Creating a strong brand takes time. Unfortunately, when it comes to paid search advertising, using another business’s good name to steal their customers takes almost no time at all.
It’s frustrating and difficult, but it’s ultimately part of the game we all play. If you do a good job of marketing your business, people will inevitably start targeting your branded keywords.
The question is, what can you do about it?
Fortunately, if you do find yourself in this flattering but frustrating situation, there are several things you can do to take control of the situation. There’s no “magic bullet”, but with the right tactics, you can keep your losses to a minimum.
Let’s take a look at your options:
1. Ask Them to Stop
It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the easiest way to get someone to stop bidding on your branded terms is to simply ask them to stop. You’d be surprised how reasonable and human your competitors can be if you actually get them on the phone or meet with them face-to-face.
For example, one of our clients was part of a branded terms bidding war. They were bidding on the competition’s branded terms, the competition was bidding on their terms…and everyone was losing money. So, we decided to get on the phone with their competitors and call for a cease-fire. The client would stop bidding on their competitors’ branded terms if their competitors would stop bidding on the client’s terms.
To our surprise, everyone was fairly open to the idea.
As it turned out, neither the client nor their competitors were getting enough conversions from bidding on their competitors’ branded terms to justify the increased CPC on their own branded terms. I can’t speak to how the cease-fire affected the competition, but once the bidding war stopped, our client’s branded term CPC dropped 86%.
More importantly, without their competitor’s ads around to distract or dissuade their potential customers, their cost-per-conversion dropped by 93%.
It took some extra time and effort to reach out to the competition, but declaring a cease-fire significantly improved the performance of our client’s paid search campaigns.
Now, obviously, not every negotiation will go this smoothly, but your competitors may be quite reasonable if you can just talk to them about the situation. War creates casualties on all sides, and that’s as true for paid search marketing as it is for countries. If you can help a competitor see that, you may be able to simply get them to stop bidding on your branded terms without having to use any of the other tactics in this article.
2. See if You Can Shut Them Down
Bidding on another company’s branded keywords isn’t illegal. Using another company’s trademarks or copyrights is. So, if a competitor is using your brand name, slogan, etc in their ad copy, you can report them to Google (here’s how), who will force them to take down the ad.
Unfortunately, this won’t prevent them from coming back with ads that don’t use your brand name or other copyright-protected content, but it’s a start. Depending on the competitor, a slap on the wrist from Google may be enough to get them to stop running ads on your branded terms entirely, so this is a great next step to try.
3. Up Your Bids on Your Branded Terms
To put it simply, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. So, if you can’t stop the competition from bidding on your branded terms, you may need to beat them at their own game.
The good news is, branded terms have a very high, very specific search intent, so your competitors will have low quality scores for ads they run on your branded terms. You, on the other hand, will have high quality scores, which means you should be able to outrank the competition at a much lower cost-per-click (for more information about how quality scores work, click here).
Long story short, if you aren’t already bidding on your own branded terms and someone else is, you probably should create a campaign around your branded terms. If you already are running a branded terms campaign and someone is outranking you, you probably need to up your bids. Spending more money to prevent someone from siphoning off traffic from your branded terms isn’t fun, but it is effective.
Finally, if you can’t convince your competitor(s) to stop bidding on your branded terms, they’re doing so in a legal manner and they keep doing it even after you up your bids, it’s time to go to war. Sometimes, the only way to get to a cease-fire is to fire back.
If you choose to go this route, make sure that you don’t use any trademarked elements of your competitor’s brand in your ads. Also, it’s a good idea to consider the value you’ll get from running ads on your competitors’ branded terms.
Unfortunately, bidding on branded terms tends to work best when smaller companies bid on bigger companies’ branded terms.
For smaller companies, bidding on a well-known competitor’s branded terms is a good way to throw your hat in the ring as a potential alternative. Bigger companies, however, are usually already a recognized brand, so bidding on smaller competitor’s branded terms is kind of pointless—if they wanted to buy from you, why would they be searching for a smaller competitor?
So, as much as you might like to teach the competition a lesson by bidding high on their branded terms, if running ads on an upstart competitor’s branded terms won’t provide a good return on ad spend, it may not be a good investment. If you’re losing enough revenue from their campaign that it’s worth losing a little short-term to get a long-term cease-fire, you might consider running a retaliatory campaign for a few months, but make sure you know what your goals are and how much you’re willing to spend to achieve them.
As frustrating as it can be to have someone bid on your hard-earned brand name, it isn’t the end of the world. There are several steps you can take to minimize the damage and with a little negotiation (aggressive or otherwise), you may just be able to convince your competitor(s) to stop bidding on your branded terms altogether.
By the way, if you need some help handling this sort of situation or just want assistance with your paid search campaigns in general, let me know here or in the comments. I’d love to help!
How have you handled competitors bidding on your brand? Any tips you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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