Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Trademark Trouble

On 5th May, the effects of Google's trademark policy revision will take effect. This has caused a certain level of hysteria within certain verticals that believe that they will have to dramatically increase their PPC budget in order to ensure protection of their brand.

Already businesses are scrambling to come to gentlemans agreements in order to ensure that they enter bidding war on brand terms and litigation threats are rife. Perhaps the timing of this amendment, just as Google announces massive Q1 profits, is what really irks some businesses.

Many of this concern comes from the changing of the trademark rule in the US where a organisations saw immediate rises to PPC costs. As I have covered in a previous post, online markets vary significantly across the globe. The number of trademark complaints that have gone to court in the UK is tiny compared to America.

Bidding on trademarks has always caused a lot of hot debate within SEM with opinions completely divided. The brands rules I have employed are fairly simple. If no other company is bidding on your brand term and your site is dominant in the organic listings then is no requirement to bid on it. However, eBay and Expedia are examples of large brands that bid on their brand.

I believe this move was inevitable. Currently, SEM agencies are required to invest significant resource into monitoring and chasing Google to uphold existing trademark policies. Additionally, lot of time was spent at Google, trying to decipher how some PPC experts were able to manipulate AdWords rules to appear on trademark terms. These tactics include using special characters, misspellings, ad-scheduling and geographic targeting to ensure that infringements remained undetected.

It will still remain difficult for brands to pass themselves off as other organisations, which is surely one of the main infringements of trademark rules. It is not possible for brands to use a trademark term within their advertising copy, even using dynamic keyword insertion.

For advertisers, the amendments to the trademark policy as well as the withdrawal of BPF for agencies means that driving a better ROI from SEM is going to become far more challenging moving forwards. PPC can no longer be used as a short term solution to fill the gaps in an online strategy.

Perhaps organisations should put more time and resource into building their brand to ensure that they do not have to be in the top positions for branded search terms. If a user searches on your brand but does not click on your listing, online marketers should be asking why rather than blaming competition. The following questions need to be asked:
  • Is the brand clearly identifiable from the advert?
  • Is the advert creative not compelling enough?
  • Has the landing page / site not fulfilled the users requirements?
  • Perhaps prices are out of line with competitors?
A recent Travolution headline read that "User Experience is King". The inevitable cost increases to online campaigns amplify the significance of online conversion. If the average visitor cost grows, the importance of gaining a return on investment grows in proportion. In an age with rapidly increasing broadband penetration and a growing proportion of business carried out online, it is a paramount that businesses employ the correct online marketing mix to maximise ROI. Complaining about Google policy changes is never going to bring success.

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