What to Do When Competitors Buy Your Brand Keyword

If you’re in the paid search game, you’ve probably spent a fair amount of money trying to generate more quality leads, through the use of brand keywords and your brand name.

So the last thing you need is for another business to buy your brand keywords and take advantage of the hard work it took to build that brand reputation or genius marketing plan that are driving those brand queries.

Picture this: Someone does a search on Google with your company’s name, and when the results appear, the top listings are all ads bought by your biggest competitor.

What do you do?

You first need to understand that this practice is not actually banned by Google or Bing.

Several years ago, Google got rid of any restrictions that prevented businesses from bidding on the same branded keywords, or a branded name. The only caveat is that your competitor can’t use your company’s trademarked name in its ad copy.

So, despite what might be your initial reaction, you can’t complain to Google that your competitor has violated a PPC rule because that rule no longer exists.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t have any recourse, it just means that trying to go through Google to fix things becomes significantly more limited.

Instead, there are four things you can do that can turn a sour situation into something beneficial for your business.

1. Own Your Brand Name

It doesn’t always seem logical to bid on your own brand keywords, but it’s a good way to protect your brand name and to regain the clicks you’ve lost when a competitor’s ads show up under your brand keywords.

In some instances, it takes another company buying your branded keywords to remind you that you forgot to bid on your brand name to begin with.

Your competitor likely saw that no one (including you) was bidding on your brand name, so it took advantage of the opportunity to pay a higher cost-per-click (CPC), to siphon valuable leads away from your business.

Another benefit to buying your own brand name is that you’re in charge of the messaging. It gives you the opportunity to create different types of ads that you can A/B test to see which are the most effective.

For example, should you include a CTA in your ad? Should you include a discount code or coupon, or let people know that you offer free two-day shipping?

When someone else buys your brand, they’re not interested in posting ads that have anything to do with your business. As similar as your business might be, your USP is different, so guess what?

That other company that bought your brand name isn’t going to list the qualities that make your business unique. In fact it could be just the opposite. Below is one of my favorite examples:

In other words, it’s worth outbidding any competitor for your brand name, so that you control the message in a way that positions your business accurately when prospects view that ad.

Aside from just manually bidding, there are a few perhaps less known bid options that will help in these specific situations:

Bid for Search Page Location

With the target search page location bid strategy, AdWords will automatically raise and lower your bids to increase the chances that your ads appear at the top of the page or on the first page of search results for a particular campaign or set of campaigns.

The basic settings you’ll need to update are:

  • Placement: For brand terms, it’s likely top of the first search results page will the preferred choice. This will allow AdWords to automatically raise or lower bids to meet the top of the page bid estimate. This will give you the best option for securing the first ad position.
  • Bid Automation: This can be done automatically or manually – although both have a bit of automation tied to them. Choosing automatic will raise and lower bids to match the estimated top of page bid or estimated first-page bid. This removes the need for manual bidding. Alternatively, if you choose to bid manually, you can define your maximum bid and AdWords will automatically adjust bids so they are at least as high as the estimated top of page bid.

Target Outranking Share

With “Target outranking share“, you can choose the competitor’s domain you want to outrank in search results and how often you want to outrank it. AdWords will then automatically set your bids to help meet that target.

The basic settings you’ll need to update are:

  • Domain name to outrank: Pretty simple. Just input the competitor’s domain whose ads you’d like to outrank in search results.
  • Target to outrank: For brand terms, I think 100 percent should be the default input but either way enter the percentage of auctions that you would like to outrank your competitor.
  • Max. bid limit: This is the highest max CPC you are willing to pay. For some, brand terms are invaluable so the sky is the limit. For others, despite their importance, there are still budget restrictions to keep in mind. The most important thing to remember: if your campaign is limited by budget, the strategy might not be able to achieve this particular targeting goal.

Because the strategy can take up to 7 days to start producing results, we recommend waiting at least that long before making changes to the strategy settings. Otherwise, the “learning” will be reset and you’ll be back to day one of learning.

As the algorithm learns how to bid, you can track the impression share progress directly within AdWords.

2. Talk to the Business, File a Cease & Desist

Before you take any action, it’s important that you reach out to the competitor that bought your brand keywords and ask them to remove the ads.

In your mind, this may be a waste of time because it’s doubtful that your competitor would comply with that request.

That may be true, but you always want to give that other business the opportunity to make things right, so that when things really start to get heated between you two in terms of competing ads, your conscience is clear because you tried to take the high road.

And in some cases, your competition may not actually be aware that it bid on your keywords, especially if it was done by an agency that didn’t reveal it was using this tactic to boost search engine rankings.

In my personal experience, more than once, this simple request revealed the competitor’s agency was buying these terms without their knowledge. In other cases, the ad serving was due to Google’s liberal broad matching and/or lack of negative keywords.

While we never give legal advice, if all else fails, just the threat of legal action is sometimes enough motivation to get your competitor to shift their budget elsewhere. A cease and desist order is the next step here.

3. File a Trademark Complaint with the Engines

While this option is not available to everyone, if your brand name is trademarked, you can choose to file a trademark complaint that will apply to “all advertisers” and prevent them from using your trademark in their ad copy.

Should you own the trademark, this is probably a smart step for cutting off most forms of AdWords trademark abuse regardless of whether your brand is currently being conquested. To be clear, it won’t stop 100 percent of infringements, but it should reduce them significantly.

Bing, on the other hand, is less clear about the longevity of the trademark complaint, but it’s a smart step regardless.

You can file this complaint with Google here and Bing here.

4. Bid on Your Competition’s Brand Keywords

If the above actions fail, you can always start bidding on their brand keywords. Your CPC is higher when you bid on another brand, but there could be some benefits that outweigh those costs.

Before you bid, research the amount of traffic your competitors are generating based on the branded terms they are using.

A tool like SpyFu or SEMrush is great for this type of research, and it lets you type in your competitor’s trademark name and access keyword listing so you can see what keywords they are bidding on.

By targeting the competitor that bought your brand, you could force their CPCs higher, conquest some of their lead volume, and potentially force them to stop bidding on your brand name, which is a good thing.

Remember, you can’t use a competitor’s trademarked name in any of your ad copy so you’ll have to be clever and creative when creating your ads.

Tip: If you engage in this effort, you’ll likely get crushed with low-quality scores (translated in its simplest form: relevance between keywords + ad copy + landing page). This makes sense as it would be an outlier to list your competitor’s name on your own website. It is also prohibited to include trademarked terms in the ad copy itself. This leaves very low relevance according to Google’s algorithm and will result in very high CPCs compared to your account average. Over time, this may make it performance-prohibitive to continue.

A strategy we’ve found to work well in the past to improve at least the keyword + landing page relationship is to build out a comparison chart on your landing page. The below example from SugarCRM is one of my favorites.

As you can see the comparison allows for a natural use of their competitor’s keywords on the page and helps position their brand in a positive light.

This is especially useful for comparison terms like “x brand” vs. “y brand”. Don’t forgot to build the landing page with a strong CTA to help collect the conversion!

Now, Go Protect Your Brand

After a competitor buys your brand keywords, you need to take action to ensure that you don’t keep losing quality prospects.

If you’re unable to convince your competitor to stop buying your keywords, make sure you own your brand voice and as a last resort bid on their keywords.

Good luck in securing your brand terms!

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Image Credits
Screenshots taken by Jon Clark, April 2018