Magazine article Marketing

Marketing Digital Report: The Great Search Stand-Off

Magazine article Marketing

Marketing Digital Report: The Great Search Stand-Off

Article excerpt

When Google UK announced plans to open bidding on trademarked terms, the stage was set for a brand battle, but all-out war has yet to ensue, writes Adam Woods.

What is the collective noun for Mexican stand-offs? A Tarantino? Or, if you listen to search industry-watchers, perhaps a Google. They believe this is exactly what we are seeing following the search engine's decision to permit bidding on trademarked keywords in the UK and Ireland: dozens of silent showdowns between rival brands, their firearms cocked and aimed, their bullets engraved with one another's names.

When Google announced in April that it would be allowing competitive trademark bidding, the big brands in the busiest sectors reached for their guns. But as yet, few shots have been fired.

Nonetheless, Google's gambit has had consequences, even if it has not quite prompted the open warfare some feared. Search specialists report that the cost to businesses has already been significant as they fortify their paid-search strategies and bid, sometimes for the first time, on their own brands.

Some, such as Tesco, immediately declared that they would not rise to Google's bait, prompting a snort of derision from Asda marketing director Rick Bendel, who stopped just short of declaring an outright intention to get stuck into rival trademarks.

Many brands have been forced to bid for what was previously theirs, to maintain position and ward off low-level predators. Indeed, some have begun to incorporate competitive bidding into their strategies, partly to compensate for a decline in the pulling power of their own trademarks.

'Click-through rates on our own brand terms have declined, but only by a very small amount,' says Alan Harding, head of search at 'Costs were erratic for at least a month after the change, but have since settled at a more consistent level, which is three to four times higher than before.

'We've been aggressive with anyone abusing our trademarks, but have also ensured we have good coverage on other brand terms,' he adds.

The promised assault from affiliates does not appear to have materialised - not surprisingly, given that most of them sign binding agreements with the brands they have relationships with, strictly defining their keyword bidding rights.

'At the moment, there seems to be a bit of a stalemate in the industry; brands just aren't (bidding on each other's trademarks) yet,' says Jack Wallington, programmes manager at the Internet Advertising Bureau. He believes that the many uneasy truces could yet be broken before Christmas, when the market becomes more cut-throat.

'It could turn into this huge fight, but looking at the US and Canada, where they have had this in place for years, a lot of agencies say it has actually helped them,' adds Wallington. In a market where the competition for brand terms is a fact of life, companies and their competitors can end up with increased traffic as a result, he suggests.

Research conducted by Hitwise, before and after the change, to track the proportion of people who proceeded to a brand's site after searching on a trademarked term, uncovered little upheaval on the surface of things However, it also suggested that many brands have been obliged to paddle hard underneath to keep things that way.

The 'before' study found that 91.8% of brand searches ended up on the relevant brand owner's website in the UK, compared with 84.2% in the US, where trademark bidding has always been permitted.

Logically, then, observers might have expected a slump in the month after the changes came into force in Britain, but in reality the UK numbers held up, sliding just half a percentage point to 91.3%.

What had changed, however, was the composition of the traffic received. To take a prominent example, whereas just 18.4% of successful brand searches in the travel sector came from paid search in the month before the rules changed, that figure rose to 26. …

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