The 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Competitor Bidding

competitor bidding boxing

Done right, competitor bidding can play a key role in your Paid Search strategy, helping you to expand your reach and hit high intent audiences. Done poorly, you could end up pushing your competitors to retaliate, hitting you where it hurts with infringement complaints and nasty bidding battles.

In this blog I’m going to be discussing some of my top do’s and don’ts to help you competitively, and ethically, implement competitor bidding into your Paid Media strategy. 

But before I kick off with my first ‘Do’, I want to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to the term ‘Competitor Bidding’.

As with all things Digital Marketing, there are always various definitions of terms, which will differ greatly from platform to platform. However, for the purpose of this blog, ‘Competitor Bidding’ refers to running a specific search campaign or ad group, which targets your competitors’ branded keywords

The reason why this has become a popular strategy is that advertisers can benefit from their competition’s brand awareness and reach an audience with a high intent to convert. For example, if someone is searching for a competitive brand you can have your ad show in that search result, offering them an alternative option which still satisfies their purchase needs.

So, let’s get started with what to do and what not to do.


Do – Be Moral

First and foremost, I think the most important part of bidding is to act morally and in accordance with the various network policies. 

How you engage in and respond to competitor bidding, sends a strong message to your industry and direct competitors. It also demonstrates to potential customers just what type of company you are, so you’re going to want to approach things with tact and respect. 

Don’t be a Costa heavy handedly coming into a small town and pushing out independent coffee shops. Be respectful to your competitors. 

And always remember, whatever you do, your competitors can do exactly the same in return.


Don’t – Break the Rules

There are lots of rules and policies regarding areas such as trademark bidding and use of trademarks in ad copy. And whilst most of us will stick to these, it is frustrating when you pop on Google and see a company completely flaunting the rules. 

As tempting as it might be, don’t be tempted to break the rules just because you’ve seen another advertiser doing it. Whilst their ads may be showing for now, they will not be up there forever as the algorithm will catch up with them eventually.

And with Google taking a heavier stance on disapprovals with its introduction of a ‘3 strike’ policy, it is best to avoid putting your account in a situation where it could receive any form of reprimand.

For more information about their specific network policies, take a read through Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising’s guides.


Do – Your Research

When it comes to competitor bidding in search, those who may be your biggest direct competitors in the real world, may not be the ones appearing in your relevant search results. Take the time to search for your own terms, and those related to your product or service, to see what companies are also competing for these terms. 

If you find that these advertisers are closely related to your offering, then you should consider using them as part of your competitor strategy. However, if you find that they are in no way related to what you offer, then I’d recommend forgetting about it.

For example, I once had a client whose name was being bid on by another company, which had NOTHING to do with their services. I’m not sure how that client ended up using their company’s name as a keyword, but I am certain that any clicks they may have received would have had zero return.


Don’t – Go the Whole Hog

Sadly no amount of research, planning or reading, can guarantee the success of your competitor campaigns. 

As excited as you may be about stealing customers away from your competitors, slow down and take the time to test your campaigns before investing too much resources into them. 

For example, you may see a fantastic volume of leads coming through but once evaluating those leads you find that the quality is poor. Or the ROI of your competitor campaigns may not justify having to reallocate budget from your own brands campaigns which achieve a higher ROI.

It is better to have to expand your campaigns once you get a better picture of how they are performing, than to go in too hard at the start and have to scale back once you realise you’re losing out.


Do – Use Competitor Trademarks as Keywords

We don’t investigate or restrict trademarks as keywords

Google Advertising Policies Help

I’ve lost count of the times I have heard people asking if bidding on competitors keywords is allowed, and the range of differing responses they’ve had from marketers. But there it is, you CAN bid on trademarks as keywords. 

Whilst some trademarks such as Google and Nike, are not applicable to bid on, I highly doubt your competitors are being covered by this golden level protection. So bid away


Don’t – Use Trademarks You Don’t Own in Your Ad Copy

I can not emphasize this point enough. 

IF YOU DO NOT OWN A TRADEMARK, SUCH AS A PRODUCT OR COMPANY NAME, THEN DO NOT INCLUDE IT IN YOUR AD COPY.

Not only will you be breaking network policies, and be eligible to any actions they may decide to take, but you are also opening yourself up to being reported to by the trademark owner as you will be breaking local trademark rules. It is intellectual property infringement, and if that legal jargon doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

I’d like to note on this point that advertisers need to beware of this when using Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) in their ad copy. If you are using DKI’S and want to bid on competitor terms, then you need to do so in separate non-DKI ad groups. Otherwise you’re at risk of breaking these trademark infringements without even consciously doing so. 

If you have come across a competitor using your trademark in their ad copy, then you can raise a trademark infringement complaint on Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising. 


Do – Bid High on ‘Alternative’ Keywords 

As previously discussed, you can bid on phrases including your competitors’ trademarks. You can also hit more specific search terms, where searchers are looking for alternatives to your competitor. 

For example:

  • Alternative to X
  • Companies Similar to X
  • X Competitors
  • Brands Like X
  • Cheaper Version of X

Such search terms are going to hit individuals who are looking for results just like yours. You’re looking for a cheaper version of X? Well, here’s one for you.. 

You can really capitalise on these perfect searches by giving them a Target Impression Share bidding strategy. For example, you may want to consider a 80 – 100% top of page impression share for a high intent and relevant keyword such as ‘Alternative to x’. This way, you can ensure that you’re bidding competitively for these high relevancy and high intent keywords. 


Don’t – Bid Overly Aggressive

We’ve all seen it. You’re searching for a particular brand and an ad for their competitor appears above their own ad. In such instances the competitor, most likely with a bigger budget to burn, aggressively bids on their competitors exact name and consistently appears above them in search results. 

Whilst this is a matter of personal opinion, I do not like to see this practice being implemented. 

When it comes to the exact match of that competitor, consider graciously accepting the second position. Not only will this stop you from annoying your competitors Paid Media team, who are almost certainly going to retaliate and become more combative, but it will also stop you paying through the nose for clicks. Your quality score will almost always inevitably be lower than your competitors, so you will be paying a premium for that click, and once they retaliate by increasing their own bids, you’re just going to end up in a bidding war.


Do – Sell Yourself in Your Ad Copy

When it comes to your Competitor campaigns, it’s not about imitating what they are doing, it is about what sets you apart and above your competitors, and getting that message across in your ad copy. 

What can you offer that they don’t? More years experience, awards and accreditations, a faster delivery process, a 24/7 customer support line, live chat, price match guarantees…? Whatever it is that separates you from your competitor, you need to get it across in your ad copy. 

This might even require a wider strategic business approach and a reevaluation of your service offering compared to your competitors. For example, if you’re a SaS platform provider and your competitors are offering a 14 day trial, can you offer a 30 day trial?

When it comes to ads for competitor campaigns, it is less about informing them about the product or service, as they have already demonstrated that they know what they are looking for by being aware of your competitor. Now it is about convincing them that you are an alternative option and can exceed your competitors’ offerings.


Don’t – Be Tacky With It

Again, this may be more of a personal opinion, but sometimes I absolutely cringe when I see the ads that some advertisers write for their competitor campaigns. 

Practices such as purposefully misspelling trademarked terms, taking direct digs at competitors and unprovable claims of ‘being the better option’, just don’t come across well to me, and feel more like a cheap way to grab attention rather than earning it. 

Google Ad Tacky Ads

Be more strategic with your wording, if you think you’re better than your competitor, then explain why! Don’t just say it, prove it. 


Do – Offer a Truce

If you find that things are beginning to get a bit out of hand, consider contacting your competitor directly to discuss a potential truce.


A mutual decision to back off could benefit you both and allow you to bring your focus back on your own brand. Be polite and friendly to open up an informal discussion. 


Don’t – Break that truce

Finally, whether you’re the individual who first waved the white flag, or the one who decided to accept, do not be the type of person to break the truce. 

Whilst it may be tempting to accept a truce and then continue competing, all you’re going to do is push your competitor to retaliate and, in all likelihood, a lot harder than they originally would have in the first place. 

So if a truce is not something you want to accept, then don’t accept it in the first place.


So whilst the concept of competitor bidding is nothing new, it can always be reapproached with a fresh perspective. Whilst there are a few legal rules and guidance regarding the practice, a lot of it is to do with your own morals and relationships with your competitors. 

However you decide to approach Competitor Bidding, always remember:

  1. Stick to the rules.
  2. Bid strategically: Always consider your ROI, where you want your ads to be showing on search pages and what keywords you want to bid most competitively on.
  3. Differentiate don’t imitate: Don’t focus on imitating your competitors, focus on what you can offer which they can’t 
  4. Review, review, review: just as quickly as someone can start competing against you, then can throw in the towel. And just as quickly, a new competitor might enter the market.

If you want to learn more about how competitor bidding, Google Ads (also don’t discredit Microsoft Advertising) could benefit your business, contact us and ask how we can help.

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