A little bit of healthy competition won’t hurt anyone, right?
Well, that’s not always true. When it comes to branded bidding wars on Google paid search, things can turn real nasty.
Imagine the scene. You wake up one morning, search for your company’s brand name in Google, and discover your competitor has stolen the number 1 position in paid search and is gobbling up a large percentage of your traffic.
This is no ordinary traffic either. This is highly valuable traffic — they’re your best potential (or existing) customers.
For most brands, this would cause instant chaos, especially if your brand terms are searched for in large volumes. So, what next? Surely if you report this PPC shark to Google, they will take immediate action and remove their listing, right?
Google lifted the ban on bidding on competitors’ branded keywords way back in 2008, and since then it’s been completely acceptable to bid against your competitor’s brand, as long as you don’t mention their trademark name within your ad copy. It’s a bit of a gray area, but completely fair in Google’s eyes.
Many of us will already know about Samsung’s famous ‘Awkward. You obviously mean’ Google AdWords campaign targeting Apple’s precious iPhone 6s branded terms.
And I have to admit, this is creatively genius. It sparked plenty of media attention and the traffic was highly valuable. But I can guarantee Apple didn’t look at this in the same light.
In such a scenario, what would the best course of action?
Step 1: Acknowledge That Your Competitor May Never Take Down the Listing
It’s a tough blow to accept, but your competitor is under no legal obligation to remove their ads as long as they aren’t using your brand name in their ad text.
You have to come to terms with the fact that they will never remove the ads. The results may just be really powerful for them, leading to a high ROI/ROAS which could potentially be their most profitable campaign of all.
If they’re using your trademark name in their ad copy, however, this can be an infringement of Google’s trademark policy and therefore, you can submit a request to Google have their ads removed.
Step 2: Check Google Search Partners
Google isn’t the only search engine you should monitor for branded PPC. Its search partners could potentially be driving your competitors a lot of traffic.
Unfortunately, Google doesn’t disclose a list of its search partners as its network is growing and they are subject to change at any point. That said, some of the most popular search partners are AOL.com, Ask.com, Dogpile.com, and Amazon.com.
Here’s an example of how the ads would appear on Amazon. For this example, I searched for “Gym Shark”, which is a popular sports and activewear brand based in the UK.
If you’d like to dig a bit further to uncover more search partners, a list can be found here, albeit they may not be 100% accurate.
Step 3: Check Bing and Its Search Partners
For sure, Google is by far the most dominant search engine, but don’t underestimate the power of Bing and its search partners to drive highly relevant, targeted traffic. This is not always true for unbranded search because CPCs tend to be lower, but conversion rates aren’t always as high as the Google search network.
For branded search, however, you may just uncover a heap of new customers you never knew existed.
If your competitors are going full throttle stealing your most prestigious web traffic, chances are they’re taking advantage of Bing and its search partners, too — particularly Yahoo. So keep your eyes peeled.
Step 4: Send Your Competitor a Polite Email Request
Think twice before going all out guns blazing, picking up the phone for a good old argument with your competitor.
Chances are, this will only make matters worse and they will be even more determined to conquer your branded search traffic. This could potentially have a serious impact on your bottom line, particularly if your USP is difficult to distinguish or your competitor has incentives in place to steal away your customers.
The best course of action is to send a polite email to your competitor asking them to take down the ad, in the interest of fair play. You can certainly send a word of warning later about your plans to take PPC revenge, but you should first give them an opportunity to remove the ads.
It could be the case that their PPC agency has set up these ads without permission or any prior notice. (This isn’t a good agency practice, but it’s been known to happen.)
Step 5: Set Up Your Own Branded Search Ads
Whoa, you mean to say you haven’t already done this?
Branded PPC ads are an absolute must. This is especially true if you wholesale products to other retailers.
Take Nike, for example:
But why would brands such as Nike bid on their own branded keywords if they’re already ranking highly organically?
Simply put, this allows brands to dominate the SERPs. Having multiple listings in Google (both paid and organic) can drastically improve your click-through rates and micro and macro conversions.
Unless there are numerous brands bidding against your brand name and thus increasing the bids, the CPCs are usually really cheap and you can maintain full control of your brand messaging.
Additionally, if you’re targeting your brand name as a broad or phrase match, you can check the search term reports to see what other terms people are associating with your brand.
Did I mention the cost-per-clicks are really cheap?
You should also consider targeting ‘top of page’ bid strategy to ensure your branded search ad is always at the top of the search results, capitalizing on the bulk of the traffic and knocking your competitors down. But this depends on their level of PPC knowledge and, ultimately, how much they’re willing to pay for placement positions.
Step 6: Consider Targeting Your Competitors’ Branded Keywords
As a last resort, but a tactic which can absolutely be worthwhile, is targeting your competitors’ precious branded terms with a new ad campaign. This may lure your competitor into taking their ads down as a mutual agreement to doing the same.
If their brand search volume is much lower than yours, however, this most likely won’t be the case as they will see more benefit from targeting your keywords.
Targeting your competitors brand terms as “revenge” can be considered as damage limitation, but it certainly can be a route worth taking if they’re reluctant to remove their ads.
Targeting your competitors branded terms can certainly be highly profitable, although it can lead to a serious marketing war which could be more damaging in the long-run. It’s important to weigh all the pros and cons before taking the plunge. Remember to do your research prior to taking this dark route.
Screenshots by Joshua Daniels. Taken May 2017