Genuine Strategies to Outsmart Paid Search Counterfeiters

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Posted by Craig Greenfield, SVP Performance Innovation

According to MarkMonitor, counterfeiters sold $135 billion in goods online in 2010. Many counterfeiters are now using paid search to engage U.S. searchers. Search engines make this possible by allowing third parties—potentially counterfeiters—to bid on others' trademarks (e.g., Coach bags, Oakley sunglasses, Rosetta Stone). Search engines prohibit advertisers from promoting counterfeit goods, but smart counterfeiters regularly evade the engines. Offshore counterfeiters also evade U.S. law enforcement, which only has jurisdiction to seize domestic domains. As a result, some high-end retailers and software providers are being forced to wage a constant paid search battle against counterfeiters.

Let's look at Coach, a brand susceptible to counterfeiting. According to Coach's Web site, the only sites that sell authentic Coach products are,, and However, according to Google's search engine results page (SERP), searchers can buy authentic Coach products from sites like,, and

Actually, the domain names of the counterfeiter sites don't even matter; every time Google removes an ad, the counterfeiter puts the same content on a different domain and buys a new ad. Controlling counterfeiter paid search ads is like a game of Whac-A-Mole—every time one is eliminated, a new one pops up. 

A "Coach bags" Google query on May 26 I conducted illustrates the paid search visibility that some counterfeiters can achieve. Although rare, the results showed an instance where the top three advertisers are all Coach counterfeiters. Coach's official website was found in the sixth position.

Coach counterfeit 

The most interesting aspect of this example is the position of the counterfeiters' ads in the top sponsored box and above Coach's own ad (which ranks #6 in the right-side listings). Google has stated that for an ad to display in the top sponsored box it must meet a high quality score threshold. It's unlikely these ads—which contain misspellings and are obviously suspect—have high quality scores. Thus brands cannot rely on quality score alone to keep counterfeiters from the top of the SERP. Brands must employ sophisticated strategies to outsmart paid search counterfeiters, including the following:

Powerful monitoring and workflow technology: Brands that are susceptible to counterfeiters must monitor their keywords in real time, 24/7. This requires powerful technology that not only identifies when a counterfeiter is bidding on your brand, but automatically does something about it.

When your trademark monitoring technology identifies a counterfeiter, how long does it take to you or your team to:

  1. contact the search engine to remove the listing;
  2. increase your bid to ensure you're running above the counterfeiter until the engine removes the ad; and
  3. ease back bids once the counterfeiter's ad has been removed?

Best-in-class performance marketers optimize the campaign management process to scale across keywords and publishers by combining business intelligence tools with trademark monitoring and workflow automation technology. While speed to market and quality of implementation are important success factors when trying to blunt the competition, it's critical when a counterfeiter is bidding on your brand.

Multidomain distribution strategies: Brands should consider SERP domination strategies to overpower counterfeiters' ads. For instance, most luxury retailers sell via channel partners like department stores. These retailers could employ paid search co-op strategies where they provide their channel partners with money to bid on the retailer's brand. For instance, a retailer could bid on its brand in conjunction with four channel partners, effectively pushing counterfeiters below the fold. This strategy requires clear communication with channel partners, as well as bidding rules and monitoring to avoid cost-per-click (CPC) inflation.

"Official" ad copy: Don't underestimate the effectiveness of ad copy that contains your trademark symbol and the phrase "official store." Searchers seeking the real product will look for this kind of copy.

As you can see, complicated paid search challenges require sophisticated, customized solutions. This blog only scratches the surface on how to deal with counterfeiters and other unauthorized parties who bid on your trademarks. Do you have a complicated search challenge? If so, leave a comment below or send me an email at

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