The 6 Dos & Don’ts of Bidding on Branded Keywords

March 29th, 2023

Bidding on branded keywords is an essential part of any PPC campaign. Or, at least, it should be.

Even if you’re top of the SERP organic listings, paid search ads that target your own brand name can bring added benefits that outweigh the cost. That’s why 93% of agencies run branded PPC campaigns for their clients. Kasim Aslam from Solutions 8 explains:

Google’s obsessed with relevance. They want the most relevant result for every search. And because you are your brand, your [brand campaigns are] going to have a higher Quality Score, you’re going to pay less, you’re going to rank higher, and you’re going to maintain that positioning.

Kasim Aslam

Founder of Solutions 8

Branded keywords are searched by people who are looking for you and no one else. They’re a highly engaged audience — so bidding on these keywords makes it really easy for them to find you and convert.

Non-branded keywords, meanwhile, help you reach people who are searching for your product rather than your brand. So they’re just as important, but they’ll cost more to convert. According to Forbes, just 10% of searches are branded. The remaining 90% are looking for information or products.

In this article, we’ll explore all the dos and don’ts of bidding on branded terms in your Google Ads campaigns, so you can optimise your PPC strategy and get the most from your ad budget.

TL;DR – The 6 Dos and Don’ts of Bidding on Branded Keywords

  • Do bid on branded keywords
  • Do monitor your branded keyword bids and performance
  • Do use ad copy that highlights your unique selling proposition
  • Do bid on your competitors’ branded keywords cautiously
  • Don’t overbid on branded keywords
  • Don’t ignore negative keywords

1. Do Bid on Branded Keywords

First up: you need to integrate brand bidding into your PPC strategy, even if you’re top of all your organic branded search listings. Here are five reasons why bidding on your own brand name is a must in 2023.

Dominate the SERP With Links to Your Site

If you dominate both the paid and organic listings, people are far more likely to click through to your website rather than a competitor’s. If you add sitelink ad extensions, this increases even more. Take Nike for example. How’s this for a dominant SERP presence?

The first ten links all direct you to the official Nike site. So most shoppers will click before they even start scrolling.

Beat Your Competitors at Their Own Game

If competitors are targeting your brand keywords, bidding on your own brand terms can knock their ads down the SERP. This makes it less likely that people will click through to competitor sites.Here’s an example:

If Trello weren’t bidding on their own brand, a competitor site would appear ahead of them on their search engine results pages. Moving up just one position can boost your expected click-through rate by as much as 74.5%.

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Get Creative With Your Messaging

Like most brands, your organic search listing probably has a fairly standard headline and description. With paid advertising, you can mix up your messaging to reach different people.

Kiss The Hippo is a coffee company. The messaging in their organic listing is concise and informative, but it’s not exactly compelling:

Their sponsored ad, meanwhile, is far more convincing:

The ethical nature of their product is first and foremost, while this gets lost in the description in the organic copy. The ad description also gives buyers at least three reasons to buy from them:

  • Promo code
  • Free shipping options
  • Letterbox-friendly delivery.

Because you’re not constrained by SEO-considerations, you can be a lot more creative with the copy in your branded search ads.

Brand Keywords Are Super Valuable

It’s far cheaper to bid on your own branded keywords than to bid for non-branded terms. Branded keywords also have less competition and higher conversion rates than non-branded keywords. By avoiding them, you’re cutting off a low-cost revenue stream for your business.

Plus, people who are searching for your brand may already be motivated to buy. You don’t need to cultivate brand awareness, or do much to push them through the sales cycle. Catering to their needs with targeted advertising can clinch a sale quickly.

2. Do Monitor Your Branded Keyword Bids and Performance

High Quality Score + low competition = low cost-per-click in most brand campaigns. But that doesn’t mean you can just set-and-forget them. As with any PPC campaign, Google can quickly drain your ad budget if you’re not paying attention.

Branded keywords tend to generate a lower CPC and more conversions than non-branded keywords, so you shouldn’t need to spend as much to get results. That means you can allocate less budget to brand campaigns.

Here’s how you can make sure your brand campaign is fully optimised:

  • Track conversions — Your brand campaign should have a much higher conversion rate than your non-branded campaigns. If it doesn’t, something is seriously wrong with your landing page and requires action.
  • Check your Quality Score — Branded campaigns should have a high Quality Score (no lower than 8, ideally 10). If your Quality Score is low, check your ad and landing page relevance.
  • Don’t use Performance Max for brand campaigns — PMax uses conversions to inform future bids. Brand campaigns can skew your conversion metrics, so it’s better to use standard search or shopping for these.
  • Analyse the Search Terms report — Regularly check the terms your ads are appearing for in the Search Terms report. You may be appearing for searches like “[your brand name] alternatives” or “[your brand name] careers”, which aren’t as helpful for generating revenue.

3. Do Use Ad Copy That Highlights Your Unique Selling Proposition

Other companies can bid on your brand name, too. So while you have the upper hand, you still need to make an effort to stand out.

Creative ad copy is the best way to make an impression in your search campaigns. Here are two good examples of creative ad copy from Simba and Hotjar, each of which highlights the brand’s USP:

Why it works:

  • Clear USP: a 200-night free trial
  • Creative social proof
  • Unique, playful tone

Why it works:

  • Clear USP: free forever
  • Simple, plain-language promise
  • Speaks directly to the searcher

These ads are more creative (and therefore more clickable) than same-old, same-old ads that tell people what they already know. Just make sure your landing page follows through on any promises you make in your ad copy:

4. Do Bid on Your Competitors’ Branded Keywords Cautiously

Competitor keyword bidding can be controversial. But nowadays it’s pretty standard practice in PPC advertising. Kasim explains:

For the most part, you can put on just about anything you want inside of Google. And you should! You should try to get in front of your competitors’ customers, and they should try to get in front of your customers. That’s commerce.

Kasim Aslam

Founder of Solutions 8

Bidding on competitor branded keywords enables you to poach competitor customers and direct them to your site, driving traffic and heightening brand awareness. Even if users decide not to click your ad, they’re now aware you exist (if they weren’t before).

There are limitations to competitor keyword bidding. It’s against Google’s terms of service to use another brand’s name in your ads. For example, Nike can’t run an ad that includes the word “Adidas”, and vice versa. Nor should you want to — explicitly badmouthing another brand isn’t a good look. And if you’re unlucky you could run into serious legal issues. 

That said, there are smart ways to implement competitor keyword bidding. Here are two examples:

Mouseflow isn’t technically using Hotjar’s brand name in their ad. Also, “the jar ain’t hot anymore” doesn’t really mean anything, so there’s no risk of defamation. But their audience knows what they’re getting at; the ad will probably raise a smile, and maybe even a click (plus, the first sitelink extension is highly relevant to these searchers).

Monday’s ad avoids any mention of Salesforce. But their headline — a CRM “that’s actually easy to use” — appeals directly to unhappy Salesforce users. Even if they’re not actively looking for a Salesforce alternative, this plants the idea that there might be a better CRM out there. Sometimes that’s all you need to get the click.

Ultimately, you can bid on branded competitor keywords, but you should be cautious when doing so. And if your competitors aren’t already bidding on your branded keywords, expect them to do so if you target theirs.

Some businesses have good relationships with their competitors, in which case it may not be a good idea to start bidding on their branded terms. Weigh up the pros and cons of competitor keyword bidding in your niche before you start.

5. Don’t Overbid on Your Branded Keywords

While you need to assign some of your budget to branded keywords, don’t overbid on them. Brand keywords should have the lowest CPC of all your search campaigns, so overbidding can quickly waste your ad spend.

To stay in control of your branded keyword budget, use a manual CPC bid strategy. This enables you to set an average bid limit for each search term. You can then manually adjust these at keyword level to make sure your branded keywords aren’t draining your ad spend unnecessarily.

Use your ad schedule to make sure your bids aren’t running at the wrong times, such as overnight or at the weekend.

6. Don’t Ignore Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are essential for a well-optimised PPC campaign. This is true for branded ads as well as non-branded campaigns. 

While you can pre-empt some negative keywords, the best way to keep your negatives up-to-date is to use the Search Terms report. Find out which terms your ad has shown for in the past, and add any irrelevant keywords to your negatives list.

In a branded campaign, negative keywords might (or might not, depending on your goals) include:

  • “[your brand name] alternatives” (you may still want a presence here) 
  • “[your brand name] careers” (unless hiring is a goal of your PPC campaign)
  • “[your brand name] jobs”
  • “[your brand name] twitter”
  • “[your brand name] trustpilot”
  • Any non-branded keywords — relevant non-branded keywords should be highly targeted in a separate campaign, so add them as negatives too. 

Essentially, you want to avoid appearing for any brand keyword that isn’t looking for a direct link to your site, as well as queries that don’t relate directly to revenue generation. Here are a couple of examples where failure to update negative keyword lists could generate a worthless click:

Searchers looking for SugarCRM alternatives probably won’t find much value in the SugarCRM homepage. If you’re going to target “alternatives” with your brand, you need a highly targeted landing page that gives users an incentive to stick with you, with an explanation of what makes your brand different.

Similarly, people looking for the Notion Twitter page might click your homepage link, but they probably won’t find what they’re looking for.

Be aware that using broad match (or phrase match, to a lesser extent) for your brand campaign keywords makes it more likely that you’ll show up for irrelevant search terms. Use more exact match keywords to enhance ad targeting from the start.

Protect Your Brand Campaigns From Bots 

Bidding on branded keywords is an important strategy for any PPC campaign. Following the best practice guidance above will improve your search engine visibility and drive more valuable traffic to your site. The key points to remember are:

  • Bid on competitor keywords (but do so cautiously and respectfully)
  • Write unique, creative ad copy that compels people to click
  • Optimise your bid strategy and negative keywords
  • Continuously monitor your brand campaigns to stay in control of your ad budget.

Even the most well-optimised brand campaigns are at risk of wasted ad spend from fake ad engagements. Without the right protection, bots and other invalid traffic will click on your ads, draining your ad budget with zero chance of conversion.

Lunio spots and blocks these fake ad engagements, reducing wasted spend and maximising your on-page conversion rates. Find out how Laithwaites used Lunio to protect their brand campaigns, improving conversion rates by 5% and boosting revenue by 7%.

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Save up to 20% of your advertising budget by automatically eliminating fake ad clicks across all paid channels.

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