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Bidding on Competitors' Brand Words in Paid Search

June 1, 2011

Hi Jill,
Photo Credit: Mike 'Dakinewavamon' Kline
What is the protocol on using competitors' brand terms to drive traffic to our site for related services? Is it a no-no? And is it considered unethical to somehow start to cleverly use the terms in our copy (without actually mentioning the brand)?



++Jill's Response++

Hi Bernadette,

It's fine as long as you do it legally :)

Google AdWords lets you bid on competitors' brand keywords (usually), and many companies take advantage of doing this. I'm personally not a big fan of it, but it does seem to be legal and a good competitive technique.

I think that if the keyword can be used in your content the way you described – that is, in a generic way that makes sense – it should be fine. You should consult with a trademark attorney to be sure, however, because the legality is more of a concern than the search engines!



Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Services Company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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Post Comment

 WmFlanigan said:
I looked into this a few years back and I learned that it is ethical and legal to bid on competitors keywords and to use competitors' names in ad copy ('mary's widget' >> "we carry replacements for mary's widgets"), but it is not allowed and it is unethical to include the competitors' name in the ad headline.
 Ellen Thompson said:
You cannot advertise brands that are registered trademarks. Personally, I have seen this tactic work, but I advise my customers not to do this as it invites an "arms race."
 Mary Kay Lofurno said:
From my experience, this is something for you to test. It really varies from industry to industry, product to product. For example, I found that brand phrases with my keyword phrase

Bob's gluten free dogfood Bob = competitors brand or keyword gluten free dogfood = my keyword phrase did not convert. In fact, I believe there is a string on this in Jill's forum where a few of us are going back with Rand on this. I can tell you that his phrases with brand terms did test it to see.
 P Savory said:

The English courts handed down a verdict against doing this in the case Interflora vs Marks and Spencer where M&S were using "interflora" as a keyword in a PPC campaign. I did read a similar case was successful in France as well but cannot find a link.

I guess it will have to go before an American court at some stage.
 Jill Whalen said:
P Savory, I think it has gone to American courts and has gone the other way (if I'm remembering correctly). Thus, why Google still allows it in many cases.
 Jason Monday said:
What are views on bidding competitors keywords but not including any trademarked names within my ads. When the competitors company name is searched in Google my ad appears. The ads are completely original and directed towards my website, products and company...we just sell similar products with similar non-trademarked keywords.

I understand the whole starting a war with a competitor but I am more concerned about legal issues.
 Jill Whalen said:
Jason, it's something you should consult with your attorney about if you're worried about legalities.
 John at Endurance Warranty said:
This is a great question, I was trying to find more information about any potential legal issues for the company that is bidding on competitor's brand terms. But what if company's brand name contains general words like "warranty" or "services". Would a phrase be considered a brand term then?

When I enter the full brand name in search (with "warranty") i see competitors listed in ppc box at the top. Is it something that can be fixed?
I know that this post is a little outdated but i was wondering if anyone was able to find information about AdWords regulations when it comes to branded keywords.
Thanks in advance for help!