How to Use Brand PPC to Your Advantage

A range of soft drink cans bearing logos in Thai script

When creating your PPC campaign, keywords are… well, key. It can be easy to neglect brand PPC keywords—but you do so at your own peril.

This guide will show you how brand PPC can be an important piece of the marketing puzzle. We’ll give you tips on how to dominate SERPs for your own brand and steal a march on your competitors. Let’s go!

Branded keywords: the basics

Not sure where to start with brand PPC? We’ll start off with the basics to help you get up to speed.

Brand PPC involves bidding on keywords including a brand name. So, if you ran a restaurant called Pizza Planet, then you’d be bidding on “pizza planet”. Variants, such as “pizza planet restaurant” or “pizza planet southampton” would also fall under this umbrella.

Another strand of brand PPC, meanwhile, involves moving in on your competitors’ turf by bidding on their branded keywords. Essentially, this means paying Google to appear when someone searches for your rival. We’ll now explain the benefits of each approach.

Bidding on your own brand

Let’s start out with the first type of brand PPC: bidding on your own branded keywords. This means that, when someone searches for your name, you’ll appear as a paid result at the top of your SERP. You can see an example of what this looks like below.

A Google SERP showing paid and organic results, as well as a knowledge graph, relating to the keyword "apple"

“Hang on,” we hear you cry. “If you’re already appearing in organic results, why bother paying for ads?” It’s a good question, and it’s true that it might seem counterintuitive at first. However, there are plenty of good reasons to bid on your own brand.

① You might not yet appear at #1

If your brand has a relatively unique name, then bagging a #1 slot in organic traffic might be a cinch. On the other hand, you might find it a bit of a struggle to break through. Perhaps your brand’s name is used in lots of other contexts, or you’re just too new to have made an impact yet. Either way, bidding on your brand can help you to rise to the top before you’ve managed to get things done organically. Though a good organic strategy is vital to your long-term success, it can be hugely beneficial to see some instant results via brand PPC.

② Grab more space for yourself

Let’s say you have already nabbed that top spot in organic results. Does this mean that you should avoid bidding on branded keywords? Nope! Think about it this way: if you’re appearing organically, you’ll feature once on a SERP. Even if that one listing is right at the top, there’s still plenty of scope for searchers to choose another listing. Why not increase the chances they’ll click on you by appearing more than once on the page? Extra real estate is no bad thing!

③ Bidding is usually cheap

The world of PPC can be expensive, and bidding on competitive keywords can set you back a pretty penny. Branded keywords, however, typically go for much lower bids than their non-branded equivalent. As an added bonus, users searching for this are likely already familiar with your brand to at least some extent, so your click-through rates should be higher as a result, as will your quality scores. Talk about a win-win!

④ Hone your message

If you’ve ever taken a look at a SERP, you’ll notice that the copy used doesn’t always match the meta description. Sometimes, Google will instead substitute another fragment of text from the page, or add in extra content that you weren’t expecting. Even the biggest brands can end up with copy that gets cut off…

The first result of a Google SERP for the keyword "google"

This doesn’t happen when you use ads. So, if you’re keen on trying out a particular message, the best way to test its effectiveness is to use it in an ad. It’s also the best choice if you’re running a specific promotion that you want to highlight straight away.

⑤ If you don’t, your competitors will

Resting on your laurels because you’re already at #1 in organic results? Beware, padawan. If you’re not bidding on your own brand keywords, then you could be leaving an open goal for your competitors to swoop in and steal your traffic. What’s more, they could already have crafted targeted messaging aiming at your customers, just waiting for a moment to strike. By bidding on your own brand, you boost the chances that anyone searching for your brand will actually click on your site.

That’s not the only way that you can fend off other businesses, though. It’s time to take a step into the world of competitor brand bidding…

Bidding on competitors’ brand keywords

A greyscale image of a chessboardImage source: Felix Mittermeier via Unsplash

As we’ve touched on, it’s possible to bid not only on your own branded keywords, but also those of your competitors. Let’s go back to the pizza restaurant example we used earlier. You’re already bidding on those “pizza planet” keywords—but what if you wanted a slice of your competitor’s pie as well? It might be time to start bidding on their keywords as well.

A word of warning, though. Bidding on your competitors’ branded keywords can bring advantages—but it can also come with its share of issues. We’ll go through the pros and cons of competitor brand PPC so that you can figure out the best path forward.

Pro: If you’re a lesser-known brand, you can get your name out there

If you’re struggling in the awareness stakes, then the chances are that customers aren’t going to be searching for your brand just yet. Perhaps, though, there’s a competitor in the market whose customers would love your product—if only they knew who you were. Competitor bidding can help you to achieve just that. By leveraging brand PPC in this way, you can find searchers who aren’t familiar with your brand, but who are likely to click on your ads.

Con: Your competitor’s customers might not be interested

The flip side of the above point is that not all competitors are a good fit for your business. Going back to our earlier pizza example, a business selling takeaway pizza may have little overlap with one offering a traditional restaurant experience—not to mention one selling pizza to cook at home. Unless you can verify that your competitors attract a similar audience to your target, it may not be worth it. Even then, you need to be able to demonstrate that your offering is better—not just comparable!

Pro: A great ad can encourage customers to switch

Most of us in the PPC world are familiar with Samsung’s awesome ad for the S6, which appeared when a user would search for the rival iPhone 6S. What you might not know is that this boosted impression share by 85%, while CTR increased by a stunning 1,314%. The lesson here is that competitor bidding gives you the opportunity to try out some creative messaging to win over wavering users. It seems a little sass really can go a long way.

Con: The wrong kind of ad could leave you in legal hot water

This is a point that we hope we don’t have to make clear, but we’re going to put it in here just in case. If you’re bidding on a competitor’s keywords, you must make it totally clear that you are a third party. Let’s say that our Pizza Planet restaurant has a rival called Dough Business. Mentioning their brand name in your ads will almost definitely go against Google’s ad policies, and could land you with penalties for trademark infringement. For the same reason, avoid using any ads including dynamic keyword insertion when bidding here.

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Pro: Getting in early means you can outmanoeuvre your competitors

Let’s say that your competitors haven’t started any kind of brand bidding yet—not on your keywords, and not on theirs. This means that the terrain is right for you to make the most of competitor bidding. It’s likely to be very inexpensive to bid at this stage, and you can claim a position ahead of the #1 organic result. This means that the eyeballs are all on you.

Con: Quality scores are likely to be low

Google ranks every ad using a quality score, taking into account factors such as how relevant your ad is to the keyword searched for. And let’s face it: as a competitor, you simply aren’t going to be as relevant to the search query as the business the user is actually looking for. Lower quality scores typically mean that your cost per click will be higher, so this can end up proving pricey.

Pro: Show that you’re standing your ground

In the event that your competitors are already bidding on your branded keywords, then it can sometimes be worth taking reciprocal action. By showing that you’re not prepared to back down, they may decide that it’s not worth the hassle and back off. Of course, this can be a risky strategy, given that…

Con: You risk getting into a bidding war

This is one of the biggest cons of competitor brand PPC. If both of you are bidding on each other’s terms, you could end up forcing CPC up dramatically for both of you. This could prove extremely costly, and, with both of you stealing some of the other’s customers, you’re unlikely to see an increase in sales to show for it. To make matters worse, the rival business could take particular exception to you and go after you even more than ever before. The only winner here is the Google Ads team!

How to do brand PPC the right way

It can be easy to get bogged down in what your competitors are doing when it comes to PPC. However, it’s important to focus on what you can change: your own campaign. Here are some top tips to help you do brand PPC the right way:

  1. Follow the data. Use your money where it’s most effective, following insights from Ad Manager. This can allow you to be visible to the customers who are most valuable to you.
  2. Understand what your customers are searching for. Even similar queries can spring from very different intent. The content of your ad should be informed by what your users want. See what works best for that specific user type and leverage your buyer personas.
  3. Match your ads to user intent. Is your customer looking for reviews? Get your star rating in the ad. Are they looking for store locations? Make that your landing page. Optimise for intent for best results.
  4. Remember that intent is different on mobile. A branded search here is more likely a customer looking for a store location rather than an informational search.
  5. Expertise is key. Getting your PPC campaign right will take both time and knowledge. Calling in a PPC expert can revolutionise your performance.

We’re here to help with your digital marketing needs. Check back regularly for more PPC tips, or contact us for personalised advice!