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Written by Caroline Cox on Dec 14 , 2020

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

Here, you’ll find:

  • What happens when you see a competitor using your name in a Google ad
  • Advice for dealing with competitors using your name
  • What to know about competitors bidding on your brand name
  • Expert insights on trying this tactic yourself

Seeing your competitor’s brand name on the search engine results page (SERP) is never a great feeling. But an even worse feeling? When they’re showing after someone searches for your company’s name.

So, are companies allowed to use other company’s names in their paid search ads? What about as keywords for bidding? Lisa McElwain, an SEM manager here at HawkSEM, helps answer these questions and more below.

Can a competitor use my brand name in their ad?

The rules around company names and trademarks can be confusing. Let’s break it down. 

The basic answer is: yes. 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. 

competitor brand name bidding on the SERP

An example of what it looks like when one brand bids on another’s name. (via 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, which isn’t what you want. You can also bid on their brand name — more on that below.

Pro tip: If you have an existing amicable relationship with a competitor, you could 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 who are looking for a product or service like theirs. 

This is especially the case in areas where the product or service is not as well known, so people aren’t searching for the services as much. This leaves few options for keywords, so brands bid on their competitors. 

brand name bidding

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

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

If you’re going to try bidding on a competitor’s name, we advise making sure you’re 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 not much point in bidding on brands that aren’t stealing business away from you, such as big-name brands with significantly more offerings. 

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 propositions. 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 should I do if I think a competitor is bending or breaking the rules around leveraging my brand?

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 simply 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 deciding to bid on their brand in return, another way to fight back would be to conduct keyword research (using tools like SpyFu or SEMrush) on what other keywords they’re using for search marketing efforts. 

In extreme cases, you could consider sending 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 is bidding on certain keywords, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. (Image via Google)

Should I bid on my competitor’s brand name?

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

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

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

If your products or services are similar enough, this could give you ideas for things to try on your own search marketing efforts. 

It’s also worth noting that, just because a competitor is bidding on certain keywords, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. If a keyword doesn’t seem right to bid on for your business, don’t do it! (And maybe even add them to your campaign as negative keywords.) 

Consider reviewing their ad copy or strategy and taking inventory of what you uncover. How does yours compare? This is a great time to reflect on your own advertising efforts. Are you  taking full advantage of Google’s ad offerings like ad extensions and sitelink extensions (if appropriate)? Ask yourself: If you were a consumer, would you click on your ad?

Pro tip: If you decide to bid on competitor terms, avoid using dynamic keyword insertion. This is a feature that 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.

The takeaway

We find that, in general, bidding on your competitor’s brand is typically not a great idea. You could also 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 user experience is top-notch, and use ads to highlight your selling propositions that make you stand out.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create 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 seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Nov 4 , 2020

The algorithm changes almost constantly — but your digital marketing plans don’t have to.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search engine algorithms work
  • Why updates are nearly impossible to predict
  • Ways to prepare for search engine algorithm changes
  • Why content marketing still reigns supreme

In a way, the search engine algorithm is like rocket science: we know it’s important, but most of us aren’t exactly sure how it works. 

Every year, Google rolls out numerous updates (often with little heads-up) that manage to change the playing field for marketers in big and small ways.

But even for pros who have been working in paid search for years, understanding the search engine algorithm can be tricky. Knowing the basics allows you to react to new changes quickly or prepare your campaign for them in advance. When you figure out how these algorithms can affect your paid advertising tactics, you can take steps to prevent them from derailing your plans.

search engine algorithms blog - puzzle

Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. (Image via Unsplash)

What is a search engine algorithm?

A search engine algorithm is a collection of formulas that determines the quality and relevance of a particular ad or web page to the user’s query. These days, Google reportedly changes its algorithms thousands of times each year. However, only major changes (or updates) affect SEM campaigns in a visible manner.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is focusing all their efforts on frantically adjusting the campaign to these formulas instead of looking at the bigger picture.

The overall search engine strategy

Search engines make the user experience a top priority. Google managed to become the most popular search engine on the planet by creating complex algorithms that improve the search process using sophisticated tactics that serve users the information they seek.

An algorithm works with all kinds of details for context, from obvious clues like the perceived content quality to the spam history of the website owner.

Overall, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. However, no matter how well you adjust to them, each new update has the power to push your efforts to square one.

While updates may be mostly focused on organic search, they can have not-so-clear but oh-so-painful implications for paid search as well. For example, your ads could stop showing up as a response to a big part of your target audience’s queries simply because the landing page they lead to isn’t specific enough.

BERT update

In 2019, Google rolled out a major updated dubbed BERT. The aim of this update was to improve the search engine’s translation of natural, conversational language queries to improve its understanding of context. 

This forced marketers to pay more attention to user intent than before. Pre-BERT, if you needed to focus on separate keywords in the search phrase, full phrases became much more important after the update.

For example, the query “cooking your own vegetables” shouldn’t simply give a list of tips for cooking veggies. It should also provide tips for cooking vegetables you grew and harvested on your own. In turn, paid ads had to become much more specific targeting the intent of the audience to stay relevant to search queries.

With each new Google update, search engine algorithms are working to become more useful to the searcher. Unfortunately for digital marketers, predicting specific changes is nearly impossible. But by knowing the overall intent to improve the searcher’s experience, it’s possible to adjust your SEM strategy so it doesn’t suffer as new updates take effect.

Need more help deciphering the search engine results page? You’re in the right place.

How to prevent the negative effects of algorithm updates

Search engine updates can be as unpredictable as the weather. The only thing you can know for sure is that they will happen. When they do, many websites and ads may see a drop in rankings, even if the change is temporary. Luckily, there are ways to stay prepared and ready when updates do arise. 

1. Focus on landing page quality

Even when updates roll around, it’s hard to understand immediately how they’ll affect the connection between paid and organic search. But one thing is always clear: High-quality content on landing pages is likely to affect your conversion rate positively, regardless of algorithm changes.

Just a couple of years ago, landing pages weren’t as important for paid search because they didn’t play any role in the immediate ad-clicking process. Today, with Google’s focus aimed at search relevancy and accuracy, landing page quality is an integral factor when determining your Quality Score.

Search engines pay close attention to the landing page quality and relevance to keywords, and that isn’t likely to change. Now, Google even tracks how often a user returns to the search page after visiting the landing page in an attempt to understand whether they were satisfied with the search result.

To stay ahead of the updates, it’s imperative to maintain the quality and relevance of both landing and linked pages.

hawksem blog - search engine algorithms

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Don’t rely solely on keywords

The overall tendency of Google algorithm updates is to move away from a hyper-focus on keywords to more long-tail phrases and nuance. Of course, keywords are still an integral part of SEM. But building your strategy solely around them can prevent you from seeing the big picture or creating a well-rounded program.

Rather than only focusing on your keyword, you also want to take intent and relevance into account. Look into how you can best answer the questions your audience is asking. Paying attention to when, how, and what they ask can help you design relevant ad and landing page content while satisfying changing search engine algorithms.  

3. Look for update warnings

In some cases, search engines will offer some advanced notice about an upcoming algorithm update. Back in April 2020, Google announced a 2021 algorithm change that would introduce Core Web Vitals as ranking factors.

This gave marketers almost a year to get familiar with these factors and adjust to the upcoming changes to make sure rankings don’t suffer. And since Google isn’t always forthcoming about update details, it’s wise to take notice when they are.

4. Keep calm and tweak your content

When search engines change their algorithms, it can cause chaos for marketers. It’s often a mad dash to adjust strategies and make quick changes to curb significant ranking changes or irregular reports. But sometimes these actions can hurt your campaign even further.

Remember, all you can do is implement relevant improvements and follow the latest guidelines. If you’re using Google Analytics, making note of when an algorithm update took place can explain any out-of-the-ordinary results when you pull reports or debrief clients. 

The takeaway

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. To improve user experience, search engines change their algorithms regularly. But studying how algorithms tick isn’t as important as understanding what your target audience wants.

By improving the quality and relevance of landing page content while exploring questions your audience asks, you can work to minimize your dependence on algorithm changes and control, to some degree, how drastically they affect your initiatives.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 22 , 2020

By optimizing your messaging to appear in search engine results page (SERP) features, you can whip past the competition and grow brand awareness while you’re at it.

Here you’ll learn:

  • What SERP features are
  • The benefits of appearing in SERP features
  • The most useful SERP elements
  • How to optimize your site for feature placement

Bringing your website to the top of search results is tricky. Following top-notch SEO tactics gives you a strong foundation, but there’s more you can do — like priming your site and its content for a SERP feature.

What are SERP features?

Google designed SERP features to enhance the user’s search experience. When someone enters a query, these elements allow them to get an answer as quickly as possible (without the extra clicking) by pulling out and highlighting what the algorithm deems a relevant answer.

While some research shows that placement on certain SERP features can potentially reduce clicks, they’re still worth striving for. These placements show searchers that Google sees your site as an authority, and it puts your content above your competitors’.

The type of feature a user sees on their results page depends on the type of query they entered. If the question is “Who is Shakespeare?”, they’ll see a Knowledge Graph. For the “best dentist in LA” query, they’ll see a Local Pack (we’ll break down what these are below). After all, a search engine’s key goal is to give the user an accurate answer as quickly as possible.

Luckily, you can work to optimize your website in ways that’ll make it more likely to appear in one of these SERP features. Let’s dive in.

google knowledge graph - hawksem

A Featured Snippets result in response to an inquiry about WordPress. (via Google)

1. Featured snippets

A Featured Snippet is a box that appears on top of all the other search results. It showcases, according to Google’s algorithm, the most helpful answer to the user’s query, along with the link to the website that provides it.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Featured Snippets:

  • Beef up your content marketing efforts (more than 99% of featured snippets are extracted from content that ranks in the top 10 positions).
  • Use SEMrush to study your competition and learn what they’ve done to obtain snippet space.
  • Enter the query your audience might use into Google and see what the Featured Snippet is. If your competition is already hogging the space, go to “People also ask” section and optimize your content for those queries.
  • Rewrite your content to answer two or more questions instead of just one. This can get your website into Featured Snippets for related queries.
  • Keep your content short and sweet, and use bullet points and short paragraph structure.
The Knowledge Graph results for CSUN

The Knowledge Graph results for CSUN. (via Google)

2. Knowledge Graphs

The Knowledge Graph is an information box that appears on the top right side of the search results. It generally features an extensive answer to a specific question. Google uses its algorithm to pull the information from its database of reliable sources.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Knowledge Graphs:

  • Use Schema Markup to structure the data on your website properly (Google uses only well-structured websites for its database).
  • Create a Wikipedia and Wikidata page for your brand — Google often uses it for the information to feature in the Knowledge panel.
  • Work on your backlink strategy to garner links from authority websites. 
  • Optimize your website for local search.
  • Try to get your social media accounts verified.
  • Verify and optimize your Google My Business profile
hawksem - local packs

Local Teaser Pack results for a search about vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta. (via Google)

3. Local Packs

Queries that specify a location trigger the appearance of a Local Pack box, which features local results along with business information, maps, and reviews. 

This SERP feature is for local companies and establishments. The box features three top locations, called a Local Teaser Pack. The rest is hidden under the “Other” button.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Local Packs:

  • Boost your on-page SEO efforts and work on mobile-friendliness.
  • Create a high-quality contact page with a clickable phone number and email address as well as a map.
  • Add Schema Markup.
  • Use client testimonials on your website.
  • Optimize and verify your Google My Business page.
  • Create profiles on major review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Foursquare.
  • Make sure your contact information is consistent throughout all of your online platforms.
  • Get as many reviews on different websites as possible (these are also featured in the Local Packs) — review signals make up more than 15% of ranking signals on Google.
HawkSEM SERP features 101 - 1

The “People also ask” results section regarding a search about scrambled eggs. (via Google)

4. Related Questions (People Also Ask)

The Related Questions section usually appears under the Featured Snippet or Top Result in an accordion-style dropdown. However, they can emerge in other parts of the search page as well, under the header “People also ask.”

Different keywords can trigger the same related questions, helping you rank even higher. Meanwhile, all the related questions can sometimes feature the same page as the answer, boosting your clickthrough rate (CTR).

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Related Questions:

  • Extract People Also Ask (PAA) questions using ScreamingFrog.
  • Check what PAA results appear in response to your competition’s branded queries.
  • Add these questions to your content and address them.
  • In your content, copy the format of the results, which currently appear in the related question sections.
  • Create on-page FAQ sections.
HawkSEM: SERP results - Video Snippets

Video Snippets as results for a query about removing a splinter. (via Google)

5. Video Snippets

Featured videos can appear in place of Featured Snippets with the goal of providing the best answer to the user’s question. Usually, they emerge in response to “how-to” queries. These Video Snippets can start running automatically and stop at a point where Google believes the question is answered.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Video Snippets:

  • Use the main keyword in your video title.
  • Add a video description that contains the keyword.
  • Create a video transcription.
  • Optimize your video content to get as close to the top as possible (Google generally uses high-ranked clips for the featured section).
HawkSEM: SERP features - ads

Google Ads in search results about internet companies. (via Google)

6. Google Ads (top and bottom)

These ads usually appear at the top and/or bottom of the search, above or below the organic results. They’re distinguished from the rest of the results by an “Ad” label.

Such ads usually dominate the first positions of Google Search. All you need to do to occupy those high spots is to build a high-quality Google Ads campaign. You can pay to place Product Listing Ads so your products (with links, descriptions, and/or prices) appear on the zero ranking spots above the top organic listing.

The takeaway

SERP features are an integral part of working toward high rankings and top-notch conversions. Think about them as a big cherry on top of your SEM campaign. 

While it’s possible to appear in the SERP elements without making a concerted effort, the above tips can help you speed the process to see the results you want more quickly.

Wondering how to make the most out of SERP features? You’ve come to the right place.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create 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 seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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