Bidding on competitors in Google Ads – Yay or Nay?

Bidding on competitors in Google Ads – Yay or Nay?

Bidding on competitor keywords in Google Ads – the lowdown

Choosing keywords for your Google ads campaigns can be complex. First, you need to research search terms relating to your business, weed out the good from the bad, and understand what will convert for you.

But at some point, one thorny issue can arise.

“Should I bid on my competitor’s brand name”

There isn’t a definitive answer to this question, as there can be pros and cons to bidding on competitor keywords in Google Ads. Ultimately, it depends on your business goals and budget, as well as how much competition there is for the keywords in question.

If you’re considering bidding on competitor names, we suggest you read on, to get the full lowdown on branded bidding.

Can you bid on the company name of your competition in Google ads?

In almost all cases, yes, you can.

Google has a fairly clear policy on this – you can bid on the term, but in most cases, you cannot use the company name in your advertising copy.

For example, if I’m the PPC agency for Pepsi and I want to bid on the keyword “Coca cola” I can do so.

What I cannot do is

  • Use the trademarked term “coca cola in my ad copy
  • Mislead the consumer into thinking that by clicking the ad they will be visiting the Coca-Cola website.

So, let’s say you own an email marketing software that has similar functionality to Mailchimp. You could bid on the keyword “Mailchimp,” but your ad copy would not be able to use the term – nor should you infer that you are, in fact, Mailchimp.

The only other thing to be mindful of is if your competitor brand is in a restricted category – this will often apply to things like aesthetics or medicines.

Can you use your competitor's name in your Google ads copy?

Generally speaking – no. While some business names are not subject to a trademark, it’s still pretty shoddy practice to do so and you will likely at some stage have your advert disapproved.

However, if, for example you offer a great alternative to a competitor you can be fairly creative with your ad copy.

A competitor is appearing when I search for my business name in Google can I stop it?

If the competitor is using your name in their advertising copy you may be able to submit a trademark complaint.

If your brand name is not trademarked, you may be able to report that ads for being misleading.

However, if their advertising copy does not mention your business name then there is no recourse directly with Google. But there are some other steps you can take.

  1. Contact them. As outlined below, they may not even be aware that they are appearing for your name on Google ads. It can be worth getting in touch to explain the situation and coming to an agreement to add your brand as a negative keyword.
  2. Set up your own branded campaign. As below, this is one of the easiest ways to protect your brand as you will nearly always pay less for these clicks than your competitors and may therefore put them off from bidding on your terms.

Benefits of bidding on a competitor’s branded name:

Choosing to run a branded campaign bidding on names of other businesses can have benefits which include:

Cheap clicks

In some cases, branded search terms are much cheaper than other types of keywords as fewer advertisers will be using them – especially if your competitor is not using Google ads or not running a branded campaign on their own name.

Building your brand awareness

If you offer a great alternative to another company or brand, just by showing up when someone is looking for them can start to embed your brand in your ideal customers’ consciousness. While it may not be a rapid converting strategy, it can be great for longer term awareness.

The ideal audience

If you bid on a competitor who is incredibly similar to you, in many cases the audience using those search terms will also be your ideal customer – therefore, the traffic that comes from those clicks can be of high quality (but not always… read on).

Downsides of bidding on competitor keywords

Brand bidding is not the right fit for everyone. Here are some downsides of bidding on competitor keywords.

You may end up wasting your time and resource

The truth is that often people don’t even read the ad they click on when doing a branded search so you can end up with irrelevant contacts. For example, if you were a dentist bidding on a different surgery you may find you’re wasting time trying to cancel appointments for another practice as someone thought you were them!

You will always pay more than the brand

In almost all cases, to beat the original brand (if they are advertising) you will need to have a higher bid than them. What you really don’t want to do is start a bidding war with your competitors as this is hugely unlikely to offer you a good return on your ad’s investment.

You might piss off your competitors

Let’s be honest – this can be an issue.

For larger brand who understand the Google ads landscape this isn’t so much of a problem, but for smaller businesses, this type of strategy can become very contentious, very quickly. And starting a bidding war on someone else’s (or your own) brand will just cost you money.

Understanding Phrase and Broad match

One of the biggest misconceptions we often encounter is that all branded bidding is done “on purpose.” This actually isn’t the case.

When ads are set up in Google you can pick from several types of “match” and in some cases this means that you may unwittingly be bidding on competitors branded terms.

To explain further

Broad Match:

When you choose broad match for your keywords your ads may show on searches that are related to your keywords – but don’t even contain your actual keywords.

So, for example if I bid on the term Coca Cola as a broad match bid, by ads may show when someone searches for Pepsi, even if I have not chosen to bid on Pepsi as a keyword. This is because Google understands semantic links between different words.

Phrase Match:

Ads may show on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. The meaning of the keyword can be implied. Again, this type of matching can mean that your ads show up for competitor brands, even if it’s not intentional.

Quality Score – why the brand (almost) always wins

You may have read so far and though “hell yeah I want to bid on my competitor terms.” But it’s worth considering the cost vs the benefit. To understand why you will always need to be pay more, we want to introduce the concept of Quality Score and Ad Rank.

Quality score is made up of three elements

Click through rate (CTR)

Whether people who see your ad actually click it.

Ad relevance

How relevant your advertising copy is to keyword you are bidding on

Landing Page relevance

How relevant the page that the user is taken to after clicking is to the keyword you are bidding on.

Your quality score will then form part of your ad rank to determine where your ad will show on the results page. Generally speaking, the lower your quality score, the more you will need to bid to increase your ad rank.

As you are NOT the brand you will likely fail on all three elements below against the actual brand

CTR – someone looking for coca cola is far more likely to click on the coca cola ad than the Pepsi one.

Ad Relevance – As Pepsi cannot use the word Coca Cola in their advert, they will score lower here.

Landing Page Relevance – The entire website is built around the brand name, features the name in the URL etc. it will win here too.

Therefore, the aim here is usually not to take the top spot, but to bid in an effective way to leverage the other brand’s name.

Protecting your business with a branded search campaign – yay or nay?

Of course, all this also works in reverse. Your competitors may purposefully or unwittingly bid on your brand name.

Therefore, if your business has search volume (e.g., people search for you by name, and not just by what you offer), it can be worth creating a brand campaign for your own name. These do tend to be inexpensive, high converting campaigns, though it can be worth excluding them from certain measurements.

It’s also worth ringfencing your branded campaigns to avoid taking budget from ad groups that are designed to get new customers. Therefore we tend to recommend that, if you have a branded search campaign that you exclude your brand from other campaigns to protect your budget.

In conclusion, branded search can be a powerful tool for businesses looking to increase their visibility and drive conversions through Google Ads. By bidding on your own brand keywordsyou’re your competitors terms you can ensure that your ads are displayed prominently to users searching for your business or products, and establish a strong online presence.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that branded search should not be the sole focus of your Google Ads strategy. It’s also crucial to target non-branded keywords and continuously optimise your campaigns to reach new audiences and drive growth.

Overall, by leveraging branded search in combination with a comprehensive Google Ads strategy, businesses can maximise their online visibility and drive more traffic and conversions to their website.

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