Branded Search Queries
and Paid Search

Should we bid on our branded keywords?

There are two side of the debate on whether or not you should be paying for brand traffic or in other words bidding on branded keywords.  In my opinion these are: For– to protect real-estate on the search results page and increase competitor’s cost-per-click (CPC) or Against- 100% of the time you should be the end result of a user’s search to find your brand. This is a common discussion amongst paid search advertising professionals. Personally, I am against bidding on branded terms for the majority of situations. An exception would be the retail industry.

For: Reasons For Bidding on Branded Keywords

  • Brand Protection – Protecting your brand awareness, trade marks or other brand assets.
  • Relatively Inexpensive – Avg. CPC for branded keywords is usually less than a quarter.
  • Owning Real-estate – Controlling the top of the page the first page of results for branded keywords can be valuable.
  • Competition – Increase competitor’s spending if they are bidding on your branded terms.
  • Controlled Messaging – With paid search ads; you get to create the ad copy, which allows you to control your messaging. This is not always the case with meta descriptions. Also, with pay-per-click ads, you have the flexibility of constantly testing new ad copy and seasonal promotions without worrying about losing your organic rankings.

Bidding on your branded term makes complete since if you are losing legitimate traffic to competitor’s ads. More often than not, clicks on competitor’s ads are accidental.  In my experience bidding on competitor’s brands was not successful. To successfully advertise for competitor’s branded keyword requires an in-depth strategy that consist of a unique message and experience. Simply using generic ad copy and sending a user to you home page is unlikely to provide any ROI. An example of a strategy that I feel is successful at targeting competitor’s branded terms is Social Annex‘s paid search campaigns for their competitor’s (8thBridge) branded keywords.

In this scenario Social Annex takes you to a custom landing page that matches their ad copy. It is a comparison of the two platforms: 8thBridge vs. Social Annex. I think they did a good job with this landing page. It has a strong call-to-action (CTA) and requires you to provide your contact information in order to see all of the sought after data. They also include a list of clients, which adds credibility (a.k.a. a trust mark). However, one landing page optimization recommendation I would make is reducing the fields from the contact form. For example, if they consolidated the “Name” fields into one and removed the “Company” and “Phone number” fields (all information that can be collected later) they would like see an increase in conversion rate.

You should know if your competition is bidding on your branded terms. An analysis of the competition’s advertisement for your branded terms will give you better insight into whether or not it is necessary to bid on your branded terms. In the situation above, I would recommend that 8thBridge bid on their branded keywords.

Against: Reason Against Bidding on Branded Keywords

  • There is low intent for another result
  • It’s an unnecessary expense
  • It’s a testimony to your brands strength
  • A/B testing for landing pages can be done organically (Testing is a lame excuse)

According to experiments carried out by eBay Research Labs economists Thomas Blake, Chris Nosko, and Steve Tadelis, organic search results for brand-specific queries work just as well as paid search ads, even if the results appear lower down the page. This was confirmed by experiments showing 99.5% of eBay site traffic was retained despite paid ads for ‘eBay’ being shut down across Google and elsewhere.

“The results of our study show that for a well-known brand like eBay, the efficacy of SEM is limited at best,” say the economists in their resulting paper, ‘Consumer Heterogeneity and Paid Search Effectiveness: A Large Scale Field Experiment‘. “For the most part, paid-search expenditures are concentrated on consumers who would shop on eBay regardless of whether they were shown paid search ads.”

Overall, the findings support the informative view of advertising and the value of targeting the “uninformed” search user a.k.a. targeting non-branded keywords. So, why do well-known brands invest large amounts of money on what appears to be a rather ineffective marketing tactic? The reason maybe the challenges that these companies face in measuring their returns to investment. Branded paid search campaigns tend to have a higher ROI due to the high intent behind the keyword. The user is looking for your company and in most cases no other result will do! I feel that branded paid search campaigns, if utilized, must be segmented from your calculation of ROI. Including branded campaigns can significantly inflate your numbers and create miss-leading stats or benchmarks. Also note, in my opinion branded search traffic is similar, if not the same as, direct traffic.

For example, we had a client in the education industry come to us with a paid search campaign that was primarily made up of a branded keyword adgroups. The majority of their clicks, conversions, and costs came from these branded campaigns. After our research and analysis they stop running branded campaigns all together. Their new strategy focused on non-branded search terms. This initially led to a higher cost-per-acquisition (CPA) and lower conversion rates. However, with our strategy in place they were able to achieve their largest amount of leads in an enrollment period to-date at a CPA significantly lower than the goal CPA. The only concerning statistic was conversion rate from lead-to-enrollment was lower for the paid search channel. This was not surprising and was due to the fact that non-branded keyword leads have a lower intent than branded leads, along with other internal issues.

In Conclusion, I feel that not bidding on branded search terms is a testimony to your brand strength, your companies credibility, and your overall customer’s satisfaction rate. If you are threatened by a competitor bidding on your branded keywords, you may need to revisit your company’s mission, vision, and values.  Focus on creating a strong brand, if you have created a quality branded then you should be end result of a person search for your brand 100% of the time. *Disclaimer* There are exceptions. Some industries,  especially companies with competitors that have highly substitutable products, may need to bid on branded keywords.

Other resources on Branded vs. Non-Branded Keywords:

By Nick Noble

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