Using PPC brand protection to decrease campaign costs by 51%

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Columnist Lori Weiman makes the case for why it’s worth seriously focusing on — and defending — your own branded terms in paid search.

Search marketers with whom I consult like to complain about how giant improvements in PPC growth are behind us. They fondly recall the glory days of the 2000s when the immature PPC market allowed savvy marketers to boost PPC revenue a ton using simple tweaks to keywords or bidding strategies.

I recently completed a series here on Search Engine Land that made the case that there are still big gains to be made if you know where to focus. The eight-part series showed how branded keyword protection is this year’s secret weapon to achieving the monster revenue growth we miss so dearly.

The impetus for this series was how PPC brand protection is changing, but I’ve noticed that most marketers are not keeping up. Here’s the brand defense story I presented:

  1. Optimization tactics have come and gone since the days of five-cent bids, and we’ve discovered that PPC brand bidding is the next tactic for driving meaningful revenue gains.
  2. Branded keywords are more valuable than you think. They get quality traffic and clicks, and they require careful, constant protection.
  3. In 2016, advanced marketers protect their branded terms by coodinating with partners, reducing competition where possible and exercising legal actions when necessary.
  4. There are plenty of examples of best practices and effective brand protection techniques to copy from.
  5. The future is bright for brand protection strategies, especially for agencies, MAP compliance and hotel price parity.

PPC brand protection case study

An important part of this series was an Avery PPC brand protection case study showing how the retailer’s competitors were using the Avery trademark in their ad copy across multiple engines — a violation of the engines’ policies. Avery’s agency (Chacka Marketing) learned of the violations from its ad monitoring tool (disclosure: The Search Monitor, my employer) and used the advertising evidence to get Google, Bing and Yahoo to take down the ads.

With fewer competitors on their branded terms, Avery saw these very meaningful results for revenue:

  • Brand CPCs decreased by 64 percent;
  • clicks increased by 34 percent; and
  • campaign costs decreased by 51 percent.

New brand protection data

Since finishing the series in May, I found new data discussing the importance of protecting branded searches. Merkle published this data in their Q2 Digital Marketing Report, which analyzed their clients’ search activities in Paid Search, SEO and social media.

A few highlights related to the value of branded searches:

  • Brand CPCs in AdWords were higher in 2015 than any time during the previous five years.
  • The first-page minimum CPC for AdWords also jumped significantly during 2015 for branded keywords.
  • Brand CPCs on Bing and Yahoo have risen in 2016, while Google’s brand CPCs have been more steady.
  • Ad spend on Google’s branded US paid search increased by 20 percent y/y during Q2 of 2016.
  • Google’s branded CPCs on mobile devices jumped suddenly and sharply during July.

Advertisers are clearly placing more value on their branded searches, bidding up the CPCs. The Merkle data is in line with what The Search Monitor tracks on its platform. Throughout 2016, we’ve seen that the search results page has become increasingly competitive for branded searches.

Some more specific data to support this point:

  • In a 14-day review of branded ads from 100 top retailers earlier this year, The Search Monitor saw more than 2,000 ads that were not the brand-holder’s ads.
  • Roughly one-third of these ads had issues with direct linking (aka URL Hijacking).
  • For every competitor added into the mix, between 10 and 12 percent goes to another brand. It also means the cost per click (CPC) rises.
  • One Search Monitor client shared how they saw one million instances each month where someone was bidding on their branded terms, and the revenue loss from trademark infringements was in the hundreds of millions annually.

Exercise: search marketing visibility & PPC brand protection

So how should PPC marketers protect their branded searches? I’d like to share an exercise we do with our clients to reveal the extent of the problem.

  1. Calculate visibility. For each one of your branded keywords (including all iterations such as typos, URLs and products), calculate a search marketing visibility metric in PPC for you, your partners and your competitors.
  2. Evaluate partners. Identify all partners with higher visibility than yours. If you allow them to be more visible than you, congratulate them. If they are not allowed to bid on your branded terms, or if they must be less visible than you are, require that they change their ways ASAP. Show them your ad monitoring proof.
  3. Evaluate competitors. For competitors, you have two options:
    1. For competitors using your trademarks in their ad copy, contact the engines with proof and get the ads taken down.
    2. For competitors using your brand in the Display URL (allowed), find the ones with higher search visibility than yours. Increase your visibility by improving your bidding strategy (e.g., bid higher, increase daily budgets, play with bid adjustments) and increasing your Quality Score (e.g., improve ad copy, adjust your targeting, make landing pages more relevant).

This exercise should open your eyes as to how much protection your branded keywords need. If these keywords are currently locked down, don’t get too complacent. They are valuable and a target, so continue this exercise. We recommend doing this exercise at least twice per month and keeping track of historical trends.

With the exercise behind you, here are a few other recommendations for protecting your most valuable asset:

  • Know the engines’ rules for brand infringement. Some things are allowed, such as bidding on a branded term, while some aren’t. Know the distinctions.
  • Monitor activity on your branded keywords. Do this by city, country (if applicable), device type (e.g., mobile) and engine. Brand violators are sneaky about how they target your brand.
  • Automate when possible. Yes, monitoring your branded keywords can be time-consuming, so let the 1s and 0s do a lot of the work for you. As an agency client of ours with many retail clients noted: “Using an ad monitoring tool saved us a lot of time. We no longer have to do active searching, gather screen shots and file formal trademark violations within the engines.”
  • Take action on infringers. Submitting trademark violations to the engines might not be enough. Don’t be afraid to use cease-and-desist letters, as our agency client did with infringers on the Avery trademark.

Final thoughts on PPC brand protection

This article was intended for PPC marketers who feel that big revenue gains are a thing of the past and that it’s time to settle for tweaks and nudges. Nope. The data here and the previous eight articles show that your branded searches are valuable, highly sought-after by friend and foe alike and need your constant vigilance to remain profitable

Try starting your next PPC review meeting by asking, “What are we doing to protect our valuable branded keywords from competition?” And be ready with your retort: “The data shows that the best PPC offense is an unbeatable branded keyword defense.” via

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