Since the search engines changed the policies on competitor bidding nearly a decade ago, the concept of bidding on competitors’ names has been common practice in any search marketing strategy. But the tactic has a common and frequent problem: low quality score, leading to high CPC, which often makes it a less desirable method.
Some of the bolder advertisers will conquest on the competitors’ name, and include the competitor's name in their own ad. By doing this, the advertiser has managed to increase the relevancy of their ads vs. the competitor -- thus raising the quality score, reducing the CPC, and improving the bottom line on the tactic.
Any search marketer that deals with a high-search-volume brand, worth their weight, has filed a trademark with Google and proactively sends screenshots to Bing to get the ads disapproved. But alas, some in the industry have become complacent and forgetful, leading to instances when the trademarks are not on file with the engines, and are not being policed.
These advertisers end up paying a price in the long run. In a recent ad copy test on an automotive client, we ran two nearly identical ads when bidding on competitors’ names. The difference was that one was a control test ad that made no mention of the competitor, and the other had the competitor's name mentioned once in the description and once in the display URL. We ran two tests, totaling 12 weeks, and the results came back nearly identical:
When the competitor's name was mentioned in the ad (vs. the control test ad):
This means that while a consumer was brand aware, it had little impact on their decision making (versus when a generic ad was in place). It also meant that on a $10,000 investment, using the competitor's name in ads conquesting their name would produce more than two times the number of conversions versus when the control test ran in its place.
A different test for a QSR client produced similar results, where it was observed that the competitor's name in the ad generated:
What does this all mean in the long run? Testing out a notoriously “iffy” tactic, with a slight twist, may generate surprisingly positive results. But keep in mind that this should not be considered a long-term or “evergreen” tactic.
As brands will wise up to what their competitors are doing, and file complaints with the engines (something Google and Bing have recently updated their rules on enforcement, focusing on just “direct competitors”), or worse yet, you may receive the dreaded “cease and desist” letter in the mail from the competitors’ legal team. Rest assured that wins via this approach are not long for this world.
But until then, if you’re in a vertical that has some clear frontrunners in terms of volume and demand (often the ones that can afford to run TV), test the waters with the approach. You might be able to get some quick wins and successfully hijack the traffic back to your site.