Brand bidding & PPC optimization: effective bidding techniques (part 7 of 8)


Welcome to Part 7 of an eight-part series on PPC brand bidding, where I answer the biggest question facing PPC advertisers in 2016: How do I get meaningful growth numbers out of a crowded and competitive PPC market?

The answer is simple: brand bidding. My employer, The Search Monitor, has been monitoring brand bidding on PPC ads since 2008. I’ve noticed that the strongest performers tend to be the most dedicated defenders of their valuable branded terms.

I created this series to share this huge finding and offer tips from our clients on how brand bidding can drive monster PPC growth. Here’s a refresher on the first six parts:

Today’s article, Part 7, focuses on the most effective brand bidding techniques we’ve seen in 2016, including screen shots from top PPC advertisers across five different products. A picture is worth 1,000 words, as the idiom goes, so use these screen shots as ammunition when you pitch your manager or client on creating a more effective brand bidding strategy.

The following examples illustrate effective brand bidding techniques across popular categories. To find out the prevalence of these tactics, I recommend using an automated ad monitoring technology to fully measure brand bidding activity in your industry.

Okay, here we go!

Automotive: Chevy vs. Ford

Ford vs. chevy brand bidding - cropped
  • What we see: In this search result (discussed in Part 3 on best practices in brand bidding), Chevy is bidding on a branded Ford search (“ford fusion”). Smartly, they have outranked Ford’s own ad, are using “compare” in the headline copy and are using the branded term in their URL (allowed by the engines!).
  • If you’re Ford: Review your bids and Quality Score to improve your ranking, then check for this scenario on your other products. Consider buying branded terms of your competitors and working with your dealers to bump Chevy down the page, as discussed in Part 5 (reducing competition).

Marketing Automation: Marketo vs. Pardot

Marketo outranking Pardot for branded search -cropped
  • What we see: Head-to-head marketing has become more commonplace in B2B software, especially in marketing automation, where price tags can easily top $20K annually. Here, Marketo is bidding effectively on its rival’s brand name (“pardot”) in several ways: 1) outranking them, 2) using “compare” in the headline and 3) placing Pardot’s brand name in the URL. Further, Marketo employs a strong offer for a competitive shopper: a third-party report on popular vendors.
  • If you’re Pardot: Don’t let your ad be outbid! Review your bid, Quality Score and landing page to improve your ranking, and consider testing more boastful ad copy to combat Marketo’s.

Footwear: Nike vs. Reebok

  • What we see: Retail is no stranger to brand bidding, either. Nike is outranking Reebok for a Reebok-branded category search (“reebok running shoes”). Interestingly, Nike decided to run an ad featuring a specific product line, the Free shoe, versus running an ad to its running shoe category. This can be a strong tactic if that particular product has tested well with Reebok owners.
  • If you’re Reebok: You’re running a solid ad with a competitive free shipping offer and helpful ad extensions for ratings, sitelinks, location and phone. Your ad just needs to be the first ad seen by the shopper, so focus on your bidding and Quality Scores. Also, consider coordinating your brand bidding with your approved retailers (like Macy’s, seen above), to help bump Nike down the page.

Finance: TradeKing vs. Scottrade

  • What we see: This example shows TradeKing bidding on a longer-tail, but incredibly valuable, brand-plus search term for Scottrade (“open a scottrade account”). While TradeKing has not managed to outrank the industry leader in this screen shot, they are displaying a competitive offer ($4.95 per trade) in their headline, competitive messaging in both their ad copy and sitelinks, and even a promo code in their sitelinks. This is an example of a smaller brand (TradeKing) piggy-backing off the hard-earned brand awareness of a bigger-budget advertiser (Scottrade) — nice work!
  • If you’re Scottrade: Keep a close eye on the competitive brand bidding activities of both TradeKing and optionsXpress. Study their ad copy and make adjustments to your own to outmaneuver TradeKing’s tactics. Confirm you are outranking them in every one of your  target geographies and that your messaging and offers are compelling enough to deter someone from skipping past your top-ranking ad.

E-commerce: Volusion vs. Shopify

  • What we see: Shopify and Volusion are leading e-commerce platforms where competitive brand bidding makes considerable sense due to high retention rates. Here, Volusion and another major competitor are both outranking Shopify’s ad on an important lower-funnel branded term (“shopify pricing”). Importantly, Volusion uses a comparative headline and a comparative sitelink and places “vs-shopify” in the URL, which gets bolded, since it’s the search term.
  • If you’re Shopify: By example five, you can probably complete this bullet on your own (I hope!). Yes, Shopify should be defending this valuable branded keyword through tactics such as bids, copy, display URLs (Why not display and landing pages, and should be buying their competitors’ branded terms, as well.

Even more effective brand bidding tips

Those five examples illustrate the most common and effective tips for both defense and offense in the game of brand bidding. But why have five when you can have eight? Here are three more:

  • Ad monitoring. Make sure to use automated ad monitoring that can geo-target by country, state, region, city and ZIP code. This will reveal the full extent of who is bidding on your terms, since it might only happen in certain locations that are important to your competitors.
  • Sitelinks. If you’re the brand holder and occupying the top spot on your branded terms, use sitelinks to make your ad look bigger and push competitors farther down the page.
  • Complain to search engines. While your competitors can use your brand in their URL, they cannot use it in their ad copy. Detect these violations using an ad monitoring platform that can also automatically submit these violations to the engines. Let technology do the heavy lifting.

The don’ts of brand bidding

With the best practices out of the way, let’s tackle a few of the common misconceptions and general no-nos I encounter when signing on new clients:

  • Don’t run up CPCs. When protecting your branded searches, don’t think you have to dramatically outspend your attackers. Perform the steps above (and as outlined in Part 3, best practices), and concentrate on well-executed ads and high-Quality Scores. This will force the competitors to blow their budgets.
  • Keep it professional. If you decide to brand bid on a competitor,  don’t embarrass them or make false or misleading statements. This amusing story surfaced recently showing a leading Irish digital agency that definitely let its activities get out of hand in the name of competitive brand bidding. Keep it above board!

Final thoughts on effective brand bidding techniques

This article gave you brand bidding examples from five key industries and ideas on how to copy their moves and defend yourself if you’re attacked. My work with The Search Monitor’s clients has revealed that you have more weapons than you think in this battle, including sitelinks, strong offers, geotargeting, ad monitoring, search engine complaints and coordinating strategies with your partners.

You now have the ammo you need to pitch a more effective brand bidding technique to your manager or client. Go get ‘em!

The last article in our series looks at the future of brand bidding. I will discuss how brand bidding must adapt to continue to provide the tremendous growth we’ve seen so far. I will also forecast how brand bidding will change in 2016 for all members of the ecosystem: the advertisers, their agencies, the ad tech providers, and, of course, the engines.

Stay tuned — we’ve saved the best for last!

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