Bidding on your competitor’s brand names

Using competitor brand names in a pay-per-click campaign can increase online exposure, but can be ethically challenging – So it’s important to understand reasons for and against the strategy.

Using competitor brand names in a pay-per-click campaign can increase online exposure, but can be technically and ethically challenging. With strict trademark guidelines imposed by Google, Bing and other search engines it’s important to know the reasons why you may want to adopt this strategy, and whether it’s the right approach for your PPC account.

Reasons to bid on competitor brands

There are a number of reasons why bidding on a competitor’s brand may be the right strategy for you. If so, SearchEngineLand have a great competitor brand name guide.

Similar audiences

Competitors usually have a similar offering and audience. By bidding on competitor brand terms your brand can gain targeted exposure that may not otherwise be accomplished through other cost-per-click strategies. People searching for competitor terms will already be familiar with the industry challenges, solutions and competitor brands so exposing yourselves to this audience could allow you to steal some visitors from the competition. It’s also great brand awareness for organisations with longer sales pipelines. Plus, your competitors may already be bidding on your brand name.

Less competition

Bidding on competitor brands will likely be less competitive than traditional keyword bidding as a much smaller proportion of account managers will be bidding on the same terms. In some situations this can mean that you pay less per click than more competitive (more generic) phrases. Of cause less competition does also generally mean less search traffic, so bare this in mind when considering your strategy. It can also spell the beginning of a bidding war, but more on that later.

Different offerings

As mentioned above, often your competitors have a similar offering, so appearing alongside competitor results gives the customer genuine choice. However sometimes competitors may have partially different services or products. Bidding on these brands can help give search engine users more variety, and help them discover alternative solutions to the challenges they face. Tailoring ad text and ad extensions to demonstrate unique selling points may help you attract customers who were initially looking at competitor solutions – However remember to never mention brand names in ad text!

An example of pay-per-click competitor brand name bidding

An example of pay-per-click competitor brand name bidding

Reasons not to bid on competitor brands

Sounds good so far, but there’s a number of reasons why it might not be such a hot idea:

Bidding wars

Occasionally, bidding wars can break out between yourselves and competitors, with each side increasing the maximum cost per bid to appear in more preferable positions (usually above each other). This runs up the cost of the campaign for both parties, and has little effect on performance. At the very least, expect competitors to begin bidding on your brand name when they discover your ads appearing when you search for their brand terms, too.

Quality score

Allowing your ads to be triggered via competitor brand terms will likely reduce the quality score of the campaign, and possibly affect the entire account. This is due to the lower relevance of your ads compared to the searched term. Creating landing pages specifically to take traffic from that ad group may help slightly, but expect a low CTR (more on that below) that will ultimately affect quality. A lower quality score also means a higher cost in order to sustain ad position. There’s a brief but interesting discussion on improving quality score for competitor brand name campaigns over on the Moz forums.


As mentioned, Click-through rate will usually (not always) be quite low for this sort of campaign, as the majority of search traffic will still click on the competitor brand ads – This is the case as searching for a brand name means that it’s unlikely to be the first customer-competitor interaction. Sustained low click-through rates will affect quality score and can see entire accounts being affected. If these sorts of signals begin showing in competitor campaigns it’s best to pause and investigate, trying to make the ads as relevant as possible without breaching guidelines, before continuing.

Google’s thoughts

Whilst Google doesn’t strictly prohibit this type of campaign (competition isn’t a bad thing, after all) it does state that ads shouldn’t be misleading or use other brands terms in ad copy. Although it’s fine to bid on these terms, when justifying why you’re appearing to a potential visitor it’s important to be as persuasive as possible.

Additionally, you can’t bid on trademark terms unless you’re the trademark owner.

For more detail see Google’s AdWords Trademark Policy.

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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