Trademark bidding: Sneaky or smart PPC strategy?

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Brian Combs
Brian Combs

Trademark bidding is a debated search strategy in which one company bids on its competitors' name or trademarked terms in pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Google search “Ford F-150,” and ads for Toyota Tundra appear in addition to Ford.

Marketers are divided on this issue, as are the major search engines. Yahoo forbids it. MSN's rules state that you are not allowed to infringe trademarks within its editorial guidelines. Google allows advertisers to bid on trademarked search terms as long as the term is not used within the advertiser's ad copy.

Until the search engines and the industry come together to create standards around usage of trademarks in PPC campaigns, the decision is up to you.

Trademark bidding is tightly targeted, and impressions could lead to more qualified clicks and customers. Serving an ad for a special deal on a Honda Civic Hybrid as someone searches for Toyota Prius would be a dream for Honda, for example.

Consider UK retail store Marks & Spencer, which recently ran a campaign using trademarked keywords that Google forced it to take down. Four major newspapers covered the story. The PR benefits and exposure it received from the press led to more impressions of its message than it might have received from the PPC campaign alone.

Comparative advertising helps us all make informed decisions, and it leads to more innovation and diversity.

On the con side, is trade­mark bidding really worth the time, money and potential lawsuit? A study by ComScore and Yahoo Search Marketing (Overture) found most buyers do not search by trademarks. Findings indicate that from the total number of searches, roughly 20% are trademark searches. This might change as Google continues to push “search within a site.” The number of brand searches may increase, allowing marketers to access targeted traffic at lower costs than broad search terms.

If you are the owner of a trademark, and your competitors are bidding on it, the increased competition for the trademarked keywords means pricier bids for you. Considering the time and effort you put into building your brand, should you really have to pay more for your own branded keywords?

If you are concerned about competitors using your branded terms, you can defend your trademark by conducting search audits at least once every month and closely monitoring paid search results or PPC contextual ads.

Follow the rules of the search engines, and the decision to use trademark bidding is up to you and the ethics of your company.

Brian Combs is the founder, SVP and chief futurist of Apogee Search. Reach him at combs@apogee-search.com.

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