SEO – 2017 SEM growth hacks: Monster growth from brand protection

SEO - 2017 SEM growth hacks: Monster growth from brand protection

Today’s article presents one of the more powerful search growth attack strategies for 2017: PPC (pay per click) brand protection.

This article is the first in my eight-part series presenting SEM marketers with the most effective growth hacks for 2017.

As CEO of the ad monitoring company, The Search Monitor, I see the ads, campaign strategies and performance results from agency and brand clients. In this series, I will use this data to present the best growth hacks for 2017.

Why does brand protection matter?

An ongoing and serious problem threatening your SEM revenue is competition from affiliates and competitors bidding on your valuable, high-converting branded keywords. The result of the increased number of advertisers competing against you is obvious: higher CPCs (costs per click), lower clicks and a lower click-through rate (CTR). We estimate that each competitor with ads running on your brand or brand-plus keyword terms costs you a 10 percent loss in clicks and a 20 percent increase in CPC.

If we flip brand bidding around from a problem to a solution, you can turn competitive brand bidding into a monster growth opportunity for your SEM team. To illustrate this point, consider two case studies where creative growth hacks were used by two of our clients:

  1. Travel industry client. One of our clients, a well-known travel brand, shared that they were able to capture 66 percent more clicks by reducing the number of competitors on their branded keywords.
  2. Office supplies industry client. This joint case study from Avery Office Supplies, produced by their agency, Chacka Marketing,  shows how Avery was able to dramatically improve their SEM metrics, ultimately reducing their campaign costs by 51 percent .

If you need even more data on the value of brand and brand-plus keywords, check out my past Search Engine Land article here. Now, let’s discuss what to do.

Brand protection growth hack #1: Enhance your list of branded keywords

Expand your branded keyword list to include brand plus keyword variations. To do this, combine your brand name with common search term endings, such as:

  • brand + product name (“Royal Caribbean cruises”).
  • brand + review (“Royal Caribbean review”).
  • brand + discount (“Royal Caribbean discount”).
  • brand + sale (“Royal Caribbean sale”).
  • brand long tail (“last-minute Royal Caribbean Mexico cruise”).
  • brand + website (“www.royalcaribbean,” “” or “royalcaribbean website”).

Brand protection growth hack #2: Team up with partners & affiliates

Coordinate PPC efforts with partners and affiliates to dominate as much of the results page as possible.  You will advertise on your brand terms, and then your partners will fill up the remaining top spots with “friendly” ads.

Here’s the growth hack:

  1. Identify a small list of trusted affiliates and give them permission to brand bid while prohibiting your other partners from doing so.
  2. Work with these affiliates to improve their ad copy and landing pages so that they have the highest likelihood of converting on your branded searches. Nothing’s worse than handing clicks to a partner only to see them lose the conversion from a poorly planned ad and landing page.
  3. Monitor your brand terms to ensure that rank is adhered to and that rogue affiliates are not brand bidding ahead of your allowed affiliates.

Brand protection growth hack #3: Knock out competitors with search engine complaints

Remove as many competitors as you can by letting the search engines do the work for you.

My growth hack has two parts:

  1. Search engine take-downs. Competitive advertisers are not allowed to use your brand in their ad copy. If you discover your brand name appearing in another advertiser’s ad copy, you have a clear path forward. Send proof of the violation (screen shot, date/time and so forth) to the right contact at the engines. The search engines will do a permanent take-down and remove all ads infringing on your brand terms from these competitors very quickly.
  2. Editorial complaint. Competitive advertisers can use your brand in display URLs and can bid on your brand terms — but their Quality Scores will suffer if the landing page content is not relevant. You can file an editorial complaint with the search engines to force the ads in question to undergo an editorial review. A poor editorial review will result in a lower Quality Score and higher CPCs for your competitor(s). The result should make a big dent in the competitor’s PPC performance, discouraging them from continuing to brand bid. This hack is most effective if the landing page content is not relevant to the ad copy. Two good examples are: (1) the competitor is using your brand in its display URL but makes no mention of you on the landing page; and (2) the ad copy is not relevant or does not match the content on the landing page.

Brand protection growth hack #4: Piggyback on others’ brands

This last growth hack flips Hack #3 around and turns you into the brand bidder to let you take advantage of brand bidding yourself.  As I mentioned, the search engines allow you to brand bid (provided you do not use the brand in your ad copy) and to use competitors’ brands in your display URL.

The key is to make sure that your landing page content is relevant to the promises made in your ad.  The best strategies are as follows:

  1. Product comparison page. Build a product comparison page that showcases why your product is better than the competition. Link your brand bidding ads to this page and utilize your competitor’s brand in the display URL (e.g., Be sure that your product comparison page is factual and honest and does not portray your competitor in a false light.
  2. Relevant content. Make sure that the promises in your ad copy are reflected by the content on the landing page so that your content is relevant. This will ensure a good quality score.

Here are a couple of examples from the past year showing this tactic.

Chevy vs. Ford

Search Term:  Ford Fusion
Brand Bidder:
Brand is in the display URL

Ford vs. chevy brand bidding - cropped

Marketo vs. Pardot

Search Term:  Pardot
Brand Bidder:
Brand is in the display URL

Marketo outranking Pardot for branded search -cropped

Final thoughts on brand protection

While the word “protection” can signify a defensive approach, PPC brand protection is actually a crucial part of your revenue growth attack strategy. This article discussed the value of these keywords, how to protect them using partners, how to defend them from competitors and how to smartly run ads on your competitors’ own branded searches.

Now that your brand protection strategy is set, watch for my next growth hack article for tips on measuring and optimizing your PPC market share. Stay tuned!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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