in Online Advertising

Google Removes Restrictions on Trademarked Keywords

On Friday Google announced (via email) that it is going to remove advertising restrictions on trademarked keywords as of May 5th in the UK and Ireland.  Many advertisers are concerned that the consequences of this will hurt their AdWords campaigns, so I’ve put together some thoughts on what the likely result of this will be.

What Exactly is Changing?

At the moment, advertisers can register certain keywords with Google that they hold trademarks on, such as Harrods, Renault or easyJet. They can then request that Google prohibits other advertisers from bidding on these keywords without their express permission.

As of May 5th, this is going to change so that any advertiser will be able to bid on a trademarked keyword.  Trademarks will still be protected within the ad text though.

Why Are Google Making The Change?

In the announcement email, Google said:

A good proportion of users in the US and Canada have been clicking on competitor ads even when searching against trademarked terms, suggesting that they find the greater number of ads relevant and helpful when researching or making a purchase.

Believe that if you will.  Just because users clicked on competitor ads, it doesn’t mean that it was a positive experience.  The claim above doesn’t strike me as the most in-depth research.

The more likely reason, in my opinion, is that last month Yahoo won a court case in which it was sued for trademark infringement by showing multiple ads. That has cleared the way for Google to change its policy.

Isn’t This Going To Wreck My Campaign?

I doubt it actually.  I know many advertisers underpin their AdWords campaigns with high returns on their brand keywords, which subsidises the rest and hopefully delivers an acceptable average ROI.  I’m sure if you pay 1p or 2p a click for brand keywords, you are worried about that cost increasing substantially.  I don’t think that it will, provided you can agree with the following:

  • You probably have a double-digit click through rate on your brand keywords.  This means any other advertiser will probably have a high minimum bid to appear on the keyword and will struggle to get close to your CTR.
  • You control your affiliates closely and make it clear that you won’t pay out any commissions that are earned via brand-bidding.

That said, come May 5th (a public holiday in the UK) I’m sure there will be a bit of chaos but I would expect that to die down within a couple of weeks.

What Happens In the US?

Have a look for yourself with Google’s Ad Preview Tool.  I’ve done dozens of searches for all the US brand names I can think of and there’s surprisingly little competitor activity. Here’s a few examples:

  • Geico (insurance): No ads
  • Sears (retail): Just Sears themselves
  • Expedia (travel): Two ads, Expedia and a competitor
  • Jdate (dating): Just Jdate themselves
  • Apple (luxury goods): Just Apple themselves

What’s also interesting is that all of the above use the phrase ‘official site’ in the titles of their ads.  Something to try there if you’re not already doing it.

So I’d conclude that although the policy change will require careful monitoring of your campaigns and your affilifates, there’s no need to panic.  Expect a few bumps in the road, but I don’t forsee a full blown crisis. Do leave a comment if you agree or disagree.

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