PPC Brand Bidding: Can I Bid On Competitor Brand Names as Keywords?

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In this week’s post, Bidcops PPC whiz-kid Sam Thomas has some sage Google AdWords PPC advice: tread carefully when it comes to brand bidding!

If you’ve ever been on Google, typed your brand name into the search bar, and then gazed in horror as no less than three of your competitors seem to appearing with adverts on your brand, then you’re not alone.

There are rules in place to prevent brand abuse, but bidding on a competitors brand is allowed in many instances.

The Rules of Bidding on a Competitors Brand Name

If you’ve decided to give it a shot yourself though, you’ll need to remember that when it comes to bidding on a competitors brand name, there a few things to bear in mind from the off.

First and foremost, is the word or brand name trademarked? This will then affect the rules of the game.

Trademarked brand names can be bid on in countries including the UK, US and Canada if the owner has not filed an exception request with Google. In fact, you can even bid on the name if they do have an exception request – you’re just not allowed to use it in your ad copy.

Of course there are some instances when you will find yourself unwittingly bidding on brand names – a green grocer specialising in apples for example, might bid for Apple – with no relation to the gadget manufacturer. In such an instance, not only would you usually be able to bid on the word Apple, but you can use it in ad copy too.

After all, in Google’s own AdWords Trademark Policy document, it explicitly says as long as the ad text is using the word descriptively in its day to day use and not in reference to a specific trademarked name or term, then it is fine.

Ad Copy Clear Up

If you do use a competitor brand name as a keyword, be careful what you say. Don’t criticise or cause what would be considered as ‘reputational damage’ – writing ‘brand A sucks, but brand B is great’ is a definite no go area.

At no point are you allowed to create content and give the impression you are the owner of the trademark – this is a definite no no.

How Can You Tell if a Brand is Trademarked?

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy way for you to find out whether a brand name is trademarked or not – the reason being what might be trademarked in one country might not be trademarked in another, as trademarks are assigned by geography. Bizarrely, trademarks are also assigned by industry as well.

So that greengrocer selling apples would have to submit a request telling Google the use of Apple is as a dictionary term rather than it being a trademark for the fruit selling industry. Someone selling phones might similarly use smartphone as a dictionary definition, but again it is a word not trademarked for the industry.

UK-Specific Examples of Firms Using a Competitor’s Brand Name

An EU ruling on a substantial case involving M&S and Interflora ruled trademark owners are “not entitled to prevent advertisements displayed by competitors on the basis of keywords corresponding to that trademark”.

A word to the wise – before you start bidding on competitor’s brand terms, make sure your own house is in order. That is to say, make sure no-one is using your brand name in their own ads in order to steal some of your potential customers.

Unfortunately, if you’ve left it late, you may find yourself struggling to claw back your bids, as Quality Score will play a significant part in proceedings. Now, if a competitor has already had a lengthy campaign on your brand, that means they may already have the click through rate and historical data in place to trump your relevancy – you have been warned.

Disclaimer: If you are planning to run any kind of campaign using a competitors brand as a keyword, it is definitely in your best interest to speak with your legal team on the matter. Bear in mind, Yahoo! and Bing will also have slightly different rules on the topic, so you’ll need to clue yourself up on those too.

Paid search news from BidCops – providing Google pay per click help.

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