How to use competitors' names in Google ads

A hotly debated topic in paid search marketing offers competitors' names and phrases. The considerations go beyond the legality. Whether or not I'm going to do it, and how, is what I will address in this post.

Legal issues

The legal consequences are about trademarks. A company that has been there granted a trademark on its name and associated phrases have legal protection.

In Google ads, there are two aspects to using a competitor's name. First is the keyword. Google States, "We do not investigate or restrict keywords as keywords." So nothing prevents an advertiser from bidding on a competitor's name or brand terms as keywords.

Second is the ad copy. Google is just as clear, prohibiting "Ads that refer to the trademark for competitive purposes."

Usually, Google ads automatically block a brand name in ad copy. If you succeed in skirting the algorithm, the competitive company that owns the brand will probably file a complaint and get your ads removed.

Therefore, you can use a competitor's name or brand as a keyword, but not in ad copy.

Ethical problems

Trademark policy is clear. Ethical issues are not.

While you may be bidding on a competitor's name, remember that the competitor can also change yours. I've seen two common scenarios:

  • One or more competitors are bidding on your name.
  • No one offers competitors' names in your niche or geography.

Most advertisers reciprocally if a competitor bids their name or phrases. An eye for an eye, so to speak.

The second scenario is less common. It poses a more difficult question. If you are the first to bid on competitor names, you are likely to invite these competitors to bid on yours. Do you want that? Or do you prefer peaceful coexistence? How aggressive are your competitors? Weigh these questions carefully to your company's interests.

How to do it

If you have decided to invite a contestant's name, this is how you get the biggest impact.

Adding keywords and setting bids is fundamental. (For instructions, search on Google Ads Help Center).

However, bidding on a competitor's brand name can be expensive. The competitor is also likely to bid on his name and should have a strong clickthrough rate. Google Ads will set the competitor's expected CTR high. Thus, your keyword has a low score on the expected CTR component in Quality Score.

The critical step is to write a high-performance ad copy.

Because advertisers cannot use the branded term in the copy, the keyword's relevance component in the Quality Score will also be low. That's two-thirds of the quality score with a poor grade. The result is a much higher cost per click than the brand owner.

But you can still have effective ad copy. Let's use a search for "Geico insurance." In the screenshot below, the ad on site two, from, tries to connect to Idaho, my condition. Otherwise, it is a generic variation.

The ad from is trying to connect to Idaho, the author's state.

The ad from is trying to connect to Idaho, the author's state.

The ads at the bottom of the search results are not much better. These lower ads are not directed at my condition, which is a missed opportunity. Their pitch is low cost.

The ads at the bottom of the search results focus on low cost.

The ads at the bottom of the search results focus on low cost.

The intention of the applicant

In the example above, the applicant seeks Geico, the insurance company. We do not know what type of insurance car, homeowner or tenant. But we know that the searcher knows Geico and wants Google to specify the right web page. As a competitor to Geico, we could do that to our advantage.

Imagine that ad number 2 was "Get better insurance" in heading 1. Our applicant wants Geico. But "Get Better Insurance" can make him consider – for better a better policy or lower prices.

You didn't mention Geico by name. You didn't have to. The keyword "Geico" tells that the searcher is looking for that company. Your ad copy states that there is something better. It introduces doubt and FOMO – fear of missing out.

Pair "Get Better Insurance" with a convincing advantage in heading 2 to subtract clicks from Geico. Then your landing page helps win that viewer by using comparative terms such as "better" or "bigger" or "superior."

In short, bidding on competitors' names usually requires aggressive pricing and compelling ad copy. Do it right, and you will pull conversions in the last second.

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