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.

If you need help with your Paid Search don't hesitate to contact us.

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