There are some topics in search marketing that you can revisit every couple of years and write about all over again, because they never stop changing. Paid search trademark policies is one of those, because search engines never stop toying with their policies, which are often influenced by changes in case law within the various countries in which the search engines operate. If you use paid search just within the U.S., you need to know U.S. policies, but if you operate in other countries, you've got a lot more to keep up with.

In the U.S., Google has allowed marketers to bid on competitor trademarks and even include them in ad copy since 2009. They loosened up their policy in Canada, the UK, and Ireland in 2010 and also allowed bidding on trademarks (but not use in ad copy) in most EU countries. If you can afford to buy it, a recent Forrester report does a good job of highlighting Google's policies worldwide with advice on what to do. One of the most interesting findings is that just 4% of search marketers bid on competitive keywords, with only 60% even bidding on their own. It could be that the uncertainty of what is allowed is causing companies to be conservative in this area.


Image via Wikipedia

Given the differences in countries, that makes sense, but there are even bigger differences among search engines. We've discussed just Google's policies so far, but what about Yahoo! and Bing? Yahoo! is utterly silent about their terms and conditions on trademarks, preferring to make every decision subject to editorial review. Bing, in general prohibits the use of competitive trademarks in for both bids and ad copy. (Check out a nice review of the various policies in a few countries.)

So, should you just avoid this area altogether? There's no need to. If you believe that this is a winning strategy for you, there's no reason not to test it. Check out the trademark policies of the PPC engines that you use. As long as you are not in violation of the search engines' terms of service, you can at least try out this strategy. Test it to see if it works for you.

Now, many companies might rightly believe that there is no point in advertising "Gimbel's" when someone types in "Macy's"--OK, OK, there probably isn't much reason to advertise Gimbel's for any reason--but don't avoid it because you aren't sure if it is allowed. Get the facts for the countries you operate in and test whatever techniques you think might work. You might be overlooking a real winner.

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February 15, 2011

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Thanks for the post and for clarifying that. I have a question though regarding on the topic, I've been doing PPC for a company here in the Philippines using Google and not sure if it's allowed here to bid on competitors brands.

I don't know for sure, but I think Japan is the only country in Asia where any competitive trademark behavior is allowed by Google. Perhaps others are more expert.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Are you keeping up with paid search trademark policies?