Posted by Matt Miller, Director, Vertical Solutions
Google announced today a change in their trademark policy that will go into effect on June 15th. The change allows advertisers to use trademark terms in their ad text even if they do not own the trademark or have permission to use it (both on Google.com and the Content Network). Advertisers will be allowed to use the trademarks if they do so in a “descriptive or generic way” and if the ad leads to a landing page of a reseller of that trademarked good/service, seller of replacement parts for that trademarked good/service, or site containing information about that trademarked good/service. Advertisers will not be able to use the trademark if the ad leads to a landing page of a competitor to the trademarked good/service or the ad leads to a landing page criticizing that trademarked good/service. Google will crawl the ads and the associated landing pages to ensure they adhere to the new policy.
Advertisers have been able to bid on trademark terms that they don’t own or have permission to use. Until now, they have not been able to use the trademark terms in their ad text. The effect of this change in policy is your authorized and unauthorized resellers, affiliates and possibly your competition, can improve their CTR/relevancy on the SERP by using your trademarks in the ad text. The key is Google’s ability to read the landing page content and effectively determine that the advertiser’s content falls within the guidelines.
Your Competition: Potential loopholes exist that enable your competitors or other unauthorized advertisers to use your trademarks in their ad text. For instance, a competitor could build out a page comparing their product to your product. Google may look at this page and think it is an informational page that falls within the boundaries of the policy. An example of this would be a landing page on the Ford site comparing a Ford vehicle to a Volkswagen vehicle. The Google automated tool could consider this comparison page to be an informational page on Volkswagen, thus enabling Ford to use the Volkswagen trademark in Ford ad text. Given this, advertisers need to employ automated techniques to monitor their trademark terms, especially starting June 15th when these policy changes take effect. Advertisers must closely monitor CPCs on brand terms. If you see (1) your competition using your trademarks in the ad text or (2) a sudden rise in CPCs on your brand terms, investigate the potential violation and bring it to Google’s attention.
Your Resellers/Affiliates: Previously, sites that weren’t authorized to use your trademarks could not use your trademarks in their ad text. So a site like WhyPaySticker.com could not use “Ford” in their ad text if they were not historically authorized to do so. The net effect of this was that WhyPaySticker.com ad text was less relevant to searchers using the keyword “Ford.” Therefore, the “Ford” keywords are more expensive for WhyPaySticker.com and less expensive for the trademark owner, Ford. Google’s policy change could mean a rise in CPCs for the trademark owner as other advertisers start using trademarks in ad copy to improve relevancy. The same applies to affiliates. Some retailers have affiliate policies in place restricting the use of trademarks in ad text. These affiliates can now build out landing pages specific to your products/relevant to your trademarks that pass the Google sniff test, thus allowing them to use your trademarks in their ad text to create more relevant ads.
This speaks to the need for retailers who have affiliate policies around search to closely monitor their affiliates to see if they’re changing behavior come June 15th. Affiliate networks like the Google Affiliate Network work with their clients to enforce affiliate search policies, but the trademark owner should still increase diligence around monitoring affiliates/resellers to make sure brand term CPCs don’t rise.
Who’s Not Impacted
Many manufactureres who sell direct have allowed affiliates to do whatever they want to promote their products. Google’s change will not affect these manufactureres. In fact, the change will allow these affiliates to create more specific, and thus relevant, ad text to boost conversion rates around the manufacturere’s products.
In summary, Google’s trademark policy changes increase the need for automated techniques to monitor your trademark terms on the SERP. Trademark owners should closely monitor brand term CPCs after June 15th to ensure they’re not rising. If increases are due to competition, that should be brought to Google’s attention. If they are due to affiliates/resellers, affiliate search policies should be enforced. The Google policy change is also a good excuse to take a deeper look at the ad copy running on your brand terms and ensure adherence to best practices (A/B testing, rotating multiple ads, testing different offers and messages on your brand terms to improve response rates, and using “official site” and “TM” in the copy).