AdWords tips - Competitor Brand Keyword Bidding

AdWords Tips : Bidding on Competitor Keywords – Digital Marketing Madness

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn Maher:  Hi, I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing company north of Boston, Massachusetts. Today my guest is Bob Rustici, Director of Paid Search.

We’re doing part two in our series on PPC bidding strategies, entitled “AdWords Tips : Bidding on Competitor Keywords.” Welcome, Bob.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob Rustici:  Hey, hi, John.


Can you bid on your competitors name?

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  So Bob, are you allowed to bid on a competitor’s name, even if it’s a trademarked term?

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Yeah, that’s always a sense of confusion in a lot of people, because they feel that if the competitor is a large competitor and their name is trademarked that they’re not allowed to do that. There’s even been a lawsuit that Google has fought in this area from a long time ago ‑ American Blinds, where Google says, “No, you can bid on your competitor’s name. No problem.”

You can’t use their name in the ad if it’s trademarked, because then that would be trademark infringement.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  Alright, so if a competitor has their name and it’s not trademarked, you could potentially both bid on the keyword and use that competitor’s name in your ad text, but most company’s going to have their name trademarked.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  You do want to avoid that, yeah.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  In general, you’re bidding, you’re putting your competitor’s name in your list of keywords that you’re going after the ones that your ads are going to pop up for, but you’re not putting that keyword into your actual ad text that’s displaying, because that’s where you run into issues of where you’re using a competitor’s name, and you’re making it display somewhere where that competitor doesn’t have any control over that.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Yeah, and there’s always a temptation, because you want to get good quality score to incorporate your competitor’s name in your ad because without having your competitor’s name in the ad, your quality score will just naturally be lower.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  Right. We did another podcast where we talked about Adwords quality score, but the basic idea there is just you get a higher quality score if the keyword that somebody is searching for also appears in the ad, and then also appears on the landing page that you’re sending them to. In this case, you’re not able to put that competitor’s name in your ad, so your quality score is going to suffer a little bit.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Yeah, so you could see some down side on that, but it is always helpful to have the competitor’s name in there, because people will recognize that, too. There’s some cases where you’re an actual re‑seller, and you say, “I sell IBM refurbished equipment.” You may totally have the right to say “seller of IBM refurbished equipment.”

Even though IBM has the brand and that’s trademarked, they may authorize that for re‑sellers to do that, because they do recognize that that’s a key advantage to the ad, is that people see that. It benefits them, too.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  Who makes that determination? How does IBM know that you’re using their name in a good, positive way, because you’re a re‑seller, and then this other person is using their name in a negative way?

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  There is a natural body inside of Google that does policy reviews on those, so if IBM’s already submitted a trademark restrictions document, which is a formal document ‑‑ I don’t know if that’s the actual name, but it’s something of that nature ‑‑ where they say, “These are the allowable people that can bid, use our term in the ads, and thus it’s OK.”

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  So they’re actually submitting a list that says, “These people are allowed.”

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Now again, the ability to bid on the search terms that are the competitor’s name, that still always remains an open game. That’s always up for grabs.

One of the things that you want to be aware of that is that there’s always that question, “Should I bid on my competitors?” First find out if they bid on you. Do a little search on your own brand name to see if anyone’s bidding on you. If they’re bidding on you, then you may want to think, “OK, it’s kind of like the nuclear war.”

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  [laughs]

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  “I’m going to bid on them.”

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  [laughs] Right. AdWords cold war.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  I’ve been in scenarios where the people have actually had a gentleman’s agreement. “Don’t bid on me, and I won’t bid on you.” But I’m actually OK with bidding on competitor’s names. I do think it has some clear value at times.


Best Practices for Bidding on Your Competitions’ Keywords

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  We can get into some of the more specific reasons for doing that, but what are the best practices for bidding on competitor names?

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Let’s say you’ve made that decision. You’ve said, “OK, I definitely want to go after my competitors and bid on that.” One of the things you want to avoid, and it’s just a simplistic thing, is in your ad, don’t use the Automatic Keyword Insertion tool, partly because somebody may say, “reviews of Acme,” and then that shows up in your ad.

Then they come back and complain and say, “Hey, you’re using our trademark in here,” and now it shuts your whole ad down. When you get your ads shut down, you don’t necessarily know sometimes. You don’t get notification of that so you could just suddenly see it drop off.

The Dynamic Keyword Insertion Tool is not actually a friend in the area of brand bidding.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  Right and that’s where you basically put in a wildcard into the ad text, and you say, whatever the person’s searched for, just insert that keyword into my ad text here. That can cause all kinds of issues.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  So then, the next question you ask yourself in a best practice is, “What’s my ad going to say? Am I going to say that I’m better than them? Am I going to say that I’m cheaper than them, or more efficient?”

Or maybe a comparison there’s a call‑to‑action you need to think about, because most likely when people are searching your competitor’s name, they’re already down a path of that’s who they want to deal with, so you’re really doing a technique of diversion.

You’re trying to say, “OK, I know you think of Coca‑Cola all the time, but here’s a case where you actually want to think of Pepsi,” so maybe you want to do a taste‑test review board that says, “Ah, yeah, 9 out of 10 people preferred Pepsi, and here’s the actual video and results of that.”

You actually want to come up with a call‑to‑action that makes sense, to actually get people to stop and think, “OK, my competitor is not as strong as they may think they are,” so do think out a little bit of a call‑to‑action. Reviews is actually a great way, if you’re in any kind of high‑tech business or lead‑gen scenario, because people are constantly saying, “OK, I wonder if they’re any good,” so they’re going to look up reviews.

If you have an industry‑standard review, like a Gartner Magic Quadrant that puts you in a better light than your competitor, that’s a great opportunity to highlight that.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  OK, what else?

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  The other thing I always like to do is isolate these ads as a separate campaign. They could, in so many cases, have very poor ROI, because the people are already down that path, and unless you have a really strong compelling argument to win them over, your ROI may just not be that interesting to deal with.

You may want to, depending on your financial situation or your budgets, say, “OK, maybe I do this or I don’t do this, or maybe I just sort of go after my certain points, times.” I like to leave them in a separate campaign, because that way I can clearly identify, “Do I really want to keep bidding on the competitor’s keywords?”

There are some scenarios where the competitive bidding’s been fantastic results for some clients, and others it just never produces.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  So keeping them separate so that you can really track the metrics separately and decide that, and not getting them mixed up with all of your other keywords is a good idea.

What are some of the pros and cons to competitive bidding? Why do you want to do this?

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  One of the things that I always affectionately refer to as “in your face marketing,” sometimes if you’re in a highly competitive environment and you may have a competitor that you really just don’t like, I’ve done scenarios where I’ve done ads in LinkedIn, and really go after them.

In LinkedIn, I’ve gone in and set up ads actually on the company’s names, so all their employees keep seeing the ads that way.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  Wow!

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  That’s in‑your‑face marketing, and there are times when you want to do that, when you just want to say, “OK, I am better than them, and I’m tired of them beating me up and winning out, so I just want to go after them.”

You do have to recognize that the flip side of that is that very often you can have some very poor conversion rates in there, so you may have to pay a little bit of a price to get in there, to actually go with that.

Also, depending on your industry, it can create a little animosity. This doesn’t make for good neighbors if you’re bidding on it, because if you bid on their brand, most likely they’re going to retaliate and start bidding on your brand. Now you both are coming up with induced costs in there, so you have to deal with that.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  So basically you should ask yourself, “OK, am I ready for my competitor to be bidding on me? Because if I’m going to bid on them, it’s probably going to come back around in the end.”

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Get ready for the fight. If you want to avoid that, then that’s one way of avoiding it.

One of the things that I do like about this sometimes is, I’ve been in some scenarios where people have product releases, and everybody’s very competitive about what they’re coming out. I did some drug companies one time, and they want to know, when they release a new drug, is it getting some hidden traction in the market?

So, when you bid on your competitor’s you can actually look at their search impressions and get a feeling of, “Did they actually spike in that area?”

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  Right. AdWords will give you the numbers, basically, of how many people are searching for that term, whether that’s a competitor name or just another keyword, either way, they’re telling you the number of people that are searching for it.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  The search impressions can be an indication too of how popular they are in the search engines. You may think that your competitor is really dominating the search engines. You may find out just by doing a brand ad in that area that they’re not as dominant as you thought.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  You can bid on your brand terms and your competitor’s brand terms, and compare them, and see which one is actually getting more searches. That’s interesting.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  Yeah, and again, it’s more insights and backup data that you can provide back to your management team and say, “Hey, we’re doing a great job,” or, “We need to really get a little more money in the budget to start…”

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  “We’ve flat‑lined, and our competitor keeps seeing increase in the number of impressions that they’re getting, so they’re doing something right. We’ve got to compete with them.”

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  That’s definitely one of those advantages.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  That’s really great information, Bob. Thanks for speaking with me today.

Bob Rustici McDougall InteractiveBob:  It was great being here.

John Maher McDougall InteractiveJohn:  For more information about digital marketing, visit, and make sure you subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. You can check out part one of our series on AdWords strategies that talks about bidding on your own brand name here. Make sure you come back, too, for part three in our series on PPC bidding strategies.

I’m John Maher. Thanks for listening. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.


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