This last session for SES NY, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Black Hat PPC Tactics” was chalk full of ideas (nudge, wink) not to use.
After surveying the room for Google representatives in the room, the panel of PPC experts launched into presentations outlining gray and black hat tactics for PPC. Are these great ideas or diabolical thinking … you decide.
There is always plenty of discussion around PPC management, monitoring, optimizing, and measuring. But what about tactics that aren’t as straightforward? This session brought us closer to the truth as three PPC experts presented ways to massage paid campaigns with not so clear-cut methods. The session was moderated by Richard Zwicky, the Founder & CEO of Enquisite.
Good or bad, it’s not the land of plenty for gray and black hat tactics so speakers had many of the same ideas with some twists and turns. Hang on for the ride or rather hang on to your hats.
Let’s start first with some definitions from David Szetela, CEO of Clix Marketing:
White Hat – Everybody does it, plus it’s all the clever things David discovers (insert laughter)
Gray Hat– You might get your wrist slapped for it, but you won’t get d-listed
Black Hat– Will get you thrown out of the PPC sand box and get you d-listed
Jamie Smith, CEO of Engine Ready outlined advanced strategies using not so secret strategies to ultimately gain a competitive edge. He also emphasized the importance of planning and of using strategies such as utilizing visitor behavior for conversion inspiration.
His idea for gray hat tactics started with a need for managing and being aware of direct competitors. The tactic was coined “Operation Camouflage” and was essentially created to hide from competitors by trying to keep the best performing ads away from competitor eyes.
Version one consisted of deselecting geographic areas where competitors were based. After finding the location of the competitor’s headquarters, a campaign geo-targeting the area was set up with non performing ads. Eventually, it was discovered that the strategy was flawed. It didn’t take into account the use of an agency who could be stationed anywhere and it also omitted any traffic from sometimes large population areas. Enter Version Two of “Operation Camouflage.”
Version Two had the same goal as Version One, but relied on IP exclusion. While this information isn’t immediately available, it is attainable. You could check analytics for traffic with like IP addresses that yield no action. Yet another method is to send the competitor an engaging email and then grab the IP address and location from the reply.
Smith advises winning the battle before your competitors do it to you. Write compelling ads and look at organic ads for ideas.
Kevin Lee, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Didit advises forgetting black hat, but feels gray hat is OK. They are simply loopholes. Some examples are:
• Dynamic Key Insertion and broad match
• Layer style pop-ups
• Ambiguous polices
• Click routing
• Landing page personalization
• grabbing some of your competitors traffic by geo-segmentation, day-parting, and re-targeting based on behavior of searchers
He also suggested staying educated on best practices, pick the right partners, personalize and never stop testing or segmenting.
Szetela was next with his favorite gray hat trick. He suggests using “№” instead of “No”. An added bonus is that you gain a whole additional character since “№” is only considered one. In this world, one character can mean a ton. He also suggests learning how to use trademark and copyright characters such as © ® and ™ in ads. Make using symbols easy by pasting them into Word first and then into the ad. Review of the bullets guidelines indicates that only one can be used per line. A few may not work so test lots of variations and use Adwords Editor to get more symbols included.
Other gray tactics include:
• superlatives such as: top, leading, and best
• hyphenated trademark terms
• trademarks in ad copy via Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI)
Szetela also emphasizes the need to pay close attention to disapprovals and make the change immediately.
Things he considers black hat are:
• Geo-targeting so competitors don’t see trademark violations
• Violating rules via day parting by only displaying ads when competition is, for example, asleep.
Bill Leake, President and CEO of Apogee Search, counseled people to work with their Google representative, then went on to outline low risk to high risk PPC tactics.
Some people feel that Spyfu (link), a competitive research tool, is black hat. Leake, on the other hand, thinks it is a wonderful resource tool. As with most controversial things, there is a continuing debate over what is black hat.
Owning shelf space, aka double serving used to be considered gray or black hat. A few years ago it wasn’t allowed and you had to take it down. There used to be an official policy. Now, it is easier to get exception as long as you meet the criteria. In some instances, there are ecommerce sites triple serving or having the same company in same PPC space. To get around Google, companies use separate domain names and separate IP addresses.
The dark side of reputation management can lead you to some down & dirty tactics that are nasty to competitors. It’s black hat to use bad articles or use negative reputation issues to create Adword ads.
Many tactics were discussed in this session, but some were not meant for consumption. Be careful, you don’t want to get kicked off the playing field.