It seems that competition for valuable branded keywords is reaching an all time high, with a recent report by eMarketer, “Brands Go Head-to-Head in Competition for Search Terms,” estimating that US marketers will spend a massive $14.4 billion USD this year on search advertising. Why should you care? Because it’s your brand’s keywords that they’re bidding on.

The Battle of Branded Keywords

We all know that search engine optimization is based on attempting to reach a top ranking position on a search engine for a given keyword or keyword phrase. We also know that the introduction of Google’s Adwords and Bing’s adCenter offered companies a major opportunity to feature on page one results for a search term without bothering with all this; they could bid on a term and grab traffic without engaging in the arduous process of link building and on and off site optimization.
Recently, however, things have developed one step further and brand managers have started to focus their efforts on more than just straightforward keywords and phrases; they are now hitting one another’s brand terms in a practice that has become known as brand-jacking. The effect? Businesses not only skim traffic from their biggest competitors, they also increase their rivals’ marketing costs by increasing the competitive value of a given keyword and therefore the amount that the brand will need to pay every single time a potential customer clicks on it.

The Fight for Branded Keywords: An Example

You’re not a particularly frequent business traveler but you’ve heard that the Holiday Inn Hotels are pretty good. You’re planning a trip to New York to meet a client so you bring up your favorite search engine and type in: “Holiday Inn New York.” Of course, the Marriott features in the number one position in the search results but here’s something interesting. Right above it, in a highlighted box is a listing for a site that offers to save you at least $25 USD on hotel bookings in New York city. You’d better check it out…
In this example, a well-known hotel partner and affiliate site have sponsored the brand name of a major hotel chain and, in doing so, their website now appears right above the hotel’s own site in the search engine results. According to a report by MarkMonitor, this type of competitive keyword buying is now so prevalent in the travel industry that approximately 50% of advertisers now proactively bid on keywords relating to their competitor’s brand words, thus significantly increasing the cost-per-click rates for these words. While that sounds bad enough, contemplate the fact that MarkMonitor estimates that this type of activity actually costs major hotel chains an estimated $1.9 billion USD per year through lost bookings. Why? Because, in the majority of cases, once a potential customer visits the page of the affiliate site, they are highly likely to book through them.
How can you protect your brand keywords?
Check out your contracts. If you do have business deals with affiliates and partners check your contracts and try and include clauses that prevent them from using your brand terms in a manner that constitutes direct competition with your own site, products or services.
Name your branded terms. Create a list of branded names and terms that you believe your business has the sole rights to and share this with your partners and affiliates. Clearly inform them how they can, and can not, use these words.
Police your brand. Invest in people who can track the misuse of your brand keywords and follow up with legal action if necessary. (Editor’s note: here at Lakeshore Branding we recommend KnowEm, a service that lets you grab your name and secure your brand across thousands of sites and social networks before someone else does.)
Keep open communication with the search engines. Report any misuse of your brand name and terms to the search engines. Ask them to take action to prevent unauthorized parties from bidding on terms that clearly infringe on your brand rights.
About the author: Spencer Belkofer is a business owner and blogger. His company, Lumin, has a team of Birmingham AL web designners whose goal is to provide quality work at an affordable price. In addition, Lumin also provides SEO services in Bimingham.