What To Do When The PPC Competition Plays Dirty

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Part of a holistic PPC campaign is bidding on the competition’s keywords, and this is a perfectly acceptable practice. But there are rules of engagement, and even if you’re playing by the rules, it doesn’t mean your competition is.

In this post, we’ll explore some “black hat” PPC techniques that are still happening today, and then I’ll give some tips on how to help combat those deceptive techniques.

Foul Play: The Crime Scene

Recently, we ran into an advertiser who was following all the basic AdWords guidelines for a PPC campaign – the ads themselves were structured well, and the messaging was en pointe. The landing page was also nicely done, and relevant to the ad.

If we were talking best practices for implementation of a PPC campaign, we’d have a great example in this one. But there was only one problem: the landing page itself was all about slandering our client’s brand.

In fact, it was an entire microsite dedicated to criticizing our client’s product and discussing how theirs was superior. This competitor even went so far as to say this client’s product was “dead.” (Keep in mind that this client of ours is a well-known, recognizable brand in its space.)

This scenario is not unheard of, and unfortunately, it’s hard to keep track of. Building in research time to monitor and track the competition is one of the only ways to stay on top of these types of black hat tactics.

However, there are steps you can take as first lines of defense and even as preemptive strikes to protect you or your client’s brand from these dirty PPC players.

Two Steps To Protecting Your Brand In Paid Search

Defend your brand in the PPC channel by understanding the options available to you as an advertiser. Here, we’ll look at how to utilize AdWords to your advantage when trying to protect and expand your brand.

1. Get To Know the AdWords Trademark Policy

Most large corporations have trademark managers who set the rules about how the trademarked “thing” can be used. These guidelines can and should trickle down into all marketing campaigns.

AdWords will investigate trademark infringement only after the trademark holder files a complaint. Unfortunately, Google suggests that the dispute be settled between the two advertisers first (which, as you can imagine, doesn’t always work).

From the AdWords help files:

Google takes allegations of trademark infringement very seriously and, as a courtesy, we investigate matters raised by trademark owners. However, because Google is not a third-party arbiter, we encourage trademark owners to resolve their disputes directly with the advertisers, particularly because the advertisers may have similar ads running through other companies’ advertising programs.

There are also specific policies for resellers of a brand’s trademarked item. In the scenario we mentioned earlier, the following rules would work well in our client’s favor:

The following ads will not be able to run:

  • Ads that do not lead to a landing page that clearly facilitates the sale of either (1) the goods or services corresponding to the trademark or (2) parts or components related to the goods or services corresponding to the trademark
  •  Ads using the term in a competitive way, including ads with a landing page selling or facilitating the sale of goods or services of a competitor of the trademark owner
  • Ads that do not lead to a landing page which provides substantive information about the goods or services corresponding to a trademark

But, moving the needle on these types of cases is the challenge. Take this real-world example: A reseller of OEM automotive parts started seeing ads disapproved after years of smooth sailing. Google said it was the use of the trademarked terms in the ads, even though this business is a qualified reseller.

The AdWords rep said it was possible the auto brand had a new trademark manager that enforced a blanket rule against anyone using the trademark, and, there was nothing Google could do about it.

If this business wanted to continue using the trademarked term, they’d have to get in touch with the right person at a multinational corporation. The chances of making that happen were slim to none.

In the end, something like this ends up harming the brand that’s attempting to stop the sale of the products through resellers.

2. Ramp Up Your Google Display Network Campaigns

The Google Display Network (GDN) can help you reach people across the Web, and ramping up “branded” and “competitor” campaigns in more places can help strengthen your brand over the competition.

While running a search network PPC campaign on your competitor’s keywords is a no-brainer, the impression share you’ll get is becoming lower and lower as time goes on.

Years ago, if you ran a “competitor” campaign, your ads showed up fairly often; in more recent times, Google has reeled in how much impression share a campaign can have on competitor terms.

That’s because Google wants to serve the most relevant ads; therefore, if someone is searching for X brand, it’s likely they’ll get X brand’s ads. And that’s good for the user.

But running a competitor campaign on the GDN can help you grow impression share for competitive terms.

The GDN also offers a ton of targeting options to reach the right audience: from contextual targeting tools that choose the right place to feature the ad, to interest targeting tools that show the ads to the people who would most likely respond to them. You have lots of control here.

White Hat/Black Hat Still Exists In PPC

While many of us play by the rules in paid search, there are still those advertisers who will play dirty.

And even though AdWords has extensive advertising policies, it doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to rely on Google to fix the problem, as there tend to be gray areas where the responsibility lies.

Your best bet is to monitor your competitors regularly, understand how the rules work, know when to call Google for help and when you should be proactive in addressing the problem yourself.

And don’t forget to utilize all the channels within paid search for your branded and competitor campaigns to maximize impression share.

Have you experienced or come across any “black hat” PPC campaigns recently? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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