Black Hat Search Marketers Infiltrate Google’s Call Only Ads
Recently I wrote about how Google was stopping legitimate media buyers and advertising agencies from running Call Only Ads, citing a violation of its Misrepresentation Policy Rather than work with these legitimate marketers (who have spent millions with Google), to help them understand what they were doing wrong or how they were violating its Terms and Conditions, Google simply suspended accounts without warning. So what happens when legitimate marketers play by the “supposed” rules, spend millions with Google, and simply get slapped in the face with a “Hey, I don’t care about you, your business, or your livelihood,” type of message (via an account suspension)?
First off, it sends a very WRONG message. It sends the message that Google is NOT your partner. It sends the message that Google does NOT care about you. It sends the message that Google is ENTITLED to do what it wants at its own discretion. This type of treatment of its customers (yes, anyone that buys media on GoogleAds) breeds doubt, fear, and most importantly, mistrust in the GoogleAds ecosystem. With Google owning 90%+ of the search market, it is no wonder that it is currently under a DOJ investigation.
Here’s what we know for certain. Thousands of businesses and millions of individuals around the world rely on GoogleAds to successfully market their products and/or services, generate a Return on Investment, and ultimately earn money to support their livelihoods, families, etc. Well, when these businesses or individuals are stripped of their ability to compete legitimately in Google’s advertising ecosystem (via account suspension, etc.) and are faced with the inability to put food on their tables, some take to drastic measures. Having learned that “playing by the rules” leads down a dead end road, Google indirectly teaches marketers to go “black hat”. I can hear these individuals/businesses now: “F*ck Google. I spent millions with them. They treated my like sh*t. I’ll be dammed if I’m going to let them ruin me.”
Well… it seems that Google pissed off the wrong company and/or individual(s) as Google’s sponsored mobile search listings are being flooded with Call Only advertisements from “black hat” marketers. To highlight my point, I am going to focus on what’s happening in the “auto insurance” vertical.
So here’s a brief example of what I’m seeing. First off, these ads appear to be using random WordPress sites that have most likely been hijacked. If you look at any of these sites, you can clearly see that they are NOT related to auto insurance. However, to run Call Only ads, a marketer either has to “verify the domain” or show the phone number being marketed on the site itself. Let’s take a look at the third ad’s URL, leekaya.com. The site says that it’s a supplier of “Kaya and Peanut Butter.” Here’s what it looks like:
However, when you look at the ad’s display URL, you see the following:
Thus, it looks like someone was able to hack the WordPress site, insert a new page with a phone number, and get the Call Only Ads approved by Google.
Another requirement to run Call Only Ads is that the business name MUST be used when answering a call. (Note: this requirement was not adhered to)
The following applies to all call-only ads:
When answering calls from users who’ve clicked on their call-only ad, advertisers must begin the call by stating their business name, as it appears in their call-only ads.
Out of curiosity, I called about 20 of these ads and they all led to the same IVR which leads me to the conclusion that there is one company/individual behind this. However, after entering a keypress to confirm that I’m interested in a free quote, I was routed to a variety of legitimate advertisers via round robin distribution. The advertisers and/or networks that are indirectly supporting this “black hat affiliate” include: AIS, Liberty Mutual, Progressive Insurance, All Web Leads (via InsuranceQuotes.com) and Datalot (at least these were the companies that I recognized).
One other red flag that I noticed was that although I hung up in the IVR in some instances, I was sent out a text message (yes, without my permission 😉 ) that looked like the below. However, when calling the number, it asked me if I was age 50 or older and wanted a $100 gift card.
One other thing to note is that this affiliate is NOT using toll-free numbers. All the phone numbers used in their Call Only Ads are local numbers. Does Google have a more difficult time monitoring local call only ads? I don’t know.
Regardless, there will always be those that are determined to play by the rules and those that are not. My belief is that you should try to encourage people that want to play by the rules to continue to play by the rules. However, by shutting those down that play by the rules, Google is breeding an environment of fear and mistrust, creating a new generation of “rule-breakers”. Google’s policy towards its advertisers needs to change. It needs to treat its advertisers for what they are… CUSTOMERS. I also firmly believe that if there were other options for Search Marketers that could produce the same amount of volume as Google, slighted marketers would leave Google in droves. However, because of its monopoly on the search market, Google feels that it can treat you like shit. And guess what… they are 100% right…. at least FOR NOW!
Curious if anyone else is seeing this issue. If so, what are your thoughts and how do you think this will impact the viability of Call Only Ads?