Buying Brand: Why Trademarks Matter

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Trademarks should mean a lot more to search marketing professionals than a company’s name, but do they? Many view their company or client’s trademarks as unnecessary purchases – why pay for trademark keywords when a user has already shown intent to find the brand? In a world of limited budgets and a desire to drive incremental value, the purchase of branded keywords is often overlooked, whether intentionally or not.

Today, purchasing one’s brand online is more important than ever for businesses of all sizes. Differences in consumer behavior, competitors, and the bottom line demand that you buy brand. Although the major reasons for buying brand on PPC are important, search marketers also need to learn how to maximize their branded ad buck and go beyond purchasing trademarks to engage in brand defense.

Why Buy Brand?

1. Each Searcher Is Unique

Just as TV, web, and newspaper advertisements capture different users, the PPC ads that appear on search results pages appeal to different users than the organic search results that display below or alongside them. To some, a sponsored ad provides a greater sense of security or relevance than organic results, particularly when it appears in the coveted “top rail” position above search results.

Small and local business owners are not immune to this. A proportion of users searching for “Joe’s Pizza Laketown” will still be more inclined to click a paid search ad, even if it is your competitor’s.

If this is a hard pill to swallow, test the hypothesis. Buy the trademark and set up a cookie to track users via an analytics package. You will likely find that while there is some overlap in paid and free visitors, the number of unique visitors increases with the addition of sponsored search advertising.

2. Not All Clicks Are Priced Equally

Major search engines today reward brand advertisers. Google’s quality score loves a relevant click and will often charge a brand advertiser mere pennies a click. Yahoo’s ad quality score rewards the higher CTR that brand ads achieve, and MSN has similar systems in place to ensure that advertisers don’t pay too much to get brand visibility on relevant terms.

3. Control Messaging

Search engines don’t allow for easy control of messaging on organic search results. At the time I wrote this, for example, a query for “search marketing expo” on Google yielded a link for the SMX 2007 event, even though most searchers are likely to be interested in SMX’s 2008 events.

By purchasing PPC brand terms, you can ensure timely relevant messaging to users. Have a July 4th promotion? Advertise this in ad copy and drive users to the pages where they are more likely to convert.

4. Defense, Defense, Defense

If you don’t buy brand, your competitors will. By setting a high quality-score bar for a combination keyword-ad clickthrough rate, you ensure that competitors experience higher minimum bids, higher CPCs, and lower ranking.

For example, the term “Amway” returns sponsored ads for competitors, including ads that beg users to “stop wasting time and money.” Were this company purchasing its own brand, not only would it be more expensive and difficult for competitors to keep bids above the quality score minimum bid, but it would push those ads lower on the page (where searchers are less likely to respond).

Maximizing Your Brand Dollar

It is especially important to consider user intent when buying branded PPC ads. Brands for which offline (or even banner) ad efforts spark search queries have two major choices: should they direct the user to a corporate site which provides more information and support of the brand, or should they direct users to a landing page designed to best convert them via a specific action?

Let’s take the second “converting” case first. Consider a user who has just seen a TV ad for an Acme VOIP phone touting a “first month free” promotion. The branded PPC ad should display ad copy that reflects the promotion and directs visitors to a page that reinforces the unique selling point (USP) of the earlier ad campaign. Instead of sending them to the top-level homepage, allowing visitors over a dozen exit points that don’t lead to a sale, send them to a landing page where nearly every link begins with the sign-up process.

If an advertiser is not running a specific promotion, it’s best to direct the search-user to whichever company page best contains the information they are searching for. This may seem like an indirect way of making a sale, but by serving the user, it ultimately serves the advertiser too.

Don’t get confused and think your brand terms end with a few variations of your company name or trademarks; remember that these terms include part numbers, product names, and misspellings.

While part numbers and product names seem to be a no-brainer, some businesses – in a misguided attempt to maximize ROI – add their brand terms to negative keyword lists. This prevents ads from showing on queries such as “Acme 5530 VOIP system” – terms that are more difficult to rank for organically.

While most search engines do well identifying spelling errors and automatically display the appropriate ad or a “did you mean” question directing users to a correctly spelled query, they are not perfect. Use Google’s search query performance reports and online typo generators to ensure you are covering variations of your brand that search sources might not have assumed. While Yahoo! and MSN might kick back many as “non-common-form,” you will be surprised at how many variations the engines haven’t thought of.

Actively Engaging in Brand Defense

Brand defense doesn’t end with the acquisition of brand traffic. In fact, most search engines will allow trademark defense by preventing unauthorized entities from using a brand in ad copy or from using the search term altogether. Each engine has a slightly different trademark policy:

  • Google: “Advertisers may be restricted from using certain trademarks as ad text”
  • Yahoo!: For both trademarked search terms and ad copy, “Advertisers [must] meet one of the following two conditions: 1. Reseller …. [or] 2. Information Site, Not Competitive”
  • MSN: “Advertisers may not bid on a competitor’s trademarked term or use that term in their ad copy. Affiliates and resellers may bid on trademarked terms relevant to the goods, services, or sites that they promote.”
  • Ask: “If we determine that a protected trademark is used in the content of an ASL advertisement, we will request that the advertiser remove the allegedly infringing content or we will remove the advertisement.”

To purchase trademark clicks under these policies, one needs to ensure a trademark is registered, monitor use of the trademark, and report any infringement. Where engines once proactively enforced trademark policies, now the onus is usually on the trademark-holding advertiser. As recently as September 2007, MSN updated its policy to state, “Going forward, Microsoft adCenter will no longer attempt to mediate affiliate compliance by creating lists of trademark-owner approved advertisers.”

As a result, you may wish to use one of the commercial services offering trademark monitoring services. A search for “trademark protection service” in any major search engine will provide a list of possibilities.

Before filing a trademark complaint, confirm that the target trademark is registered with the USPTO at If you discover that your brand has not been registered, an attorney is likely the best option to undertake the complex application process. Trademark law doesn’t leave much room for fuzziness, meaning a competitor bidding on a variant may not be considered defensible. For example, the prevalence of “face book” ads vs. “facebook” ads is not a coincidence.

If you do need to file a complaint, be prepared to provide:

  • The legal name and address of the company
  • A list of trademarks and registration numbers from
  • The account ID(s) for the respective search engines
  • The account ID(s) for any authorized partners/affiliates

Because the burden of proof is often on the advertiser, it may be beneficial to record screen captures, display URLs, and destination URLs of violating ads. All major search providers have forms available to submit trademark complaints/concerns – links to these are usually found in the About or Services sections of their websites.

After you have filed the appropriate complaints, prepare to wait. While an email to your search engine representatives may help expedite the process, it may take weeks for offending ads to be removed. While waiting, it may not hurt to email the advertiser in question and politely request the ad copy be corrected.

Can’t wait? Adventurous advertisers or those with the luxury of a legal department may wish to use a “cease and desist” letter to prompt an advertiser to remove or modify offending ads. Sites such as or provide templates for this. [Please note this article is not meant to endorse any site or provide legal advice.]

Using an agency? Agencies exist to help grow the bottom line for clients, and many now offer trademark monitoring and protection as part of a standard search marketing agreement. If your agency doesn’t offer this, demand it.

Another aspect of the brand defense scenario is the approach toward affiliates. While each advertiser is unique, many find that allowing affiliates and partners to fill the slots below their brand’s ad can be beneficial.

I recall one situation where an advertiser had difficulty with a prominent competitor appearing directly below their ad. By allowing affiliates to bid on and utilize the trademark in ad copy, the competitor’s ad was pushed down several positions, dramatically cutting the views and traffic they received from the brand.

Each advertiser will have differing needs based on the competitive landscape. Those advertisers without competitors in the PPC space may find a policy restricting affiliates or channel partners from using trademarks to be beneficial. Others may find it helpful to require affiliates or channel partners to bid only below certain ranks. While this may require policing, the efforts can more than make up for themselves in incremental sales.

Brand traffic matters. Don’t allow competitors to slip under the radar, cannibalizing the visitors that rightfully belong to your brands or clients. By evaluating the competitive landscape and implementing a pay-per-click trademark policy that best fits each situation, you can grow site traffic, manage brand messaging, and prevent competitors from defining your brand.

About the Author

Mark Fiske is the Director of Search Marketing for Bazaar Advertising, the performance and agency search marketing wing of Epic Advertising -- a solutions provider that connects advertisers, publishers, and online affiliates.

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