Since the dawn of SEO, companies have been using creative tactics to make sure their brand is positioned atop their competitors as much as possible. While using a pay per click advertising campaign to bid on a competing company’s keywords is a common practice, there are risks as well as rewards. Using your competition’s branded terms is a great way for growing brands to win some of the click share from established companies, but it can also lead to the digital marketer’s worst nightmare: lawsuits.
In this article, we’ll explore how to utilize your competition’s branded terms in your Google AdWords campaign—legally, ethically, and strategically.
What’s in it For You
Why do online brands bid on each other’s keywords in the first place? There are two primary benfits:
- Low Cost Per Click: A competitor’s specific key phrases typically charge less per click because there is generally less competition. While “auto parts” might be an expensive keyword, “McClaren’s brake specials” is likely an inexpensive keyword. These keywords also tend to have higher impact per click, because few advertisers are bidding on them—this is also a great opportunity to refine your ad copy to make sure it stands out from the pack! “McClaren’s brake specials” could be one of 300 keywords that your competitor is using, but with a few minutes of fine tuning, you can likely top their campaign’s performance.
- Promote Brand Recognition: When you use pay per click marketing to position your brand next to its primary competition, you’re exposing your brand to new customers and giving them the opportunity to consider switching from one brand to another. Even if your competitors are “goliaths,” you might not be able to slay them, but you can positively influence your brand’s perception by bidding on their keywords.
What’s in a Name? Potentially, a Lawsuit
Before you even think about adding a competitor’s keywords to your keyword list, the first thing you’ll want to check is whether or not the brand name is trademarked. If it isn’t, then you’re legally covered when it comes to bidding—at least in most countries.
You can read Google AdWords’ full trademark policy here. In short, the policy is actually relatively flexible, allowing few degrees of separation between the company and the keyword:
- If it’s not trademarked, you can bid on it
- If it is trademarked, but the copyright holder hasn’t filed an exception request with Google, you can bid on it AND use it in advertising copy
- If it’s trademarked and the owner has filed an exception request, you can bid on it, but you can’t use it in your ad copy
- In the U.S., if you sell a specific product, service it, or provide information about it, you can bid on that keyword and use it in ad copy.
- Google only monitors certain countries for keyword trademark violations. Click here to see if yours is among them.
Taking (Partial) Ownership of Keywords
When you use a competitor’s keyword, you’re also creating an opportunity for your brand to capitalize on alternate uses of those terms. If a current event or trending topic happens to coincide with the keywords in question, then create separate ad groups for those keywords, with relevant, topical ad copy to maximize impact.
You can also utilize ad groups in conjunction with display network targeting, to make sure that your ads are only triggered on Web pages about your competitor and their products—just create an ad group using your competitor’s name as a keyword (trademarks and exception requests notwithstanding), and even consider using some of their product and service names as well. This is also a good opportunity to experiment with image-based ads, as consumers tend to remember them and link them with brand names better than with text ads.
Using competitors’ keyphrases is a common and effective way to maximize your brand’s online presence. Just always make sure that you’re informed about your competitors’ phrases’ trademark status—Google doesn’t keep a comprehensive list of trademarked terms, but the United States Patent and Trademark Office is a good resource. If your brand already gets a fair amount of online exposure, consider drafting a keyword policy and having an attorney review it as well. PPC search engine trademark law is still very much a developing field, and laws and policies are still being created. Having some of your keywords rejected by Google is to be expected, as is filing exception requests if your company has a legitimate claim to those keywords—but once you’ve integrated them into your campaigns, you’ll have a growth strategy that is intimately linked with your competition.