Using Competitive Intelligence To Protect Your Brand

Protecting your brand online is an ongoing activity. It requires hard work and due diligence. One area of concern is when others bid on your brand, or use your brand name in their ads. My current understanding of Google’s policy is that it’s OK to bid on a competitive brand name, but it is not OK to use in your ad. Yahoo’s policy appears to be a bit stricter, and does allow for the possibility of prohibiting the bidding on a trademarked term.

So how big a problem is this? Let’s look at some data, courtesy of Hitwise for searches on the brand name “Orbitz“:

Competitive Bidding Screen Shot

A quick look at this chart shows that about 15% of the traffic is going to sites other than Orbitz. That’s really pretty significant, since the user has probably started this search with an intent to go to the Orbitz site. All in all, you’d prefer to get 100% of that traffic if it’s your brand we are talking about.

Finding out who is bidding on your brand may not be hard. You can go to the search engine, type your brand name in, and then see who shows up. This, of course, assumes that they are not geo-targeting their bid to only show up in certain areas (and perhaps not the area you are checking from). This is one of the areas where tools like Hitwise and comScore are useful, as they avoid these types of issues.

It’s also interesting to see just how important brand name bidding is to a competitor’s business:

Brand Market Share Screen Shot

You can see from this table that Smart Fares receives 4.78% of it’s traffic from the Orbitz brand name. A deeper look shows that brand name bidding is a fundamental part of their business model:

Smart Fares Brand Bidding

Acting on Infringement

Direct bidding on your brand is not really something you can prevent. However, if your competitor takes the next step and starts using your brand in their ad text, that’s another matter. The search engines do provide a way to address that. You can use the following links to find the Google Trademark Complaint Policy and the Yahoo Trademark Complaint Policy. Google also provides an Trademark Complaint Form.

Most of the information you need to provide in the Google complaint form is pretty basic. However, if your trademark is registered, you will need to have the application or registration number which they can use for verification. You can also apply even if all you are doing is claming use rights. However, this is a bit more difficult to prove, so be prepared for a longer wait on resolution.

Trademarks can also be on a word, design, or both. These are equally protectible. The Google form accommodates up to 10 trademarks, but Google also provides a way to submit more than 10.

Yahoo does not provide a form, but does provide an email address or a mailing address for sending in your complaint. They request information on the search term for which the complaint is related, the trademark info (much the same as Google), registration information if your trademark is registered, any evidence of consumer confusion (hmm – that Hitwise data looks pretty good for providing that), and any information on communications you have had with the advertiser.

Perhaps this goes without saying, but don’t go down this path unless you really have a legitimate trademark to protect. Also, this is not an overnight process. It can take several months for you to get resolution. Just be patient. It is well worth it.

Eric Enge is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric is also co-founder of Moving Traffic Inc., the publisher of Custom Search Guide. The Industrial Strength column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Industrial Strength | Legal: Trademarks


About The Author: is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric publishes a highly respected interview series and can be followed on Twitter at @stonetemple.

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