The rules surrounding the use of trademarked names in PPC campaigns seems to be an area of confusion for many clients and practitioners alike. It’s an issue that appears time and again in help forums.
The source of much of the confusion seems to be changes that have been made to the rules in recent years, and the different policies that apply in different countries. Our hope is this article will answer most of these questions.
Firstly to be clear; throughout this blog when we refer to “competitor’s keywords” we mean use of a competitor’s trademarked business name e.g. A Gardening Company Ltd, not keywords which simply relate to them e.g. gardeners.
The key definition to make here is between bidding on competitor’s keywords and their use in Ad text. Regardless of your location, inserting a trademarked name in an advert with the intent of commercial gain is prohibited. The only instances where trademarks are permitted is for authorised resellers and informational sites.
A number of ‘cowboy’ outfits claim that using Google’s Keyword Insertion Tool for Ads navigates around this problem; this is simply not true. This feature allows the keywords that a searcher inputs to form part of the Ad text. To return to the earlier example; someone searches for A Gardening Company Ltd but the crafty folk at “Dave’s Gardening Co” have the top bid for that keyword search and have set their Ad with Keyword Insertion so the top Ad appears:
Dave’s Gardening Co are cheaper and
Better than “A Gardening Company Ltd”
Such an Ad is not allowed by Google in any circumstance. Google may well let the Ad be placed and run until contacted by “A Gardening Company Ltd” but when they are all ” Dave’s Gardening Co” Ads will be blocked, and more importantly the quality score of www.davesgardeningco.com in organic search may well be negatively impacted (this is not stated by Google anywhere, but seems to be supported by anecdotal evidence from a number of sources).
The other factor to consider before pursuing any ‘aggressive’ tactic such as this is that all available evidence shows that Ads with negative, confrontational approaches show very poor success rates. You are far more likely to damage your brand by cheapening your image, than you are to see any traffic generated.
Whether bidding on your competitor’s keywords is allowed or not is dependent on your location. These lists are current as of January 2012:
Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Macau, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan
Permitted With Restrictions:
In EU (European Union) and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) countries. (List Here).
Bidding on trademarked keywords is permitted provided it is not seen as a deliberate attempt to confuse the searcher into believing that the Ad is for an authorised affiliate or reseller of the trademarked brand. An example of this would be a Garage bidding on the keyword Ford parts for an Ad with the text Official supplier of spares and parts. Although the Ad doesn’t use the keyword, it would be seen that the Garage had deliberately tried to confuse the searcher into believing they were a Ford authorised reseller. However, re-wording the text to Supplier of a wide range of spares and parts would make it legitimate.
United States and Rest of World (comprehensive list here)
Regardless of rules and legalities, using competitor’s trademarked keywords in Ad text is bad practice which ultimately always has a negative effect on your brand.
Bidding on these keywords is a practice to follow with caution, and needs to be evaluated depending on what goods or services you provide, and where you are advertising. Whilst appearing in these searches can be of benefit, there is strong evidence that appearing top of a search for another brand frustrates the genuine searcher, and has a negative impact on your brand image. Money spent on more broad keywords may well see a better ROI (return of investment); consumers will often begin their search by looking to the perceived market leader before searching broader terms for comparison.
For more opinion and advice on PPC and wider SEO check out seomoz.org.