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How to Keep Other Advertisers Off Your Branded Keywords

White Shark Media

10 years ago



Ever since Google lifted its restrictions on trademarked terms in 2004, it’s been up to brands to protect these key assets. While the how-to-keepsearch engines have provided some tools for brands to use, the primary burden has fallen on brands to build their moats against misrepresentation, dilution, and abuse.

But is this really a problem? What do other advertisers have to gain by targeting your brand? Unfortunately, because branded keywords are often signals of purchase intent, they provide a lot of incentives for other advertisers to pop up.

For example, a competitor might want to steal away your sale right at the end of the funnel. In other cases, sites may see the opportunity to make some margin via search arbitrage. Advertisers could even be broad matching on one of the words in your company name (e.g. “catering” in “Joe’s Catering”).

While I can’t say for certain that all companies will face these issues, I can say from anecdotal experience that I’d be hard-pressed to name a brand whose Search Engine Results Page (SERPs) returned only its own ads.

So, are other advertisers bidding on your brand terms? And if so, what can you do about it? In this post, I’ll cover some indicators of brand bidding as well as some ways to clear other advertisers off your SERPs.

Ways to Check for Brand Bidding

There are a number of ways to see if other advertisers are targeting your branded keywords, some of them are very basic and some of them are more advanced. Let’s tackle a few below:

1. Conduct Manual Searches

It may sound absurdly simple, but this approach can reveal quite a bit. By running a series of tests, you can start to get a good feel for what competitors are showing up and in what positions.

Make sure to test a number of variations on your brand name, just to leave no stone unturned. Some advertisers may be hiding away in the long-tail keywords (e.g. “Joe’s Catering downtown Chicago”) or common misspellings and typos (“Joe’s Catreing”).

2. Look Up Your Keywords in the Keyword Planner

The Google Ads Keyword Planner offers some valuable insights into what’s going behind the scenes in paid search. You just have to look at the information through a slightly different lens. Try focusing on the “Suggested Bid” column after putting in a list of your top branded keywords. The keywords with the highest suggested bids probably have other advertisers driving up those estimated costs.

Now, you may be wondering: “Why not just look at the actual CPCs for certain keywords in my account?” It’s a good question, but here’s why not: the CPCs on your branded keywords are actually deflated by your Quality Score (which should be high on your branded keywords). That makes it a less useful indicator.

Furthermore, you can use the Keyword Planner to test out other branded keywords that aren’t currently in your account.

3. Run an Auction Insights Report

This Google Ads report will show you which advertisers are showing up, how frequently, and in what position. It’s especially useful if your branded keywords are partitioned off in their own campaign or set of campaigns.

The great thing about using this tool is that you won’t miss any advertisers (as you might with manual searches). Plus, it’s all real data from your account instead of the estimates you get from the Keyword Planner’s Suggested Bids.

Quick Wins to Secure Your Branded Keywords

So, you’ve seen the extent of brand bidding on your keywords and identified who’s behind it. Now, what do you do? Depending on who those advertisers are and what they’re doing, there are a variety of tactics you can employ. Here’s what we suggest:

1. Register Your Trademark with the Search Engines

If you choose the option for a trademark complaint involving “all advertisers”, Google will store this information and continually prevent other advertisers from using your trademark in their ad copy.

This is a useful step for cutting off search arbitrage and other forms of trademark abuse. It won’t stop 100% of infringements, but it will reduce them significantly. Bing is less clear about the longevity of the trademark complaint, but it certainly won’t hurt your cause.

Here is the relevant Google form and Bing form. Note: you can only take advantage of these if you’ve trademarked your brand name in the country or countries where you operate.

To prevent infringements in different countries, you’ll need to provide information for each country where your mark is registered (with the exception of regional registrations such as EU-level registrations).

2. Take Up More Real Estate with Ad Extensions

Odds are that your ads’ Quality Scores will be really high on your branded keywords. One great way to take advantage of that is through ad extensions. Once added to a campaign, ad extensions can appear when your Ad Rank is above a certain level. Because a higher Quality Score leads to a higher Ad Rank, your extensions will be more likely to show on your branded keywords. That’s great news because ad extensions can make your ads much more prominent—pushing down other advertisers and increasing your space at the top of the page.

Furthermore, you may stand to improve your Ad Rank just by using ad extensions. It’s unclear exactly how Google is calculating this all behind the scenes, but it seems that Ad Extensions may create a positive feedback loop here. Ultimately, that could make it cheaper for you to retain the top position on the SERP.

3. Use Your Quality Score to Price Others Off of the SERP

As we alluded to above, the Quality Score directly affects the necessary bid for holding the top position. If your Quality Score is high, you have a competitive advantage over other advertisers and can bid less to hold that #1 ad slot.

By setting a relatively high maximum bid on your branded keywords, you can effectively make your ads insurmountable. Of course, that won’t immediately stop other advertisers from showing up. But over time, your Ad Rank may diverge from the others by so much that either A) it’s no longer justifiable for them to pay so much for any clicks they happen to get, or B) they simply don’t have a high enough Ad Rank to appear anymore.

4. Handshake Agreements with Competitors

Getting into a battle with your competitor(s) on each other’s branded keywords? One strategy is to propose a ceasefire on trademark bidding. It’s unlikely that either party is gaining a lot of value from the practice—it may simply be a relic of escalations and retaliations past.

The trickiest parts to this are establishing initial trust, determining which branded keywords should be off-limits for each side, and then ensuring that both parties adhere to the agreement.

Take Control of the SERP

When it comes to curtailing trademark bidders, the ball is certainly in your court. It may not be ideal to have to work at it, but fortunately, the search engines have provided a number of tools that can be used to your advantage. I hope these tips will be useful in any effort you conduct to secure your brand terms in paid search!