Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Black Hat PPC Tactics

March 26, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Last session, folks. Look alive. Maybe if you look alive I can trick myself into feeling like I’m still alive. Ready to try with me?

Okay, I’ve got two things to share with you before we jump in here.

  1. I just downed a mini bottle of Sprite and am now having flashbacks to that scene in Charlie and the Chocolate factory when he’s weightless and floating and almost gets kill in an air vent. Remember that? [Are your childhood memories as dark as mine?]
  2. I’m wishing I could split myself in two. I’m here in the PPC session to give you guys some coverage variety and flavor, but my other heart really wants to be in the Blogging for Business session. Hopefully someone will whip up some good coverage of that. I’m sure it’s going to be a great panel.

Okay, onto the goods.

Black Hat PPC Tactics
Black Hat PPC Tactics – Photo used with permission by Willem Knibbe

Richard Zwicky is moderating speakers Jamie Smith, Kevin Lee, David Szetela, and Bill Leake. Let’s go.

Bill is up first.

At the end of the day, Google is making money on this stuff so they’re a little more conflicted with it than they are with SEO. If you’ve noticed, Google has a lot more people who will talk to you about paid than they do on the organic side. Funny, eh?  Google will help you through situations because they want that money placed. If you’re not an affiliate moving from one site to the next, ignoring your Google emails can lead to trouble.

Some folks think SpyFu is blackhat. He doesn’t. He thinks its a great tool. If you put a few sites in there, they’re pretty correct on volumes for Company A vs Company B. How about owning shelf-space? Doesn’t Google have a strong policy against double-serving and don’t they enforce it?

In January, Google added that one of the ways you can get an exception in double serving is if the pricing on Site A and Site B is significantly different. Google wants to deliver more dollars to their shareholders and they’ve made the ecosystem a lot friendlier to its affiliates.  And what about triple serving?  He shows two screenshots where one company has three PPC ads on the same result. Nice.

Messing with the Competition

If you’re running ads that you think the competition might not fully appreciate, and might even respond to, consider:

  • Geotargeting them OUTSIDE of competition headquarters  OR
  • Exclude their IP OR
  • Do BOTH!

This works for affiliates too. It’s easy to exclude IP addresses:

  1. Sign into your Google AdWords account
  2. Click Tools at the top
  3. Click IP exclusion
  4. Select the campaign and click GO 
  5. Enter the list of IPs to be excluded
  6. You’re done! :)

How ’bout those Trademarks?

What if your manufacturers just can’t get off their rears and finish giving those forms back to Google to make Google happy that you can use their trademarks in the ad copy? Well, there’s this thing called Dynamic Keyword Insertion. I think you might like it. You don’t have to get approval.

Down and Dirty Nasty Competitive

Have your competitors ever had bad press? Gosh, do people need to see that info? Would you be doing a civic duty to help that info get and stay out there? Adwords to the rescue! [not giggling. Giggling would be bad. Not. Giggling.]

Nastier yet…messing with their positive reputation management campaigns. If site one is using you can trump their ad with a better quality score and higher bid for  Hee.

Next up is David.

David asks me and Virgnia Nussey if there’s really still liveblogging after Twitter. Yes, David, yes, there is.

Gray Matter Ponders Gray Areas

  • White: Everybody uses it
  • White: Clever things I discovered
  • Gray: Might get you wrist slapped but not delisted
  • Black: Will definitely get you delisted.

Favorite Grey Hat Trick

It’s possible to put a lot of different characters and symbols into your ads, even though Google says you can’t. It’s tough for Google to police because they’re legitimate characters in other languages.  He bases this on PPC Hero. There was an article about  how you could get the trademark and the copyright symbols into an ad.

Symbols Guidelines

  • Use only one per line
  • A few may not work – English pound sign
  • Test lots of variations – and these guidelines
  • Use AdWords Editor to create ads

He shows a sample ad where the word “no” is written as one character, which basically hands you back another character for your ad. Sweetness!

Grayish Tips:

  • Capitalize Words: Google says you can’t do this, but he thinks you should try it anyway. If they find it, they’ll email you and ask you to read their TOS. He says to tell them that, yeah, you will.  Heh.
  • Superlative: Top, Leading, even Best
  • Hyphenated trademarked terms (Ep-son or S E I K O)
  • Trademarks in ad copy via DKI
  • Pay close attention to catch disapproval

Way Black

  • Violating rules via day-parting only when Mountain View is asleep. [Oh, heavens…]
  • Geotargeting where competitors won’t see trademark violations or IP exclusion
  • Shell companies and different accounts.

Up next is Kevin.


  • DYI and broad match
  • Domain names
  • Layer-style popups

Ambigious Policies

Clickrouting: Does more than one page of your site convert better depending on:

  • GEO
  • TOD
  • Cookie
  • ISP
  • HTTP Referrer

Landing page personalization: can you personalize to dramatically change the offer?

Under the Competitive Radar

Want to grab some of your competiton’s traffic?

  • Geo segmentation
  • Dayparting
  • Day of week
  • Retargeting
  • Synched buying based on media expenditures.


  • Stay educated on best practices
  • Pick the right partners for tech strategy
  • Find the prospect and personalize
  • Never stop testing, never stop segmenting.

Aw, c’mon. That was a little week, wasn’t it? Lamesauce.

Jamie is up next.

He says the other panelists covered everything. You can go now.  Heh.

Operation Camoflage Concept

Keep best performing ads private and hide from your competitors.   When you find that winning ad creative, you don’t want to share that with your competitors. If you can block them from seeing it, you can win the Quality Score battle.  You want to find the location of your top 3-5 competitors, set up a geo-targeted campgin for their location and lower your bid or don’t run your campaigns there at all.

Version 1 of Campaign Camoflage: ID competitors, edit settings for geo targeting campaign, run.

Problems: If they’re using an agency, it’s not as effective. Or if your competitor is in a magor US city, you can’t also hide from your customers. If you’re a local business, you only have one geographic area.

Version 2: Do the IP exclusion. That’s the best way to camoflage. If you don’t know their IP, send them an email from an alias email (haha lots of people say “yep” in unison. Clearly they’ve done this before.) and grab their IP address. Now you’re completely camoflaged. That is very awesome.

Strategy Organization

Visibility: How to keep the inlaws from visiting

  • Impressions: Why pay for visitors you dont want?
  • Evolution of Match Type: Exact vs Negative Keywords
  • Geotargeting & Dayparting
  • Creative – The Art of Writing Compelling Copy

Take a look at the organic rankings. Those have been proven to be clicked on. Read those over and look for inspiration in there. When analyzing ad creative, clickthrough rate is not the only consideration. You need to look at your data sample.

Continuity & Conversion: Keep the keyword, the ad and the landing page the same.

The X-Factor: Assists and Calling Tracking: What your analytics won’t tell you

  • Web site conversion rate vs Call in CR: Your call in conversion rate is a good number to know.
  • Which ad group and KWs are making your phone ring?
  • Which keywords are driving assist conversions?
  • Test poor performing keywords for call ins before you get rid of them. Then take their most expensive keywords and serve up a unique phone number for that word and prove whether or not that word drive callings.

They’re going to be releasing a study of assist keywords. Don’t give credit to the keyword that caused that last click. You have to think about what terms exposed you to people.

Question and Answer

Can you talk about call tracking software? Right now it’s pretty new.  He wants to know one good practice for running campaigns and what software you use to track calls on a campaign level.

David: Every advertiser has call tracking for free. It’s associated with audio ads. Advertisers can create an audio campaign and secure an unlimited number of 800 numbers that can be tracked independently. You can associate them with campaigns or keywords or ad copy, etc. You get a lot of data back.

Kevin: They create a little character or icon at the page and asked people to click on it to get free shipping or some other offer. This works because most people are still on the site when they call. You can use the time stamp of that to synch it up with the order.  He wants David to test that an 800 number serves better than an 877.

Jamie: They did a test where the local number outperformed the 800 number. That was for a local business though. It may be different for a national business.

One of the customer’s competitors uses false advertising and Google’s not doing anything [False: They claim something to be in a product that’s not]

Bill: You can publicize someone else’s statement of truth. If your competitor is out there and there’s a third party study saying they’re not 100 percent truthful, run an AdWords campaign on their brand name. “Get the Truth About…” and link to the study.

What about buying trademarked terms? Some people are policing their mark, others aren’t. I feel like Google gets a lot of revenue from people buying trademarked names.

Kevin: Google’s policy is lax because they’re much more searcher focused. Putting aside legal or ethical issues, when you wear a consumer hat and that keyword is not in the ad and there’s no attempt to pretend you sell it, one can make a strong argument for consumer choice.

We have a competitor that buys our client’s trademark term and uses it in the ad copy. Any experience?

David: You should be able to stop them pretty easily through the normal means.

Bill: Go to a lawyer and have them send a letter. That’s a blatant violation.

 We need to scale up our PPC into the millions. My boss wants to find a set of affiliates or individual black hat PPC guys to take pieces of that for us directly. How do I find those people?

Kevin: Why? If there’s ever more than one involved, it’s going to be a mess. Everyone will be stepping on each other’s toes. It doesn’t matter what you do, if it shares the same shopping cart and commissionability, it’s going to be a nightmare.

You mentioned DKI as a way to get around trademark restrictions. He’s tried it and has been shut down. He assumes you see instances where it doesn’t work. Does it have to do with the fact his account was started by someone who did nothing but violate trademark laws.

Bill: That’s probably a safe assumption. If you’re going to test things, do it in a different account. Separate it from things.

Would you use cloaking to prevent them alternative information with presents a higher quality score as a blackhat technique

Kevin: He would warrant to guess, yes, but they do it more for the benefit of the consumer, not Google’s Quality Score. As long as the page is somewhat relevant, even if the page is 70 percent Flash, you’re not going to receive a demotion because of that.  He believes a greater component of QS has to do with the number of backlinks.

Bill: That being said, there are a few landng page elements that can set off the alarm bells. One of them is an affiliate link.

And we’re done! Thanks for sticking with us through the past three days of liveblogging coverage. As your reward, here’s a short clip of that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment I was telling you about! ;)

(Thanks to Susan Esparza and Rob Woods for tracking it down for me.)


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