Is a competitor showing up for your company name on the SERP? Here’s what to do.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What happens when a competitor uses your name in a Google ad
  • Advice for dealing with competitors using your business name
  • What to know about competitors bidding on your brand name
  • Expert insights into bidding on other business’s names

Seeing your competitor’s name on the search engine results page (SERP) is never a great feeling.

But an even worse feeling? 

When a rival brand shows up after someone searches for your brand’s name.

So, are companies allowed to use another company’s name in their paid search ads? What about as keywords for bidding? 

We answer these questions and more below.

Can a competitor use my brand name in their ad?

The basic answer is: yes. The rules around company names and trademarks can be confusing. Let’s break it down. 

In the late 2000s, Google lifted its restrictions that prevented brands from bidding on a competitor’s branded keyword.

Brands can use your brand name in their Google ads, as long as the name isn’t trademarked and the way they’re using it can’t be deemed “deceptive.” (Deception tactics include things like the company impersonating your brand.)

If your company’s name is trademarked, that may be a different story. Often, bigger companies trademark their names. If this is the case, then they’re the exclusive owners. Per Google guidelines, no other brands can use that name in their ad copy. 

An exception to this rule is if the company using it is a legitimate reseller, such as Zappos creating an ad for Nike sneakers. 

Pro tip: Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) also allows competitors to bid on your brand name. Their policy states that “as an advertiser, you are responsible for ensuring that your keywords and ad content, including trademarks and logos, do not infringe or violate the intellectual property rights of others.”

competitor brand name bidding on the SERP

Here’s an example of what it looks like when one brand bids on another’s name (without even mentioning them). (Image: Google)

What are the rules about competitors bidding on my brand name?

Competitors can buy your brand name as a keyword, even if it’s trademarked. By using your brand name as a keyword, their ad could potentially show up on the SERP when someone is searching for your specific company.

Unfortunately, you can’t do much of anything about the competitor using your brand name or trademarks as a keyword.

However, there are things you can do to remain competitive. For starters, ensure you’re bidding on your own brand name. This way, competitors aren’t stealing any extra traffic that should be going to you. This also allows you to take up more real estate in the SERPs if you’re showing a paid ad and appearing in the organic results.

If a competitor is bidding on your brand name and you aren’t? Then their ad will show above your organic result, driving more clicks away from your website. You can also bid on their brand name — more on that below.

Pro tip: If you have an existing amicable relationship with a competitor, consider contacting them for a truce and agree to not bid on each other’s terms. There’s no guarantee they’ll agree, but if you’re worried about your budget, it’s worth a shot.

Why would a competitor bid on my company’s brand name?

The main reason companies bid on another’s brand name is to try to steal traffic away from the competition. They want to target those looking for a brand that sells a product or service similar to theirs, so they can redirect them to their own website.

This tactic makes sense when you have a new brand few, if any, people know about. So you bid on a competitor’s brand with more notoriety to gain attention and visibility for your brand. 

brand name bidding

Before you get heated, it’s important to realize that they might not actually be bidding on your brand. (Image: Rawpixel)

How do I choose which competitor brand names to bid on, if any?

If you’re going to bid on a competitor’s name, we advise picking the right competitors to bid on (or that your agency has picked the right ones, if you’re not doing your own marketing).

There’s no point in bidding on brands that aren’t stealing business from you, such as big-name brands with significantly more offerings.

For example, you can target competitors that give you a hard time because they have:

  • Been around for many years 
  • Lots of website traffic from high-ranking content on Google
  • A high domain authority (DA) score 
  • Recent complaints from customers that you can point out in your copy to show why you’re better
  • An inferior unique selling proposition to yours

If the competitor is similar enough and is more popular than you, but isn’t too out of reach (e.g., a mom-and-pop shop targeting Walmart keywords wouldn’t cut it), then go for it. Test the results to see if it boosts your traffic and conversions over time. 

You’ll also want to tailor the ad copy to differentiate your brand from that particular competitor. One way to do this is by highlighting your unique selling proposition. For instance, if that particular competitor brand has a similar but more expensive product or service, highlight your brand as being the more affordable option.

Have more questions about paid search or Google Ads? You’ve come to the right place.

What if I think a competitor is bending (or breaking) the rules when using my brand name?

Before you get heated, it’s important to realize that they might not actually be bidding on your brand. If your brand is “Sunrise Senior Living,” for example, the company could be bidding on “senior living.” That’s what will match in Google’s algorithm — not necessarily the “Sunrise” part.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do unless they’re using your trademarked term in their ad copy. If they are, you can submit a trademark complaint to Google.

Aside from bidding on their brand in return, fight back by conducting keyword research (using tools like SpyFu or SEMrush) to find other keywords they’re using for search marketing efforts.

In extreme cases (e.g., trademark infringement), send the company a cease and desist letter, though this will likely come at a cost and not guarantee the outcome you want.

semrush pricing SERP

Just because a competitor bids on certain keywords doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. (Image: Google)

Should I bid on my competitor’s brand name?

If you have other keywords that are working well, it’s a better use of your ad spend to allocate your marketing budget toward those.

Basically, there’s no hard-and-fast answer to this. However, experience tells us that bidding on a competitor’s brand name shouldn’t be a top priority in your paid search strategy.

If you have an excess budget, then you could bid on a competitor’s brand as a keyword. We don’t suggest using another brand in your ad copy.

Why?

Because it’s giving unnecessary attention to the competition, which could backfire and direct more traffic to them. In the Monday.com example above, they bid on the term “Asana” without mentioning it in their ad copy. 

Going about this wrong is a major reason why we recommend using a digital marketing agency that specializes in SEO and SEM.

HawkSEM’s experts have helped brands large and small gain higher clicks and conversions. This is partly due to our decades of experience in the industry and our proprietary software, ConversionIQ, which pinpoints the best keywords to improve optimization and earn more clicks from high-converting prospects.

How can I use competitors bidding on my brand to my advantage?

Review your competitor’s ad copy or strategy and take inventory of what you uncover. How does your campaign compare? This is a great time to reflect on your own advertising efforts.

Are you taking full advantage of Google’s ad offerings like assets and sitelink extensions (if appropriate)? Ask yourself: If you were a consumer, would you click on your ad?

“If possible, add competitor names in your ad copy and tell how your brand is better,” says Sarah McKraken, Lead Strategist at HawkSEM. 

Larger competitors do this all the time. 

“Most large companies have a competitor campaign,” continues McKraken. “You’ll find plenty of large companies bidding on others and getting bid on as well.”

For example, if you type “Etsy t-shirts design” into Google, you’ll find a RushOrderTees ad at the top, instead of Etsy:

Etsy results on the SERP

Or if you type in “Kohl’s women pajamas” in Google search, you’ll see pay-per-click (PPC) ads from several competitors like Amazon and Victoria’s Secret:

Kohls results on the SERP

In the Etsy branded keyword “takeover,” RushOrderTees didn’t mention its competitor at all. It focused on what its brand offers, which is:

  • Free shipping on all orders
  • Guaranteed satisfaction
  • Competitive prices

Then, in the Kohl’s branded keyword takeover, competitors vied for the attention of Valentine’s Day shoppers. They also didn’t mention the competitor directly in their ads, and instead focused on their offer for the holiday:

  • Bamboo Pajamas: Listicle of top five women’s pajamas and a pinch of FOMO (fear of missing out) — “You’ll regret not getting this”
  • Amazon: Clearance sale and free two-day shipping with a Prime membership
  • Victoria’s Secret: Best holiday styles from its latest collection

These are all great tactics when bidding on competitor brand keywords. But also note how Kohl’s dominates its own branded keyword: 

Kohls extensions on the SERP

It sits at the top and has sitelink extensions pointing to “Valentine’s Day Gifts” and “Fast and Free Pickup” pages. It takes up more real estate in the SERPs, and directs searchers’ eyes to more page links to click on instead of the competitors below. 

Since these people are looking for Kohl’s directly, they’ll likely still gain most of the traffic by targeting their own brand keyword. So the takeaway is to ensure you’re focusing just as much on your brand keywords as on competitors’ brand keywords (if not more). 

Pro tip: If you bid on competitor terms, avoid using dynamic keyword insertion. This feature involves the searched keyword auto-populating as an ad’s headline. This will cause your competitor’s name to show up in your ad. It could be deemed deceptive, even if it’s unintentional.

Tips to win at bidding on branded keywords

If you decide your marketing strategy needs an ad campaign using branded terms, then you’ll find these two tips helpful. 

First, tackle your opponents on the defensive end. Use high bids to maintain impression share of your brand’s keywords. This way, in branded search for your company’s name, you’re above competitor’s ads (like in the Kohl’s example). 

On the offensive end, you can build campaigns using competitor’s branded terms using the tips above — showing why you’re better. Then to seal the deal, build a landing page specifically for that ad campaign that dives deeper into why your brand is the better choice. 

“If you’re a coffee company, having a targeted page that exemplifies how your brand is better than buying from Starbucks could be worthwhile,” says McKraken. “Some call outs could be that you’re a small business, you sell exclusively fair-trade, or out of a blind taste test your blends are tastier.”

Think of this as a brand vs. competitor blog post. The goal is to show, not tell why you’re better. So include:

  • Benefits of your product or service that relates to that audience’s specific pain points
  • Testimonials from happy customers who overcame those pain points using your brand
  • Comparison of plans, prices, features, and other unique differentiators to showcase why your brand is better
  • Include visuals, such as infographics or videos to demonstrate your product’s benefits
  • An offer that’s tough to refuse, such as a limited-time discount, free trial, or free shipping
  • Multiple calls to action (CTAs) throughout in case they’re ready to convert before they get to the end

Use landing pages to stand out from competitors

Now, like an ad campaign, landing pages require ongoing testing to see what works. So prepare to build A/B split tests and monitor the metrics (e.g., click-through rate or CTR, conversions, bounce rate) to see what’s converting potential customers into buyers or leads. 

To give you an idea of what a winning landing page looks like for a competitor keywords campaign, we’ll use Monday.com’s feature in the Asana keyword campaign as an example. 

Once you click on their link in the SERP, the first thing you see is a large and bold statement of why you should select its platform:

monday.com homepage

It showcases what it can do in a nice visual way. Has a CTA button. And logos of prominent customers who use it. 

Scroll down, and you’ll find another bold move — a comparison chart between Monday.com and not just Asana, but all of its contenders in the market:

monday.com comparison chart

You can click each to see why Monday.com is the better choice. It’s a smart move to add the other competitors just in case prospective buyers consider them now or in the future.

Scroll a bit further, and you’ll see accolade badges from all the awards Monday.com won, further proving the worthiness of your dollar:

monday.com badges

Then just below it, you’ll find a list of the benefits of using Monday.com for your project management:

Monday.com benefits

But it doesn’t stop there — beneath, you’ll find another key benefit and they create FOMO by showing that it’s used by over 150K users. Then right under is data from a Forrester report showing Monday.com’s economic impact on its users. The numbers are impressive, to say the least:

Monday.com data

And what better way to end a landing page than with a testimonial from a happy corporate customer (because if the big guys use it and you can afford it, why shouldn’t you get it too?)

Monday.com testimonial

Not only does the testimonial highlight the customer being ecstatic about the platform, but it doles out numbers illustrating how it helped grow the company’s revenue by 60%. 

Pro tip: When selecting a testimonial, choose one that’s specific about the results your product or service provided to help prospects visualize using your solution. 

The takeaway

Bidding on your competitor’s brand is typically not a great idea. But if you must, use the help of digital marketing experts to ensure you do it right. Without an expert’s help, you could get lower-quality scores for those keywords.

That’s because Google can see you’re not the brand whose name you’re bidding on. Plus, it’ll likely cost you more to bid on those branded keywords because the brand isn’t your own.

In the long run, it’ll be better for your marketing plan to focus on your unique products or services, make sure the user experience is top-notch, and use ads to highlight your unique selling propositions to stand out. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2021.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's senior content marketing manager. Through more than a decade of professional writing and editing experience, she creates SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, new vegetarian recipes, and paper planners.