What to Do When Competitors Buy Your Brand Keyword

Are you using paid search to promote your brand online?

I’m sure you’ve spent a fair amount of money trying to generate more quality leads. It is undoubtedly proven that using brand keywords and your brand name is the most cost effective.

Now, imagine waking up one morning, opening your laptop, and entering your branded keyword only to find the top listings are all ads your biggest competitor has bought.

What’s worse, this invasion tactic Not Actually banned before The Google or bing.

Screenshot from, October 2021

As of June 4, 2019, Google has removed restrictions that prevented brands from bidding on a competitor’s branded keyword.

The only condition left is that your competitors cannot use your registered brand name in their advertisement.

Starting June 4, marketers in about 200 countries will be allowed to buy competing brands as keywords to start showing Sponsored Search ads on Google.

For example, Honda could offer to display one of its ads when a consumer searches for the term “Toyota”. In recent years, some companies have sued Google or the competing company, saying the practice is a form of trademark infringement.

The decision to implement the strategy more broadly indicates that Google is confident it is operating on a sound legal basis.

This means that you cannot report your competitor to Google. No rule, no complaints. Going to Google to fix such a problem is limited.

If this is acceptable in the eyes of Google, what is the remedy?

Going Basecamp Road One option:

Google Basecamp ad.Screenshot from, October 2021

Fortunately, there are some other measures you can resort to. Of course, you don’t want to lose potential customers just because they saw your competitor’s ad first.

Instead, here are four things you can do that can turn a bad situation into something good for your business.

Let’s dive into it.

1. Own your brand name

Semrush vs ahrefs ad.Screenshot of search [ahrefs]October 2021

It doesn’t always make sense to bid on your own brand keywords, but it’s a good way to protect your brand name and win back the clicks you lose when a competitor’s ads appear under your brand’s keywords.

In some cases, it takes another company buying your branded keywords to remind you that you forgot to bid on your brand name to begin with.

Your competitor likely saw that no one (including you) was bidding on your brand name, so they took advantage of the opportunity to pay a higher CPC, to pull valuable leads away from your business.

Another benefit of buying your own brand name is that you are in charge of the messaging. It gives you the opportunity to create different types of ads that you can A/B test to see which are most effective:

  • Should you include a CTA in your ad?
  • Should you include a discount or coupon code?
  • Should you tell people you offer free 2-day shipping?

When someone else buys your brand, they are not interested in posting ads that have something to do with your business. As your business may be, your USP is different.

So, just because someone buys your branded keyword doesn’t mean you have to stick with the same old version.

One of my favorite examples is below:

Bidnamic PPC Ad.Screenshot of search [Bidnamic]October 2021

In other words, it pays to control the message in such a way that it accurately positions your business when potential customers see that ad – even if a competitor is also visible.

Aside from simply bidding manually, there are a few lesser-known bidding options that will help in these specific situations:

Share target impression

Impression share targeting An automated bid strategy that will dynamically set your bids in an effort to increase the chances of your ads appearing in one of three areas of search results pages:

  1. anywhere on the results page.
  2. top of the results page.
  3. Top of the absolute results page.

Google Ads will then automatically set your bids to help achieve this goal.

Target impression share options.Screenshot from Google Ads, October 2021

Simply go to Settings > Bidding > Change bid strategy > Target impression share.

The basic settings you will need to update are:

Where do you want your ads to appear: Depending on your budget and/or the number of leads/sales you may lose out to your competition will likely determine which positioning you choose. I recommend testing the options to determine the best pick from budget to performance.

The percentage (%) of your targeted impression share: For branding terms I believe 100% should be the default entry but either way, enter the percentage of auctions you wish to outrank your competitor.

the above. Bid limit: This is the highest maximum cost-per-click (CPC) you are willing to pay. For some, brand terminology is invaluable, so the sky’s the limit. For others, while important, there are still budget constraints to keep in mind. The most important thing to remember: If your campaign is budget constrained, the strategy may not be able to achieve this specific targeting goal.

Since the strategy can take up to seven days to start producing results, we recommend waiting at least that long before making changes to the strategy settings.

Otherwise, Learning will reset and you will go back to the first day of Learning.

2. Talk to the company, and request a cease and desist

Before taking any action, it is important that you contact the competitor who bought your brand keywords and ask them to remove the ads.

In your opinion, this may be a waste of time because it is doubtful that your competitor will comply with this request.

This may be true, but you always want to give that other business the opportunity to patch things up, so that when things really do start to heat up between you two regarding competing ads, your conscience is clear that you tried to take a path.

And in some cases, your competitors may not actually be aware of your keyword bidding, especially if it was carried out by an agency that did not disclose the use of this tactic to boost search engine rankings.

In my personal experience, this simple request revealed more than once that a competitor’s agency was buying these terms without their knowledge. In other cases, display of ads was due to liberal keyword matching from Google and/or lack of negative keywords.

Although we never offer legal advice, if all diplomacy fails, sometimes the mere threat of legal action is motivation enough to get your competitor to shift their budget elsewhere.

a Cease and desist order Your lawyer is the next step here.

3. File a trademark complaint with Motors

This option is only applicable if your brand name is a trademark.

You can file a trademark complaint to prevent all advertisers from using any of your trademark keywords in their ad copy.

If you own the trademark, this is probably a smart move to weed out most forms of trademark abuse in Google Ads regardless of whether or not your trademark is currently under acquisition. To be clear, you won’t stop violations 100%, but you should reduce them significantly.

On the other hand, Bing is less forthcoming about the longevity of the trademark complaint, but it’s a smart move regardless.

You can submit this complaint to Google here and bing here.

Tips for filing a trademark complaint

Over the years I have helped dispatch a number of them on behalf of my clients. Some tips that can help speed up the process:

Submit complaints to the trademark owner’s email address

While many clients turn to their agencies to submit these complaints, I have found that sending these complaints with an email address from the trademark owner removes some of the verification follow-up needed to process the claim.

Gather all supporting documents first

Before starting the process, gather supporting documents. Depending on the size of the company, it may take some searching to get all the supporting information.

This includes:

  • The full list of trademarked terms/phrases.
  • Trademark registration number and country.
  • The name of the trademark owner.
  • Your ad account ID and name.
  • Screenshots of the infringing advertisement.
  • A list of all websites allowed to use your trademark (if any).
  • Your (or your agency’s) Bing/Google account manager.

Speaking of account managers, if you have a dedicated account manager, make sure you link them up. They should be able to help push the order through on their end which can speed up the process.

4. Bid on the contest’s brand keywords

If the above fails, you can always start bidding on their brand keywords. CPC is higher when you are bidding on another brand, but there may be some benefits that outweigh those costs.

Before you bid, research how much traffic your competitors are generating based on the branded terms they are using.

Semrush, Spyfu, and other tools are great for this. They are easy to learn and navigate. You’ll get the best results in terms of which keywords you can bid on and how much traffic to expect.

By targeting the competitor who bought your brand, you can charge a higher CPC, capture some lead volume, and potentially force them to stop bidding on your brand name, which is a good thing.

Remember that you cannot use a competitor’s brand name in any copy of your ad, so you need to be smart and creative when creating your ads.

Hint: If you engage in this effort, you will likely be crushed with low-quality results (translated in its simplest form: keyword relevance + ad copy + landing page). This makes sense because it would be a no-brainer to list your competitor’s name on your website.

Also, don’t include trademarked terms in the ad copy itself. This leaves a very low relevancy according to the Google algorithm and will result in a very high CPC compared to your average. Over time, this may prevent performance from proceeding.

A strategy we’ve found to work well in the past to at least improve the relationship between the keyword and landing page is to create a comparison table or chart on your landing page.

The example below from is one of my favorites that uses third-party input to show the benefits.

Advertising …

Monday vs base camp google ad.Screenshot of search [basecamp]October 2021

… matches the landing page well and allows the competitor’s keyword to be included naturally in the content of the landing page:

Monday vs base camp landing page.Screenshot from, October 2021

As you can see from the example above, this is especially useful for comparison phrases like “x brand” vs. “y brand”. Don’t forget to create your landing page with a strong CTA to help collect conversion!

Now, go protect your brand

Once your competitors bid on your branded keywords, you need to take immediate action so you don’t cause quality prospects to pilfer from your pipeline.

First, contact them with your complaint and see if you can resolve the issue amicably. If this is impossible, protect your brand by bidding on your branded keywords.

If all else fails, your last resort should be to bid on their keywords.

Good luck securing your brand terms!

More resources:

  • A two-step solution to combat brand squatting in PPC
  • 5 steps to a successful branding bid strategy
  • PPC 101: A Complete Guide to the Basics of PPC Marketing

Featured image: Sammby/Shutterstock

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