6 tactics to protect your brand in paid search

Many companies choose to bid on their own brand’s terms in paid search as brand terms tend to be the cheapest out there and will often deliver a much higher return on investment in search than non-brand. There is less competition than with generic terms, and the intent behind a user directly searching for the brand term helps to increase conversion rates.

However, we are seeing more and more ‘brand infringements’ appear across clients, increasing average cost-per-click (CPC) dramatically as a result. This can inflate costs to dizzying heights and may scare advertisers into switching off brand altogether. Yet by opting out of brand bidding, you could be opening yourself up to losing traffic to competitors bidding on your terms, as they acquire premium position above organic listings, securing valuable traffic.

What is competitive brand bidding?

Competitor brand bidding relates to the tactic of targeting keywords which represent a particular business or company name. These can consist of misspells, variations or additional words in conjunction with the brand term, however most common is targeting high volume core terms on exact match.

If you’re a market-leading brand, smaller, less established competitors may choose to bid on your brand terms in order to take advantage of the high search volumes recorded by the big brand names. Providing the advertiser in question is not using a registered trademark in their ad-copy, Google will permit advertising on any keywords, including your brand terms.

Besides jumping on the success of your brand (which is annoying enough), you will have to pay more to stay in the top positions or risk a competitor taking position one entirely.

A recent study for one of our clients found that lowering bids for brand terms over a sustained period of time led to a 40% loss in impression share, as our ads were shown intermittently, and often below competitors on the landscape. The subsequent impact on traffic and orders was significant, with limited evidence to suggest our organic listings picked up some of the traffic lost.

OK, I’m listening – but what can I do about it?

The best way to ensure you don’t lose out on all these clicks and conversions through brand terms is to retain position one visibility across all devices consistently over time, increasing bid modifiers as a result to ensure this. However, this doesn’t dissuade competitors from infringing, and their presence alone lower down the listings can result in spiralling costs for not that much return.

If your brand protection budget is limited, then there are some tactics you can consider implementing to both reduce costs and make life more difficult for those wishing to infringe…

1. Occupy the SERP & improve quality scores

In the first instance, start from within. Improving your quality score for your brand term can be an extremely effective way of reducing your bids, if for whatever reason your quality score is not 10/10 on your brand term. Implement best practice to naturally decrease your CPCs, as search engines factor in your highest bid and your quality score to determine where you sit on the landscape.

Do everything you can to make sure your ad is the most attractive on the landscape- test new messaging and trial all of the latest ad extensions/formats to make your ads bigger, more engaging and more attractive than the competition.

This could not only push your rivals down the SERP and even below the fold on mobile, it may increase your click-through rate (CTR) and share of voice on the landscape. Even if your competitors do then have the audacity to bid on your terms, they will struggle to gain a foothold and capture valuable traffic!

2. Improve targeting

Make sure you’re only spending on users that are valuable to you. A straightforward enough concept, but by targeting the right audiences – and, maybe more importantly, de-targeting the wrong audience – you could save considerable money. Focus your budgets on really relevant users, and leave competitors feeling the pinch of appearing for less relevant audiences if they don’t do the same.

De-target the postcodes of your competitors and their agency, your company’s office, and any other IP addresses or postcodes you feel may not convert. Your employees shouldn’t need to click through PPC ads; however they may not understand the implications of doing so. This goes for competitors too, though they may well realise the cost involved.

It may also confuse competition running live searches that expect to see you in SERPs. You could also de-target consumers who have just purchased, and may well be navigating back to the site to track their order – this is definitely one that is better placed to be picked up by organic results.

3. Target Outranking Share

If there’s one persistent competitor that continually bumps your CPCs higher than you can bear, one option is to utilise an AdWords bidding strategy called Target Outranking Share. Much as the name suggests, this strategy aims to outrank a certain domain URL as aggressively as possible within the parameters of the strategy. For optimum results, aim for 100% outranking share, with as high a maximum bid as you can bear to pay:

PPC Bidding

If there are other, less aggressive brand bidders, your max CPC set at keyword level should be enough to combat these, with the higher CPC bids only required for key competitors you can’t afford to lose market share to.

4. ‘Cost Comp’ Bidding

This is quite an ‘old school’ search tactic, and one which involves slightly more risk than Target Outranking Share in terms of losing out to the competition. However, it can prove a very effective long-term cost saver. By playing the auction and deliberately dropping down brand CPCs intermittently to position one, you can force your rivals to pay much closer to their max bid – allowing them to feel the pinch of being in position one.

No-one will have anywhere near the same level of quality score as you for your brand terms, and as such, they will be forced to pay a much higher average CPC (close to their maximum bid) than you would ever pay. As a result, they are likely to pick up on the inflated cost and decide to pull back or refrain from bidding completely.

5. Reduce Desktop Position

Through brand terms, look at Auction Insights by device, and performance by device. You may find that the desktop landscape is less crowded, or even that the majority of the clicks and conversions you get are through mobile. As the space on mobile is far more precious at the top spot, you’ll likely want to keep position one here – anything lower and your potential customers will have to scroll and scroll to get to you on their smartphones.

Desktop users will be able to see all the top spots at once on the screen, making it less valuable to be in position one here than it is on mobile. By using device bid modifiers to control the position on desktop devices, you can reduce your overall brand costs whilst keeping the top spots where it really matters.

Organic is more likely to capture lost traffic through desktop, so you can enjoy the cost savings gained through reduced visibility on desktop with the knowledge that you’re still in prime position for lazy thumbs.

6. Dual Serve websites

If you have more than one website domain for your business, or have a number of related affiliated websites, you could consider running multiple paid ads on the SERP unique website domain, alongside the main site. They will then comply with dual serving policy whilst ensuring you hold prime spots on the landscape, making it much harder for competitors to gain share of voice and steal valuable traffic.

You’ll occupy more of the landscape and increase CTR collectively; however you will need to be mindful of overall costs and opportunity gain achieved.

Help is on the way

From implementing PPC best practice in order to decrease brand CPCs, to more advanced tactics to fight the good fight against infringers piggy-backing on your established name – there are many ways to ensure it’s as difficult as possible for those wishing to infringe, whilst also mitigating against traffic loss over time.

If you’re a victim of competitor brand bidding and would like to know more about these tactics and other controls you can consider, please do get in touch for more information.

by Bethany Mercer
29 March 2018



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