October 29, 2018

How to Know if the Strategy of Bidding on Your Competitors’ Brand in Google Ads is Right for You

Evie Welborn

Imagine someone searching for your competitor brand name, finding your ad instead, and choosing to go with you. I imagine the entire situation panning out like this:

It’s a great feeling for you, and I’m sure it’s what you imagine happening when you bid on your competitor brand name. We don’t blame you; the strategy is a hot topic among PPC experts, and opinions on whether or not to implement this are as varied as can be.

For us, we recognize that it can be a valuable strategy if done correctly. I can’t stress enough that rules must be followed, and you’re going to want to dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s when you run these campaigns.

Here’s everything you’ll need to know about bidding on your competitor brand name in Google Ads.

Can I Bid On My Competitor Brand Names?

In a word, yes.

Back in 2008, Google removed the ban on bidding on your competitors’ branded keywords.

To ensure that bidding was fair, and to make sure their valuable consumers weren’t caught in the potential crossfire, Google posted some rules; here are your SparkNotes:

  • Don’t Use Trademark Brand Names In Your Ad Text. This is simple; if you’re bidding against Nike, don’t put their brand name anywhere in your ad text. Don’t put it in a headline, don’t try to write it in as, “we’re better than Nike,” just don’t do it.  
  • Don’t Use Trademark Brand Names In Your Display URL. Don’t try to hide the brand that you’re bidding against in the display path. This also makes sense; if I search for Nike, and the website that I see is “www.adidas.com/nike-shoes/” I will be one very confused person- which is the last thing Google wants.
  • You May Use Trademarks If You’re a Reseller. But you gotta be crystalline clear that you’re reselling, and your landing page better not be a competitor page. Again, the point here is to not trick people into clicking on your page.

Keep in mind that this strategy isn’t a necessary one; if you’re running Google Ads, always focus on your own business first. Chances are, you can improve your account long before opening a competitor campaign.

What Are The Potential Perks?

Cheap Clicks

Most brand name keywords are dirt cheap. For one of my accounts, my cheapest brand name clicks are sitting around $.09 for top of page bids. That’s chump change, and most brand names on Google are very cheap.

Piggyback Rides

Bidding on your competitors’ brand can in turn boost your own brand name. If someone simply hasn’t heard of you, and they’re hesitant about your competitor, this gives you the perfect in to show them your name and the perks you offer.

Quality Attention

One of the best ways to ensure that someone looking at your ad is a qualified customer is to present your ad next to your competitor. You know that they’re interested in your product, and you know that their purchase intent is very high.

What Are Potential Negatives?

Legalities

If you don’t follow Google’s rules, you could potentially find yourself with a legal stew. Dot your i’s, cross your t’s.

Bidding Wars

This is a very likely risk you take when you begin bidding on your competitor brand. No one likes having their customers stolen from them. And if your competitors have any PPC sense at all, they will notice that you’re bidding against them.

They’ll notice that their brand name keywords are either ranking lower or costing more. The first thing they’ll do will run a search on their brand keyword; lo and behold, guess whose ad they’ll discover on the page – you’ll be caught red handed.

This will give them righteous cause to bid on your brand name keyword, and the war will begin.

Don’t fight in the bidding war. It drives up costs, and it leaves everyone feeling like this:

It Can Get Pricey

I know that I just said that the brand name keywords are dirt cheap, but even without a bidding war starting, your cost per acquisition on this campaign can shoot way up because of this common but specific situation:

Customers who are searching for a brand name product or service can hold a torch for that company and can pass your ad right on through. This drops your click through rate.

Google likes high click through rates because it means that they’re doing their job by connecting searchers to relevant results. They like click through rates so much that they account for it when they determine your quality score; a low click through rate means a low quality score. A low quality score will drop your ad on the page and raise your cost to show that ad.

If you still want to try bidding on your competitors’ brand names, or if you already are, here’s how to effectively run this strategy.

Guidelines For Bidding On Competitor Brand Names:

Run Your Own Branded Campaign First

If this isn’t something you’ve set up yet, drop everything and go create your own branded campaign- seriously.

Even though it’s true that you’ll probably appear on the first page organically for Google branded searches, you still really want to run ads for yourself. It allows you to dominate the search results, and having yourself appear multiple times on the page builds consumer trust which will improve your click through rate.

You’re also going to be able to review search terms to see what your consumers associate with you.

Lastly, the brand name keywords are always as cheap as can be. When you bid on yourself, you can only win.

Choose Your Competitor Wisely

One mistake that’s easily made is bidding against someone out of your league. Think about your goals when running this campaign: to get your name out there, and to potentially take leads away from your competitors.

Make sure the competitor that you choose to bid against is a company that you can actually compete with. Don’t try to pit your Mom & Pop Grocery against Walmart. Sure, you can offer locally-grown, organic apples, but there’s absolutely no way you can hold a candle to a corporate giant like Walmart.

Instead, focus on a competitor that you can offer benefits against. In this example, Bullymake and PupBox have bid against BarkBox:

Bullymake box focuses on selling more durable dog toys for dogs that might destroy BarkBox in an instant, and PupBox is advertising themselves as the only box for puppies; their description text even mentions that they include a training guide. Woof, that’s some solid competition.

Go Heavy On Your Perks & Differences

As shown right above, if you want to make sure you’re stealing competition from your competitors, your company needs to have individual perks and deals that are unique to you.

When you’re writing your ads, first search for your competitors’ ad, and read what they’re offering. If you can beat it, start writing your ads.

Chances are, the people searching for your competitor are fairly set in their decision, so you’ll need a big push to sway them. Take a look at Travelocity’s competition:

While Travelocity is offering 15% off Hotels if you join a membership, Priceline is bringing their A-game with a 60% off deal. They’ve placed that deal and call to action right in headline 2, which is going to catch some eyes.

Don’t Aim For Top Of The Page

Probably one of the quickest ways to find yourself in a bidding war is to aim for top of the page. It’s bad enough that you’re clearly bidding against your competitor, but to try to place above them, on their own term, is a whole ‘nother kind of offense.

It’ll make them wanna do something like this:

Appearing above their ad for their own brand name search won’t just offend your competitor, but it could potentially cause confusion to the absent-minded customer who clicks on the first result for their search ad and ends up on your page- when they had no intention of being there.

Overall, it causes raised eyebrows, confusion, higher costs, and just makes you look petty. Let them be top of the page, and your competition will run smoother. There’ll be less chances of a war breaking out.

Lower Your Mobile Bids

When someone searches for a company on their phone’s internet, they generally have one of two ideas in mind: call the company or get directions.

Phones internet apps are awful for research; pages load at a snail’s pace, mobile sites can be poorly made, and customers generally do their best to avoid the headache of navigating mobile websites. The mobile internet is never the place for you to persuade someone to do further research on your company; they just don’t want to do it.

When you’re running your competitor campaign, drop that bid on mobile devices so you’re not wasting money on someone who just wants directions or a phone number to your competitor.

Make A RLSA

Once a competition starts, things can get pricey and vicious. One way to avoid a competition is to create a RLSA (remarketing list for search ads) Campaign for your competitor terms.

You can set up the options to only show your ads to users on your remarketing list. This allows you to keep your bids lower, drops your chances of a poor click through rate (because the searchers already know you), and allows for you to remind people who’ve visited your website of your deals and offers.

Keep A Close Eye On Your Campaign

Another potential downside to running bids against your competitors’ brand name is that it takes a little extra time and energy.

When you’re running this campaign, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your cost per click for their brand name keywords and your brand name keywords. You’ll want to monitor both of these to make sure you’re still making a profit on the sales you’re getting.

One minute you’ll be flying smooth, and the next thing you know, your CPC will creep up on you and you’ll be in a bidding war looking something like this:

Watch your costs before they start to rise and put you in a sticky situation.

Stay Out Of Trouble

Remember that bidding on competitor keywords can be risky, both legally and monatrily.

The easiest way to stay out of trouble and safely run these ads? Be honest. Don’t include the competitor’s name anywhere in your ads text (plus it’s against Google’s policy), and write your ads to reflect what’s on your landing page.

The other advice for easily avoiding trouble? Don’t talk smack. Don’t write ads saying that you’re better than your competitor or that your competitor sucks. Keep it professional, and don’t slander.

But those should be pretty common sense.

That Sounds Like A Lot Of Rules…Is It Worth It?

In answer to that question, you’re going to have to make that decision. Most of the rules listed are pretty logical and easy to follow, and if you follow them, you can benefit from their traffic with no stress.

If you’re still curious, the only way for you to see out if this strategy will benefit you is if you run it yourself. If done correctly, and if you remember to show why you’re the better option for your clients, you can easily use this strategy to grow your business.

Do you think you’ll implement this strategy? Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments.

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Evie Welborn

Account Manager/Content Writer

Evie is dedicated to keeping an eagle eye on her PPC and digital marketing accounts. When she’s not scouring through her accounts to make sure they’re flawless, she can be found ascending new heights in the local mountains or hiding inside the rock climbing gym when it’s too cold

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