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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tarnishing a Competitors Brand with Paid Search

When most people think of paid search they think of ways paid search can benefit their business. Paid search is a great way to acquire customers or potential customers (leads) at an often lower cost than other advertising platforms. Paid search allows you to reach consumers at various points throughout the buying cycle and to present highly relevant ads in order to take consumers to the perfect page on your site.

There's a dark side to paid search though, one that's practiced far more than it's written or spoken about. All of the benefits of paid search can be flipped around and used against a business or individual if someone is willing to spend the money to make it happen. I was reminded of this while reading a Google Groups post, "I'll bet you have NEVER had this happen to you".

The author of the post, ttbcom, says:

"Someone ELSE is advertising our company through their own PPC
campaign. Yes, someone ELSE is paying money to Google to drive traffic
to our site. But Google won't tell me who they are.

You might argue that it drives free traffic to my site, so that's a
good thing. But this ad advertises for a sale that we are NOT having.
That might anger people who arrive at the site and see no sale."

AdWordsPro responded to the thread and says that he has seen similar reports in his 6 years with Google and the ads in question came from other departments within the same company that took it upon themselves to open AdWords accounts and start campaigns without informing anyone else. If that turns out to be the case for ttbcom I would imagine he (or she) could rectify the situation quickly...but what if that's not the case and the ads were not setup by someone ttbcom can ask to shut them off? I've never seen an official answer to that question.

The reality is AdWords (and every other paid search platform) is being utilized in today's competitive market not just to generate sales, build brands or minimize customer acquisition costs...it's being used to make all of that harder for your competition to do successfully, and, to tarnish competing brands at the same time. How is that possible you ask? Here are just few ways I have seen "in the live" over the past 6 months:

  • Wrong price information in ad copy.
  • Bad phone numbers in ad copy.
  • Typos and other grammatical errors intentionally inserted into ad copy.
  • Ads landing potential customers on pages that do include the product the ad said would be there.
  • Ads setup to point to "consumer review" sites that include negative information about the company.
Generally speaking, the people setting up the negative ad campaigns are jut trying to make the target company look bad by ruining the user experience in any way they can. While the first 4 points listed above are relatively "tame" in comparison to some of things that could be done they can still have a HUGE impact on the business you are able to generate from your paid search campaigns...especially if the people running the negative ad campaign are you using your url as the display url. Google only shows one ad per search query for advertisers sharing the same top level domain in the display url which means that if the company trying to tarnish your brand is actually sending people to a page on your site they can use your top level domain as their display url and if they are aggressive enough prevent your ad from showing for your target terms.

If you're a small business that relies on paid search for a large portion of your sales and revenue I don't have to tell you how damaging that could be.

Now point 5 from above is a different animal:

"
Ads setup to point to "consumer review" sites that include negative information about the company."

Some people embrace negative press claiming that there are a number of reasons why you should play it for all it's worth while other companies go so far as to hire consultants or companies to help them keep their online reputation "clean". Most small business owners I know value their reputation above pretty much anything else. Their reputation wins them new clients and helps retain loyal customers. When they start seeing negative ads showing up in the search results it can make them sick, especially if the claims are false which is often the case on some review sites. If a competitor wants to make you look bad they can simply post a number of complaints on the review site(s) and then setup paid search campaigns pointing to those sites for your business name and it's variations. They may even own or control the review sites in which case the small business owner won't even be able to post a legitimate follow up or contest any of the claims made on the site.

At the present time there's not a whole lot you can do to combat this type of advertising. At minimum you should contact the paid search platform (AdWords, YSM, adCenter, etc) and file report. In some cases you may be able to get the ad(s) pulled, especially if they violate a current rule or regulation put in place by the search engines. For example, Google's editorial and format policies covers a lot of the issues touched on in the first 4 bullet points. The problem there though is the burden of finding and reporting the ads will rest with you, and, it will often take some time before Google takes any action in relation to the offending ads. And even after all that there's no guarantee the negative ads won't surface again through a different account or with slightly different wording.

If you have suggestions for combating negative ads or have been through this before please feel free to share what steps you took to resolve the issue. As professional paid search marketers each of us will likely deal with this issue at some point in our career.


4 Comments:

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Jeremy Lim said...

Thanks for bringing this up, Jeremy. It's unbelievable how crippling this can be with the one result per TLD.

I wonder where you would put this in the budget. "Corporate sabotage", mayhaps?

It's such a shame that people resort to this sort of thing.

 
At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I had the exact same problem, an unauthorized person/company was bidding on a client's name with misspellings in the ad, repetitiveness (low low prices) and incorrect delivery information. Since the destination URL was going to the client's page, MSN AdCenter wouldn't do anything about it. They claimed that since it wasn't a "gross" misspelling, and being repetitive up to 4 times is allowed. They said I would have to contact the advertiser, but wouldn't tell me who that was.
Google AdWords at least sent a cease and assist to get the incorrect delivery ad put down.

 
At 8:55 AM, Blogger Corporate Spain said...

Hmm, maybe Google themselves could do this so that the affected companies will bid far higher and on more keywords.

 
At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Devin said...

Good points, I never thought of using Google as a way to hurt a competitor or for a competitor to hurt me other than click fraud.

Thanks for the info gives me something to look out for.

 

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