Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be a preacher and I don’t judge people’s business decisions. Yes, I did this and I totally apologize to anyone or any company who I might have “hurt” or annoyed as a result of my actions. If you engage in blackhat, I am not making judgement on what you do. This is purely a story of what I did.. and will never do again.
Ever watch those rap guys on TV with those gawdy gold chains and false teeth made of platinum, rapping about their glorious “thug” life in front of $100k custom SUVs with spinning rims and bikini clad women while drinking $300 bottle champaigns…? Yet their clothes look like they shop at Walmart? (No offense to Walmart shoppers. I love that place. Greatest place to be. Most go there to shop. I go there to stare at all the freaks interesting people that shop there.)
That’s exactly how I felt when I did my blackhat PPC marketing.
This isn’t exactly about how it was done. Not that it works anymore, but I am afraid that people might actually go replicate this stuff.. but then again, the only way to fight darkness is with light, so maybe next post I will share.
When I did blackhat PPC to CPA marketing, I was basically promoting free trial rebill. The copy basically sold the people that you can lose 30 lbs in 30 days drinking sugar water. When I originally saw this, internal bell rang like crazy. I’ve been workign out since high school and the ONLY real lasting way to lose weight is to, *shhhhh*, eat less and exercise more.
But let’s face it.
The VAST majority of people want a quick fix, magic bullet that they can pop like pills. I don’t blame them. I DO TOO. But over the years, i’ve gotten wiser. If anyone claims “385% return in 8 days” … or “get six pack ripped abs in 5 days”.. or some bullshit like that, you have to realize that’s what marketers say. It’s called copywriting… tapping into your emotions so that you’ll take action.
As affiliates, we were getting paid up to $45 per lead on free trial. Of course, the mechant didn’t make money on the front end (they were probably losing money). We were bidding on expensive traffic (expensive because the volume is insane in “weight loss” keywords), so we basically upsold them on a second thing. Basically saying ..
“signup for offer A for free, then but you need to get another offer B b/c combo A and B is how this fake weight-losing person did it so you need to do it too.”
I mean, this was marketing at its finest.
- fake testimonials from people that don’t exist
- fake celebrity endorsements that we “fudged” on internet
- fake blogs with fake comments
- fake news looking sites
You’d be surprised how savvy affiliate marketers and I am glad I tried because i really learned about mastering traffic because of it. But unfortunately, because they’re in the business of making conversions, they will say anything and everything to make that sale.
Sidenote: Merchants & affiliate networks – stop skimming on conversion and killing their ROI. If they get pissed, they won’t run your offer. DUH. But the worst case scenario is that they might go crazy and over promise and let you deliver the service/product, which won’t last. You’ll be one footing the bill for the returns, refunds, and even FTC summons. But what do you expect? Affiliates are taking all the risk, so of course they’re gonna try and go for the conversion. Stop being greedy.
I mean this thing worked like a charm.. we were consistently doing 100-200% ROAS on DAILY basis. I remember at weak, my ex-partner and I were doing $12-15k per DAY in revenue… half of that in ad costs.
Living the FAST Life
I was never the one to brag about money or buy flashy stuff. Even when things were going well, I made sure that I saved most of what I made and still live normal. I drove a beat up old Nissan Sentra. I lived in a tiny 1 bedroom in SoCal. I remember going out to celebrate with my girlfriend at the time, and we spent maybe $80-100 on drinks & mediterranean food in Universal City that Forest Whitaker eats at.. and I felt like i splurged.
My ex-partner on the other hand, was different.
He also came from humble background, even more so. He and I used to do network marketing, and neither of us made any more in that. He was in $30-40k in credit card because he, well, lived on his credit card till he got his network marketing company going. Of course, it flopped so he went to work for a blackhat internet marketing company (where he learned blackhat PPC, and that’s how we got into this in the first place.)
His wife came from even more of a humble background. She was young and was pregnant in her early 20′s (which was more of a motivation for him to quit his entrepreneurial stuff and get a job). I think she held maybe 1 or 2 jobs.. one of which was at starbucks. She and her man lived in a tiny apartment in Vegas that they shared with a roommate. So yes, they came from really humble background.
When the money flowed, they changed. I mean, CHANGED.
First they moved to a 5000 sq. ft house in some posh LA neighborhood where they had celebrity neighbors like Britney Spears (well, her vacation home anyway) and Denise Richards. Their kids went to some insanely expensive private kindergarten. They started driving Landrovers and yes, a freakin’ NSX that Acura no longer makes (he had to negotiate a deal from one of those exotic car dealers).
Random note: Did you know that rent per sq. ft on luxury homes is actually cheaper than that for normal home/apartment? He was paying $7k in rent for 5k sq. ft, which is $1.4/sq ft. I was paying about $2 for my crappy apartment.
Of course, once the money started coming, she didn’t work. Nor did she go to school. Then they got a freakin’ maid and a nanny for her because apparently she was “too busy”.
She even leased a Mercedes (not sure which one but it’s the really expensive model) for his birthday. ON top of that, when we went out to some fancy French restaurant, she managed to drink 4 – $7 premium bottled water because she was thirsty. Good lord. Get a f*cking drink of water before coming out. Sheesh.
Maybe im cheap. Maybe im a realist. I dont know. All I knew was.. this blackhat PPC cloaking wouldn’t last.
Funny thing about “blackhat”…
1) Really large companies (who I won’t name) cloak but Google/Bing/Facebook did and still are letting them through. Why? I guess it all depends on who you know.
2) We had an insider, who claimed to be VP of operations at Google China. We basically paid him a percentage of our ad spend and he made sure our ads got through.
3) There was a young VC dude (who made money investing in YouTube before Google acquired it) who lived nearby my ex-partner and wanted to invest in this. I don’t think he knew exactly what we did. Im guessing my ex-partner probablty didn’t want to divulge either. But I’m guessing he had in inkling, but he was hot on our trail to invest anyway.
Back to the story..
I was right about the blackhat PPC/marketing going to shit. It did. A while back, Google banned 30k advertisers for deceptive advertising.
Yeap, my ex-partner and I were included.
Now, here’s what happens with black hat marketers.
They live this FAST life style of making a lot and spending a lot. Just like them rappers that become one hit wonder, make a ton, become a has-been, and eventually get washed up, working as a security guard at Walmart or something like that. My ex-partner HAD to hustle because his burn rate went from $2-3k a month to $20-30k per month. Money was flowing, but it never occurred to him that it can end.
I wised up. I read up on ALL the lawsuits, all the uproar from PPC based affiliates, etc etc. It didn’t look good.
I took my share of the profits and I told my ex-partner I wanted out. Of course, he was still running it because, well, he has $7k rent, 3 kids, a non-working wife who needs a maid and a babysitter, car payments, and god knows what else his paying for.
I personally developed this cloaking software (with my own time & money) that had Google conversion tracking like features (we were scared shitless that if we placed our conversion pixel on our conversion page, we’d get caught). He wanted it. I said no. He threatened to sue. I said go ahead.
Funny thing is.. he STOLE that base cloaker software from HIS boss… who supposedly stole it from some company. I added some addons and features, and now apparently, it’s HIS (ex-partner’s) intellectual property.
Funny how blackhat people think. Either very dark or very stupid. I guess they all it blackhat.
Don’t piss people off. Don’t do shady shit.
Shady things attract only shady people and shady business deals.
Yes, whitehat is definitely HARDER to make it work, but if you make it work, it’s a bigger and longer sustaining ROI.
Besides, you want to go to sleep at night knowing that ad networks aren’t killing your traffic because you’re non-compliant.
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