Can We Finally Stop Calling Things “Hacks”?

I saw a tweet this morning (from Jeff Allen) that really struck a chord with me:

Jeff Allen Tweet

YES! I found myself shouting to my screen. I am so very, very tired of presentations and articles offering “hacks” to be better at PPC (or anything for that matter). By definition, a hack, in the web era context is as follows (via Wikipedia):

Wikipedia Hack Definition

More broadly, a hack refers to using something in a way it was not originally intended, but does something kick-ass. When your doctor prescribes a medication for an “off-label” use that solves your issues, that is a hack. When you use an empty tissue box to store all of those unruly plastic bags, that is a hack. When the CSS won’t quite do what you want it to, so you force two elements to work together to get the result you otherwise could not, that is a hack. Doing things that can readily be done within a platform or a system, IS NOT A HACK.

After seeing this tweet (from Andrew Bethel) in response to the first one:

I had to do my own search for “PPC Hacks”. I surveyed the results on the first two Google search results pages, and while many of the posts are from 2014 and 2015, I still hear the term a lot – enough to still find it very annoying. I can summarize the “hacks,” offered from multiple sources in these search results, thusly:

  1. Optimize Quality Score – the “hack” = get rid of low performing keywords an bid on some brand terms
  2. Optimize For Mobile – the “hack” = try to be in the top 3 positions so your ads get seen
  3. Advertise in Gmail or YouTube – the “hack” = just do it
  4. Differentiate Your Ads – the “hack” = write ads that will emotionally resonate
  5. Run Ads on GDN To Get Placements On Sites Like LinkedIn – the “hack” = make sure LinkedIn is one of your placements
  6. Tag Your PPC Links For More Data – the “hack” = add tags to your PPC ad URLs
  7. Outsmart Your Competitors’ Ads – the “hack” = use competitive research tools
  8. Use Dayparting – the “hack” = use dayparting
  9. Use Retargeting/Remarketing So People See Your Stuff Again – the “hack” = use retargeting/remarketing
  10. Enable Click-To-Call – the “hack” = enable Click-To-Call

Let me be blunt – none of these things (or the many that I did not include) are actually hacks of any kind. These are practices you could easily adopt or functionalities you could utilize or enable within established platforms. Some so-called “hacks” can be highlights of more obscure capabilities or available data within a platform. I still would not call that a hack, but developing a deeper knowledge of the tools and platforms used daily in PPC. I’d call them more like “3 Amazing Reports You Should Start Using Now in AdWords” or “The Power of Mobile Ad Optimization” or something like that. Think I am exaggerating? Do the search yourself and see what you find.

I would like to propose a ban on using the word “hack” when referring to anything PPC. Who is with me?

Have thoughts on this? Share in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).


  1. YES! Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking for a long time. Everyday best practices are not hacks.

  2. Billy Gooch says:

    If the authors over-using the term ‘hack’ are “paid to write low-quality, rushed articles or books ‘to order’, often with a short deadline,” then wouldn’t that make them… hack writers?

  3. When I see news about people giving “hacks” tips it raises my hackles. The word “hack” has nothing to do with the tricks or shortcuts to do something that people are using it to represent and it is nothing but the laziest of journalism. Writers who use the term to describe something should be censored.

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