Why Should I Buy My Brand Keywords?

In Part 1 of our 3-part series on brand search strategy, we examined the legal ramifications of competitor keyword bidding and the cases that have shaped the discussion around the controversial practice.

That brings us to Part 2, where we’ll be looking at the viability of pausing branded paid search campaigns.

Every few years, SEM experts and brand marketing teams circle back to an ongoing argument, or perhaps more accurately, an experiment. The experiment goes like this:

If my company stopped bidding on branded keywords as part of our PPC campaigns, could we maintain traffic and conversions while saving money?

It’s not a bad idea; the logic is sound. Why bid on a branded keyword when:

  • A branded search is likely to return your company’s site and/or products?
  • Users searching for a specific brand are likely to purchase from that brand?

Those questions are fair, but are we getting the entire story? Can businesses simply rely on organic search to carry the day? Let’s take a look at the relationship between bidding, or not bidding, on branded terms and overall search performance.

Google Tests Pausing All Paid Spend

The idea behind not bidding on branded keywords is that searchers will click on the organic listing because it’s likely to be toward the top of the search results, and the searcher is set on buying a product from a specific brand.

Google has been fielding questions about a no-bid strategy dating back to at least 2011. That’s when it released its “Search Ads Pause Studies,” a combination of more than 400 studies on accounts that paused bidding on branded terms.

Google researchers took their findings and built a statistical model to estimate the “percentage of paid clicks that are not made up for by organic clicks when search ads are paused.”

The results? On average, 89% of the traffic driven by search ads was not replaced by organic clicks when ads were paused.

Google followed up the 2011 study with another study the following year. The follow-up study used similar methods to the 2011 study, including pausing search ad spend. The study returned similar results. On average, 85% of traffic was lost and not recovered by organic clicks.

The 2012 study did expand on the 2011 study in a few ways. First, it tested decreasing ad spend, but not eliminating spend altogether. In this case, 80% of traffic was lost and not recovered by organic clicks.

Second, it tested increasing search ad spend from zero. This strategy increased clicks by an average of 79% compared to clicks from just organic search.

Lastly, Google tested increasing search ad spend from a non-zero base. This resulted in a 78% increase in average gained clicks.

Google’s final conclusion:

“Our findings are consistent across the board: ads drive a very high proportion of incremental traffic — traffic that’s not replaced by navigation from organic listings when ads are turned off or down.”

That conclusion, however, hasn’t stopped paid search marketers from tinkering with the idea of eliminating paid ad spend. After all, the search environment has changed drastically since 2012, and the best marketers are always testing to find the most innovative strategies.

Still, one test after another has come back with the same conclusion: not bidding on your branded keywords dramatically decreases overall traffic, conversions, and lead volume while failing to significantly replace that performance with an increase in organic performance.

Other Reasons to Protect Your Brand Terms

Every search query has multiple variables at play. These variables combine to return a search environment that has a substantial effect on the user’s behavior. When a brand forfeits its ability to control those variables on its own brand terms, it forfeits its ability to influence a customer that’s likely near the point of conversion.

When a company protects its brand terms, on the other hand, it creates a search environment that’s heavily weighted toward its success. So what variables can you control when you decide to protect your brand terms?

SERP Real Estate

Every branded search is an opportunity for your company to put its best foot forward. That starts with taking control of the search engine results page (SERP) for searches that include your brand. Every SERP offers a finite amount of space, what is sometimes referred to as real estate. Brands that own as much SERP real estate as possible give themselves the best chance to capture traffic and business.

Google’s SERPs are no longer just organic results and paid ads. They have evolved to include a variety of features, including knowledge panels, rich snippets, the local pack, site links, answer boxes, and more. These features populate depending on the context of the search and the information made available to Google.

To truly own your brand SERP, you must do your best to take advantage of all of these features. That means optimizing your site structure and other technical elements, populating your Google My Business profile with basic business information, and creating content that Google deems valuable. It also means bidding on your brand keywords to secure SERP real estate in the form of paid ads. These are especially valuable because they appear at the top of the SERP.

If you’re unable to secure the majority of your brand’s SERP, Google will be happy to fill in the gaps. That could lead to Google returning unfavorable reviews, news, or even ads for your competition on searches for your brand. Don’t leave it up to Google or your competition.

Customized Ad Copy

If you’re relying solely on organic search to capture traffic, it’s likely you’re sacrificing conversion-focused ad copy in favor of the generic brand copy that secures a high organic ranking on your branded SERP. That’s completely understandable if your strategy doesn’t include paid ads. But if the goal is strictly creating a SERP environment most favorable to your brand, the messaging capabilities of Google Ads offers you the most direct route to accomplishing that goal.

Every paid text ad includes a headline, description, and display URL text. Advertisers can customize the copy included in each text category. Three sub-headlines of 30 characters each make up the headline text, two descriptions of 90 characters make up the descriptions text, and two path fields in addition to the final URL make up the display URL text. These options give brands the opportunity to control messaging and direct potential customers to a conversion-optimized landing page.

Thwart Competition Invasion 

If you choose not to bid on your brand keywords, it’s likely someone else will. That someone is often your direct competition. As discussed in Part 1 of our series, it is an acceptable practice, under Google’s guidelines and most legal standards, to bid on competitor’s branded terms.

If your competitor outbids you on your branded keywords, they are rewarded with their ads appearing on searches for your brand. This practice gives competitors a slick way to downgrade your brand and products, increase awareness of their own brand and products, and even steal potential customers.

If you’re not bidding on your branded keywords at all, you’re giving your competition an extremely easy win. Not only are they claiming valuable real estate on your brand SERP, they’re doing it at minimal cost. The best way to discourage your competition and prevent these easy wins is bidding on your branded keywords. While it might cost you a few extra dollars to secure your brand SERP, it’s certainly not as costly as losing leads to your direct competition.

Is it Ever a Good Idea to Pause?

The argument for bidding on brand keywords is strong, but it’s not automatic. There are instances when a brand could benefit from pausing or eliminating paid search campaigns on branded terms altogether.

If your brand sees no competition for paid ads and consistently dominates your brand SERP through organic performance, pausing or eliminating paid campaigns could be an effective way to manage budget. Unfortunately, these instances are few and far between — a luxury usually reserved for the world’s most recognizable brands or a smack in the face reserved for the least.

As always, we recommend testing, evaluating, and testing your strategies again. If you think pausing your branded campaigns has the potential to benefit your brand, by all means, test away! We’d love to hear how it goes and are always open to new tactics.

But if we’re addressing the initial question: If my company stopped bidding on branded keywords as part of our PPC campaigns, could we maintain traffic and conversions while saving money?

The answer is no.

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