Protecting Your Trademark in PPC

You’ve worked hard to build up your brand and maintain your online reputation.  One day you do a Google vanity search on your brand name or slogan and find 3 of your competitors running PPC ads on your trademark.  Worse yet, they’re using your trademark in their ad copy.

What can you do?

Up until a week ago, you could file a Trademark Complaint with Google Adwords, prohibiting anyone but the trademark owner from using trademark terms in ad copy.  However, on June 15, Google changed their trademark policy to allow use of trademarked terms in ad copy, even if you don’t own that trademark or have explicit approval from the trademark owner to use it.

So it’s a free-for-all?

Don’t break out your old Ted Nugent albums just yet.  While this is definitely a big change, it’s not the free-for-all that some feared.  Gratuitous or irrelevant use of others’ trademarks is still prohibited, as Adwords still does not allow ads containing “competitive or critical information about the goods and services corresponding to a trademark.”  So if you find an advertiser criticizing your brand, you’ll want to file a trademark complaint with Google immediately.

What about affiliates?

Legitimate affiliates and resellers of your product are now allowed to use your trademark in their ads.  Under the old policy, the trademark owner had to grant specific permission to resellers to use their trademarks.  Now, your business may be competing with your resellers and affiliates, which could (in theory, at least) drive up your PPC bids.

If you use affiliates, now would be a good time to review your affiliate policy.  If your policy doesn’t already address the use of trademarked terms and their use in advertising, a meeting with your attorney to revise the policy is in order.  If your policy already covers this, and you don’t want affiliates bidding against you in PPC, it’s time to start enforcing your own rules.

What about resellers?

First off, it’s a good idea to spot-check the PPC ads to make sure that all the resellers actually sell your product and that clicking on the ad leads to a landing page that clearly sells (or facilitates the sale of) your product or service.  If not, you should report them to Google.

All the competing ads are legit.  Now what?

Now’s the time to make sure your PPC ads are as relevant as they can be.  Chances are good that, as the trademark owner, you already have a good Quality Score; but if not, work hard to improve it by creating tightly-relevant ad groups, bidding on relevant keywords, and ensuring that your landing page is as relevant as it can be.  (Note the “relevant” theme here!)  A high Quality Score will enable you to out-rank competing advertisers while still maintaining a relatively low cost per click.

Yes, the game has changed.  But PPC is still one of the best ways out there to generate qualified traffic and continue to enjoy great ROI on your trademarked terms.