Just Do It™: Target Your Competitors’ Trademarks in Google Ads

by | Apr 18, 2019 | Education

With the right approach, bidding on competitors’ brand name keywords can be a very effective paid search strategy.

Some people get a bad feeling about it, but don’t fret – it’s a tried and true strategy that can be a very good thing for customers. Here are the ins and outs of a competitor ad campaign.

7 Qs for Bringing Media In-House Q 3

Is Bidding on Competitor’s Brand Names Even Allowed?


Both Google and Bing have no problem with advertisers bidding on brand name keywords. Where you can start running into problems is when you use a trademarked term in ad copy. 

If not approved completely, ads that include trademarks in the ad copy may be “approved – limited.” They could also be disapproved altogether, but that only happens after the trademark owner has gone through specific steps with Google or Bing to file a complaint.

Your Title Goes Here
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.
Newbie Note
A very important distinction for those new to paid search:

Ad Copy: what your ad says.

Keyword: the search term you bid on (doesn’t necessarily show up in ad copy).

So your ad could say: “Llarry’s Llamas | Purveyors of Premier Plushies”

And you could bid on the keyword “beanie baby alternative.” So your ad will show up when the user searches “beanie baby alternative” even though the ad doesn’t specifically use that phrase.

One interesting loophole is that Google will not enforce trademarks in the display URL – so you could still add relevance that way. For instance, your display URL could say llarrysllamas.com/better-than/beanie-baby.

 Even if a trademark hasn’t been filed with Google for such complaints, you may still run up against legal challenges (the real law, not Google law).

It’s common for digital media teams to receive cease-and-desist emails. The key is to quickly and apologetically change course to non-branded ad copy on the first warning. It’s still fair game to bid on the trademarked term, it just needs to be with non-branded ad copy.

7 Qs for Bringing Media In-House Q 3

Why Bidding on Competitor’s Brand Names Works

Half the battle in paid search is getting in front of the right audience. This can be difficult because there is often a wide range of search intent (i.e., what the user wants out of the search).

Most industries can be broken down into many different segments and niches, each with their own unique customer profile. Getting in front of the right audience can be especially challenging when different audiences share the same or similar keywords.

The point is, people are complicated. Even if you have what seems like the perfect keyword, it could overlap with a completely different search intent, putting you in front of the wrong audience.

We can infer a lot about a person just from their interest in a competitor. The beautiful thing is that:

Someone researching your direct competitor is pre-qualified as a potential customer.

Consider a search like “tax software.” Is that personal or business tax? Small business or enterprise?

Say you and a competitor are targeting the same subset (“small business tax software”) of a broader audience (“tax software”). You can find the right people by targeting that competitor’s brand name (“[competitor] business tax software”).

And (to help you sleep at night) bidding on competitor’s brands will help people make more informed choices by offering alternatives that they may not be aware of.

7 Qs for Bringing Media In-House Q 3

How to Run an Effective Competitor Campaign

Competing for a competitor’s brand name is a bit of an uphill battle. The key is targeting prospective customers, rather than existing ones.

  1. Focus on terms that imply that the person is in the research phase of the buying cycle. Terms like “alternative,” “pricing” or “reviews” are a few of our favorites.


  2. Avoid navigational searches like “competitorsite.com” and searches where it’s clearly an existing customer, like “competitor tutorial” or “competitor phone number.”


  3. Use the competitor trademark in your ad copy if you can. Be sure to use language like “try” or “compare” in your ad copy to show that this is a relevant alternative.

Ideally, your landing page can help fill the gaps in people’s research. Your page should highlight what sets you apart and would even (in a perfect world) offer a side-by-side comparison. In reality, that’s often not possible for a variety of reasons.

In addition to direct competitors, you might also consider targeting peripheral brands. For example, complementary products or add-ons.

7 Qs for Bringing Media In-House Q 3

What to Watch Out For

There are a few big cautions to bidding on competitor’s brands:

  1. You’ll always lose in a bidding war, so don’t even try. If a competitor is actively protecting their brand, be happy with position #2. Don’t let things escalate out of your budget.

2. Don’t try to trick people into thinking your site is your competitors’ site. Especially if you decide to go for broader keywords that aren’t “research-oriented.” Go for position #2 or lower to reduce inadvertent clicks looking for the brand. Make it clear that you are an alternative. 

3. Be careful when poking the bear. If competitors aren’t already active in paid search, you could make things more costly for yourself in the long run by forcing them to get into the game. This could prove true for both branded and non-branded paid search campaigns. 

4. Bidding on competitors’ brands doesn’t always work. It can depend a lot on the industry and your competitive positioning in the market. So, keep a close eye on your return on ad spend (ROAS) as you test the strategy across different competitors.

7 Qs for Bringing Media In-House Q 3

How to Protect Your Own Brand

You should already be bidding on your own brand and trademarked terms. This has four advantages:

1. Ensures you maximize branded, highly-converting, bottom-funnel traffic. 

2. Pushes down unfavorable organic results (competitor’s pages, negative reviews, etc.). 

3. Lets you control the message – more so than with organic results (think promos, CTAs, etc.). 

4. Drives up costs for competitors who want to bid on your brand.

Monitor your branded terms to understand who (and how) others are piggybacking on your brand. One way to do this is using the Auction Insights reports.

If you find someone using your trademark in ad copy, you can file a complaint using Google and Bing’s online forms. Be prepared to provide documentation to support your trademark (registration, for example).

In the complaint, you can deny specific advertisers, or all advertisers. In some cases, ads may still be served where an advertiser is a reseller or an informational site. You can also provide specific exceptions to allow use for partner sites, for example.


A competitor-targeting strategy should be part of your toolbox. If you haven’t yet tested a competitor campaign, Just Do It™! If you need a helping hand to get started, schedule a demo or subscribe below.

Related Articles

The Basics of Digital Advertising KPIs

Table of Contents AWARENESS ENGAGEMENT CONVERSION Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are guideposts for your digital advertising campaigns. They are metrics that are used to quantify progress...

What Is RTB?

Table of Contents 1. Buying & Selling Impressions 2. Role of Ad Exchanges 3. RTB vs Prog. 4. Auction Types 5. Impact of RTBIn simplest terms, real-time bidding (RTB) is the automated process of...

VIEW ALL Education resources

Subscribe to the Impressions Newsletter.

Get the latest news, tips and best practices delivered to your inbox. 

LumenAd logo      © Copyright LumenAd 2020
111 North Higgins Avenue, Missoula, MT 59802  |  406.552.1022