By James Howard

PPC brand bidding is a great way to protect your highest value search terms and manage your messaging on the search engine results page (SERP), but in some circumstances it can prove a costly exercise. In this blog, we take a look at how to deal with this situation and make the most of your paid search budget.

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Bidding on your own brand terms isn’t always simple. For many advertisers, brand campaigns provide high conversion rates at rock bottom CPCs, but this isn’t the case for everyone. When you’re faced with expensive brand terms, the first thing to do is to understand why they're so expensive. Brand queries usually signify high intent users, which means high clickthrough rates (CTR); in fact, it’s not uncommon to see CTRs over 50% for some of our clients. This high CTR usually means a strong quality score of 9+, which in turn means cheap costs per click (CPC). This holy grail of high CTR & low CPC means that, in an ideal scenario, protecting your brand queries with PPC is a highly efficient strategy which uses only a small proportion of your overall PPC budget.

My cost per click is too high

If this isn’t the case, look at your CPCs - are they high? How do they compare to your non-brand CPCs? Have they been trending upwards in recent months? If so, this could be down to one of two things: poor ad relevance or competitor activity.

Example of a keyword with above average quality score attributes.

Ad Relevance

When calculating Quality Score, one of the signals Google looks at is ad relevance, i.e. how relevant the ad copy is to the user’s search query. Brand ads should enjoy an above average ad relevance in almost all cases (you can check by hovering over the “status” attribute of a brand keyword in AdWords), but this isn’t a given. Make sure your ad references your brand name, ideally in the headline - you’d be surprised how often advertisers will run a brand ad that makes no mention of the brand! Doing this should be a quick win, boosting your quality score and improving CPCs.

Competitor Activity

You may find that a competitor has started aggressively bidding on your brand terms, and this will in turn push up the CPC you need to pay to maintain position 1. To find out if this is happening, use the Auction Insights feature within AdWords. Downloading a report with a weekly segment and plotting impression share in Excel can give you a clear indication of whether any competitor has committed to going after your brand traffic recently. A high impression share and ad position signifies a competitor keen on eating into your brand share of voice.

Once identified, there are several ways to deal with the competitor. First, check that they’re not using your exact brand term in their ad copy if you have it trademarked. If they are, you can lodge a complaint with Google and have the ad disapproved. If this isn’t the case, it’s often best to reach out to the competitor and arrive at a “gentlemen’s agreement”, as it were. You’d be surprised at the number of brand bidding wars we’ve seen settled by the two sides simply agreeing not to bid on each other’s brand terms. Competitor bidding is notoriously hard to get right: CPCs are typically high and conversion rates lower than other non-brand keywords, so competitors will often jump at the chance to call a truce. Under no circumstances should you try to incite a bidding war by bidding aggressively on their brand terms - this just pushes up each other’s CPCs with little to no increase in conversions!

My budget can’t cover all of my brand traffic

Retailer Next bids on “next dresses”, but not on [next] in exact match.

Retailer Next bids on “next dresses”, but not on [next] in exact match.

Even if your CPCs aren’t sky high, it may still be that you have too much traffic to cover with your budget. This sometimes occurs with advertisers who have recently started doing large scale above the line (ATL) campaigns, such as TV advertising, without updating their PPC budget to reflect this new marketing activity. There is a strong case for requesting additional budget for PPC here, given the importance of protecting brand traffic, but if we imagine that this isn’t possible, how should you proceed?

In these cases, look at your search query reports - are you matching to any queries that you don’t need to bid on? For instance, it probably isn’t worth ACME Corporation bidding on “acme corporation login”, as someone looking to login is already a customer, hence “login” can be added as a negative keyword. Likewise, may not want to pay to appear on brand queries with negative sentiment (unless part of a reputation management strategy). By cutting out irrelevant segments of traffic, you focus your budget on the most important queries, making your budget stretch further.

High traffic volumes can also be an issue for advertisers whose brand is also a very common word in the English language, where users use your brand term in a non-related query. For example, the UK retailer “Next” would pick up a lot of irrelevant searches if they bid on “next” in phrase match. Once again, the key is to make sure you’re traffic is relevant. Advertisers like this should steer clear of bidding on “next” in phrase match (unless using RLSAs), and ensure good coverage of “next + product” keywords, e.g. “next trousers”, “next dresses” terms. Bidding on [next] in exact match may also work, as it’s unusually for someone to search for a single word like this without meaning the brand. Common sense and relevant keyword choice is the key with such advertisers.

But I still can’t afford to bid on my brand traffic!

Sometimes doing all of the above still isn’t enough. If you’ve exhausted all other avenues to maintain your brand coverage, then you really can’t afford to bid on your own brand terms. But fear not, this need not be a black and white, on-off situation. Thanks to the multitude of non-keyword targeting options available in AdWords today, you can take a segmented approach and only bid on brand terms for your most valuable traffic.

Running a large scale TV campaign? You could run brand only on mobiles for new users, to ensure you’re not losing any second screen searches off the back of your TV ad to competitors. Perhaps your product is a considered purchase? Then try bidding on brand for returning users only, to capture them as they return further down the research funnel, preventing them from diverting their attention to an opportunistic competitor.

Maybe you run a car dealership which drives all sales offline through various physical locations, in which case you could use radius targeting to limit your brand ads to the vicinity of these showrooms. Or perhaps you’ve identified that the majority of your sales occur at a particular time of day, leading you to use ad scheduling to limit your brand visibility to those hours.

The exact approach in these situations is unique to each advertiser and will depend on their marketing objectives, other activity and customer lifecycle. The key here is to identify your “must-have” audience segments and work out how to target these users on your brand terms. This approach focusses your stretched PPC budget on the most important areas.

It’s important to bear in mind that bidding on brand only for certain audience segments shouldn’t be a long term solution, but a way to efficiently manage the situation while looking to resolve the underlying problem, be it competitor bidding, ad relevance or another issue. Brand traffic is worth protecting - not appearing can make it much more appealing for competitors to bid on, as their CPCs will be lower with less competition, so don’t make it easy for them to lure away your most valuable customers!

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