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When You Should (And Shouldn’t) Bid On Brand Terms

When You Should (And Shouldn’t) Bid On Brand Terms

Why bid on brand terms? It’s a question I’m mostly asked by clients who (understandably) want to know why they should have to pay for what might come to them organically. I recently had this question again and thought it might be time to jot down some thoughts on the issue.

So why and (equally importantly) how do we design brand campaigns?

First of all, let’s clear the air by saying it’s not always necessary to run brand campaigns. In my experience, you don’t need to pay for brand ads when:

  1. You already rank number one organically, and:
  2. You have a unique brand name (for example, NIKE) where that term is only likely to typed in a natural search when someone is specifically looking for your brand, and:
  3. There is little or no competitor activity on your brand term/s.

Unless you have all three of those things in place then it’s important to protect that valuable page-one real estate. If you don’t have all three, then read on!

First, The “Why?”

There are a number of reasons brand campaigns are critical for companies:

Control the Message
You can control the way in which your brand is communicating with your target and you can control the types of information you serve them first. Need them to know about your current promotion? Add promotion extensions. Want to let them know where their local is, then you have location extensions. Want to push for a phone call conversion or for the new fancy-pants message capabilities they’re launching at Google, then you can implement call or message extensions.

Brand campaigns are one of the simplest and most powerful ways of controlling the message that a brand communicates publicly.

Minimize the Impact of Negative News
On a subtopic of controlling the message, it’s critical that digital marketing plays a role in helping to minimize the impact of organically ranked negative messages about the brand. That could include something as significant as a negative news article or for a smaller business, something as worrisome as a poor review getting disproportionate attention. Brand campaigns absorb more of the first-page real estate (especially on mobile!) and can help the business level the playing field. You can’t get rid of that online negativity, but you CAN push it down the page a bit.

And you know the old joke “Where’s the best place to hide a body?” Answer – “The second page of Google”.

Corporate Intelligence
Brand ads give a business vital corporate intelligence on what messaging best motivates the target market to interact with the brand. It gives them the knowledge they can then convert into home page copy, into content articles, into social posts, into emails, and future promotions. This corporate intelligence is frequently underutilized but is incredibly powerful in working out how to reach, engage and (ultimately) convert a potential client.

Observe Audience Behaviour
Having relevant Audiences attached to the campaign in observation mode gives you insight into how those Audiences might perform on other campaigns outside of brand campaigns. This is powerful and targeted research.

Protects You From Competitors
You don’t want your brand real estate eroded by competitors. Ever. Running a brand campaign will help prevent competitors from stealing your customers. Given the relationship between quality score and the bid auction price, it’s usually cheaper for you to protect your clients than for competitors to try and bid on your brand real estate. In competitive industries, you don’t want to concede that ground.

Improve CTR and Quality Score
On the topic of quality score, running successful brand campaigns improves your account CTR and quality score by bringing up the averages. This can have a powerful economic impact, especially on large spending accounts.

Lock in the Final Conversion
The virtual tears of marketers who’ve had direct or organic “steal” the final conversion could fill an Olympic pool. It’s not about possessiveness, ego, or competitiveness with the SEO team. Well… not always 😬  🤷🏻‍♀️. Obtaining the final conversion allows you to better understand the complete behavior of the client and to better design full-spectrum marketing campaigns that carry a client from the top to the bottom of the funnel.

Locking in the final conversion also helps you to fully define the value of the investment the company makes in paid digital marketing vs the value they make in other areas (SEO, content, print). It helps to fully inform a budget allocation conversation. It’s business intelligence that drives operational and budgetary decisions that could have significant and (potentially) detrimental impacts on a business if made with incomplete information.

Now, The “How”

Here’s my favorite brand campaign strategy for brand protection. It’s all about impression share and visibility; being there exactly when your clients are looking for you!

1. Use phrase match keywords

2. Set manual bids
And set them high so they can’t be outbid by a competitor. This ensures high impression share and ad position. They’re normally still quite cheap clicks, as the quality score is usually so high on branded terms.

3. Set a big budget
Often the total account budget is divided by 30.4 and set as a daily budget – this is to convert the monthly figure to a daily one. If brand protection is important and brand campaigns lead you to bottom-of-funnel conversions, you don’t want to find yourself limited by budget. You won’t spend it all in most cases, but it ensures you’re safe from losing impressions due to a lack of available budget. You can either manage the unspent remainder of your budget manually or use PPC Samurai rules to automatically ensure the remainder is spent according to your account strategy.

4. Set your approved search terms
Create an ‘approved search terms’ Google Sheet populated with your brand keywords and link it to PPC Samurai

5. Find and manage triggered search terms
To find search terms that have triggered in your brand campaign but aren’t in your Google Sheet. When a search term appears that isn’t in your Google Sheet, the workflow produces a dashboard insight. From the dashboard you can then approve that term/s to be added straight to the campaigns according to your rules (and back to the Google Sheet); all with the click of a button! 🙌 (so easy). Of course, you can choose to approve some and send others to a brand negatives shared list – so those terms don’t trigger for your brand keywords in the future.

6. Ensure your brand terms are clean
I’m absolutely ruthless about ensuring that the brand campaign search terms are really clean and aren’t cluttered with any terms that aren’t truly on brand. If you don’t do this, you can’t effectively and with differentiation manage brand campaigns next to general account campaigns; the lines are too blurred. And further, it dilutes the impact. For example, if you have a squeaky clean brand campaign it allows for robust and meaningful competitor analysis as you can use auction insights to see which competitors are bidding on your branded terms and how aggressively. Brand-ish campaigns (ie, messy brand campaigns) corrupt your understanding of your funnel, your market, your competitors, and the integrity of the business intelligence gained.

7. Add a negative remarketing list
Depending on a) how aggressive your competitors are, b) how you rank organically and c) how unique the brand name is, you can add a negative remarketing list as an audience exclusion. This ensures regular site visitors don’t see your brand ads.

If it’s highly likely that your brand-loyal clients will find you organically, why put an ad in front of them and pay for that traffic? I do this via Google Analytics with a list that catches sessions >5 in the last 180 days. Those settings are a ‘feel thing’ so set them according to your understanding around what a loyal returning customer looks like for this brand.

Pro-tip: You can actually use this strategy across your whole account to prevent competitors (and internal staff) from clicking on your ads. Just create another list with a higher session threshold (for example, 30 sessions in 180 days) and apply that list as a negative audience for every campaign in your account! That will completely block your ads from showing to anyone who is on your site regularly. However, just remember to tell the business owners that you’ve done this otherwise they’ll think their ads aren’t live! And you’ll be called. 📲

Quality brand campaigns are normally driven by brand protection and conversions, so impression share is critical, and I often find they get 99-100% of the impression share available! Winning.

However, when CPA is a more important thing than impression share and protecting brand position I:

  1. Usually, try with the above strategy first, provided there is enough budget, then
  2. If my CPA isn’t good enough, I test tCPA or tROAS via an experiment.

To Sum Up…

Clean, well-designed and well-analyzed brand campaigns deliver significant benefit to the brand, to the account, and to the understanding of how to best market that company to those in-market and those you’re yet to even encounter.

Brand campaigns aren’t just about today’s conversion. They’re about tomorrow’s consumer perception and market positioning, and every brand I’ve worked with wants some control over that!

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