Google Ads Competitor Campaigns – Do or Don’t?

Let’s talk about a common question I get as a paid search marketer. “Should I be bidding on my competitor’s terms?” Of course, you probably already have some keyword overlap with your competitors, no matter what product or service you are advertising, but this question is usually asked from companies wanting to bid on the brand names of their competitors.

Unfortunately, it’s not always an easy “yes” or “no” question, but fortunately, we’ve put together the following guide to show you how we assess the situation for brands wanting to get involved with competitor bidding. Below, is a series of questions we ask ourselves before making the call.

Is this competitor bidding on YOUR brand terms?

Whenever I hear that one of our clients is interested in a competitor campaign, or if I am developing a strategy and wondering whether to include a competitor campaign, I do a check to see if the competitor is bidding on our client’s brand terms.

YES: If they are, it’s pretty fair game to do it right back, and bid on their branded keywords, which could include their brand name, as well as any product names, and variations of those keywords (misspellings, etc.) Remember, in Google Ads, you can fairly bid on trademarked terms as part of your keyword set, but you are unable to use any trademarked terms in your ad copy itself.

NO: If the competitor is not bidding on your brand terms, would bidding on their terms “poke the bear”? Meaning, once they notice you are bidding on their brand terms, they’ll likely bid on yours, which will push up your CPC (cost-per-click) on your own brand terms, which are often the most profitable in a paid search account. Do you have some wiggle room? If you’re willing to pay a bit more for your own brand keywords due to competitive pressure from another brand purchasing your terms, then it’s something worth considering. But, if there’s absolutely no wiggle room, and a 5% or even 10% increase to your branded CPCs will crush you, then no, don’t poke the bear.

How big is the competitor (and their budget) compared to you (and yours)?

Don’t be Joe’s Famous Taco Shack and start bidding against Chipotle.

YES: If your media budget on Google Ads (or Bing Ads, for that matter) far outweighs your competitor, you can be fairly certain that you have enough funds should you find yourself in a bidding war. Enough funds means that you will be able to consistently increase bids on your own brand terms, 100% of the time, to protect them at all costs. That may mean you have to sustain an increase to your own CPC’s if this competitor goes after you. If their budget is much, much lower than yours – they likely won’t be too competitive in the search space on your branded terms should they end up going after you. As mentioned before, since they cannot use your trademarked brand name in their ads, and since they clearly don’t own your domain, their quality score on their ads that show for your branded keywords would be quite low, so it would be an expensive move for them to compete with you throughout the day, or for long stretches of time. Some competitors that don’t have the budget to fully compete with you may find a window of time when your bids are slightly lower, and try to rank on your brand terms then, in order to get cheaper CPCs.

NO: Though it might seem like a no-brainer to go after your biggest competitor, you may not want to “poke the bear.” If you bid on their brand terms, they’ll likely do the same to you in return. So, if your competitor has a bigger budget than you do and can smack down your ads with a few increases to their bids, then maybe you don’t want to “poke the bear.” 

How expensive are these terms? Are they more likely to convert than your existing generic terms? Slightly related to the above, if you’re running competitor campaigns, expect the keywords you’re running to be expensive if the brand owner, and various competitors are all vying to be in the first few positions on Google Ads.

YES: If you have the budget to test competitor campaigns, aren’t worried about backlash, and truly think another brand’s audience could be interested in your product or service, then, you should try. However, see considerations in the next step.

NO: Depending on your industry, (we’ve seen legal terms go up to $120 cost per click!), your CPCs might already be expensive, especially against generic, non-branded keywords. If a user is searching for a specific brand or company that is not your own, it’s a higher likelihood that they would click on that brand, and not yours. If competitor terms are more expensive than your existing generic terms, this might be an area you want to avoid until you squeeze out every last drop of profit from your own brand and generic campaigns.

What is the likelihood that users will convert on your brand name?

As mentioned above, the likelihood that someone would click on your ad versus the brand they are actively searching for is low.

YES: Since you likely can’t use anything trademarked in your ads, you’re going to have to sway the user to click on your ad versus the ad for the initial branded search. What are you offering? Is it a better price point, a better value, extra features or benefits, a longer warrantee? Though Google Ads are getting longer with Google’s latest updates, you still have to fit in every reason why a searcher should click your ad instead of a competitors’. If you can do that, do it and do it well!

NO: If there are no huge differentiators, or nothing strong enough to sway a user one way or the other, maybe this isn’t the competitor to go up against now. Brainstorm to find competitor who you DO stand a chance against and use your ad copy to focus on how you are different.

Though not an exhaustive list, these are some of the key questions we ask when a brand is interested in this strategy.

Have you tried competitor campaigns on Google Ads? What was the result? We love looking at case studies to see how they align with our methodology!

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