How To Protect Your Brand Under Google’s New Trademark Policies

If you are a Google Adwords customer you may have read that the Adwords’ trademark enforcement policies are going through a big change which will impact the control that you have over use of your brands on paid search.  The new policies will impact you starting on June 4th and June 15th, 2009.

Earlier this week, Brad Geddes discussed the changes and how they would impact ecommerce sites and affiliates. Today, I want to focus on brand owners, offering cautions and recommendations to make sure you fully protect your brands when the changes take effect.

When it comes to trademarks, there are four types of uses that brand owners need to watch out for on paid search:

  1. Keyword sponsors. This is when an unauthorized advertiser sponsors your brand as a keyword so that the advertiser’s ads appear when a user conducts a search for your name or products.
  2. Ad copy use. This is when an unauthorized advertiser uses your brand within ad copy text.
  3. Display URL use. This is when an unauthorized advertiser uses your brand as part of its display URL.Examples: Sub-domain e.g. Double sub-domain e.g. A top level domain that includes your brand e.g. or An indexed page e.g.
  4. Display URL hijack: This is when an unauthorized advertiser uses your brand as the display URL, and either sends traffic to you as in the case of an affiliate or diverts traffic somewhere else as in the case of a brand hijacker. While all search providers claim to not allow the latter scenario, there are many examples of deals, promotions, and/or email list companies engaging in this tactic to mimic a site that looks like that of a brand or trademark owner. I will not name them here to protect the innocent brand holders, but feel free to email me for examples.

Brand users frequently include:  Competitors, affiliates, resellers, promotions and giveaway  sites, email list companies, parked domains, spyware, comparison shopping engines, and other media outlets from whom you have purchased ads.

New policy for keyword sponsors

Beginning on June 4, 2009, Google will add more countries to the list where it will not investigate the use of trademarks as keywords. A full list of impacted countries can be found here, which includes the USA and the UK.

This means that keywords that were restricted before will no longer be restricted after June 4th.

Essentially, anyone who wants to sponsor your brand name, can and probably will.

New policy for ad copy

Beginning June 15, 2009, Google is relaxing its policy on use of trademarks in ad copy text.  In the past, Google has restricted the use of brand names in ad text and was willing to take action to prevent it which allowed you to authorize specific resellers to use your brand while restricting the remainder of the market.  Now Google will allow previously disapproved ads to run on and the content network in the USA, without the need for approval by the trademark owner.  Google will use its own editorial judgment to determine if it will allow the ad to run.

This means that ads containing your brand will start to run more frequently and pervasively after June 15th.

Essentially, anyone, except for direct and obvious competitors, will be able to use your brand in their ads.

New policy for display URLs

Brands are often used in display URLs as a great way by legitimate resellers to direct traffic to specific product pages, but also, unfortunately as a clever ruse used by unauthorized advertisers to siphon traffic.

Unfortunately, Google, along with the rest do not investigate the use of brands in display URLs.  The policy:

“Although display URLs are subject to our editorial guidelines, we don’t investigate display URLs in response to trademark complaints because the presence of trademarked term within a URL may not necessarily constitute trademark use, such as in the case of post-domain paths or subdomains.”

Essentially, the display URL is fair game and can be used as an alternative to ad text use with the same or better influence on the consumer’s impetus to click on the ad.

What should you do?

First, you need to make sure that your ads and your brand are present when a user is searching so that posers do not siphon your clicks.

Second, you need to report any display URL abuse to Google.  While Google does not police the display URL, if you find brand hijacking causing traffic to be diverted to a site that isn’t yours, Google will take action as this practice violates their editorial guidelines.

Third, be wary of sending out cease and desist letters.  These rarely result in a behavioral change.  The risk is that the recipient can file for declaratory judgment against you in their state causing you to litigate in the recipient’s state instead of your own. Read more here:  If you plan to litigate, gather your evidence and make sure you have a lawyer.

Fourth, to stop comparison shopping engines or other media outlets from using your brand to generate clicks, negotiate deal terms with each one when you purchase your ads from them that restrict their use.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: SEM | Google: AdSense | Google: AdWords | How To: PPC | Legal: Trademarks


About The Author: is CEO of The Search Monitor. The Search Monitor is an ad monitoring platform which provides precision intelligence on SEM, SEO, PLAs, Shopping, and Display ads.

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