Posted by Rob Kerry last August 24, 2007
Rob Kerry has written a very interesting article on Search Engine Watch about playing dirty with PPC. While these techniques aren't something I would recommend using myself, it's very useful to be aware of black hat pay-per-click methods as it's possible your competitors could be applying them.
In the article Rob discusses how you can duplicate a competitors ad text to replace their ad by outbidding them...
Pay-per-click is a competitive process simply by design, so there’s always going to be people who choose to use dirty tactics rather than having to pay the higher bid prices. Whether you should join in with this philosophy is something your company must decide, as the best dark tactics also have some of the biggest risks.
Black hat PPC is rarely discussed in the industry, especially not as much as black hat SEO. It mostly consists of using flaws and weaknesses in systems such as Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter to your advantage.
One such flaw is the lack of pre-moderation on the AdWords system, allowing changes that meet a set of automated rules to go live instantly 24/7. Unfortunately, the human side to moderation doesn’t seem to work 24/7, giving a time period in which non-compliant ads can be published.
One of many reasons affiliates use this technique is that it allows them to show a different display URL to the actual click-through URL on the ad. This means that over the weekend, their affilaiteredirect.com site can now appear to be amazon.com/music - resulting in a substantially increased CTR from the brand recognition.
You can use this trick in many different ways, as long as it doesn’t hit an automated rule such as trademark infringement. Bringing this to an in-house scenario, you may want to outbid your competitors on their brand terms or use ad copy that a human editor would normally decline. The key to doing this is to test what times and days an editor declines non-compliant copy, plus re-instating the original ad before the end of your blind-spot timeframe. (Some bid management tools can do this for you.)
Same Search Term Multiple Ads
A big restriction on most PPC networks is the inability to have multiple ads from one company displayed for the same search term. You may want to do this in order to advertise multiple products or to flood the ad space and push your competitors off the first page of the search results.
Getting around this restriction is a little trickier, as a new PPC account will be needed for each additional advert you wish to display. This could be achieved by creating a number of phantom companies with a unique bank account, credit card, and address, or you could get a little help from your friends. In either case, it’s often a good idea to use pre-paid credit cards so your phantom company or helpful friend never gets into debt. You’re then ready to start bidding, although be careful not to leave any footprints that associate the accounts to one another.
It’s best to use the first trick I mentioned so you can link directly through to your main site out-of-hours without fear of getting caught. You can also flood the search results for your competitors’ non-trademarked brand terms so they don’t have a single brand name PPC listing.
It’s best not to be too evil toward your competitors though, as someone will eventually find out, and you may get reported to Google. Your best line of defense when this happens is to use your existing affiliate program (or create a fake one) and blame it all on a maverick affiliate of yours. (Remember to use different affiliate IDs for each ad’s click-through URL.)
Copying Competitor Ads
A final example of playing dirty is to copy a competitor’s ad (title, copy, and display URL), and run it on your account with a different click-through URL. As Google AdWords doesn’t allow duplicate ads, you can wipe your competitor from the paid search listings simply by using the same display URL. As long as you bid more than the competitor’s maximum bid, your campaign should replace theirs.
The user will be expecting to land on your competitor’s site when clicking through, so it’s best to create a landing page mentioning the competitor, perhaps in the form of a damning review, e.g., “Product A has been proven to be inferior to Product B...” If doing this on a large scale, try to do it on weekends; once again, so it’s harder for your competitor to monitor and analyze.
Remember, all these examples could risk your PPC account and should therefore be used with caution.
About the author
Rob is a UK-based SEO Consultant and the Forums Editor at Search Engine Watch. See more articles by rob