terms, especially not on affiliate. These keywords have a low CPC and often a high conversion rate, therefore black hat agencies often use those keywords against the instructions of their partners, excluding the location of their partner company and therefore avoiding that company seeing it. My advice therefore is, if you want to find out if other brands are bidding on your brand don’t rely on “occasionally googling yourself” but to check the auction insights on your brand terms or to use the adwords  preview tool changing testing several user locations.
  3. Bad Press Trademarks are protected by Google and Microsoft policies, which means you cannot use your competitor’s trademark in your ad. UNLESS, you either set up a comparison website on your own site. This in itself is not a black hat technique; however you have to be somewhat fair in that comparison, for it to be allowed. But there is a shadier and more damaging way. You could direct the traffic to a bad press article or a website stating bad reviews with the result of a relatively good quality score for the trademarks and also putting some potential customers off buying from your competitor. However, you are here paying money for a click through which your customer does not get in contact with your brand at all and nobody guarantees that this customer you just put of your competitor will come to you. And ultimately your ads are going to get disapproved anyway.
  4. Steal competitor’s traffic by building a PHP redirect script. This is by far the cleverest and also shadiest technique and requires quite an amount of skill. The PHP script redirects users to the site of the black hat on the first click, and to the real site every other click after that. This can be combined with another clever component by including IP-based geotargeting – meaning it will show only the original website in certain areas, similar to the shady geotargeting above, avoiding detection. Fortunately this happens relatively rare, due to the complexity of this method.

On top of that there are also some grey hat techniques. Grey hat techniques are not generally wrong, but not right either. Literally you are doing something you are not supposed to do, till Google catches you and disapproves your ad. This can include:

  1. As above mentioned Google does not allow you to use trademarks in your ads without setting up a comparison page, some ads though can take months to be disapproved some never get disapproved as some brands don’t enforce their trademarks. If the grey hat wants improve your chances of not getting caught, combining this with the above mentioned black hat technique of geotargeting might help…
  2. However if you use the competitor term as keyword in combination with dynamic keyword insertion, voila the competitor’s brand term shows up in your ad, in a form that is very unlikely to get disapproved. These to techniques are once again a good reason to regularly conduct Brand checks using the ad preview tool.
  3. Capitalising words like FREE in your ad in order to grab your clients attention.  If you are lucky you will be able to upload them, at times they can run for weeks. But ultimately, and recently sooner and sooner your ads will get disapproved and you will need to write new ads
  4. A similar thing holds true for using more than one symbol per line, sometimes they still go through but Google has gotten better in spotting them immediately and even if they go through in the first place, they are going to be disapproved soon.

While some of these techniques seem attractive at the first look they are most likely going to damage either your campaign or your relationship with your client/employer. Ultimately, “old fashioned” well-structured optimising and reviewing of your account is going to deliver longer lasting and greater rewards.