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A 5 Minute Guide to Detecting Brand Abuse in Google AdWords

Brand abuse is very common in Google AdWords. In order not to lose visibility, traffic and revenue, it's essential to detect brand abuse and act quickly.

Brand abuse is very common online, especially in Google AdWords. Illegal resellers and fraudulent websites may be abusing your brand without you knowing it! Brand abusers often use branded keywords to redirect your potential customers to their own websites; which can damage your visibility on Google, as well as your reputation in general.

Using the competitive landscape of several fashion companies, I will demonstrate what brand abuse looks like in search and how brands can detect it quickly.

Google Doesn’t Protect Your Brand in AdWords Anymore

Since April 2013, any advertiser worldwide is allowed to show ads on any word or phrase in Google, including a competitors’ brand name. For example, Xbox can show ads to users who are searching for PlayStation, Mercedes can show ads on Audi searches, and etc.

This is an opportunity for competitors to steal your visibility, your traffic, and even your revenue. And Google can’t do anything about it. It is now up to each company to protect its brand against brand abuse in AdWords.

Discovering Brand Abuse in 5 Minutes

According to,  MarkMonitor’s statistics show a loss of over US$350 billion in online brand abuse in 2013, with 53 billion visits to rogue sites and 14 percent of branded paid search traffic hijacked.

The good news is that online brand abuse can be easily detected. Here is a 5 minute guide to detecting online brand abuse:

Hoosh BrandWatch Brand Abuse

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What are the 6 Steps to Follow?

1. Develop a Plan

To fight online brand abuse, start by developing a plan of attack. First of all, examine previous threats: what are your company’s vulnerabilities and what kind of abuse has it suffered from in the past? You should then gather and calculate available resources: how much time and money does your company already spend on brand protection online? Once your brand protection plan is in place, be prepared to adjust it because you may come across online brand abuse you did not know existed.

2. Use a Tool

Consider a brand protection tool which could actually save you time and money. Use a platform that searches the web sufficiently to provide you with precise analytics on the status of your brand. If someone is betting on your branded keywords, you may want to see it immediately.

The tool I used to conduct the following competitive analysis is called Hoosh BrandWatch and it was developed by Hoosh Technology, my employer.  The platform is self-managed and customizable, which allowed me to select a set of branded keywords that were the most searched and competitive keywords for each of the following brands: Gucci, Guess, and Hugo Boss.

3. Monitor the Environment

Everything happens quickly in the world of search marketing. A website you didn’t even consider as a competitor may start abusing your brand unexpectedly. With brand abuse so common, you need to monitor your competitive landscape at all times. Use your competitive intelligence tool to keep an eye on your environment in search.

Since the beginning of this year, I have been monitoring the competitive landscape of three fashion brands in the UK, continually tracking their branded keywords. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the newcomers in each market.

The graph below shows the domains entering Gucci’s market over a one month period. This feature came in handy to discover new potential brand abusers.InsideIndustry NewcomersGucci

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The tool I used (our own) also allowed me to drill down to keyword level, showing me the share of search of the top competitors on each keyword. I was also able to see which websites had paid visibility on each keyword, as well as a reproduction of the ads running for each domain.

For example, the image below shows which websites held a share of paid visibility on the keyword “Hugo Boss” from July 17th to August 16th.

InsideIndustry Hugo Boss Keywords

Screenshot taken 17/08/2014 of

4. Discovering the Brand Abuse

While I was tracking the competitive landscape of the three fashion brands mentioned above, I have discovered that some competitors may have been bidding on branded keywords without the brand’s authorization! However, it is up to the brand itself to determine if the search activity is fraudulent or not, given that each company should know who is allowed to use its branded keywords, and who isn’t.

Here are some examples of suspicious activities I came across in my search for brand abuse:

Resellers who pretend to sell the brand:

Online resellers sometimes try to lure potential customers to their website by bidding on branded keywords, when in fact these online resellers don’t even sell this particular brand. This is a type of PPC abuse. Let’s say I’m looking for a Gucci purse. I type in the keyword “Gucci”, I’m taken to an online store that doesn’t actually sell any Gucci products. Bummer!

With the competitive intelligence tool that I used, this kind of abuse was easy to detect.  I simply checked the list of domains that had paid visibility on Gucci branded keywords, and then manually looked through each website to see who didn’t in fact sell Gucci items.

Brands who bet on other brands’ keywords:

Some competitors in your industry may actually be using your branded keywords to attract potential customers to their website. If they are in the same line of business, this means that the customer may just end up buying their product instead of yours! This is also a type of PPC abuse. For example, if I am still looking for that Gucci purse, but I land on Prada’s website, I might just buy a Prada purse instead!

Spammy websites who just want the traffic:

It is frustrating to search for something and land on a page that looks interesting in the search results, but the website ends up being useless. This is spam. Spammy websites can try to steal your traffic by brand jacking and/or cybersquatting, which is usually easy to spot.

A spammy website may also sell counterfeited goods, which is much harder to determine. For example, if I search for “guess shoes”, I could end up on a shady website with a domain name that has the word “guess” in it, and that seems to be selling Guess shoes at an unbelievably low price. Beware!

Unauthorized reseller:

This type of abuse is trickier to detect for someone who doesn’t actually work for the brand. For example, if I look for Hugo Boss sunglasses and I land on a legitimate website who is in fact selling this product, it’s almost impossible for a simple user like me to know if the website is an authorized reseller or not. This kind of brand abuse, also called grey market selling, can best be detected by the brand itself.

5. Taking Action

Once the suspicious search activity is detected, it is up to the brand to take action. The company’s legal department should be alerted when there is potential brand abuse in order to minimize possible loss in visibility, traffic, and/or revenue. The marketing and legal team could then work together to establish a proactive brand protection strategy. The sooner the brand abuse is detected, the faster you can act to protect your brand!

6. Staying Alert

Once you’ve taken action to protect your brand, you should still monitor identified brand abusers and possible threats. To keep an eye on the potential offenders mentioned in step four, I was able to set up notifications so that Hoosh BrandWatch will alert me every time a certain competitor is bidding on the branded keywords I selected. It’s a good way to keep control over the situation in the long run.

In Conclusion…

It is common for brand abusers to use branded keywords to redirect traffic to their own website, damaging your visibility and reputation online. However, brand abusers can easily be spotted, and it is then the brand itself to take action when necessary.

First, the company will need to develop an online brand protection plan. Second, get a tool that will deliver detailed analytics on the status of the brand. Then, make sure to continually monitor the competitive landscape so you are able to catch brand abuse as soon as possible. Once the brand abusers are identified, action can now be taken to protect brand value!

How do you protect your brand against online brand abuse? What tools do you use? If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or leave a comment!


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Category PPC
Lara Vogel Marketing Assistant at Hoosh Technology

Lara Vogel is a marketing assistant at Hoosh Technology SA, an online marketing intelligence provider, where she is in charge ...

A 5 Minute Guide to Detecting Brand Abuse in Google AdWords

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