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Are Your Competitors Purposely Bidding On Your Brand?

If you have agreements with advertisers who sponsor your brand on paid search, it’s important to monitor them to make sure they are using your brand or trademark terms according to your agreement. If they advertise using keywords containing no other words but your trademark or slogan, it’s easy to recognize that as a violation. However, it is harder to glean the intention of the advertiser if your mark is paired with non-brand words or phrases. For example, if your brand is “Netflix,” an ad triggered on a search for “Netflix” is an obvious violation, but an ad triggered on a search for “movie rentals from Netflix” is not. This issue arises due to the broad and phrase match choices provided to advertisers, where in the latter example it is plausible that the advertiser broad matched the phrase “movie rentals” and therefore its ad was triggered.

To understand why this is such a big problem, let’s first explore the definitions of broad and phrase match. Broad and phrase match are used by both Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter. Broad match is the typical default setting for sponsored search. If the sponsored search term is seen anywhere in a search query, the ad will be triggered, regardless of what other terms are also contained in the query. This also applies to plural and singular versions and sometimes variations or related terms that are similar to the intended query. By contrast, phrase match is slightly narrower than broad match in that the exact phrase specified by the advertiser must appear in a query; however, other words can appear in the query as long as the exact phrase is present.

If you find an advertiser sponsoring a phrase that contains your keyword along with non-brand terms, before you take serious action (e.g. legal or send threatening letters), it is in your best interest to determine the likelihood that brand bidding was intentional or if it was caused by a match type setting. Unfortunately, a searcher cannot control the match type trigger for paid ads. The searcher can use the advanced search functionality to request relevant organic listings by match type but the logic used for paid ad serving is not affected by the searcher’s preferences. Therefore, you must look for other circumstantial evidence to validate whether or not brand bidding has occurred.

Here are some things to look for to determine if your competitors are purposely bidding on your brand.

Monitor your brand by itself. Look to see if there are any instances where the advertiser’s ads appear on your brand name by itself, including typos, and variations with and without the .”com” extension (e.g. “Netflix” vs. “Netflix.com”). If you find instances of this your confidence level should go up regarding phrases that contain your brand plus non-branded terms. If the advertiser is bidding your brand by itself, it is logical to gain confidence in the advertiser’s intention to bid on your brand included as part of a phrase.

Look at redirects and landing page URLs. Often the determination of what landing page to show the consumer is determined by tags in the redirects and on the ultimate landing page. You will need to review all URLs that lead to the landing page including the display URL, the destination URL, all redirects and the final landing page URL. If your web site URL or your brand name by itself appears in the URL, then your confidence level should be very high that the advertiser is bidding on your brand terms.

Look at the keyword parameter. Advertisers often embed either the keyword or the category of the keyword (e.g. ad group) into a tracking parameter in the URL string to track the source of the traffic. Keyword tracking parameters can either be dynamic—inserted by the search engine using a variable—or fixed—inserted by the advertiser at the time of ad creation. If the parameter is a variable, then you would expect to see the keyword phrase exactly as it was entered into the search tagged onto the URL. If the parameter is fixed, then you could see either the searched keyword phrase or a shortened version of it.

The question to ask is, “does the entire searched phrase appear in the keyword parameter?” If it does not, and the only item in the keyword parameter is your brand, then the advertiser intended to brand bid. If the entire phrase does appear, then you will want to look for other circumstantial evidence as suggested above. In addition, if the advertiser is using Yahoo web analytics, you can look directly for two parameters in the redirect path from the URL: OVRAW, which will show the searched phrase, and OVKEY, which is the sponsored keyword to determine the intention.

Look for bold text in the ad. Text appears in bold in the ad when that same text is included in both the search phrase and the ad. The AdWords help information says this: “If your ad shows when a user searches on a keyword in your ad group, the keyword will appear in bold in your ad text.” Therefore, you could look for the non-brand part of the search term. If there is ad text that matches the non-brand portion of the search phrase and it is not in bold, then the advertiser was broad matching on your brand.

Look for your brand in ad copy. If the answer is yes, you should feel very confident that the advertiser intended to appear on your brand name. Look in the display URL as well as the title and description of the ad.

Monitor the phrase without your brand. Lop your brand off of the phrase and see if the advertiser shows up with the same ad copy on the non-branded version. If the answer is no, then you can be sure the brand was the intended target. If the answer is yes, then you will need to do more to make a determination as it is possible the advertiser brand bids and also bids generically.

The point is that there are a lot of methods that can be used to gain confidence as to the intention of an advertiser. I suggest that you go through the above checklist to be sure that you are expending compliance resources properly. If an advertiser did intend to brand bid then this will lead to a different set of actions on your part versus if the advertiser did not intend to but wound up advertising anyway due to their choice of match type settings.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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