PPC experts have long understood the importance of branded Google AdWords campaigns. They are an easy way to increase your conversion rate and guard against competitors stealing your customers by bidding on your company name.
They also enable your brand name to have a presence in search, if you have yet to establish a prominent position for it organically. This is an essential element of kick starting brand awareness for your business.
However, many businesses often fail to see these benefits as significant. Some businesses feel branded PPC in search is a waste of money, especially if they rank in the number one position for their brand name in organic listings and do not believe anyone is bidding on their name.
Both sides of the argument have their merits for small and medium size businesses but when it comes to large companies with established brand affinity, branded campaigns become an entirely different affair.
For large companies, branded campaigns are a necessity and much more than a quick, additional campaign hastily put together. For large companies, branded Google AdWords campaigns must involve a carefully planned strategy to protect their brand identity and message. For these businesses, defending their trademark and image in search is a number one priority.
Why are branded campaigns vital for large companies?
Large companies tend to be more visible in the public’s perception. Google, Facebook, Walmart, Volkswagen, Procter and Gamble and BHP Billiton are all large businesses with huge brand recognition among the population, either nationally or internationally.
Rather than needing to build initial brand awareness, these companies already have massive brand recognition, even beyond their own fans, followers and users. So why would they need branded Google AdWords campaigns? There are many reasons why branded campaigns are useful to all businesses but especially to large companies:
#1 They allow big businesses to use, protect and improve their brand affinity
Users expect large companies to be up to date with all the latest marketing technology. For a large company to lack a presence on such a widely used service as Google would be a blow to their reputation.
The public need to be able to instantly find big companies when searching for their brand name, anything less would seem to be a major oversight and look less professional. Big businesses with brand affinity have more pressure to uphold an image than medium and small businesses and so guarding their brand presence on all digital platforms is vital.
With Google AdWords, large companies can protect their visibility in search and therefore their reputation, while better utilising their existing brand affinity to their advantage. By making it easy and fast to find your well-known brand, you will help maintain customers.
Naturally, there is also always room for improvement in brand awareness and branded campaigns can help. According to Google, using AdWords can result in extensive brand awareness uplift and can even improve general awareness “by 6.6% points”.
In addition, bidding on your brand name allows you to directly control your brand message and test various tones and messages quickly to see how they resonate with users.
Branded campaigns receive the benefit of all prior branding work, so if you’re not seeing success through branded campaigns, it could be because you haven’t yet built your brand affinity as far as you thought.
#2 They increase CTR and CVR for your AdWords account
While many businesses know bidding on branded keywords can equal higher CTRs and conversion rates, the results are far more staggering for large companies. This is due to the increased existing brand trust.
When analyzing your Google AdWords search query report, large businesses will typically witness data revealing a very high percent of branded queries leading to conversions. The more recognised and respected your brand is, the higher the percentage is likely to be. It is important to react to this and launch a branded campaign if you do not have one already. This will support the desire and trust for a recognised brand name. According to industry leaders Wordstream, branded keywords for big brands typically have CTRs of 40, 50 or 60% and high-quality scores.
Large companies using branded campaigns should also expect a lower CPA and when you are investing as much in advising as some big businesses are, every little helps. Knowing users will search for known brands, even if they are a first-time customer, means protecting your trademarked brand name is not a second thought, it is integral.
Another major advantage of branded campaigns is that branded keywords are similar in many ways to high intent, end of funnel keywords. The user is expressing that they have recognition and have practically decided on your company prior to searching. They suspect you have what they need and so long as you confirm this, conversion is very likely. This is why conversion rates are so high for branded campaigns, particularly among large, recognised companies. In the table below Digital Net Coast share their own results from a branded vs non-branded experiment:
As you can see the conversion rate is much higher for branded keywords and cost is much lower.
#3 Failing to use paid ads for branded keywords can result in lost traffic
Companies often mistakenly fear diminished CTR on their organic position due to their ad being at the top of search. They, therefore, fear losing out on free conversions and subsequent better ROI for branded terms. However, this fear is mainly unfounded. In fact, research shows that failing to use Google AdWords ads can result in lost traffic even if you do have high organic positions.
People have different preferences. Some will commit to clicking on the company they searched for, some prefer to click on organic listings and avoid ads and others will always prefer to click on the top results i.e. an ad, rather than scrolling further, even if that is a competitor to the brand they searched for.
This means if you don’t use branded campaigns you could experience lost clicks, which should have been easy wins for your brand. The following diagram from PPC Hero demonstrates the potential losses when ad spend for branded campaigns is paused or reduced:
It is true that branded campaigns do mean potentially missing out on some free conversions from organic positions because your paid branded ads are likely to sit higher. For large brands this is still worth the risk and CPC Strategy claim that dominating the top of search for your brand, both organically and with paid ads, delivers an overall increase in qualified leads compared to focusing on either paid or organic.
For big companies with a reputation to defend and big spending power, a combination of organic domination and paid ads for branded queries is the ideal scenario for increased CTRs, as the following chart from PPC Hero reveals:
#4 They help to tackle competitors bidding on your brand name
Big brands are more recognised and trusted than smaller businesses, thanks to brand affinity. The drawback is that competitors are subsequently far more likely to bid on your brand name. They have more to gain by pushing you out of position one for your company name and tricking or tempting customers away.
Bidding on your own brand name won’t necessarily stop competitors from using this tactic, however it will prevent them from using it as successfully. It will work to protect against stolen clicks and conversions. If your branded ad sits above theirs for your brand name, they will be less able to trick consumers and steal your traffic, especially since using other businesses’ brand names in the actual creatives is discouraged by Google.
#5 They defend against manipulative affiliates
It isn’t just competitors that big companies have to worry about. Unfortunately, if you use affiliate marketing, your own affiliates can become manipulative and use your brand against you.
Affiliates can bid on your brand name which pushes you out of your top position but worse than this, some will actively do it in order to charge you more for affiliate conversions.
Manipulative affiliates impersonate your brand ad and link to your site with your URL, so that consumers don’t know the difference but they will embed their affiliate tracking code into the URL, so you will have to pay full affiliate commission on those conversions. Those conversions could have been yours for a much lower cost on your own ads and the tactic is intrinsically deceptive, not only to your business but to customers.
This is why bidding on your brand name in branded campaigns is so essential for large companies and really anyone using affiliate marketing.
It isn’t just affiliates that are an issue but any distributor. While you do want distributors to make money from your products, you don’t want them gaining more profit than you or taking profits that could have purely been yours because they rank higher for your brand name. As you can see from the image below both Dune and John Lewis ads appear for the Dune brand name. Fortunately for Dune they rank in position one and hold position one organically:
If Dune were to neglect their branded campaign John Lewis would be position one and theoretically could receive greater conversions for users looking for Dune shoes than Dune itself.
Google Shopping also means distributors and affiliates can appear highly visible in search, so large companies cannot afford to drop the ball on any branded paid advertising avenues.
#6 They create a bigger presence in search results
While CPC is usually lower for branded campaigns, in this instance the difference will be less so for large companies. Competitors, affiliates, distributors and manufacturers may all want a slice of the action your reputable brand name provides. This is turn could drive up the CPC of your branded keywords.
Yet, rather than being a deterrent to running branded campaigns, this should be viewed as additional motivation. There are more challenges to keeping your brand name in position one both in Google AdWords ads and organically.
Ranking poorly for your own brand name would always be a blow but to a large company it’s a disaster. By taking up more real estate on page one of the search results you can guarantee a strong presence, despite others bidding on your brand name.
Running a branded campaign with great ads, including plenty of extensions, along-side multiple organic results for your site and potentially a Google Shopping listing, is the ideal picture for a large company. This will mean you take up the majority of page one positions when users search for your brand.
If you don’t dominate every page one position with your site, having one paid and one organic position still means you take up a good deal of space:
#7 They aid your quality scores
Branded campaigns tend to have hyper-relevant ads, which means these campaigns statistically have great quality scores. This will help offset lower scores in other campaigns and make your AdWords account healthier.
When you shouldn’t bid on branded keywords
It is clear that branded campaigns yield a great deal of benefits. There are, however, legitimate times when businesses may choose not to run a branded campaign.
There are a small number of circumstances where having branded keyword ads does not greatly improve conversions. We know that branded keyword ads do steal from organic conversions. There is some profit to be made from cutting out the branded ads but only if circumstances lend themselves to you.
If you dominate the top of organic results for your brand and are certain no one is bidding on your brand name, then you could save money and get a better ROI from organic conversions.
However, this scenario is very rare for large companies. Their increased brand affinity makes it unlikely. If you are a large company and find yourself in these circumstances, it might mean that you corner the market on your product or service. This may not last forever and you should watch out for other competitors emerging over time.
Even if you corner the market and have a patent on your product, there could be room for improvement. Competitors could create a better version of your product or eventually, your audience could grow tired of you if you sit on your laurels too much. Always be on guard.
Moz gives a number of reasons why skipping the branded campaigns can be a money saver in this interesting article. Yet even they point out this strategy is aimed at small and medium-sized companies and encourage all large companies to never abandon their branded campaigns.
Again, if you don’t need to bid on branded keywords, you are either mistaken or don’t have the brand affinity you thought did, in which case you should be running awareness targeted campaigns.
Best tactics for large companies running effective branded campaign strategies
Once large companies have acknowledged and embraced the value of branded campaigns, they need to have a pro-active approach. For bigger companies, you cannot just stick a few branded keywords in a new campaign and hope for some easy wins. With the increased pressure to maintain your image and fend off competitors, a strategic approach is required and there are several tactics which can help you achieve the best results.
1) Bid aggressively on branded terms – We now know CPCs are not going to be as low as branded keywords for small and medium sized companies. For well-recognised brands you need to keep pulling in those conversions and defend your brand against competitors, affiliates and anyone else trying to gain visibility using your brand.
To do this you must bid aggressively on your branded keywords, especially for exact match.
You can balance this with lower bids for phrase and broad match modifier branded keywords for easy wins and cheap conversions. With exact match branded keywords it is necessary to not let any interlopers out manoeuvre you.
2) Build out separate AdGroups – Don’t just hurriedly put together a small campaign with one or two keywords. You need to separate your branded keywords into relevant categories for the best user experience. If you provide products or service targeted at different audiences, you would segregate them in your non-branded campaigns, so don’t get complacent when it comes to branded campaigns.
Large companies need to take their branded presence seriously and make finding the right items easy for customers, therefore if you sell clothing, you should separate branded products targeted at men from ones targeted at women. An example would be ‘Ted Baker men’s jackets’ in an AdGroup separate from ‘Ted Baker’s women’s jackets’.
Some options for your branded keyword AdGroups could be:
- Your domain name
3) Cast a wide net - You will naturally use a lot of data and optimisation with your PPC campaigns, possibly geo targeting, demographic targeting, audience segmentation, day parting etc. These are all beneficial for greater relevancy. However, with your branded campaign be sure to cast a wide net.
These users are already clearly looking for your company, hence beyond relevant segmentation of branded keywords, you should not make targeting too narrow. Try to scoop up as many of those low CPA conversions as possible and don’t leave users out. The fact that they are searching for your brand makes them high intent users to begin with.
4) Ensure keyword variety - Don’t forget to include long-tail branded terms and many branded variations to match all products and services. If they are ready to buy, some will just search for your brand name but more familiar users will be specific about the product they are looking for e.g. Dyson fans.
5) Keep an eye on competitors and affiliates - To adequately defend your brand identity in search, it is best to keep a sharp eye on what competitors and manipulative affiliates may be doing.
This is not as easy as it sounds. Some may use nefarious tactics, such as bidding on your brand name but using day parting, so the ads only appear at night or geo targeting away from your office locations in the hopes you will not spot their actions.
This is another reason why it is good to cast a wide net in terms of locations and schedules for your branded campaigns.
Software does exist that can aid your spying, if you are willing to invest, such as The Search Monitor and The Trade Mark Search Company. These are specifically aimed at large firms looking to defend their brand position from competitors.
Big brands using affiliate marketing should always make their affiliates sign legal documents to agree not to buy your trademark in search as an extra precaution. Some may still try to disobey, so you should still keep an eye out.
6) Bid broad match modifier - Branded campaigns are well suited to exact match and phrase match but you may want to consider going broader. Don’t forget 25% of searches have never been performed in search before and users may have thought of all sorts of variations on your brand. You may even want to go so broad as to cover misspelling of your brand name to secure maximum presence for your name, reach and exposure.
The more well-known your brand, the more variations of searches there are likely to be.
7) Balance this with a thorough negative keyword list – If you have broadened your match type for maximum scope in your branded campaign, you should regularly check your search query report and update your negative keyword list to avoid wasting money on weird searches.
For the best results, you need to have clear data, so you can properly attribute conversions to either branded or non-branded queries. The broader your match type the more likely you are to encounter dishonest attribution by Google AdWords. You may find your non-branded campaign triggers ads for branded queries and your branded ads trigger for non-branded queries.
To avoid this and keep your data and attribution clean, add your branded keywords as negative keywords in non-branded campaigns.
If your brand name means something else e.g. an animal or scientific term, keep an eye out for this in the context of queries in your search terms report. Consider the case of Clear Blue Pregnancy test. Clear Blue could also mean the clear blue sky and it is a type of boat. Always be careful and watch out for these mix-ups. Poorly converting branded keywords could be an indication of this problem.
8) Branch out from the search network - To continually build increased brand affinity do not limit branded campaigns to the search network. Branch out into the GDN and even video advertising to create increased demand and feed your branded search campaign.
In many ways, branded campaigns are similar to remarketing because you are marketing to those who are already familiar with your company. To support this, increased demand creation on the GDN can be an asset.
For large companies the GDN usually works well and serves as a reminder of why you are so popular.
Remarketing, RLSA, the GDN, video and even social marketing can draw on existing brand affinity and make it even more powerful.
Is bidding on competitor brand names a good idea?
Branded strategies can go beyond bidding on your own brand name. Large companies usually have large competitors and the competitive nature of their digital marketing efforts can be brutal.
Once you have secured your brand identity in search, you can go on the offensive to create campaigns bidding on your competitors’ brand names.
It may seem a little underhanded but if your competitors are doing it to you, it could be time to fight fire with fire. In fact, bidding retaliation could be the way to get stubborn competitors to stop bidding on your brand if done aggressively in short periods of time.
Bidding on competitor brand names is a fairly widespread practice and it has the added benefit of not cannibalising your own organic listings.
If you plan to incorporate competitor brand bidding into your Google AdWords strategy, some ideal targets for your AdGroups could be:
- Your competitor’s company name
- Your competitor’s URL
- Your competitor’s branded products
- Your competitor’s product manufacturing codes (good for technical industries)
Try testing competitor keywords in Google auto suggest to make sure they make sense and do not overlap with other companies outside your industry. The last thing you want is to step on the toes of a business you are not even in competition with.
While you can legitimately bid on competitor brand name keywords, you should not include their brand name in your ad. This may reduce the relevancy and quality score of your ad but using other brands’ names in creatives is against Google’s best practice and tricking consumers this much is dishonest. It will only hurt your own reputation. After all you wouldn’t want to end up in a trademark war with another brand.
Understanding AdWords’ complex trademark wars
While you can bid on a competitor’s brand and they can do the same to you, there are ways to protect your trademark.
Big brands need to be aware of the legal ramifications of using competitors’ brand names so they don’t get caught in a lawsuit and can effectively protect their own brand.
If you own the registered trademark on your company name, you will be in a better position to defend it against competitors who would try to use it in ad creatives. If a competitor has a trademark, you are more liable for coming under fire if you use their name in a creative.
When it comes to simply bidding on brand names, this shouldn’t be a problem according to Google. The company has stated they will not pursue complaints of trademark infringement based on simple bidding on keywords matters in most cases.
However, this does not mean you cannot be pulled into a trademark war based on bids alone. Google’s rules don’t stop other companies from trying to sue you and every country can have different laws on trademark infringement.
If you are concerned about this situation, you should always do some research before launching a competitor brand campaign. Most countries have a website where you can look up trademarked brand names. We have listed the trademark search sites for Australia, the UK and the USA below.
If you wish to defend your trademark against a competitor or affiliate using your brand name in the wrong way, you must submit a formal complaint to Google. If successful they will remove the offending ads and they usually enforce restrictions for your trademark on other advertisers moving forward.
If you wish to submit a complaint you can fill out the necessary forms.
There is also a trademark trouble-shooter if you have been affected by another using your trademark or if someone has filed a complaint against you. Google also provides information if your ads run into disapproval status due to trademark issues. Awareness of these regulations and legal avenues will help give you more firepower in defense of your trademark. For big companies, it is well worth employing if you need to defend your brand’s reputation and identity in search.
It is always worth talking to your competitor first if you do not want them bidding on your brand name or using it. Most will stop for fear of legal action.
If you are asked to stop bidding on a competitor, a quick check of whether they own the trademark will help you make the safe decision.
Of course, your distributors will want to use your brand in creatives because they are pushing your products and this is where the legal side of trademark wars can get complicated. Vodafone is a trademarked name but there might be independent telecoms companies who provide Vodafone products and Vodafone package deals. In this sense, they act as a distributor. The protected trademark makes it harder for distributors to move the product with Google ads.
Simply head over to the Google AdWords trademark issues section to request to use a trademark or to authorize use of your own.
Despite bidding on competitors’ keywords being a widespread practice, for some it has backfired into legal cases. While Google maintains it is allowed, the laws of some countries may find in favour of the complainant, if it shows to significantly mislead customers. This is why big brands need to be careful when employing this tactic. However, it may give hope to those who want to defend their brand name even from competitors just bidding on their keywords.
Since a few cases have been raised, Google now maintains that in light of particular evidence it may prevent bidding on a competitor’s terms if it takes advantage of the brand’s ‘distinct character’:
This action by Google is rare. Most of the legal cases have not succeeded but a handful have made it through to appeal in courts. Two noticeable cases are M&S vs Interflora and Lush vs Amazon. Final thoughts For large companies, branded AdWords campaigns are a lot more complex than you might have thought. They need a precise strategy but can be very beneficial.
With branded campaigns you can actively grow greater brand affinity and take it to the next level with awareness campaigns across all networks to show how successful and legitimate you really are.
If you are a very large business, don’t forget to utilize the search network, the GDN, remarketing, RLSA, social and video in your branded PPC strategies for the biggest reach possible.