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Paid Search Advertising: Your Brand is at Risk

According to recent research, there are over 6 billion searches worldwide every day on various search engines. There is no denying that eCommerce is on the rise, and businesses need to be strategic and targeted when promoting their brand online. 

Paid search advertising is one of many ways to promote your brand on search engines and direct traffic to your website.

Whatever your expertise and responsibility, how knowledgeable are you about who is using your brand name—or same variation of it—to get consumers to click on their company’s ads? Fraudsters and competitors can bid to run their ads using your brand terminology, driving your customers to their sites, and also potentially increasing what you pay for the same kind of advertising—and most importantly, misrepresenting your brand.

There are three risks to paid search advertising that will give you a better understanding of why it should be considered as part of every company’s online brand protection strategy.

1. Unauthorized trademark bidding by affiliates, partners, and third parties

If you work for a popular company whose brand is well known, chances are, your trademark is being used in paid search advertising. Brand owners often choose to allow partners, resellers, or even affiliates use their brand name in advertising, but not everyone using a brand trademark has been given permission. 

You should have a full understanding of who is using your brand name on all search engines. Trademark rights in paid search advertising differs regionally. Some countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and others are much more lenient when it comes to using a trademark. Someone selling your products or services, components of your product or services, products or services that correspond to your trademarks, and even competitors, can choose to use your trademark in paid search advertising. Other regions such as the European Union or countries who follow the European Free Trade Association policies are much stricter, and bidding to use competitor terms, for example, is prohibited.

However, unless you proactively send an official complaint to a specific search engine—bearing in mind that there are quite a few out there worldwide (Google®, Bing®, Yahoo!®, Ask.com, Yandex, Baidu®, to name a few)—your brand, in conjunction with any other key trademarked terms, is being used illegally by other companies to sell their products and services. 

2. Ad hijacking

Affiliate programs can be great for increasing the reach of your brand and acquiring customers outside of direct marketing channels. However, select affiliates may engage in behavior that is detrimental to both your brand and to revenue. For example, affiliates may place paid search ads that look exactly like your ads. By using similar headlines, descriptions, and the same display URL, affiliates increase their chance of grabbing direct search traffic. 

Hijacking comes into play when a third-party advertiser creates an ad that displays another companies’ branded URL. As search engines only allow one display URL per ad on the search engine results page (SERP), your company will be competing for the same traffic as the hijacker, and this will certainly result in higher bidding costs for you, and depending on the quality score, could even remove your ad from the SERP, costing you business. 

In addition, an affiliate hijacker can choose to redirect the traffic to the brand owner’s URL, and even though that traffic will still make it to the real company, the hijacker will receive a commission for the sale. The hijacker can also choose to divert the traffic to its own URL, resulting in lost traffic for your brand, and higher bidding costs, as well as consumer confusion. 

3. Malicious advertising

Cyber crime is an upwards trend and is also prevalent in paid search advertising. If you aren’t worried about affiliate hijacking or unauthorized usage of your brand in paid search advertising, you might be concerned about cyber criminals using your brand name to scam your customers—or even worse, install malware (malvertising) on their network once the unauthorized link is clicked. 

In February 2017, Google let paid search fraudsters slip through the cracks and post a fake Amazon ad that appeared above legitimate Amazon.com® ads. Clicking the link led consumers to a fraudulent site—“the blue screen of death”—insinuating their computer had been infected with malware (which it had not, actually). Even though Google removed 1.7M ads that violated its policies in the previous year, experts are still unsure how this rogue ad, for one of the highest-ranking online retailers, got through. 

The solution: paid search monitoring

To ensure that customers reach your site, and that the ads they see are consistent with your brand image and policy, you should use paid search monitoring as part as you overall brand protection strategy. That way you will have a full overview of who is bidding on your terms, on what search engines, when, and how. It will help you identify ads that are costing you traffic, hiking up the bid, and most importantly, damaging your brand.

Make sure to choose a provider that has a takedown process to expedite removal of trademark-infringing advertisements, and also address ad word abuse.