This is a different take from your typical “branded term” article. It’s not about the ethics. It’s not about the performance.
Because choosing to bid for your branded term is not just a “religion”, as some people call it. Some people like to think it’s a personal choice—to do it or not to do it.
But it’s more complex than that. Attribution plays into it. Your marketing mix plays into it. Your industry plays into it.
So, today, we are going to dig deeper into whether you should bid for your branded term or not. I can reveal that I’m not going to say you have to do it or not. It all depends.
First, let’s get this out of the way.
It’s All in the Eye of the Beholder
When it comes to bidding for branded terms, people will recommend either/or based on their own personal beliefs and backgrounds.
- The SEO specialists say “no” because they lose organic revenue
- The PPC specialists say “yes” because they want to increase their attributed revenue
- Advertisers think it’s their right to get the traffic without paying for it
And the paid social specialists have no opinion because they’re living on social media.
But the fact is that there is a very black-and-white way of looking at it.
If your competitors are running ads for your branded term, then you should, too.
But it’s not your only choice.
We have many documented cases where we were able to stop competitors from advertising on our clients’ branded terms, and our CPCs decreased immediately. For big brands, this can mean serious savings.
The myth that your branded term is always cheap is not correct. Poorly managed, and with high competition, your CPCs can get quite expensive.
In this example, we agreed with a competitor to stop using each other’s brands.
In this example, we simply just started bidding lower manually after taking over the account. Quick win.
For some advertisers, we’re talking about spend levels in which making these fixes actually pays for 25% of our fee throughout the year. It’s not pennies like some people tend to claim it always is. (I used to be one of them until we got “famous” clients).
The Advantages of Including Branded Terms
I can keep this very brief because it’s been mentioned many times before:
- Branded terms offer higher conversion rates than organic results when users click ads (typically).
- You have better control over messaging than you do with organic results.
- Auction insights in Google Ads allow for better monitoring of competitors.
- You can segment the value of your brand name, which is harder to do organically.
Just don’t do it to boost your PPC ROAS. That’s just ridiculous.
The Issues of Including Branded Terms
There are four main issues that come with bidding for your company name / branded term.
- When branded terms hide poorly performing Google Ads.
- If you’re taking a stance out of pride or ethics.
- If your SEO team wants to show better results.
- If your attribution for branded terms is a mess.
I’ve chosen to name the issues slightly differently below.
1. The “My PPC Team Sucks” Issue
AKA: Your PPC team doesn’t separate branded and non-branded performance.
This should really be imprinted in everybody by now. You should have a branded target and a non-branded target.
There are cases in which we’ve agreed with clients, who are 80% focused on PPC, that we don’t have to do it, but, in most cases, we find a non-branded target, which we actually prefer.
More on that later.
2. The “It’s My Right” Issue
I feel for the entrepreneurs who spend money building their brand, become a household name, and have some low-end competitor come in to try to snap up all their hard work.
But it’s not your right to show up. The argument that you should own the search terms for your own brand isn’t valid, and you don’t get very far with it.
I believe the counterargument is much better. Google serving up alternative companies when people search for you actually helps with competition.
That it’s annoying is another discussion. But, at the end of the day, it keeps you on your toes.
For more views on the topic, I recommend Marty’s piece: Are Brands “Cowardly” for Buying Competitors’ Brand Keywords on Google!?
3. The “My SEO Team Should Stick to SEO” Issue
The first time I saw an SEO team suggest we should stop bidding for a branded term, I was perplexed. Branded term bidding had never come up before and wasn’t really an issue.
So why mention it?
I found out in the following monthly meeting.
They suddenly claimed a big win in organic revenue.
This was obviously connected to a huge increase in revenue from the homepage, which—you guessed it—only increased because all branded traffic now went through organic search.
4. The “Attribution” Issue
I rarely see this mentioned with any sort of nuance. The conversation, from an advertiser’s point of view, always goes: “I don’t want you to take credit for my branded terms.”
Well, we don’t want to either.
But there’s still an attribution issue.
Unless you run first click attribution in Google Ads (and who does that?!), your branded terms will still take credit for 25–100% of a conversion.
My standpoint from a PPC agency is actually that I’d much rather avoid branded terms completely.
This is because, if someone searches for something, like The Rock training shoes, then searches for Under Armour, and then converts, the keyword Under Armour gets ~50% of the credit.
That’s not fair.
And, if you’re looking in Google Analytics, it gets even worse. Unless you’re on Analytics Premium; then the attribution is “last click” (or, technically, last non-direct click).
So, all of a sudden, all the conversion credit in the example above goes to the branded campaign.
If you turn off the branded keyword, the credit will go to SEO. So, you’re not getting full credit to your non-branded keywords in either case when looking in Analytics.
There are so many issues with attribution that, for many advertisers, we’ve come to the conclusion that, no matter what we do, we are expecting the numbers to be wrong. So, all we can do is keep moving forward with some ROAS guidelines. Still, in the end, we have to look at how the overall business is growing, combined with its profitability.
But I walked into a minefield with this discussion about attribution. I don’t have the solution. It’s so ingrained in most people to take the Google Analytics numbers as the end-all-be-all of ecommerce metrics that just starting this conversation makes most people sigh.
Even the very smart CMOs we speak to will tell us, “Yeah, we know that the Google Analytics numbers aren’t correct.” But, in the same sentence, they’ll also say, “We need better performance based on these Google Analytics numbers.”
Solutions to the Attribution Issue
Some of the solutions that we have implemented so far are:
- Use Google Ads tracking to track performance in combination with:
- Moving branded terms to a separate account.
- Turning off branded terms.
- Moving branded terms to a separate account without linking the account to Google Analytics. This will force your branded traffic to be labeled as direct and prevent it from being classified as either PPC or organic traffic.
- Create a combined ROAS target in Google Analytics.
- I’m not a huge fan of this, but it’s what we typically end up doing.
Branded vs Non-Branded Campaign Segmentation
This should be basic for everyone, but we still see it in new accounts. Branded terms are scattered throughout an account.
I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s often not on purpose. It can be tough to keep track of branded terms appearing in your dynamic search ad campaigns, search campaigns, shopping, etc.
On the other side, this can be solved very quickly by creating a negative keyword list with your branded terms. So, me giving people the benefit of the doubt is being generous in my opinion.
It goes without saying that you should always create a separate campaign for your branded terms. We like to name that campaign 00: Brand, as it makes it easy to find.
The toughest part is Google Shopping campaigns for DTC brands. It can get tough to send your branded search terms to one campaign, but it is doable. Even if you run Smart Shopping.
When You Should and Shouldn’t Run Branded Terms
I will not dwell on this by writing a long paragraph, as it can be kept simple.
Do it if:
- Your competitors are bidding for your brand.
- Your branded term is a generic word.
- Your conversion rate is higher from running ads.
Don’t necessarily do it if:
- Your competitors aren’t bidding for your brand.
- You’re a big brand, and you’re just starting out.
- You have issues with your PPC team taking credit.
The More Marketing Channels, the Less Credit PPC Should Take for Branded Terms
This is where I see the discussion getting muddy. We have clients for whom 80% of their revenue can be traced back to a Google search one way or another.
And then we have established ecommerce companies that run TV, radio, outdoor, paid social, and massive SEO programs and have Google Ads accounting for 20–25% of their revenue.
In the first example, you can typically count on the number of sales coming in through branded terms being directly related to how much you’re spending on Google Ads.
For the second example, there is no correlation whatsoever. A month with no TV will make the branded terms take a dive.
If you have tied your Google Ads performance to a total including branded terms, then you’ll have a head scratcher as to why Google Ads didn’t perform that month when it was just because branded terms were down.
Remember when I mentioned that I prefer not including branded revenue in our targets with clients?
That’s why. If you shouldn’t take credit for revenue from branded searches, but you do, and if revenue takes a dive, then it’s on you.
Should YOU Bid for Competitor Terms in Google Ads?
I would only do it if you are ready for the fight.
When you start bidding for their terms, they should start bidding for your terms.
If you’re the bigger brand, I wouldn’t do it. It’s like saying, “Oh, darn. You’re becoming really big, so, now, we’re trying to piggyback off your brand”.
As a big brand, you shouldn’t do this.
Yes, it’s tempting, as a PPC specialist, to get a 5% revenue increase by bidding for all your competitors, but it’s like peeing in your pants. It will only last so long.
The Legal Side
In the US, there is no legal way to stop someone from bidding on your company name.
As Marty mentions in his article, Google actually has stricter guidelines in place than the law in the US states.
In Denmark, though, it can be deemed against the law to bid for competitor terms. Denmark has a marketing law that says a business cannot pretend to be another company. So, if your ad, which shows up when you search for a competitor, can, in any way, be deemed misleading, you’ve broken the law.
There are also several examples of companies being found guilty of breaking the “marketing law” by using competitors’ terms.
So, in sum, if you’re in Europe, tread carefully.
If you’re in the US, go nuts!
Conclusion: I Hate Branded Terms, But You Have to Live in the Real World
I don’t like bidding for branded terms. I think it creates a mess, and, too often, I see PPC people take credit for branded terms—although I see that less now than ever before.
With that being said, we have to live in the real world.
So, make sure you always know your branded and non-branded performance—and especially the flaws when it comes to attribution.
I wouldn’t say there is a single right way to approach brand bidding, so find the way that works for you and commit to it. The more you flip-flop from one way to the other, the harder it is to compare apples to apples when it comes to performance.
Last note, I find it hilarious that brand bidding causes so much conflict when nobody is complaining about Facebook look-a-like audiences smooching off your pixels. Think about how many times you’ve visited a t-shirt website and then seen all their competitors’ ads on Facebook. Hint: It’s not your microphone Facebook is using to target the ads. 😉