Using PPC for Conquesting Your Competitor’s Brand Keywords

By Tad Miller | Feb 7, 2008
More Articles by Tad


Conquesting as used in the Advertising Industry, is a means to deploy an advertisement for one’s products or services adjacent to editorial content relating to the competitor or the competitors’ products.  In the online world it usually means bidding on your competitor’s “brand” keywords on a Pay Per Click Advertising platform.  Google and MSN currently allow keyword conquesting, although MSN requires a very good comparative landing page about the conquested brand or product or they will reject it.

The actual legality of conquesting is a little iffy, although American courts continue to side with Google in affirming its legality. Utah apparently has an actual law on the books apparently outlawing PPC conquesting on trademarked terms, but has yet to try and enforce it.

RIS Media states:

“In the real world conquesting has been around for years in grocery stores where like-minded products are side by side or in retail malls where cell phone booths are packed within arms reach of one another. In print media conquesting often took the form of advertisers purposely buying strip ads near larger competitive ads in an attempt to leverage the competitor’s larger ad.”

Whether these tactics are effective in the offline advertising world at driving sales to the advertiser’s actually attempting the conquesting I have no idea.  But, I think the reality of this type of advertising is that it’s as much about trying to block the competitor from making a sale as much as it is about making the sale yourself.

In PPC advertising we know that “conquesting” keywords usually have the most expensive costs per conversion and have the lowest conversion rates per click.  There are many better options that are much more efficient at driving desired conversion actions like advertising on your own brand keywords or “segment” keywords that describe your product or services.

Turning conquest keywords into actual conversions is extremely difficult.  Don’t try asking your Google or MSN representative for tips on how to do it, they are actually forbidden to discuss the whole practice.  The problems in actually succeeding in doing this are numerous:

  1. Relevance:  The searcher wasn’t looking for you when they searched for “Brand X”.  Even though Google allows you to advertise on the trademarked conquested terms, they do not allow you to actually use them in your ad copy.  Not being able to use these words in your ad copy can negatively impact your click through rate.
  2. Google Keyword and AdRank Quality Score:  Just because Google allows you to advertise on these terms doesn’t mean they want this to be a widely used practice.  Google automatically raises the minimum bid of a keyword when you bid on a trademarked keyword that you don’t own.  It then holds you to a higher standard of success for use with the keyword if you don’t own it.  If you don’t meet Google’s standards with AdRank and keyword Quality Score you will soon be paying a $5 or $10 minimum bid in a few days on those keywords.
  3. Google Landing Page Quality Score:  You’re already a little bit screwed by not being able to use the competitor keyword on your ad copy.  Google is also going to look at your landing page closely to see if that trademarked conquested keyword appears anywhere on the landing page of your ad.  If it doesn’t, you can expect the minimum bid to rise to $5.00 or $10.00.  As I mentioned before MSN will not allow conquesting unless it finds good comparative content on your landing page about the conquested keyword.  Landing these clicks on your home page will NOT work.
  4. So you need a good comparative landing page that contrasts your products or services against your competitor AND also gives the searcher a clear path to conversion.  This takes time and resources to develop and test.
  5. You can’t measure you’re competitor’s non-sale.  Conquesting may be used to show that your competitor’s product or service isn’t as good as their advertising would have you believe.  You will never have definitive proof that your conquesting prevented that sale to a competitor.  Because of the low success rate of actually converting conquesting keywords into sales for yourself, you may very well be just paying to ensure that neither of you make a sale.

So what are the solutions?

  1. Consider not doing it or quitting.  There are many more cost effective and efficient keywords that you can turn your energies to that will be much more successful than conquesting keywords.  The decision to conquest someone else’s brand is usually an “ego” decision.  “Ego” really has very little to do with successful PPC advertising.  The searchers are the ones that make the decisions, and your success metrics of searcher behavior should be making the decisions on what your strategy should be, not your desire to be competitive against the other guy.  Still not convinced?  Then keep reading.
  2. Don’t go half-ass on bidding.  If you’re going to do this, be aggressive.  Google will look the other way if your bid is high enough.  If your ad position isn’t high enough, you won’t have a high enough click through rate and Google will raise your bids anyway.
  3. Make the best landing page possible:  Use headlines that reference the keyword searched;  Be concise and don’t expect the searcher to actually read much more than two lines of text;  Searchers skim so use bullet points and big bold type to point out why you are better; Don’t bury the call to action and don’t make people scroll to find what they are looking for; and most importantly make the path to conversion on the page as big on bold as the comparison data you present.
  4. Read The Art of War:  Consider when, where, how and how long you fight your war.  The longer your conquest the more likely it is that Google will raise your minimum bids to $5.00 or $10.00 per click.  Think about the best time to attack.  Is your competitor releasing a new product that you want to conquest against?  Is their something about your competitor that is or will create a lot of web buzz?  Consider a short term (under two week attack) that will blunt their buzz, and then shut it off before your minimum bids go high and before they can react.  Spend more budget upfront with higher bids the moment this buzz creator is released to the public to max out your click through rate early with all the buzz traffic, then adjust your bids and positions down when the buzz starts wearing down.  Take note:  Most Google AdWords Quality Score actions (including minimum bid raising) seem to be based on the last two weeks worth of data.
  5. Know when to quit.  If the analytics data says that conquesting is too expensive per conversion listen to the data and not your desire to crush the competition with conquesting.  Crush them by delivering relevant ads and landing pages based on keywords relevant to who you are and what you’re selling.
  6. Realize your enemies are more than just your competitors.  Google may be providing you with the means to advertise on your competitor’s keywords, but don’t expect them to help you to do it.  Google uses Quality Score to improve relevance of paid search results, but also as a way to improve its revenues by driving up costs per click.  The whole AdWords platform is geared to raising bids for everyone advertising on a search term.  Advertising on someone else’s trademarked keywords is the most extreme example of this.

The most important thing to consider when conquesting is “What goes around, comes around”.  Your competitors can easily retaliate and conquest your keywords which will drive your bids up.

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