Time and time again we have had a client bring up the fact that one or more of their competitors is bidding on our client’s trademarked or company-oriented keywords on the search engines. When this happens to our clients they cry fowl and often run to us with the question, can my competitors bid on my trademarked terms or name? Google says yes and no.

Yes, you can bid on another company’s trademarked terms. After all, these are ads. If you’re standing in an aisle at a store, you may see POP displays or store banners or coupons urging you to purchase one brand over another. Isn’t this the same thing? As long as the ad or promotion does not convey anything negative about your competitor and does not mention the trademarked terms then it is okay.

Google’s stance is that it wants you to have content on your site (within two clicks) that pertains to the keywords you are bidding on. They give you "credit", if you will, for having applicable content. If you don’t have relevant content, the clicks get very expensive. Google does not see the value for the user – an ad pointing to a page that does not have content related to the ad is misleading to the user.

And no. Google has earmarked certain trademarked names as non-touchable by competitors.

This is an ongoing topic for discussion, especially after the American Airlines trademark cases. Some folks argue that you should be able to bid on a competitor’s trademarked or branded keyword terms because these are ads. Others say, no, what is the use of a trademarked term if it is not enforceable? Even the search engines’ views vary. Google says yes, in certain situations. MSN says yes but only if it is within their guidelines and does not infringe on a third party’s trademark or rights. Yahoo says only if you are one of two types of sites – a reseller of the trademarked product/service or an informative site – but definitely not a competitor.

Where do you stand on targeting a competitor’s brand within your PPC campaign?

—Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing