Google Ads Trademark Rules 101

Ulla Saleh Jul 26, 2018

When competitors use your trademark in their Google AdWords campaigns, there are many adverse effects including decreased CTRs and increased CPCs for your ads as well as a poor customer experience for your customers. It’s also annoying for any digital marketer to see a competitor in the top spot on the SERP using your trademark! Check out more in part 2 of our 4-part series on Google Ads Trademark Rules.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Joss & Main bids on Restoration Hardware trademark It depends on who you ask. This ad likely upset Restoration Hardware. Brands tend to want to occupy position one on branded searches. Joss & Main, on the other hand, was likely happy to see that their strategy of bidding on a slight misspelling of Restoration Hardware’s brand name (ie. Restorationhardware), put their ad in position one on the SERP, ahead of their competitor.

 

But, what does Google have to say about all this? Is it even allowed?


Google does not allow competitors to use trademarked terms in the ad title or ad copy. In the example above, if Restoration Hardware were to submit the ad for take down, Google would have likely removed it. You can use a brand name (or a competitor’s brand name) in the display URL of your ad.

Google’s rules, however, vary by geographic location and what may seem like a slight nuance can have a significant impact. This blog post – the second in a four-part series –will explain and show examples of what is and what is not allowed according to Google’s AdWords Trademark Rules.

Google states that they only have one global trademark policy. In 2013, they announced, “advertisers will need to comply with one trademark policy, rather than several, when selecting keywords for their AdWords campaigns.” Since there are many notable exceptions, and those exceptions vary by geography, in reality, Google divides the world into three main groups and we will talk about each one separately:

    1. The United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. Rather than spell out all these countries each time, when we say “the US,” we are referring to this entire group of English-speaking countries.

    2. The European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) regions, referred to in this post as “the EU.”

    3. The rest of the world – in other words, countries not covered by the two groups above.
 
18-7-tmblog1-us-nz-1

For ads targeting the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia Google’s rules are as follows:

 

Trademarks as Keywords

Anyone can bid on your branded terms. Google’s rules state: “We don’t investigate or restrict trademarks as keywords.”

While brand bidding can be frustrating and costly if a competitor uses your trademarked terms, on the flip side, you can use brand bidding to your advantage. Bidding on your own trademark you can help you increase incremental search traffic and conversions, dominate the mobile SERP, and keep your competitors and affiliates at bay.
The important thing to remember is that in the US, Google will never restrict trademark usage as a keyword.
 

Display URL Use

Anyone can use your trademark in their display URL (the website URL that's shown with the ad). For example, this type of use of Nike’s trademark in the display url would be allowed under Google’s rules:

Tennis Shoes at Discount Prices
All Tennis Shoes at Discount
Prices at Shoes Galore Outlet
www.shoesgalore.com/Nike
 

However, in response to a complaint about an Expanded Text Ad, Google
may restrict a trademark from appearing in the subdomain of an advertiser’s display URL. If they restrict it, this doesn’t mean they will take down the ad, but they may remove the subdomain from appearing in the display URL. Google advises trademark owners can contact the advertiser directly if they have any other concerns about display URLs.


Ad Copy


In the US, Google only allows the brand holder, resellers, and informational sites to use the trademark in the ad title or ad text.

Resellers can use trademark in the ad copy as long as the ad’s landing page is primarily dedicated to selling products or services corresponding to the trademark. The page must clearly facilitate the sale of the product and provide information such as price or rate for the product or service.

If you are a shoe reseller like Zappos selling branded products such as Adidas on your website, Google will allow the use of the Adidas trademark in the Zappos ad copy as long as the person searching for the Adidas shoe is clearly able to purchase them on the Zappos site. A consumer may prefer to buy a pair of Adidas shoes via Zappos (the legendary customer service, loyalty points, or free returns are all good reasons to shop via Zappos!) instead of buying direct via Adidas.com.

You’ll notice in the SERP below, Nordstrom, also a reseller of Adidas shoes, shows up under the Adidas paid search ad. Both Nordstrom and Zappos are using the Adidas trademark in their ad copy, and both are allowed under the reseller policy by Google.
Resellers use the Adidas trademark in their ad copy

Informational sites can use trademarks in the the ad copy if the primary purpose of the ad’s landing page is to provide informative details about products or services corresponding to the trademark.
 
Google’s restrictions on using trademarks
Google does place some restrictions on reseller and informational sites. The following are not allowed under the reseller and informational site policy:

  • Ads referring to the trademark for competitive purposes. Most of the time when we see a trademark being used for competitive purposes it is when a competitor is bidding on a competing brand’s trademarked terms, not a reseller or an informational site using a trademark competitively.

For example, below we see Acuity Scheduling using it’s competitor Calendly’s trademark.
Acuity Scheduling using it's competitor Calendly's trademark
  • Ads with landing pages that require users to provide extensive information before displaying commercial information. We commonly see this tactic used by lead generators, especially in the insurance and consumer finance industry. With the BrandVerity Search Monitoring tool we found the example below. ZipQuote.com is using Hagerty Insurance’s trademark on a search for their brand.

ZipQuote.com uses Hagerty Insurance's trademark
Clicking on the advertisement takes you to the landing page below, which includes six pages of form fills.
 
A lead generation landing page
This type of ad would be a good candidate for submission to Google and we would expect it would be taken down.
 
Our blog post on lead generators goes into more detail on this particular Google trademark rule, which came into effect in November 2016. 
 
  • Ads that are unclear as to whether the advertiser is a reseller or informational site.
 

Authorized advertisers

In the US, Google also allows advertising partners, channel partners, and affiliates to use trademarks in the ad copy. If you have agreements in place with your partners that only allow your trademark to be used under certain conditions, the responsibility falls on you, not Google, to monitor and contact the partner directly if they are not adhering to those agreements.
 
Other exceptions
The following types of ads may use a trademarked term in ad text:

  • Ads using the term descriptively in its ordinary meaning rather than in reference to the trademark. For example, “Apple” is a trademarked term, but an online grocery store can refer to an apple in their ad text.

  • Ads referring to goods or services that do not correspond to the trademark. The example of Uber Conference (an online conferencing site) vs. Uber (the rideshare app) illustrates this point. Both have the word “Uber” in their name but they offer different goods and services. Therefore, both companies, can use “Uber” in the ad text of their ads.
 
18-7-tmblog1-euflag
For ads targeting the European Union and European Free Trade Association regions, the rules are slightly different.
 
Generally speaking, the rules are a little more brand-friendly for ads targeting the EU and EFTA regions than they are for the US. They are focused on eliminating consumer confusion around the origin of the advertised goods and services.
 

Trademarks as Keywords:

 

In the EU, Google may restrict the use of a trademark as a keyword. This is the main difference between the US and EU Trademark Policies.

In response to a complaint, Google will do a limited investigation as to whether a keyword (in combination with particular ad text) is confusing as to the origin of the advertised goods and services. If they deem the combination to be confusing, they will require that the advertiser no longer use that keyword.

In the EU, the types of ads in the list below may use the trademark as a keyword, provided that the combination of the keyword and ad text is not confusing. Google notes on their Advertising Policies Help page that this list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive.

  • Ads using a term descriptively or generically rather than in reference to the trademark.
  • Ads for competing products or services.
  • Ads for the sale of products or services, replacement parts, or compatible products or services corresponding to the trademark.
  • Ads for sites that provide informative details about products or services corresponding to the trademark.
  • For certain ad extensions and formats only: Ads referring to the trademark to provide additional information about the advertised products or services.



Display URL use

The EU’s rules on using trademarks in the display URL are the same as in the US. In the US, Google will not restrict the use of the trademark. At most, they may remove the subdomain from appearing in the display URL.

 


Ad Copy

The reseller and informational site policy that covers the US, does not apply to the EU. Therefore, trademark use in ad text may not be allowed. The policy states: “In response to trademark owner complaints, Google may restrict the use of trademarks in ad text.”

Given that Google’s rules for the EU are literally shorter and less specific than the US rules, at first glance, they might seem more permissive of trademark use. But if a brand submits a trademark complaint because they find the combination of the trademark as a keyword and ad text confusing, that combination will no longer be allowed. The EU policies therefore give brands more opportunities to raise concerns and submit trademark complaints.
 

For ads targeting the the Rest of the World, or the countries that are not mentioned in the two prior groups, the standard Google trademark policy (without any exceptions) applies.

Trademarks as Keywords

Anyone can use trademarks as keywords. In the rest of the world, Google will not conduct investigations or restrict the use of trademarks as keywords.

Display URL use

The rules on using trademarks in the display URL are the same as in the US and the EU. Google will not restrict the use of the trademark, but may remove the subdomain from appearing in the display URL.
 

Ad Copy

Trademarks may only be used in ad text by the trademark owner and third-parties explicitly authorized by the trademark owner. All ads placed by unauthorized parties are generally considered trademark violations and eligible for takedown. There are, however, exceptions for generic use, etc.
 
 

What are main regional differences?

We put together the chart below to help summarize the main regional differences. 
 
A table of Google's Trademark Policy for different regions

Hopefully, this blog has helped clarify some of the nuances of Google AdWords trademark rules. One of the major benefits of using BrandVerity to monitor your paid search is you don’t need to become a trademark expert. The tool automatically finds potential violations and all you have to do is review and submit them. Whenever you have a question, our Customer Success Team is available and happy to help you navigate some of the trickier cases.

Our first blog in this series, Google AdWords Trademark Policies: Top 8 Questions, answers the most commonly-asked questions our Customer Success Team has answered on the topic of Google’s trademark rules.

Our next two pieces in this series will explain how brand owners can combat trademark infringements and how to set up a paid search monitoring program.

Ready to start protecting your trademarked terms in Google? Our Paid Search Monitoring demo gives you full and customized access to BrandVerity’s platform with your data.

Request a Demo

Topics: Paid Search, AdWords Trademark, Brand Bidding

What you don't know will hurt you. Start monitoring and protecting your brand.
Don't Miss Out

Get the latest insights on brand protection, compliance, and paid search delivered right to your inbox.