4 Black Hat Google Ads Practices To Watch Out For
If your business is in a competitive industry and you noticed your paid campaigns are underperforming, you could be a victim of Black Hat PPC practices. They can be incredibly difficult to spot and cost you your entire marketing budget, as well as your business' reputation.
The PPC Agency works in some of the most competitive industries in the UK and globally. In just one industry we see CPCs go over £60 and nearly a hundred different websites competing for leads in the same niche market. In several other industries, we have come across seemingly lead-gen websites phishing for personal information, using legitimate brand names and trademarks. We also frequently come across many competitors playing dirty, employing dishonest and even illegal practices. To help you make the most of your PPC budget, we put together a quick guide on the 4 black hat Google ads practices to watch out for:
Click Fraud. We have covered the topic of click fraud and bot traffic in previous blog posts. It is a fact that competitors can and will click on your ads. Google will reassure you that they are taking care of fraudulent traffic, but in reality, it doesn't require much effort from competitors to effectively bypass the fraud detection algorithm and waste your PPC budget.
The very obvious intentional click fraud, clicking your ads multiple times within minutes or seconds, is what will get fraudulent clicks flagged. If however competitors click your ads once every few hours from different devices, those clicks would be counted as legitimate and you will be charged. This process is called manual click fraud and is easy to tackle. Create an Analytics audience with returning visitors, add them to your PPC campaigns and either reduce the bids or totally exclude your past visitors. This method however would prevent you from taking advantage of search remarketing to returning visitors who are much more likely to convert.
The real nightmare with click fraud starts when competitors employ bots to drain your PPC budget. Click bots can easily change their IPs and device type, making it impossible to spot from your Google Analytics. The only way to protect yourself from click fraud is to use a click fraud prevention software, where you can decide how many clicks per device you allow. You can read more about it in our Click fraud blog post.
Double serving. Multiple accounts serving ads for the same domain is a clear violation of Google Ads policy - if two accounts are detected advertising the same website, advertisers would get a slap on the wrist and have the accounts merged. Continuous policy violations can lead to the domain(s) being blacklisted and banned from ever advertising on Google again.
The black hat PPC technique we often see is advertising using two or more very similar websites, owned by the same entity. The more real estate advertisers take across SERPs, the more likely it is users convert with them and not you. So what can you do? Unfortunately not much - your best bet is to report the policy violations and hope that the Google Ads team takes action.
The more competitive the PPC landscape, the better your ads need to be. Make sure the landing page is suitable, offers value and your copy stands out. While competitors may be dominating the market through multiple websites, they won't have killer branding and engaging content for all their sites.
Hijacking trademarks & branded traffic. Bidding on branded terms is definitely now common practice in the PPC world. We have previously shown examples of the best and cheekiest branded term ads. Some of the best Google ads examples include headlines like 'Are you kidding?' or 'How about something better?' and feature discount offers.
Bidding on branded terms turns into a black hat PPC practice when trademarks are violated and competitors rip off your landing page design, pretending to be you. As you can see in the image below, we have a genuine charity advertising for its brand name, as well as two imposters, with a landing page copying the StepChange design and using its color palette. Even after being publicly named and shamed in newspapers, these companies continue to advertise.
The scam charity websites are owned by the same company and therefore double serving and violating copyrighted trademarks. This is a phishing company operating in the debt management industry. Once users convert, they are being misled into making payments and sending personal information such as payslips and copy of their IDs. The real charity loses its potential clients and has its brand image seriously harmed.
This is problematic not only because you are losing traffic to competitors pretending to be you, but also because those traffic hijackers could seriously damage your brand. If you are experiencing borderline phishing competitor ads, notify Google and the authorities where appropriate.
Unfortunately in the case of competitors bidding on your terms and using fair copy and transparent branding, there isn't anything you can do to stop them.
Selling Prohibited categories. This includes marketing fake designer clothes, e-cigs, and other similar products. While there are other advertiser networks better suited for those industries, Google ads are unbeatable when it comes to user intent which is why some advertisers still try to market their products on the search engine.
If you have a genuine, original product and someone else selling a counterfeit, competitors can steal your traffic and revenue and harm your brand. It's no secret counterfeit products are of inferior quality and could potentially lead to health hazards.
Imagine the harm counterfeit lipsticks, medicines, or even clothing can cause and the backlash the manufacturer would face. Other prohibited products include dangerous goods such as weapons, drugs or tobacco, hacking software and products, and more. If you spot someone selling replicas of your products or simply pretending to be you, contact Google and inform your customer database.
The imposters could also be using paid social media campaigns, targeting people interested in your brand or directly approaching them from fake accounts, once again impersonating you. Gymshark and many more brands become victims of scammers looking to take advantage of their brand image and loyal customers.
Our tip on dealing with black hat PPC practices is to contact the authorities and report phishing to the relevant bodies whenever possible. While Google may (or may not) take any action, raising a complaint with them is time-consuming and often leads to no results.
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