Google AdWords trademark policies can be confusing – especially if you don’t have prior experience with intellectual property or trademark law. We have been helping big brands, agencies, and networks protect their trademarked terms in paid search for the last 10 years. In that time, we’ve answered countless questions about AdWords trademark policies and brand bidding. I talked with our intrepid Customer Success Team to find out what are the most common questions they get asked and how they answer those questions.
1. Who can bid on your branded keywords and trademarked terms?
Many of our customers assume that only they – the brand owner – can bid on their branded keywords and trademarked terms. The truth though is that anyone can bid on your trademarked terms – even competitors.
Google wants to facilitate the flow of information and e-commerce via their search engine — not arbitrate or mediate partner agreements. While Google wants consumers to have a good user experience, they also want advertisers to compete for attention. Competitor bids drive up CPCs, which means more advertising revenue for Google.
There are rules around using trademarks in the ad copy. Savvy paid search managers know these rules and generally follow them. But if they see a competitor hasn’t bid on their own trademark terms, they may jump on the opportunity to claim the top paid spot on Google, while still complying with Google’s rules.
2. Can anyone use my trademark in their ad copy?
This question is a little more difficult to answer since there are regional variations. The short answer is… it depends. Many of our customers think that only they can use their trademark in the ad text. The truth is that Google allows resellers and informational sites to use the trademark under certain conditions and in certain geographies.
For ads targeting the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, the following are allowed:
- 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.
- 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.
The following is not allowed under the reseller and informational site policy:
- Ads referring to the trademark for competitive purposes.
- Ads with landing pages that require users to provide extensive information before displaying commercial information.
- Ads that are unclear as to whether the advertiser is a reseller or informational site.
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.
For ads targeting the European Union and European Free Trade Association regions, the rules are more restrictive, and are focused on eliminating consumer confusion around the origin of the advertised goods and services. Google says it will investigate and disapprove ads where the combination of keyword and ad featuring a trademark is potentially confusing.
The types of ads below targeting the EU and EFTA regions may use the trademark as a keyword, provided that the combination of the keyword and ad 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.
3. How does Google know which partners can use my trademark?
By submitting a 3rd-Party Authorization Request form you can notify Google that you allow certain partners to use your trademark. Google only accepts non-conditional authorization requests. Therefore, you cannot include conditions for which the trademark may only be used, such as time period or type of ad content. Google only prohibits or allows all use of a particular term by an advertiser. Trademark owners may revoke the authorization at any time.
In theory, this should mean that Google uses this information to block or allow certain ads from showing. In practice, however, Google does not intervene, even when the trademark infringing ad is being shown by an unauthorized partner.
It is also worth noting that in certain regions (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand) if the landing page of an ad includes content categorized under the reseller and informational site policy, Google will allow the use of your trademark regardless of whether they have been approved via the 3rd-Party Authorization form.
Since Google will not police or proactively enforce partner agreements, the responsibility to do so falls on the brand owner. You can manually monitor or use an automated paid search monitoring tool like the BrandVerity tool to ensure that partners are following their agreements.
BrandVerity's Paid Search Monitoring tool can help you enforce your partner and affiliate agreements by identifying when partners run paid search advertisements on searches of your brand keywords. When the tool finds instances of your partners violating your paid search agreements, you can easily contact them through the interface with all of the necessary details about the advertisement.
4. Why are other advertisers bidding on my keywords/branded terms?
Since branded keywords are the most valuable and highest-converting search traffic, they are tempting targets for partners, competitors, and third parties to run ads on. A branded search indicates a high level of purchase intent. For example, someone who searches for “Nike Pegasus” is interested in that particular brand and model of shoe and will likely buy in the short-term. In contrast, someone doing a non-branded search for “best running shoes in 2018” is still in the information gathering and research phase.
Also, branded terms are relatively inexpensive. In our recent webinar In Defense of Brand Bidding our panelist, Ian Orekondy of Good Apple Digital said branded terms for his agency’s customers are usually 5-10% of the cost of unbranded terms, ranging from 5-12 cents up to $1.
Lastly, if you aren’t bidding on your own brand terms, others might. Savvy competitors may not always bid on competitor terms, but if you don’t bid on your own trademarked terms, then they see an opportunity.
5. Why are competitors using my trademark in their ad copy?
According to Google’s rules, competitors may use your brand name in the display URL. However, competitor ads using branded or trademarked terms in the ad text or ad title are not allowed.
We see cases where competitors use brand names in ad copy in competitive and non-competitive ways. For example, an ad may say “Brand X – the better alternative to Brand Y.” This type of ad is a clear candidate for submission to Google for takedown. In other cases, the language is more neutral such as “Compare Brand X to Brand Y." While this type of ad is less egregious, it is also eligible for takedown. For both ad types, the responsibility lies with the trademark owner to alert Google when a competitor uses their trademark in the ad copy.
6. What is the most common type of trademark infringement?
There are six major types of trademark infringers, which are explained in detail in this ebook, but search arbitrage is the most common type of violation.
Search arbitrage is an ad that primarily leads to additional ads. Essentially, an advertiser will place a search ad that leads to a landing page featuring other ads. The assumption that Search Arbitragers make is that the ad clicks on their landing page will create enough revenue to outweigh the cost of placing the original ad.
Many Search Arbitragers are search engines themselves, such as Ask.com and Wow.com. Others are Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) who target brands that they don’t actually work with (sometimes by accident, sometimes intentionally). Yet another group runs ads on parked domains and places ads on keywords related to common customer activities such as logins or account statements.
7. Once I send a TM complaint what happens?
Google responds to trademark complaints in the order they're received. Typically a response will take 6-8 weeks, although we've seen responses in as little as one day or as long as 16 weeks.
If you submit the trademark complaint through the BrandVerity tool, you can see the status of your trademark submissions in the Case Management tab. The tool tracks all of your trademark submissions and keeps a record of which ones have been processed and which ones are still pending.
If Google decides not to take down an ad that you submitted, they will notify you and explain why the ad complies with their rules.
8. Once Google takes an infringing ad down, will it come back?
When you submit a trademark complaint to Google you have two options. You can submit a complaint against specific advertisers at issue or against all advertisers.
If you submit a complaint against the specific advertiser, Google will review all advertisements included in each submission and will remove the advertisers who are violating the AdWords Trademark Policy. Only the specific ads that you are referencing will be taken down. You, as the trademark owner, need to submit each individual complaint for take down.
If you submit a complaint against all advertisers, Google will attempt to limit non-authorized use of trademark in a manner that violates AdWords Trademark Policy. The limitation applies to non-authorized advertisers in the same country and industry in which the trademark is registered.
While submitting against all advertisers may prevent certain use of the trademark by non-authorized advertisers, it does not guarantee that your trademark will not be infringed. Failure to submit a complete list of authorized advertisers, including AdWords customer IDs, may result in the removal of advertisements using your trademarks by valued partners. Moreover, some non-compliant use of trademark by non-authorized advertisers will likely slip through the cracks. We generally advise our customers to submit their complaints against specific advertisers to mitigate against those risks.
After Google takes down an ad you submitted, that specific ad, in that same format, will not come back. However, other advertisers can launch new ads that include unauthorized use of your trademark. Therefore, continued vigilance is key to protecting your trademark over the long-term.
These are some of the most common questions we’ve heard relating to Adwords trademark policies. The next pieces in this blog series will go into more depth on AdWords rules, what you can do to combat trademark infringements, and how to set up a paid search monitoring program.
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