Outside of the typical affiliate scenarios, there are plenty of other cases where marketing partnerships can run into brand bidding issues. Whether it's hotels and OTAs, product manufacturers and retailers, or brands and franchisees, there's really no perfect answer. Some brands may welcome it as a means of dominating the search results—others might consider a form of brand poaching. Regardless, I figured I'd call attention to a new example of partner bidding that I noticed over the weekend.
I happened upon this while conducting some research about ISPs in my area. Right now I'm preparing to switch to a new internet provider, so my research included a fair number of branded search terms. When I searched for "CenturyLink internet", I found a few interesting results:
What's Going on Here?
At first glance, the top ad seems like it was placed by CenturyLink itself. After all, it includes the brand name right in the URL. However, further inspection reveals that this is not the case. If you look up "buycenturylink.com" in DomainTools, you'll see "Domains By Proxy" as the domain's owner. By comparison, other domains with CenturyLink in their name (such as centurylink.com) return "CenturyLink, Inc." in their WhoIs records. Furthermore, the ad in question leads to this landing page:
Notice the "Authorized Sales Agent" text below the CenturyLink logo. Despite how much buycenturylink.com looks like CenturyLink's official site, it's a separate entity. The same "Authorized Sales Agent" artwork also appears on usdsl.com—the other advertiser I highlighted in my search results screenshot—as well as on usbundles.com (another advertiser I found).
The Potential for Brand Confusion
I can't be sure whether these particular examples would count as violations of CenturyLink's partner program. These sites may be well within the terms of their agreements. However, coming from the customer side of this experience, I have to say I was a bit confused. I wanted to go directly to the brand, and the ads didn't make that pathway very clear. The experience left me wondering: at what point do partners, resellers or affiliate ads on the SERP create more friction than value?