• http://www.facebook.com/bigalittlea Aaron Levy

    Forgive me if I missed the point here, but I pretty vehemently disagree that defense is the only reason for bidding on brand terms..

    I’m a MAJOR advocate of bidding on brand for a few reasons. Gathering data on promo tests and value propositions to test in other more expensive avenues (ad copy, sitelinks). Figuring out how customers are looking for your brand (are they spelling it wrong? are they comparing you to others?) Do you have a hot new product that you want to push? Want to send people to a targeted, direct-sale focused landing page or just let them go where Google wants? Having search engines disable bidding on brands would open an entire new can of worms as well – namely what exactly is a brand term. I’m gonna start a company called Red Shoes. HA! nobody else can bid on “red shoes” now because it’s my company, sorry Charlie! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/nooooorm Norm Miller

    I had similar thoughts Aaron. Also, as you know, Google rewards more relevant advertisers in the form of Quality Score. We bid $20 on our brand name, and our actual cost per click is less then a dollar. Our cost per click on our URL is pennies.

    Quality score does work to level the field. If I bid on a competitor’s name, I am going to pay more and appear lower, and if I can’t get conversions, I will stop bidding on it.

    I favor letting the market figure it out. Quality Score to encourage relevance is enough.

  • http://twitter.com/jamielow Jamie Low

    @David Rodnitzky this is one of the best POV articles I’ve read on the subject. Great thinking, good use of storytelling, an accurate assessment of the state of the paid search industry, a powerful indictment, and clear action steps for all parties to consider.

    Every search engine staffer, search marketer, business owner and government agency that has a stake in this issue should read this article.   It’s past time for this conversation to be brought back to the international spotlight. (Google and Bing would be wise to revisit this before a widespread international legal money grab by every government on the planet; the Fed will be more than happy to line it’s pockets if they ever wake up to this type of widespread coercion.)

    Google lost their way on this issue; when they changed their policy to a “it’s not for us to police” policy, they simultaneously solved for both their legal liability and a massive engineering headache.  The burden was then singularly shifted to the marketplace, artificially inflating advertising costs for the vast majority of businesses.  Of course, the mechanics behind determining which keyword phrases are truly trademarked or “branded” will be undoubtedly complicated to implement.  But this is too important to completely ignore; and if anybody has the resources and the responsibility to deal with this problem, it’s Google .  They benefit way too much from this type of predatory gaming of the system.

    @facebook-6100974:disqus  and @facebook-1160044726:disqus , how would you respond to the suggestion that David outlined in the article?:

    “… continue to allow advertisers to buy their competitors’ brand terms, but give the trademark owner free ads on their own brand terms.”

    Wouldn’t that help solve for your concerns?  If we could continue to not just bid on our trademarked terms, but control that ad space, as advertisers wouldn’t we benefit even more?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bigalittlea Aaron Levy

    It still begs the question of exactly what a brand term is. Say my company is Search Engine Land, does the query “search engine watch vs. search engine land” cound for me or SEW?? It’s an interesting idea but i think there’s just too much legal grey area for it to be enforcable.

    Pizza Hut can advertise on a billboard on the road next to a Dominos. Dominos would still have to pay for that billboard, even though their store and sign are already there.  Why should search be any different? 

  • http://twitter.com/incrediblehelp Jaan Kanellis

    In another situation do you recommend buying branded terms if you don’t have competitors at all?  Wouldn’t this just cannibalize the organic traffic or create more for the site?

  • http://twitter.com/ppcbuyers Leslie Drechsler

    I’m with Aaron and Norm, I absolutely advise clients to own their trademarks. I believe there are countless case studies that also show increased revenue when organic and paid search results display for trademarks vs just organic.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    A few comments:

    1. I think its pretty easy to define brands. Indeed, Google allows you to send in a trademark complaint that prevents competitors from using your trademark in ad text, so how hard would it be to extend this process to keywords as well?

    2. To Jaan’s point: would you continue to buy your brand terms if there were no other advertisers buying your brand? If not, then you are being coerced into purchasing.

  • maritam

    Interesting article, but aren’t we past the age of stereotyping? You used an Italian name to illustrate a scumbag gangster, common…

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Yes, this occurred to me when writing the article, but The Mafia is almost entirely Italian . . . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicilian_Mafia

  • http://www.cbil360.com/ James Smith

    Nice tips to protect our site brand keywords…

  • http://www.gg2.net/ Garavi Gujarat

    Interesting article with great explanation, liked your tips, thanks for share.

  • http://www.easterneye.eu/ Eastern Eye

    i will implement this tips for my new website, thanks for sharing, liked your article.

  • http://www.seomasterexpert.com SEO

    BRANDING is the most important terms for our business. I learn here few points to cover more strategic “protect” Brand keywords.

  • http://www.saleslogik.com/ SEMRescue

    I don’t think this topic will ever be resolved because of the systemic issue in our culture that  allows people to instinctively look at ways to “game” any system we set up. In this case the best offense is a good defense.

    However, there is a larger issue here related to the purchasing of branded keywords and that is the abuse by agencies who do not track conversions properly and very often attribute  conversions that result from a branded search to “lead generation” that was manufactured by their stellar PPC acumen.

    This is not an issue for Nike, Travelocity or large brands but for small business owners who unsuspectingly pay agencies $500 or $1000 per month for a PPC campaign and receive 30 or 40 calls thinking those calls were leads generated by the agency when, in fact, they were all derived from the use of the businesses trade name.

    If you are a small business I recommend that you insist on transparent tracking to separate conversions that derive from branded search versus ones that derive from money keywords. We use a product from Mongoose Metrics (no affiliation or benefit to our company just a really good product) that tracks back calls to keywords. Online conversions are, of course, easier to track back with simple tools such as Google analytics.

    In terms of defensive advertising of your brand, it’s a necessary evil in the post print era of advertising and simply needs to be part of the budget for any online campaign.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    DRod, I enjoyed the piece, and loved the metaphor.  I do agree with Aaron that there are difficulties here in what is and is not a brand term.  One of our clients is Envelops.com.  Should “Envelops” count as a brand term?  More to the point, in many many cases, manufacturers WANT their distributors to get the traffic.  You can’t buy a Ford on Ford.com.  They might benefit from having folks see ads from the dealerships nearest them in addition to their own.  May need to be a distinction between “competitors” and “distributors”.

    I like the solution of creating an Authentic Brand premium placement at the top of the page, free of charge (or perhaps simply having no ads in “promoted position” above the organic listings?)  There will still be difficulties defining a brand term.  I’m pretty sure that trademark law doesn’t actually prevent you from using a competitor’s brand name, as long as it is clear to the average person that you are not pretending to be that brand.  I think Pepsi could run an ad on the KW Coke that reads “See how Pepsi beat Coke in a head to head blind taste test at Pepsi.com”.  That may be a violation of Google’s policy, but the ad itself doesn’t violate TM law (a subtle distinction that we may find the TM violation being in Serving that ad when someone searches for Coke.  The ad text is fine on a billboard or TV ad, but not in response to someone searching out Coke?  I guess that’s what the suit is about.)

  • Pat Grady

    “For the record, as the leader of an SEM agency, eliminating bidding on brand terms would cost me a lot of revenue as well, but I’m willing to fall on the financial sword in the name of what is right for my clients.”
    Why would it cost you a lot of revenue?

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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    When a competitor bids on one of my branded keywords I guess it’s kind of a compliment. They think my brand is strong enough to send them viable traffic and leads. But at the same time, why aren’t they using that money to build their own brand? Why piggyback on mine? I think it’s bad form to bid on branded keywords, but maybe in other industries it works.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    I agree SEMRescue. If possible, I recommend setting up an attribution system that goes beyond last click and – where a brand keyword is involved – give 100% of the credit to any sources that were upstream of that keyword.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Hey George, thanks for the comment.  A few points. First, if Envelops.com (who is getting some good inbound links from this discussion!) has spent time and money building a brand around a misspelling of “envelope” then I would say that is in fact a brand term, just as a misspelling of 1 followed by 100 zeros (Googol) is a brand term today, or a domain about the largest river in the world – Amazon – is a brand term.

    Second, regarding your point about Ford – if they want to allow authorized resellers to buy their keywords, I would say they should have the right to do so and selectively approve such resellers. They can already do that now for ad text, so why not extend that right to their keywords.

    Finally, your point about Coke vs. Pepsi is a good way, and I do think this is the essence of the Rosetta Stone lawsuit. There are extremes of online advertising where I’m sure everyone agrees that use of a trademark is either permitted or not permitted. One extreme would be the one you mentioned – simply using a trademark term in text online, perhaps in a banner ad on a content site, in a situation where there is no chance of brand confusion. At the other extreme, imagine an ISP creating an ad unit that redirects visitors to Coke.com to Pepsi.com for 15 seconds prior to going to the Coke Web site. I’m sure that this would not be allowed, because it is capitalizing on the brand of Coke and potentially misleading consumers. When a user types in Coke on a search engine and gets an ad that says “Try the #1 soft drink in America”, clicks on it, and is redirected to Pepsi, is that an unfair capitalization on Coke’s brand, and is it potentially misleading? I think possibly, and it seems to me that determining whether this is more like a banner ad or an ISP redirect is the issue.

    BTW, full disclosure: I have not thoroughly researched trademark law on this point, I’m just hypothesizing!

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    We charge clients on a percentage of spend basis. So if a client spends 50% of their money on brand terms and 50% on non-brand, and brand terms suddenly become free, I lose 50% of my revenue.

  • http://twitter.com/rodnitzky David Rodnitzky

    Nick, I think competitors bid on brand terms because its a pretty good way to steal away customers from their competitors. I agree it is bad form in theory, but there’s a “weakest link” situation at play – if people are doing it to you, and you don’t do it to them, you risk losing customers without gaining them back through the same tactic.

  • http://www.saleslogik.com/ SEMRescue

    Interesting but I have not found branded keywords worth buying or tracking that much either. I like to see how many conversions come from Branded so the branding guys can get some credit but not for our own as an SEM.

    We use a system that attributes all branded keywords to the clients “Branding Strategy” and find it usually comes out around 30% to 50%. For smaller local business buying their own Brand the value score we give for that is almost zero. Same with Organic. We don’t see ourselves as search marketing partners as having much influence over that so we let the brand folks claim the credit.

    Big national brands and retail type clients, sure, it has a lot more value but we don’t have many of those.

  • http://twitter.com/eLLCOperAgreeme eLLCOperAgreement

    Branding can be good and bad, if people are just looking for a form or agreement it does not help. For example the website http://powerofattorneyform.com ranks high mostly due to the amount of Exact Match Searches while http://legalzoom.com, which is a much more reputable company, ranks much worse just because of EMS.