Brand Strategies for Search Marketing - Part 3

We've discussed why you want to buy your brand search terms and also how to properly measure them in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. In this, our final installment, we'll explore the intricacies of the ongoing maintenance/optimization of your brand terms.

Once you make the decision to buy your own brand terms, you'd think the hard part is over. The implementation and maintenance should be easy.

After all, how hard can it be? Simply buy your brand terms, bid them to the top position, and watch the returns start rolling in. Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

Protecting Brand Equity in Search Engines

First, the search engines policies around the treatment of brand terms are not standard. For instance, Google takes the most "hands off" approach with their stance being something akin to, "Buy whoever's trademarked terms you like, just don't include brand names in the title or copy."

Yahoo is more helpful. Their policy stipulates you may only buy another company's brand term if your site displays a comparative review using the brand term. The policies of Ask and MSN Live align closer to Yahoo than Google brand name terms and conditions.

While engines may have policies in play, the enforcement of these policies is another question. With the massive amount of keywords and automation, it's easy for your competition to slip through the cracks and purchase your brand terms.

How to Police Your Brand Terms

"It really comes down to just rolling up your sleeves, monitoring the branded paid search results daily for nefarious activity and filing complaints with the search engines," said Rob Murray, president of SEM firm iProspect. "This process can be arduous as it often requires sending the filed trademark documentation to the engines, but this policing is well worth it. We do this for many of our clients, often resulting in removal of the offending ads by the engines."

Rob is correct in his assessment that the time taken to police your brand terms pays off in the end. The chart below is showing the before and after effects of policing brand terms for a Top 200 search company, based on total search marketing spend:

How Home Depot Can Help

If you have a very large term, like "Home Depot," you're lucky, because most engines (especially Google) work in your favor. While Google doesn't proactively police, their algorithm often does.

A few months ago, the term "home depot" was roughly 20 cents per click, and there was only one sponsored listing. Hoping to take advantage of some high volume and cheap traffic, I ran ads for a day.

For example, one ad read: "Need a break from Home Improvement? Read Crisis by Erik Qualman." The thought was that even if I didn't receive clicks to purchase, I would at least, for a few days, have thousands of impressions for my book.

Why only a day? Because, the next day in order to show up as a sponsored listing, it required $10 per click.

There was only one other listing (Home Depot), yet it was going to cost $10 per click for this brand term. So, even though Google isn't too proactive on policing brand terms, in some cases (e.g., Home Depot) the Google algorithm and quality score (define) will price the competition out of the market since most of our brands aren't in the position of Home Depot (yet).

Combating Channel Partners

Many times, the companies buying your brand terms are your channel partners. What's the most effective strategy here?

"At first, our policy was more of a mandate indicating that channel partners can't buy the brand terms," said Rashidi Barnett, director of online strategy for Neboweb, a Web design and interactive marketing company. "However, over time it seemed to make more sense to have friendly players in the other positions rather than our foes."

Barnett found he needed to soften his brand keyword policy for channel partners. His decision came down to efficient conversions and brand control.

"What we've found to work best now is to have a simple policy. Channel partners can't secure placements above the official brand owner," Barnett said. "Otherwise, it's analogous to a potential customer calling your call center directly and the operator routing the customer through your channel partner unnecessarily. You'd have to pay a commission for the lead that your brand generated in the first place. It gives you back the control to manage your brand, as well as to drive efficient conversions."

So, remember that a little proactive work goes a long way when it comes to branded search terms.

Branded keyword terms are an essential part of the marketing mix to increase brand equity. You can build your brand online through search. Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

About the author

Erik Qualman is the Global Vice President of Online Marketing for EF Education, headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland. With more than 26,000 employees in 53 countries, EF Education is the world's largest private educator.

His book "Socialnomics: How Social Media has changed the way we live and do business" was released from Wiley Publishing in August 2009. Qualman is a frequently requested speaker within the Internet and marketing community and also maintains a social media blog at www.socialnomics.net.

Qualman has been highlighted in numerous publications, including: BusinessWeek, AdvertisingAge, USA Today, Forbes, PR Week, Investor's Business Daily, eWeek, Media Life, Direct Marketing News and Direct Response Magazine. He has also been interviewed on various radio and television outlets. Qualman is also a published fiction author.

Prior to joining EF Education, Qualman helped grow the online marketing and eBusiness functions of Cadillac & Pontiac (1994-97), AT&T (1998-2000), Yahoo (2000-03), EarthLink (2003-05) and Travelzoo (2005-08). Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. He was also first team Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State and still finds time to follow his beloved Spartans.