Picture the scene. You type your company’s name into Google and the top two results are competitors who have taken ads out in your name.

What would you do next? 

This is exactly the scenario I was faced with recently and I was pretty shocked.

I mean yes, we all had a good chuckle when Samsung took out its cheeky ‘Awkward You Obviously Mean’ ads on ‘iPhone 6’ a little while back (in fact, I remember forwarding it round the office, and I love Apple!). But that was different. They are the really big boys! We’re in a ‘relatively’ niche B2B market and it just didn’t feel right.  

Of course, the competitors in question had done absolutely nothing wrong legally.

Google lifted the ban on bidding on competitor brand terms way back in 2008 and since then it’s been completely fair game to bid on a competitors name providing you don’t also mention them in your ad content itself (for grey areas read up on the fun M&S and Interflora are still having).

But just because it’s legal, does that mean you should do it? 

I’d love some opinion from Econsultancy readers on how we should respond. So, let me bring you up to speed as to where we’re at... 

I’m a big believer in communication (read my last blog) and I was pretty confident I could clean up the situation without having to go all ‘eye-for-an-eye’ with our PPC strategy.  

So I emailed both of the competitors in question to see if they’d be willing to take the ads down ‘in the interest of fair play’ and to avoid us having to respond in kind. 

The responses I received (and to be fair, both did reply on the same day) were pretty different. 

Let’s start with Competitor A. I’ll call them BFF Comp. BFF Comp replied back saying:  

Hi there Chris, 

As so happens, I couldn't agree more. I have had our SEM team turn off that keyword as of immediately.

Have a good weekend, and don't hesitate to reach out direct if any other shared-space conflicts arise.

Best, 

BFF Comp

Well isn’t that nice - I knew our industry was lovely. Sure enough, the ad was taken down right away. I replied with my thanks, mentioned catching-up over a coffee (beer) next time we crossed paths at an event and wished them well.

This was good I thought to myself; I like our little marketing community. 

However, minutes later, I had a reply from the other competitor. We’ll call them Aggy Comp. Aggy Comp had a different approach and responded back saying: 

Hi Chris,

To tie in with our ambitious growth plans our search strategy has been formalised and laid out for the next year. In the short term we will not be changing these. 

Aggy Comp

Whoa! This is not how it was meant to be. My fuzzy feeling now thoroughly diluted, I went into military mode... “Get the PPC budget and slam it all on Aggy Comp” I demanded.

“We’ll show them. Do one of those clever ‘Didn’t you mean ads’ and come up with something else too. Something better. Go, go, go!”  

Cartoon - Revenge is Best Served Hot 

Then I stopped myself. We’ve got a marketing strategy. We’ve got a PPC strategy. And this is isn’t part of it. Should one competitor be able to influence our spend that easily? Shouldn’t we continue to do what we believe is right? Or would it be foolish to allow a competitor to bid on our term without responding in kind? 

So far, all we’ve done in response is to increase the spend on our own brand term (‘SaleCycle’) to ensure we’re well represented when searched for, but I’d love the thoughts of Econsultancy community as to what you think we should do next?

Respond in kind? Take the moral high ground? Do something smarter that I’ve not thought of yet…?

Chris Sheen

Published 26 August, 2015 by Chris Sheen

Chris Sheen is Head of Marketing at SaleCycle and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Chris on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Richard Anson

Richard Anson, Founder at Reevoo

Very interesting Chris..

It's one thing to hijack keywords in the consumer-facing examples you mentioned, but I'd imagine a B2B audience will see exactly what's going on - and it might negatively affect their view of the company.

Nice to see you didn't go tit-for-tat!

about 2 years ago

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Naomi Brown, Digital Advertising Manager at Wex Photographic

It's a difficult one. In my experience most competitors will bid for a short time only, and then realise it's not cost-effective for them. Increasing bids on your own terms will help this happen quicker.

Having said that, I've run competitor term ads in the past and sometimes it is cost-effective. Normally only when the competitor isn't bidding on their own brand, and by bidding on longer-tail terms in areas where you are as strong or stronger than the competitor (so if I had an awesome email remarketing product, I might just bid on 'salecycle email').

If I were you I'd do exactly what you're doing in increasing bids, and then in a few weeks review if your brand traffic and return has decreased. If you suspect your competitor is successfully diverting traffic, look at running a test on some of their longer tail terms.

about 2 years ago

Paul Stevens

Paul Stevens, Search Marketing Manager at BrightHouse

Hi Chris,

Nice post - I definitely share your frustrations!

For me, bidding on your competitors brand terms depends on market share. If you're a smaller player in your market, I can see the attractiveness of bidding on your competitors (larger) brand volume. Heck, if I had a relatively new business I would absolutely bid on competitors terms if it was cost efficient.

That all being said, if your competitor is of near(ish) size in terms of traffic, and a gentlemen's agreement is off the cards, I'm stumped. I would be interested to hear other people's thoughts...

Paul

about 2 years ago

Barney Larkin

Barney Larkin, Marketing Director at FusePump (WPP)

We've recently had this with a competitor bidding on our brand terms. We retaliated and, to be honest, the quality of traffic we get from the ads is rubbish so we switched them off. I'd imagine they're in the same boat. In my experience, those people searching for your brand won't be diverted by competitor advertising. Google lists 'searches related to...' at the bottom of page 1 anyway. Focus on your product USPs and long tail terms, produce excellent content that's on brand, relevant and key word rich. Over time this will drive better quality traffic anyway

about 2 years ago

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Mark Pain, Head of Search & Biddable at Maxus

Hi Chris, I'm with you, its a lazy strategy. Protect your brand with PPC, at least its cheaper for you than it is for them.

about 2 years ago

Steve Pannett

Steve Pannett, Senior Designer at three sixty

I always think about this tactic from a user's point-of-view.

If they're specifically searching for your business's name (or variation of it within a keyphrase) then it's highly likely that they're already aware of you and what you do, to the point where they felt it was necessary to revisit (perhaps even to confirm a purchase)

What a user doesn't want is for that search to throw up a competitor's website instead, it's disruptive to their expectations of the search they made, and not in a good way (remember the days when 'disruptive' meant a bad thing?)

As the competitor, even if you do manage to get one of the folk searching for your nemesis to land on your site, your website (and your general offering) is now going to have to work twice as hard. You not only have to convince them of your own merits, but you have to dissuade them from your competitor (who they were actually trying to find in the first place)

The S6 bidding was a publicity stunt, and a chuckle-inducing effective one too, but bidding on your competitors is a serious waste of budget and won't win you any points with the users you're trying to usurp.

My ten pence :)

about 2 years ago

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Alex Sakota, Internet Profitability Specialist at High Creative Ltd.

Not only that one can bid on competitor's name but Google made even easier to target newsletter subscribers of your competitors. Create new Gmail campaign, include physcal address of you competitor as 'keyword'. Since physical address is required in every newsletter, your ad will show when user is using Gmail and reading newsletter of your competitor ...is this more/less ethical?

about 2 years ago

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Jenna Tiffany, Digital Marketing Strategist at Communicator

Brilliant post Chris.
I agree with Steve Pannett, it will put a drain on budgets and actually push up spending on those key terms as you play the tit for tat game. In my experience there's always been agreements in place to not bid on competitors brand terms, but a part of me doesn't blame someone for seeing an opportunity & taking it.

However what this approach doesn't do, is put the user first. What is going to be most useful to them? Ultimately people use search to find information or answers to a question. Providing searchers with irrelevant PPC ads will also reduce your quality score if you receive little click activity or high bounces, because this result wasn't expected.

Best thing to do in my opinion is to always be strategic in your approach, always monitor competitors closely and let them waste budget on irrelevant search terms which will free up more traffic for you to convert :)

about 2 years ago

Paul Tebbs

Paul Tebbs, Account Manager at Econsultancy, Centaur Marketing

I know Amazon did this when they first launched Amazon Instant Video- no prizes for knowing who their competitor was/is...

about 2 years ago

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Jenna Tiffany, Digital Marketing Strategist at Communicator

Brill post Chris.
Agree with Steve, that in doing this will waste budgets as cost per click increases playing the tit for tat game. In my experience there's always been agreements in place to not bid on competitor brand terms, but I can't blame someone for ceasing an opportunity.

However, what this approach doesn't take into account is the user/searcher. We all know that everyone uses Google to find information or answers to questions. By bidding on irrelevant search terms, this wont be useful for the searcher. This ultimately could impact quality score with the limited clicks and increased bounce rate because this isn't the information that the search was expecting.

In my opinion always have a strategic approach, monitor competitors closely and let them waste budget on irrelevant keywords which will give you more quality traffic to go after :)

about 2 years ago

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Colin Boucher, SEM Manager at Local Agent Finder

This is tricky, I've bid on every competitor I can find in a market and it's been very successful with the client not caring where conversions come from as long as they meet KPI targets.

I've also managed accounts where it doesn't work. You don't know until you test is the answer!

In terms of retaliation against competitors driving up brand CPCs, I've found that especially on B2B & smaller business markets that eventually they will back off but often return every now and again, it might be something just to ride out. However, bidding on there brand for a week might help it happen quicker, the email comes across as if they're ready for a battle so you might want to leave it and only then bid back on their brand as a last resort.

I understand from a users point of view on competitor bidding but competition is what a lot of PPC is based on so it's here to stay I think

about 2 years ago

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Ian Harverson, Search Specialist at Pearson

Amazon did this with some search terms associated with Lush products. Lush sued them and won...

about 2 years ago

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Chris Monkman, Web Developer at E-Dzine

Could it also be an intentional tactic to drive up PPC prices for you rather than compete in the same space? It might be small increases but over time it's a nickel and dime scam as those over the pond might say in that it'll eat into your budget over time and thus you either have to spend more or be less visible.

I'd also say over time they'll end up loosing out as generally, if I'm searching for brand 'X' and brand 'Y' turns up in the ads I ignore them since i'm not looking for brand 'Y' but brand 'X' and while not scientific, my office holds the same general consensus.

about 2 years ago

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Zoe Hart, Founder at www.TheLittlePancakeCompany.com

I agree with Steve - there's a high risk of annoying consumers. A competitor to Trello bid on their brand name for a while and this stunt didn't persuade me to move to the competitor product, it just frustrated me! I accidentally clicked the ad a few times but all the competitor would have seen was high bounce rate and wasted ad spend. If I'm loyal to a brand, I'm unlikely to swap allegiance because I've been duped by a lookalike.

about 2 years ago

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Chloe Ho, Senior Account Manager at Top10

A search on Google is an opportunity for research. In this particular situation with a technology like Salecycle, unless they're typing an exact domain in the address bar, it's likely that they're a prospect.

There's no harm in research and the whole point of Google is to be able to search terms to receive relevant information. If that technology is similar to yours and the prospect client could use either technology then surely it's better for the prospect client to be able to weigh options and decide for themselves.

You can't tell a competitor to not pitch to someone that you want to pitch to because you want the business. The whole point of competitors is that you're competing, there’s a finite target market that everyone wants to reach. Research on Google is just the first step. The click doesn’t guarantee winning the business, it’s just the first step into the conversation.

about 2 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

We’ve had a certain well known online retailer bidding on our brand name with our brand in the advert. We put a complaint in and ait stopped however they do still bid on our brand. As people are searching for us we have a good click through rate, conversion and quality score for our brand name so it’s cheap to bid. I’d imagine they get a very poor conversion rate so they will stop eventually when it isn’t profitable. The owner for a brand will always be able to outbid a competitor on their own brand name assuming the competitor is trying to make a profit.

In the end it’s not really worth it unless the other brand you are bidding on don’t advertise, as soon as they do it becomes very hard to make it profitable. If someone bids on your brand just up your bids, make sure you are above them and let them waste their money.

The Samsung example is quite clever though…

@Alex Sakota - that is quite sneaky!

about 2 years ago

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Mike Szostak, Small Business Marketing Consultant at www.PacificNewMedia.com

I'd say let them have it.

This problem reminds me of Yellow Pages - Would you like to spend $X to be listed next to all you competitors? Why? Why not find a space or place that your competitors don't exist, making you the only logical choice. That's more a problem with PPC in general than even just competitor sniping.

IMO, small business ad dollars are better spent other places altogether.

Sure, have an SEO presence, but when someone is searching your competitors name or your name specifically (vs industry keywords), they've already decided.

about 2 years ago

Chris Sheen

Chris Sheen, CMO at SaleCycle

Thanks for all the feedback, some really interesting perspectives on it.

I think we're going to continue to focus on our own terms and strategy for the time being - and continue to monitor traffic levels as suggested.

We'll focus on innovation and 'think different' as a great marketer once said.

about 2 years ago

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Fergus Boyd, Director of Digital & IT at YotelSmall Business

As a small hotel brand but with a hotel in the very competitive Manhattan market, we noticed competitors brand bidding via Bing on us in Feb/March of this year. In January we had some very successful Bing PPC campaigns and the costs were good compared to Google. In Feb the CPC jumped up and we noticed the big boys including the hotel chain starting with H (6 letters) were brand bidding on our name. We took a softly softly approach and our GM rang up colleagues in the competitor hotels asking if they knew what was happening. Blank stares but also no action. We guessed their agencies were going off piste. We considered retaliating in kind but that's a mug's game and only the search engines win. We kept up our own brand term bidding and the competitors dropped off in March, possibly as their costs bidding on us would have been high and their quality scores low. We have seen them sneaking back from time to time. I'm flattered that they see us as a threat and it gives weight to our strategy that they are copying us. I suspect it's the actions of vision-less, desperate digital agencies who are chasing revenue at any cost to justify themselves. The bottom line is no, don't bid on competitors. If you are that desperate, you are in the wrong business.

about 2 years ago

Chris Sheen

Chris Sheen, CMO at SaleCycle

My fave comment of the lot Fergus - Great story. I think you've nailed it.

As you say, it says something about how well your strategy is working... imitation is the greatest form of flattery and all that.

about 2 years ago

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Jennie Fisher, Digital Marketing Manager at Provident Personal Credit

Being one of the biggest in our part of the sector we always used to take the high road and not bid back despite competitors bidding on our terms day in, day out. However, over the past 12 months have built up a number of campaigns based on competitor keywords.

It's fairly mixed in terms of success with some competitors driving some wonderfully cost efficient leads for us (thanks guys! ;-) ) and others being a bit rubbish but it's just something you have to test.

We now have a some we regularly bid on and some we know not to bother with. For anyone unsure I would say give it a go. Until you test it you'll never know whether it's worthwhile or not for your business/client.

about 2 years ago

Luis Pires

Luis Pires, Director of eCommerce and eMarketing at Bosch - Siemens Home Appliances LLC

I spend hours creating a plan, executing, optimizing, studying, ... I don't let my passion get in the way. Besides, the world goes round, wait and your chance will come. And then, you'll act kindly.

about 2 years ago

robert hoogendam

robert hoogendam, Growth Hacker at Startersquad

In my experience in most cases this happens I write a e-mail just like you to the marketing department and if possible cc the owner / director.

I have had one similar response once from a company who refused to change it. That was fine.

I setup a blogposting about it, copied the response from them in it and run campaign on it on their brand. Closed it with a question if we needed to hire some security staf for our clients and co-workers as well?

Took them 24 hours to reconsider and contact me back by phone to have it removed. Coming to a agreement that we both will not bid on brandname and they will pay 50% of the campaign costs.

But well it depend also in case to case.

For example the Apple vs Samsung or Microsoft vs Google. If now news media would write about it all those lawsuits and campaigns become to expletive and not worthy. But well having your "phones" compared all over the world in " free media coverage" is the best thing you can do. Better to spend a 5 mil on settlement then "buy" 75000 top 1 news positions. Can't prove it but it's my vision on it.

about 2 years ago

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Marina Cheal, Marketing at Reevoo

I think that chivalry should not be dead in this game. What goes around comes around.

about 2 years ago

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Yi Zhi Tan, Account Executive at GroupM

Should we bid on keywords of competitors who have far more searches than us to gain awareness?

about 2 years ago

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