Google Hack Lets You Include Images in Search Ads

One of the most overlooked features of Apple’s recent OS X 10.7 Lion release is support for emoji characters. Emoji is an obscure set of emoticons that’s quite popular in Japan. In Lion, you can insert Emoji characters like smiley faces into any text field, much like the Wingdings font on Windows.

My experience with these special characters has been a little different. The tactic of inserting special characters in an ad to draw attention to is and make it stand out from the rest has been used very effectively by advertisers in the early days of Google, Facebook Ads, and pretty much every advertising platform out there.

I’ve seen firsthand what a difference including a special character in an ad headline makes. A single arrow pictogram used in a small text ad can double, or even triple CTR.

Google has of course long since wised up to this practice. Any ad that contains a character from a predefined blacklist of special characters is automatically flagged for manual review and promptly denied by Google’s approvals department.

But what about the newfangled emoji? Are those blacklisted as well? To test this, I submitted two ads- one using an older special characters font and one using emoji.

See the difference:


The ad with plain old special characters is promptly flagged for manual review on it way to be approved for denial.

But the ad with new emoji characters sails right through automated review, and is instantly eligible for release on an unsuspecting public.

Imagine how much an ad containing graphic icons will stand out on a search results page containing only drab text ads… I bet any such ad would completely obliterate and outrank any text ads it’s competing against.

Of course these images will only render on operating systems that natively support emoji. Right now, that’s limited to Mac OS X Lion and iOS on iPhone and iPad.

So, if you launch a standard search campaign, ~5-10% of the traffic that has OS X Lion will see the Emoji icons in your ad, which may or may not be enough to give a significant boost to your CTR.

But there’s another popular operating system made by Apple that supports rendering emoji. I’m talking, of course, about iOS, and the millions of people searching on their iPhones and iPads. And, conveniently enough, Google lets us target iOS users only when setting up a new AdWords campaign:


The homogeneity of that platform means that you’re virtually guaranteed that 100% of searchers will see your ads and will click, if only out of curiousity at this new ad format. The intrinsically low cost of traffic and dearth of advertisers on mobile mean that, using the emoji trick with broad targeting, you can get massive volume at pennies a click.

The amount of extremely cheap traffic you could get with this method is staggering.

Now…say for some reason your ad is subjected to manual review(for example, if you use this trick on the Google Content Network). No need to be concerned. What browser do you think the Google reviewers are using? It’s a lot more likely that they’re using Chrome than Safari, isn’t it?

To Chrome users, even on OS X 10.7, an emoji emoticon appears as an inconspicious blank space. Move along Google reviewer, nothing to see here…

Inserting emoji into any text field on OS X Lion is easy- just click Edit ->Special Characters and select Emoji in the left sidebar.

My guess is that this hole won’t remain open for long- so make the best of it while you can.

Props to Panic for taking this to the next level with an emoji domain. I wonder if this domain can be used as an AdWords display URL…

  • chuck

    interestingly this seems to work in twitter and facebook too…

  • Justin Dupre

    Nice little exploit. I wonder where else you could pull this off? Certainly opens some quick money making possibilities for Mac affiliates out there!

  • Justin Dupre

    Interesting post on this advertising hack. Those emoji characters really draws the attention of people.

  • mobilebuyer

    The screenshot of your ads doesn’t show either ad being approved. They are both in the approval process. Show us the ad running. Eligible does not equal approved.