Pay Per Click Bidding on Rivals

Rival Schools

Have you ever typed in the name of a company and noticed a lot of adverts above the results for their website? This is because their rivals are buying Pay Per Click (PPC) adverts for that search. This can be a great tactic if you’re trying to pick up new business, but a frustrating one if your business is being targeted. Let’s take a look at both how you can bid on your rivals and how you can counter it.

Piggyback PPC Success

There’s a company we know that we’ll call ACME Software. Several rival companies are bidding for Google PPC ads using the ACME Software brand name as the keyword. These are exact match campaigns that will make sure a rival’s advert appears whenever someone searches for ‘ACME Software’.

In this case, when we looked, all of the Google PPC ad spaces on ACME Software’s search engine results page (SERP) were filed with links to six different competitors. Presumably, the rivals will have done a lot of research on ACME Software and identified that they’re big players in the market. Perhaps they’ve even lost customers to ACME Software?

Nearly Free Pay Per Click Sales

At first, you may think this is terrible for ACME Software because competitors are getting free exposure (if nobody clicks) and potentially a lot of business from their name. We’re talking about six other software companies in the 3 ads at the top and 3 at the bottom of the search results page.

It’s a disaster, right? Possibly. But with every situation in marketing, there are positives and negatives. It’s important that we’re always ready to snatch that victory even if we don’t see it at first.

The positives here, are that ACME Software can be sure that they’re doing something really well in the market. We can assume that their rivals aren’t as sophisticated and feel they are missing out on market share to ACME Software. If that wasn’t the case, why would they be bidding on the ACME Software brand name?

The negative side of this is that it’s easy to panic. ACME Software might feel as though the SERP about their brand should be theirs. After spending more than a year on SEO and PR initiatives to make sure the top ten results were relevant to ACME Software and portrayed the business in a good light, they’re being hijacked.

Surely ACME Software must be losing a lot of business to their competitors? This is the first and biggest fear a company like ACME Software will have when they notice the PPC adverts. Presumably, people searching for ACME Software are either prospects at various points in the conversion funnel, or current customers accustomed to finding websites by typing the name into Google as opposed to the website address in the navigation bar. Because they’re using Google and seeing the adverts, ACME Software’s rivals are getting free exposure and disgruntled customers will know where to go.

Examples Of Pay Per Click Bidding On Rivals

Here are a few examples from the service management industry of companies bidding to appear on the SERP of industry organisations.

REFCOM PPC results
REFCOM search engine results page
IPAF PPC results
IPAF search engine results page

Marketing Actions

Let’s look at the marketing actions you can undertake from the point of view of both predator and prey. We’ll show you what you can do to get more business and exposure by disrupting your competitor’s SERP and how to react if your SERP is being invaded.

PPC Brand Name Predator

Are you looking to exploit the success of your competitors to get more exposure? More leads? More profit? One way to do that is bid on the PPC keywords they rank well for organically in the search engines but you don’t. Another tactic is to bid on their brand name.

If you’re going to do this, choose someone who is successful and has a great product, or a large customer base. That way, you know people will be searching for them. They could be in the ascendency or a market leader from whom you could take market share.

Your exact approach will depend on their position in the market. At the very least, you need to know their weaknesses and build that in to your ad text. Their weakness should be your strength. Is it price? Then be sure to mention your price. Is it customer service? Mention the best aspect of your customer service.

Wile E. Coyote

You should only bid on your competitor’s brand name if there’s a complete marketing strategy behind what you’re doing. A great reason to adopt this tactic is to get a better idea of the search volume for your competitor’s name. From the data you’ll gather, you can get an idea of how popular they are in comparison to you.

Not everyone will approve of this tactic, but it can be a very effective way to gain new customers and undertake competitor research when part of an integrated marketing plan.

PPC Brand Name Prey

First of all, don’t panic. When you’re on top, you will attract the eyes of the industry. You’re already doing things well, so make sure your website and marketing continues to be as strong as possible. Always look to make strides forward in all aspects of your business, including marketing.

Hunter Prey

If they’re bidding on your business name, they must be taking customers from you, right? Maybe, but they’re unlikely to be potential customers that have never heard of you before. People doing research about your services who found you before or current customers might put in your business name and come up with a SERP full of alternatives.

With this in mind, you might consider putting your own PPC advert up for your brand name. On one hand, it might feel good to fight back against rivals trying to cash in on your success. On the other hand, you’ll most likely be wasting money. When your customers type your name into a search engine to find you so they can use your services, if your ad appears on top, they’re going to click it and probably not realise it’s an advert.

Monitor rival PPC adverts

The best thing you can do is monitor the SERP for your brand name. Look at the PPC adverts that appear and make sure the text doesn’t slander or libel your business. If it does, you should submit a complaint to Google. You can find out more about the process for making a complaint about an unfair PPC ad here.

As you monitor rival PPC ads, take note of exactly what they say. Are they just speculative ads, or are they trying to say they provide a better service than you without calling your reputation into question? For example, is your rival saying “only £5 per month” when you sell your product for £15 per month? Are they saying they “provide enhanced customer service”? Do they know their customer service offering is better than yours?

Use the information you gain about how they pitch their company against yours and make changes if and where necessary.

Make sure you stay on top

People will want to piggy-back off your success, so the only sure fire way to combat the predation of your SERP is to make sure you continue to be successful. Your rivals will always take some of your customers, but they’re the customers that weren’t the best fit for you.

Prospects that can be tempted away from your great quality product by price alone may not be the kind of customer you need in the long run. Those kind of prospects may come running to you when they find the deficiencies in your rivals. If your customer service is lacking, then make improvements in that area.

Another important reason to stay on top of your game is because if you slip up, your customers have no shortage of vendors to start looking at for a better solution. The customers that type in your brand name to find you will be well aware of the alternatives available to them if your service isn’t what it should be.

Is Brand Name Bidding Ethical?

Our final thought on bidding for PPC ads using a rival’s brand name is on how ethical it is. There are those of the opinion that launching a leafleting campaign outside the doors of a competitor is unethical. If that’s the case, then bidding on the brand name of a competitor has to be considered in the same light because it’s the digital version.

If we hail ACME Software, do we now have to brand their competitors’ actions as a Fail? Failure to compete equally on the basis of product quality? Failure to compete with digital marketing tactics and techniques? Perhaps.

Perhaps the mere presence of adverts for a rival’s brand search term could place them in a grey area ethically. What is definitely over the line is an advert that says ‘better than ACME Software’ or ‘ACME Software offer poor customer service’.

Placing PPC adverts on a brand search term could be useful for competitor research, so while still in a grey area, could be seen as a reasonable measure when done for a reasonable amount of time.

PPC Predators

  • PPC adverts for branded search terms can be very successful
  • When you bid on a competitor, have a plan, don’t be desperate

PPC Prey

  • Don’t panic
  • See if you can understand why and improve
  • Keep marketing and getting new customers

There is both good and bad in being the PPC predator or PPC prey. Bidding for keywords on a rival’s brand name isn’t necessarily the best way to go as it concedes that their product is superior to yours and they’re a market leader whereas you’re not.

If you find others bidding on your keyword in the SERPs, you can be confident that you’re doing something right. You’re in a strong position, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to relax. You need to take steps that ensure your continued dominance.

Would you go after your rivals in this way? Maybe you’ve successfully defended your brand? Let us know what side of the fence you’re on and how things went in your campaign.