Should I Buy My Brand Terms?

During the several years that I have been working in paid search, the question that nearly always comes up, and that splits opinions like no other in the paid search world is “should I buy my brand terms?”

The very fact that it comes up so regularly and splits so many opinions speaks volumes for the complexity of the answer. There is no “one size fits all” model. The decision that you and your SEM agency arrive at will depend on your PPC budget, your business goals, your commercials, the SEM maturity of your industry and what your direct competitors are doing in this space.

With that in mind, it seems logical to split my thoughts on the subject into 3 blog posts:

  1. The main benefits of buying your brand terms
  2. The main negatives of buying your brand terms
  3. 3 different brand term strategies, and how to work out which best fits your business.

A couple of things to think about:

  1. I believe there to be a separate argument for Core Brand terms (i.e. the brand name on its own, for example ThoughtShift) and Branded Terms (i.e. the brand name + generic keyword(s) for example ThoughtShift PPC), and as such I will refer to them separately throughout.
  2. If you imagine you own a bricks and mortar store and there was advertising available via a 3rd party on your shop window, would you buy that advertising or let your competitors buy it and be able to advertise on your own shop window?

The main benefits of buying your brand terms

First of all I will delve into some of the benefits of buying your core brand terms. Tassimo do not buy their core brand term Tassimo and from the screenshot below you can see that Amazon is. In fact if you search for yourself in Google you will notice other advertisers apart from Amazon are appearing on the right hand side of the search results.

Tassimo

Benefit #1: Dominating the SERP for your core brand term

The most obvious benefit of buying your brand terms then is that you can guarantee the top result being your own brand as the screenshot for the search query HP below illustrates. Google’s Quality Score algorithm actually enables brands to dominate their own brand terms in the Google SERPs as the Quality Score differential is so high between your brand and your competitors that your brand will nearly always show in position 1 and have a very low CPC.

HP

The secondary causal effect of buying your core brand term, is that you are eligible for enhanced site links (more on this below), which when combined with the expanded organic listing and the Google Knowledge Graph result, allows very little room for a competitors PPC ad to make an impression on the searcher even if they were to be bidding on your brand term. In the HP example above, the best a competitor could hope for in terms of position would be to be sandwiched between the HP PPC ad and the organic listing or more than likely below the Google Knowledge graph box on the right hand side.

It’s also not uncommon for the second and third organic listing for your core brand term to be a Wikipedia or Facebook link, and the third, less obvious benefit of buying your core brand term then is that these 3rd party links get pushed ever further below the fold driving more traffic directly to your website.

Benefit #2: Tailoring your brand messaging

Google introduced enhanced site links (the description lines below the blue site link text) a few years ago which, although they have never been worded as such, are an ad extension only really available on brand or branded terms to increase the PPC retail space. They allows advertisers a huge PPC space on their core brand terms to promote seasonal sale and short-term deals which would not necessarily show in the SERPs organically due to organic site links being based upon popularity of pages. STA Travel are a good example of this tactic.

STA Travel

The enhanced site links can also be useful in another way: Going back to Tassimo, I’ve now highlighted (with red boxes) some of organic site links which to me look undesirable to the Webmaster (see screenshot below): A) There is a link straight to an empty shopping basket page and b) there are 2 untidy site link descriptions due to un-optimized meta-description tags on those pages.

Tassimo 2

Analogising to a bricks and mortar store, I always feel that un-optimized organic listings is akin to not cleaning your windows or re-doing the painting on your shop front. It doesn’t give off a very professional look and having a PPC ad at the top would at the very least push these issues further down the page until the SEO parts were optimised.

Benefit #3: Dominating your Branded terms.

The same benefits do apply when buying your branded terms however there is a lot more going on with these terms compared with core brand terms. Using the keyword Tassimo Joy Coffee Machine as an example, the search query suggests that the user is only interested in Tassimo coffee machines (given the insertion of Tassimo in the query), however advertisers who are buying a broad or phrase match of the generic keyword in the search query, in this particular example “coffee machines” or +coffee +machines, will also appear in the SERP.

Incidentally, the reason I split up core brand and branded terms is because there is a possibility that no-one will be buying your core brand term, but advertisers may be appearing on your branded terms and a different strategy may work best for each case.

Getting back to the point: There is therefore a loss of SERP dominance on a branded search query as a) there are more paid competitors in the auction and b) your organic listing is much smaller. You can see that Tassimo takes up very little of the total pixels available above the fold considering that it is a search query containing their brand term.

Uploader

As with core brand terms, your Quality Score on branded terms should be much higher compared with other competitors, so appearing in position one should be possible for a reasonably low CPC, the additional benefit of a high Quality Score is showing the majority of your ad extensions as per on your core brand terms. The result? A significant increase in your SERP dominance as the below screenshot of a search for the keyword [hp laptops]:

HP

HP takes up at least 3 times the number of pixels available above the fold and therefore HP are much less likely to leak clicks to their competitors than Tassimo for a branded search query.

There are obvious caveats and special cases that I will touch on in more detail in part 3 of this blog however buying branded terms is obviously more critical if your brand is a reseller rather than the owner of the product as the resellers will not get a commission of someone else selling someone else’s product.

Summary

Buying your brand and branded terms can be put under one umbrella benefit of “Brand Protection”. Doing so, maximises the possible number of clicks you can get to your website when users are searching for your brand, which in turn will maximise your business goals. It also ensures that in the long-term when users search for your brand, they stay associated with your brand and a reseller of your products.

The benefits then, equate to the same logic as with buying advertising on your own shop window to prevent your competitors from doing so.

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