Black Hat PPC Techniques

Sometimes it seems like SEO guys have all the fun. They live in a world of nebulous rules on what actually works, while us PPC folks have to live within the rigid confines of AdWords and AdCenter user agreements. Plus, they get to have cool labels like “white hat” and “black hat.” Well I say screw that! There is such a thing as black hat PPC, but the stakes are a lot higher. If you do some black hat PPC, you might get de-indexed, but at least you’re not losing any money. You can just get a new domain (or wait for the search engines to forget about your violation) and you’re back in business. Get caught in a black hat PPC action, and you could be kicked out and cut off from a PPC network forever. But that doesn’t stop certain people from going over to the dark side of paid search.

I’ve collected a few black hat PPC techniques to show my loyal readers what it’s all about. Let me be clear, though: I do not endorse these techniques, and practicing them will likely get you banned from AdWords, AdCenter, or both. Let these be some examples of what some of our less ethical peers are up to, so that you can know what’s going on in case you run into them.

Black Hat PPC Technique #1: Multiple Accounts

This is the most common black hat technique, and many advertisers do this without even knowing it’s wrong. It’s pretty simple in it’s execution: just open up another PPC account with the same provider. Both Google and Microsoft forbid this, but their only real way of preventing it is blocking users from using the same credit card number for multiple accounts. Just bring out another credit card (preferably with a different billing address) and you’re on your way to double-serving in the SERPs. In order to prevent detection, double-servers often use a separate domain name for their second account. But of course, this phony domain will redirect to the real one via a landing page button or link, simulating affiliate marketing tactics. If you’ve got enough money (and the guts to flaunt PPC rules), you might even get away with serving two or three ads per SERP to drive more PPC traffic.

Black Hat PPC Technique #2: “Creative” Geotargeting

This one’s popular with unscrupulous affiliates. Many companies that engage affiliate marketers will have specific rules preventing affiliates from bidding on specific keywords in PPC, such as a company’s brand name or trademarks. These keywords are likely to come in at a very low CPA, so it doesn’t make sense to outsource marketing acquisition for them. But, companies can’t catch what they can’t see. A shady affiliate can set up a campaign using the banned words, and exclude the partner company’s geographic area from the campaign’s geotargeting. That would make it unlikely for any employee of the company to stumble across a rule-breaking affiliate’s PPC ad. A truly ambitious PPC black-hatter might exclude the areas of any Google headquarters to try and avoid detection from Google account representatives. But with Google campuses all around the country, you might end up excluding more territory than you include.

Black Hat PPC Technique #3: Slander!

Everybody has a PPC competitor that they’d love to crush. But Google and Microsoft policies are protective of trademarks, so you can’t create an ad with a competitor’s name in it (most of the time, anyway). You can bid on a competitor’s name in a keyword, though. You might incur some quality score penalties due to lack of relevance, but at least you’ll show up. There’s one tiny loophole, though – everybody has some bad press somewhere. If you’re willing to be a real PPC douchebag, you can bid on your competitor’s brand name and point your destination URL to a page of bad reviews or a negative press article. Guess what – this page will be highly relevant to that brand name! And you just might scare away some potential customers that will flock to your less scandalous site! You still can’t use the trademarked name in the ad title, but some dynamic keyword insertion might take care of that as well.

Well there you have it. If you use any of these techniques, you’re a jerk and you’ll probably get banned from the PPC network. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
This entry was posted in Bing, Google AdWords, MSN AdCenter, PPC Basics, Search Engines and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Black Hat PPC Techniques

  1. This is the first article I’ve seen about black hat PPC, props! The double serving technique does work for a while, but they eventually catch it. I’ve seen this many times.
    I actually had a conversation with Google about this, and it turns out that a company can double serve ads granted 1) the ads go to different domains, 2) the domains have a different “look and feel,” 3) there cannot be an 80% or greater product overlap between them, and 4) the product pricing (for redundant products) must be different.
    I’d wager that if a company controlled enough domains and followed the rules , they could probably more than double serve

  2. j says:

    Ifaffiliate networks wanted to stop it they could, but they charge commission to the vendor on all commissions paid to affiliates. no motivation to stop it, it just reduces their revenues.