Should You Bid on Your Competitor’s Brand Name?

Over the years, there have been many recurring discussions within the PPC landscape: should I adjust my structure to separate keyword match types? Do I bid on my own brand name? How do PPC and SEO work together best? What new change is Google going to force on us now? Etc, etc.

Another of those continual discussions is that of bidding on competitor brand names. Should you do it? Does it work? The answer to both of those is, of course, “it depends.”

Whenever having this conversation with a client, I usually have a series of questions and discussion points to ensure they know what’s in store. Below is what I usually cover, so pretend you’re on the phone with me. Here we go.

Are They Bidding On Your Brand?

This is the first question I try to answer because it shapes the conversation. Sometimes the client already knows this information and has a list prepped of all the competitors.

Other times, you’ll need to find this information by looking through your Auction Insights reports on the Keyword tab. This can allow you to see everyone bidding on your brand name.

If all else fails, Google it. Bing it. Yahoo it. You get it.

Once you’ve got that answer, keep that in mind as you go through the next couple of questions.

Are You Willing to Make Them Mad?

I don’t care who you are. If you go to Google, type in your own brand name, and someone else shows up under the ad results your reaction is going to be somewhere in the realm of slightly irritated to nuclear. I’ve never met a client who wasn’t at least a little chapped.

Advertising on someone else’s brand name is usually considered a direct attack on them, and you can’t do it anonymously. So before you even start, think about the dynamics of your industry. Are you a close-knit family who get together at trade shows and send Christmas cards? Or do you have literally no idea who they are and could care less?

There’s honestly no right or wrong answer, but the first step down this path is that you’re likely going to make them at least a little mad.

Are You Willing to Tolerate Retaliation?

If they’re mad enough, competitors are likely to retaliate once you start bidding on their brand.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Once you start bidding on their brand terms, be aware that they’ll likely start to bid on yours unless they’re completely asleep at the wheel. The other consideration here is that we never know which end of the spectrum that competitor will be on. Will they be slightly irritated or will they go full nuclear? (Full nuclear meaning they work to constantly outbid you on your own name, which for some of my clients is worse than anything, so just keep in mind that this is a possible outcome.)

5 Tips for Bidding on Competitor Brand Names

Once you’ve decided you’re going to bid on competitor brand names, it’s time to determine strategy and set expectations. Here are some additional things I like to discuss with a client during our discussion.

Stats Will Most Likely Be Rough

When you bid on competitor terms, you’re technically doing search advertising, but it’s almost more of a push marketing strategy rather than pull. You’re advertising to someone who is looking for something different from you. This usually translates into harsh looking performance.

  • Low CTRs: Since the user is looking for a different brand name, you’re simply less likely to get the click than they are.
  • Low QS: Due to your low CTR, odds are you’ll also end up with low Quality Scores on these terms. Not that this should be a deterrent in itself, but it opens you up to….
  • Higher CPCs: You’ll likely pay higher CPCs for someone’s brand name than they will. They’ll most likely still be lower CPCs than non-brand terms, but just know you probably won’t see the same low-cost clicks you see for your own brand name.

These issues shouldn’t be scary enough to deter you from advertising on competitor terms altogether, and there are some things you can do to lessen these blows.

Be Selective with Keywords

When you bid on your own brand name, odds are you’re bidding on the root head term, as well as other variations.

[chipotle], [chipotle burritos], [chipotle lunch deals]

Etc. (Can you tell it’s lunchtime here?)

For competitor terms, you’re able to do the same thing. I’ve found that the head terms themselves are often the hardest to compete on. These tend to have higher volume and lower CTRs, which brings us back to the QS problem outlined above.

Try bidding on the phrase and broad match modifier versions of their terms or anything that has an additional term attached. So in the example above, we might not bid on just [chipotle], but maybe we bid on [chipotle lunch deals] and some other variants. This article does an awesome job of outlining a couple other strategies you can use if you need more ideas.

Compete Where You Can

Odds are your product/service isn’t exactly identical to your competitors. One of you is likely more expensive than the other. One probably has a better reputation. One has more services to offer. Whatever the difference, compete only where you can.

If you’re more expensive, don’t compete on price — compete on your larger list of services, your better customer ratings, whatever makes you better.

The times I’ve seen competitor ads do best was when my client’s company did a better job than their competitor on something the competitor was calling out in ad copy. If they mentioned price and we were beating them on it, things usually went well. If they offer Free Shipping over $100 and we offer Free Shipping over $50, then we look good.

Review your competitor brand ads to find what they’re promoting. Can you compete? Do you need a different tack?

Use Comparison Landing Pages

If you are able to get someone to click through to your page, I’ve seen landing pages that do direct comparisons do pretty well. Some companies opt to do one competitor on a page at a time, but I personally prefer a page like the one Formstack has run:

With this type of layout, you’re able to see how they compare to most of their major competitors all on one screen. With this comparison on the landing page, you could feel confident in competitor campaigns to call out any of the areas where you can compete and let the user decide if those are the areas important to them.

In this layout, you could also introduce them to other competitors they weren’t aware of, but if you’re showing how you stack up, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Track Longer Conversion Cycles

Lastly, competitor keywords don’t always follow the same cycle of search, click, convert the way many other online behaviors do. If you catch their eye, you’re potentially grabbing someone from the bottom of someone else’s funnel, so you’ve got your work cut out for you bringing them all the way through yours.

Although most cookie windows will be long enough to capture the conversion, it still might benefit you to check out the Assisted Conversions and/or Top Conversion Paths reports in Google Analytics to see how these users work their way through to conversion, if at all.

Overall, bidding on competitor terms can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, but it’s certainly something that can pay off when done right.

What has been your experience bidding on competitor terms? What has worked well or what hasn’t worked for you in the past? Share with us in the comments!