Paid Search (PPC)

The competitive nature of pay per click advertising opens one avenue to advertisers: bidding on your competitors' keywords. Is it worth doing? Let's explore the options.

Do a Google search for a well known brand name, and it will trigger advertisements from competitors muscling in on the action.  Is this a good idea?

In many instances, yes, it is, and can give your business some great online visibility.

Known as Brand Bidding, there are 3 main reasons for bidding on your competitors’ brands and keywords

  • Cheap traffic – Brand name keywords (with the exception of a few) are relatively cheap clicks compared to generic keywords in AdWords.
  • High quality traffic – Although you will not receive lots of the traffic for these searches, the traffic you do attract will be very well qualified. The majority of the clicks you receive will mainly be people looking for a product or service provided by one of your main competitors, therefore (assuming you provide a similar product/service) the traffic has high intention and is likely to convert.
  • Brand exposure – If people are searching for a competitor within your industry the majority of the time they are in the market for something they provide. By advertising on these keywords you can start to make these potential customers aware of your brand name and what you can offer.


An example of a company bidding on competitor keywords

In the example below, we can see 3 advertisements for a search for the well known drains clearing company Dyno Rod. The first ad is Dyno Rod itself using advertising to protect it’s brand position.

And the adverts in positions 2 and 3 are competitors, leveraging Dyno Rod’s  dominant market position to raise their own brand awareness, and potentially siphon off traffice:


bidding on competitors brands - Dynorod

Is it legal to bid on your competitors’ keywords and brands?

In a very simple nutshell, yes.

Google has a quite simple set of search advertising guidelines that cover issues including trademarks, and it is the protection offered by trademarks that is key to this discussion.

Google respects the protection offered by a trademark, but in general this does not extend to the selection of the keywords you are bidding for. So, in the above example, the two advertisers are acting legally in bidding for the phrase Dyno Rod provided:

  • that trademarked text is not included in advert copy
  • that the advertising copy does not confuse the user as to the origin of the goods or services.

Google reserves the right to investigate using trademark terms, for example in the adverts’s Display URLs. And it does have a catch all clause for buyer beware:

“Google is not in a position to make recommendations regarding the use of terms corresponding to trademarks. If you have further questions, we encourage you to contact your legal counsel and consult the AdWords Terms and Conditions.”

How to use Google AdWords Using Competitors’ Names

Now, let’s get down to the practicalities of bidding on your competitors’ brands and keyphrases.

You should always include an offer or unique selling point in the ad copy.

This is good practice for any AdWords ads that you are running but it is made even important for targeting competitor’s keywords. Think about it, the potential customer is searching specifically for a competitor of yours. This indicates that they are already aware of that company and it will take something unique and eye catching to potentially draw them away from the brand they already know exists. This will obviously not work with all customers but you can expect some relatively cheap traffic to your site.

Always bid low.

The aim of this campaign is not to sit number one in the Google results page. Ideally you would like to position yourself just below your competitor (assuming they are bidding on that keyword). This ensures that you do not receive too much traffic to the site and your quality score is hit as a result of a high bounce rate. If your ad sits lower you will receive clicks from people that are mostly looking for an alternative company to the one they searched for.

Do not include the competitors keyword in your ad.

Not only is this bad practice and misleading to visitors it is actually against Googles trademark policy. It is easy to avoid doing this when creating your ad copy, however you must be careful when it comes to using dynamic keyword insertion. It is strongly recommended that you do not use dynamic keyword insertion in your ad copy when creating this campaign as it will more than likely lead to a competitor keyword appearing in your ad thus violating Googles terms.

Do not start a bidding war.

To put it simply, starting a bidding war will only result in one loser and that is you. I have occasionally seen people use the theory that bidding a greater amount on these keywords will force competitors to pay more to advertise on their own brand keywords. Whilst this is to an extent true, the repercussions to your campaign far out way any damage you think you are doing to your competitors. It is most likely that your competitors quality score for these keywords is 10 (if not then very high) so you will always lose out when it comes to trying to achieve like for like clicks with them. It is also likely that the a proportion of the traffic from these keywords will not be interested in your company at all, they will simply be looking for customer service numbers or specific information based on that brand. By attracting this traffic you will lower your quality score and drive up your cost per click.

Finally it is important to understand that although Google do not state that you can’t bid on competitor keywords it is very important that you are not seen to be misleading visitors.



11 responses to “Why you should be bidding on competitor keywords in Google AdWords”

  1. James Winsoar says:

    You can get a low quality score this way because the keywords will not appear on your landing page.

    • Isaac Rudansky says:

      Hey James, as long as some of the other text in your ad is found in relevant form on your landing page, there is no reason to be concerned for Quality Score if just the competitors term is not on your landing page … and besides, landing page relevancy is the least important factor in determining QS. Google really wants to see good site speed and that the site is generally on topic. you can find out more about quality score here:

    • Elliott Kirk says:

      Hi James,

      Thanks for the response.

      You are right, it is best practice to have the relevant keywords appear on your landing page where possible.

      However this is just one factor that goes into determining the quality of your landing page and therefore the quality score of your keyword.

      If done correctly, it is not uncommon for the quality score for these search terms to be similar to the rest of the account.

  2. Ryan Waters says:

    Nice article. I was wondering what your take is on mentioning the competitor on the landing page.

    Is it ok to have competitor comparison pages for your campaigns. My aim here would not be to discredit a competitor but place them in a similar light.

  3. abcd says:

    In Germany this is illegal – you can be sued for using the name of a competitior in your keywords.

  4. Juan Preuyt says:

    Hi there Susan. First off thanks for emphasising the importance of not starting a bidding war, proabably something i woulf have done off the bat hahaha. I am doing research into ad-words as i have a few top ranking organic positions. What my competition has done however is started using ad-words. My websites visitors and overall conversion dropped and im pretty sure its due to this.

    Ive started learning about adwords and its a whole new ball game on its own, there is the generic what google says you should do, then you find what people whom have experience have to say in online articles , and then you find that just like in traditional seo everything cannot be covered until you actually start using it and testing.

    My question is a little off topic but id appreciate yout insight into it. Is there a way for a organic listing to compete with a paid listing ? I have seen at times my organic listing will appear above the local search pack along with the ads. At other times the adds appear at the bottom of the screen.

    Before i actually invest time and money into this i just want to know if it is as you say the right fit.


    • Susan Hallam MBE Susan Hallam MBE says:

      Hi Juan, and thanks for letting me know you found the article useful!

      You’ve asked a great question: how do organic results jockey for position relative to paid results, and in fact to they compete?

      To answer your question, the search engines results page (SERPS) comprises elements from a number of sources (organic results, paid results, video, local pack, knowledge pane, and more) and Google is constantly testing new combinations and positions of these varying sources of results in order to give users the best possible experience.

      So, as you have noticed, paid listings can appear at the top of the page, the bottom of the page, and there is no way of predicting how Google will experiment with new layouts as time goes by

      In a nutshell, all the various types of results on a page are competing for the visitors’ clicks, and your digital strategy is to determine the right mix that will help you to best meet your business objectives.

      Hope that’s helpful!

      • Juan Preuyt says:

        Yes indeed it is, what i am gathering here is yes adwords can be great if done right. But you should also have a good organic listing also be working on your map pack search result and also be using social media. It would be foolish as any business to put all of your eggs in one basket. However the other side of the sword : do not spread yourself too thin.

        Something i think we also forget is how powerful a good brand name still is ( you did mention it in your article ). I know so many businesses in my town whom have websites but Dont really do any seo related tasks because everybody just knows who they are and they get a ton a business.

        Im not saying once you get to that point ride the wave , i think you should always be looking to grow, imagine if they had used adwords or the map pack the rest of us would really struggle.

        FYI ive used adwords for about a week now spend some minor cash on it, testing the waters you know. Its seems like a great platform but i think you have to do alot of testing as every business and their client base are unique and also google is ever changing.

        Just keep your eye on the ball. ( ie dont invest 2k and leave it on auto for a week lol )
        Thanks for taking the time to respond and share you experience on my additional question 🙂

        Best regards

  5. Thank You Susan Hallam MBE,
    This Blog Helped me a lot in getting to know more information about AdWords. I hope you will be writing more blogs. I got to know how to deal with the competitors in AdWords by increasing Bids. This Blog is very much helpful for me and learned many things out of it and sure I will apply this blog to my AdWords Campaigns.

  6. Wow Susan this was a great post!

    I’m clearly a newbie in the Google adwords game considering I did not know bidding for a trade marked keyword was illegal. Glad I figured it out before marketing my ecommerce website.

    For a while I have been trying to compete on search engines with just organic listings. Although I’m in the #1 ranking for my keyword, I am still beneath local and paid advertisements. If anyone is in the same boat, I’d recommend NOT putting all your eggs in one basket and doing a combination of SEO and adwords 😉

    Thanks again!

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