Trademarked Terms: Guaranteed Conversions, Guaranteed Controversy

Doing research about the settlement between American Airlines and Google over the use of trademark names, I came across an article that states an argument for not using your competitors’ brands for PPC — even saying it’s not profitable. I can understand not doing this for fear of potential lawsuits (not likely), but there aren’t many cases I’ve worked on that haven’t shown a profit.

Using those keywords has worked for me in many cases. As long as the option is available, many businesses should be taking advantage of buying trademarked competitor terms if it works financially.

Given Google seems to set the rules, if it’s allowed then it should be explored if profitable. If that changes then the option is gone.

I asked a few notable members of the search community if they used competitor branded keywords and all said they used them successfully.

Loren Baker, of Search Engine Journal and Traffic Blend, said, “From my experiences, the conversions can be sick, especially with comparison shoppers.” Ultimately, he believes given it “converts like madness” and is allowed you would not be looking after your clients for not adding it to your marketing approach.

Blast Radius’s Jill Sampey gave a detailed answer that also incorporates the reason Google allows such advertising.

“People use search engines to find relevant information based primarily on need or interest. If someone searches for ‘Benjamin Moore Paint,’ is information on a sale of Behr paint irrelevant? I don’t think so. At the core of the search is the need for paint, or information on paint. Providing the searcher with information on other options, new brands, etc., is very relevant to their primary need. Providing additional information or options is not preventing a user from going to the Benjamin Moore site. This type of competitive interaction is normal in the offline world. If I go into a store looking for a certain brand, should that store owner just allow me to see the brand I was thinking of, instead of letting me see the whole shelf of products? Why would an advertiser act differently when presented with a similar situation online?”

Great points Jill, I’m of a same mind on this one.

Avi Wilensky, PromediaCorp CEO, who uses competitors’ names as keywords for some of his PPC clients, came from another angle and understood the possible financial problems that could make this seem unprofitable.

“By bidding on a competitors brand name, you often enter the scenario where the CTR will be so low, it results in the minimum CPC jumping through the roof. I’ve seen cases where Google has forced the min CPC upwards of $50 for a single term, even in cases where no competition exists. This makes sense, since these users are often navigational searchers — looking to directly navigate to a single site. For example, a user who queries “walmart” is probably looking to navigate to They are often not interested in browsing the results. This results in the PPC ad being almost entirely ignored. It’s this phenomena which explains why some of the largest brands on the Web often have no PPC ads running alongside them — advertisers simply are unwilling to pay the high premiums set by Google.”

Very true Avi, and I’ve found it’s worth working through the high numbers to get to long term profitable keywords.

As Lauren Vacarello, of lvlogic, noted “if someone is searching for your competitor, you should be there,” since many times they are looking for something in your shared industry and have associated the competitor with it, but are not specifically looking for the company.

I’m doing some PPC work for Hotels Cheap and have found that marketing using specific hotels as keywords doesn’t seem to convert profitably even for landing pages where you can book them at the same and sometimes at a lower price. So there are some areas where it doesn’t work, or I can’t find the ad that grabs those searchers.

Not trying would be a disservice to your client. Companies doing their own marketing should consider this.

There’s one situation where a larger company can use this to advantage. Offer the smaller competitors a truce you don’t use their name they don’t use yours. If you are more searched for, it’s a winning move.

Chris Boggs Fires Back

Frank, good choice mixing your deep knowledge with that of esteemed members of — especially published the day after a gathering. I like your advice and agree with the idea that in some cases it’s wise to bid on competitor names. I lean towards the tactic being more effective for a product search than a service search, however. If someone is searching for a branded product they may be more susceptible to comparison shopping than if they are looking for a company that provides a service.

Another problem that was highlighted by Avi is that the quality score takes a big hit when you’re bidding on a competitor’s name. Of course, you could plaster the content with mentions of that brand, but any vigilant foe would be keeping an eye out for that and likely get quick results in having the offending content and associated ads removed. If you’re sold on search and have deep pockets, perhaps those few clicks that turn into conversions are worth it, especially for high-ticket items.

I remember when I was at Avenue A, a certain company whose name starts with a lower-case “i” would bid on the parent company term. I approached someone senior in the organization that I happen to work with in promoting the search industry, and asked him why they were doing it. He came back to me with an answer that didn’t surprise me: “You guys were bidding on us.” I pointed out that no such listings existed in searches for their brands, and he arranged to have the ad removed. I highly recommend this approach versus threatening letters if a company is faced with infringers.

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