4 minute read.

Should You Include Your Competitor Brand Names in Google Adwords

Google, in the UK at least, enjoys a search engine market share of around 89%. Part of this market share is attributable to Google’s paid search advertising product, Adwords. This offers a straightforward and extremely targeted method of advertising to real live human beings who may be searching for the “stuff” that your business sells.

We’re going to assume at this stage that you, the reader, understand the basic fundamentals of an Adwords campaign, e.g. keywords, adverts, landing pages, click through rate, cost-per-click. If this is not understood, you may wish to read up here.

One of the key elements of an Adwords campaign is choosing which keywords and phrases to include; some being more or less targeted than others.

For example, if you sell industrial hydraulic systems to businesses in the marine sector, you might include “marine industrial hydraulics sales ” in your campaign.

You might also include “industrial hydraulics sales”, but what if the person searching is in the construction sector and has some very specific industry requirements? That may make the second keyphrase too broad. If so, there is a risk of either displaying an advert which won’t get clicked on (which would lead to lower click-through-rate.. more on this later), or worse, displaying an advert which does get clicked on (and paid for), but doesn’t deliver a lead.

With that in mind, including your competitors name or brand names, may be a great route to capturing search traffic which is extremely targeted. Think about it, someone’s looking for your competitors business online, there’s a good chance they’re looking to buy something from them, right?

Trouble is, there are legal, technical and other aspects to consider before going down this route.

Legal Considerations:
Now, before anyone jumps on me for this, this is a very big topic and also a somewhat grey area at present; there have been several high profile cases recently (Interflora vs M&S), that are not fully resolved. It would be fair to say that in the UK at least, case law is not yet fully mature in this arena.

That said, very broadly speaking, Google allows advertisers to target competitors brand names in their keywords list and adverts provided they are not trademarked. It’s also considered open season if the term IS trademarked but the trademark holder has not filed an exception request with Google.

If the trademark holder has filed an exception request, competitors can still bid on the keyword, but not include it in their advert. In other words, it’s OK to target people, just not mislead them by including competitor brand names in adverts. Interesting approach there Google!

More details here: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/6118?rd=2

Technical Considerations:
An advertiser using Adwords only pays Google when someone clicks their advert. The cost-per-click (CPC) is derived from a number of factors.

One of the most important of which is “Quality Score”. This is a nominal score attributed by Google to each keyword within an Adwords campaign. The precise details of the formula Google uses to determine the score is (unsurprisingly) a secret. However, broadly speaking it’s a one-to-ten scale used to determine the relevance of a particular keyword to the associated advert it triggers and the landing page to which the advert sends traffic.

Google has indicated that other factors such as landing page quality (meaningful content, quality coding etc), landing page load time, click through rates (current and historical) and even geography can have an impact on Quality Score.

Why do this? Google uses “relevance scoring” to ensure that the adverts displayed are relevant to the person doing the searching. In this way the adverts are more likely to be clicked, leading to Google getting a fee. Smart.

This is a huge subject, but for the purposes of this article, it’s sufficient to say that well a structured Adwords campaign, using well researched keywords which trigger compelling adverts that drive targeted web traffic to your highly optimised landing page, can deliver a very strong return on investment.

But, if you’re planning on including competitors brand names in your Adwords campaign, it’s going to be very hard ensuring a close relevance between the keyword and the ad copy and the landing page, if:

1. If you’re not allowed to use the brand names on the advert (see legal considerations above)
2. You’re not using their brand names on your landing page – something very few of us would want to do..

Of course, if the brand names aren’t trademarked you can still do this, just expect to pay a lot more for each click your ‘competitor-brand name-compliant-advert’ receives, because the quality score is likely to be low.

Added to which, if you decide to target a competitors brand name, it may almost by definition make any advert this chosen keyphrase triggers less relevant.

For example, someone searches “company x” which a competitor uses to trigger their advert, for “company y”. Unless that advert is very compelling indeed, there’s a good chance it won’t be clicked because it’s not relevant to the intention of the person doing the searching. This will make the click-through-rate very low, which in turn will further lower the quality score, which will drive the cost-per-click even higher and lower the ad-position further still.

Other considerations:
As mentioned, all Adwords (and organic SEO) campaigns are won or lost at the keyword planning stage. In the case of Adwords, where not only time, opportunity cost and also actual real money (paid to Google) is at stake, targeting keywords that may attract non-buying traffic is a real drain on resources.

Consider someone looking for a specific company. Is that person always looking to buy from them? They may be looking up a telephone number to cold-call them. They could be checking their address in order to visit them. They could also be another competitor snooping on their website!

In other words, a competitor’s company name is hard to categorise as a buying term. At best you could be paying Google to send people to your website who are just “intrigued” but have no intention of actually spending any money with you.

In the sticky stuff…
So, whilst on the face of it including your competitor brand names in your Adwords campaign could be a way to target buyers, you could potentially end up landing yourself in a heap of legal trouble; cost you more money in the short and long term AND potentially be driving non-buying traffic to your website.

We say it’s best to avoid this unless it’s been very well researched, well thought out and part of a much larger strategy.


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