July 27, 2022 - By Hawke Media

How To Protect Your Branded Keywords on Google

Paid Search

Your business’s name and brand are some of its most important assets, and no one wants others trading (or bidding) on their good name. You’re bound to see competitors running ad campaigns that target your business’s branded keywords, though. Here’s how to protect branded keywords.

How Do Competitors Bid in Branded Keywords?

Bidding on branded keywords is the same as bidding on any keywords in Google Ads.

Competitors can set up a campaign, but provide your company’s name, products, services or brand as keywords rather than other targeted terms. Competitors sometimes limit these ads to only specific terms, while other times they’ll use your brand as the focal point for a broader campaign.

(If you see a competitor targeting your branded keywords, check whether they’re targeting misspelled variations of your company, products or brand too. Sometimes competitors favor misspelled variations because they have lower costs per click.)

Of course, the motive to bid on competitors’ branded keywords is obvious. Competitors want to show users searching for your company their own brand, products, and services, and competitors may even want to make themselves more visible than your business. You might even be using these strategies against your competitors’ branded keywords.

Does Google Let Competitors Bid on Branded Keywords?

The Google Ad policies (perhaps surprisingly) allow competitors to bid on other businesses’ branded keywords, provided that they follow some restrictions.

So long as competitors don’t violate Google’s restrictions, they’re welcome to create paid Google ads that target your business name, your product/service name, your brand, or virtually anything else closely associated with your business.

The only restrictions that Google places on targeting competitors’ keywords are:

  • Ad text can’t include trademarked terms that the competitor doesn’t have rights to
  • Ads can’t include copyrighted images that the competitor doesn’t have rights to
  • Display URLs can’t contain trademarked terms
  • Ads can’t mislead users as to a product/service’s origination
  • Ads can’t mislead users as to the company the ad is for

What Can Businesses Do If Competitors Target Their Branded Keywords?

If a competitor targets your business’s branded keywords, you have two main options. You can either file a complaint if they’re violating the Google Ads restrictions, or attempt to outbid them.

Trademark Your Branded Terms

If your branded terms aren’t yet trademarked, go through the legal process of trademarking them. Trademarking is one of the few ways that you can attain legal protections for your brand’s name, products, and terms, and that’s why Google specifically prohibits using others’ trademarked terms.

Without trademarks, you have little (if any) recourse against competitors who use your brand’s terms. Not only is this true for Google Ads, but it’s true for almost every other marketplace too. Even nearby competitors located in your city could use your brand’s terms if they aren’t trademarked.

For maximum effect, seek federal trademark(s) with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Local trademarks won’t extend beyond your municipality or state, and thus may not be honored by Google when targeting users regardless of geographic area.

You can try to file a trademark with the USPTO yourself, but using a service or hiring an attorney is generally recommended.

File a Complaint With Google

If a competitor legitimately is violating any of the Google Ads restrictions for bidding on competitors’ ads, you can file a complaint with Google. The process is different from trademark violations and violations of other restrictions.

Only trademark owners, attorneys of record, and others explicitly identified by trademark owners can submit trademark infringement complaints. Complete the Trademark Complaint, providing information, details, scope, and clarifications. You may want an attorney to assist with this process if the branded keyword ad issue is significant enough.

To complain about non-trademark violations of Google Ads’ branded keyword restrictions, complete the Report an Ad/Listing form:

  • If the violation is obvious, select “misleading or scam”, and provide the ad link. 
  • If the violation isn’t immediately obvious but still valid, select “other” and provide the ad link. “Other” provides a box where you can give a brief explanation,

Bid on Your Own Branded Keywords

When a competitor’s ads don’t violate any of the Google Ads restrictions, your only other recourse is to bid on your own branded keywords.

Bidding on your own branded keywords can be helpful even if you don’t have any competitor advertising issues. The strategy gives you another listing on the search engine results pages, and your paid and organic pages can take up a lot of real estate on screens. Your total click-through rate and traffic may increase as a result.

When competitors are targeting your branded keywords, bidding on your own keywords also has a dual effect on your competitor. First, you can push your competitor’s ads down so that they aren’t as visible and won’t be clicked on as much. 

Second, you can increase your competitor’s advertising costs. Making ads more expensive to place could cause use up their daily budget faster, thus reducing the number of ads they run. You also might make their ad campaign much less profitable, possibly even to the point that they cease the campaign. At least, reducing their return on spend should cause them to focus on other keywords more than your branded ones.

Should you decide to bid on your own branded keywords, consider setting your maximum bid toward the upper end of the suggested range. Branded keywords are often less expensive to bid on than non-branded ones, so the increase probably won’t be too much. You’ll also get your ad placed ahead of your competitors more often, and drive up their costs more.

Get Help Targeting Branded Keywords on Google Ads

For help with Google Ads, contact us at Hawke Media. We know paid advertising well, and we’ll work with you to address any competitors that are targeting your branded keywords. One of our specialists can help devise a campaign that will generally perform well and mitigate the competitor’s ad campaigns.

Get a free consultation from Hawke Media