Should I bid on my competitors’ brand names?

A common decision to make in search advertising is: “Should I bid on my competitors’ brand names?” There are pros and cons to doing this, although (spoiler alert), we usually recommend against it.

The idea of your company’s advert appearing at the top of the page in the Google search results for a competitor’s name must seem very attractive. In reality, it’s probably going to be an expensive exercise, you won’t actually appear prominently very often, and there can be unforeseen consequences.

I’d suggest a couple of considerations. Firstly, think about why people might be searching for a competitor’s name. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s because they want to visit that company’s website. Now, there is a small chance that your ad inserting itself into this process could persuade them that they ought to give you a look instead, but it’s more likely that you’ll just be an irritant and get overlooked. Sure, the exercise hasn’t cost you anything. However, the clickthrough rate on your advert will be terrible, and combined with a low degree of relevance, expect to get a ‘Quality Score’ as low as it gets. This means the ad could cost you ten times as much per click as it needs to. This low quality score could have a knock-on effect to other advertising too.

Secondly, are you likely to kick off a war? Your competitor will see your advert pretty quickly. Are the results on a search for your company name currently quite impressive? Would they be ruined by a competitor parking its name at the top of your page? The negative impact of this (on what your actual customers and prospects see) must surely outweigh the speculative benefits of your ad on a competitor’s brand search.

Of course, if the competition is all over your page already, you have less to lose. If your company name describes the product (e.g. if you’re called “Widgets UK”), there’ll be ads there anyway, which wouldn’t necessarily have been set up to target you specifically. However, the cost of doing the same in return can be more than you think, and might be better targeted elsewhere.