If you work in paid search, you may have heard about the importance of paid search monitoring. If not, read the first post in this two-part series, where we explain the many reasons why paid search monitoring is a no-brainer for PPC professionals.
In short, if you aren’t monitoring, you are allowing trademark bidders to steal your hard-earned clicks and control your customer experience. Regular monitoring helps you increase your click-through rates (CTR), lower cost-per-click (CPC) and better control the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Now that you know that monitoring is key to your PPC success, what’s next? In this post, we walk through the steps to launching a successful monitoring program.
Launch Your Program: The 4 Steps You Need to Set Up Your Monitoring Program
There are several key ingredients to a successful monitoring strategy. Here is how you get started:
Step 1: Get an automated monitoring solution
When we talk to prospects about the importance of monitoring, we often hear something along the lines of: “We don’t need an automated monitoring tool. We conduct manual searches and rarely find abuse.” When a demo our product with the company’s data uncovers rampant trademark abuse, paid search managers are often surprised. They wonder how we were able to find infringements that they couldn’t.
Manual monitoring is the first step to figuring out if you have a trademark bidding problem, but by its very nature, cannot be as comprehensive as an automated monitoring solution. Due to the many evasive techniques that trademark bidders use, such as geo-targeting and day-parting, if you aren’t carefully monitoring, you are losing valuable traffic. Detecting and crawling thousands of ads is best left to technology and not humans.
An automated paid search monitoring solution is far more thorough, actively monitoring to see who is bidding on your brand and how often they are advertising. You see the complete picture including headlines, ad copy, and the URLs they use. When infringing ads–like unauthorized ads from partners or third-parties who use your trademark–are found, the final step is to remove the non-compliant ads by notifying the search engines or contacting the partner or third-party.
Without automated monitoring in place, you will spend a lot of time looking for a needle in a haystack and will be frustrated by the lack of results. Using an automated tool makes it simple to surface violators and send them notices with just a few clicks.
Step 2: Nail down your monitoring process
When you add monitoring to your team’s workflow you should make some decisions up front about who is responsible for what and when. Most importantly, dedicate one person or team to check the automated monitoring results. That person then becomes very familiar with the tool and can more easily discern trends and know when to submit takedown requests or contact partners. A paid search monitoring tool will surface a lot of details from different stages of the consumer journey including the infringing ad, ad copy, destination url, landing page etc. The whole process runs more smoothly and efficiently if one person or a small group of people know what the policies are and know what to look for.
Here are some other questions to answer before formalizing a process:
- How frequently will you check and review the data?
- How many violations need to occur before you take action?
- How are the violation thresholds different for each group you are monitoring (e.g. affiliates, competitors, third-parties, partners etc.)? For example, if an affiliate violates a policy, should they be treated differently than when a competitor bids on your trademarked terms?
- How do you identify and handle accidental violations vs. a more systemic or sinister strategy?
Our customers tell us its best when these processes and internal policies are clear from the beginning. You can change them over time and tweak as necessary, but a best practice is to finalize a set of processes at the start of your monitoring program.
Step 3: Write clear policies
While you can write agreements to set parameters for how your partners use your brand in paid search, there are other actors whose behavior you can’t control. Clearly writing down what you will and won’t allow these various parties to do, will help you be consistent in how you handle violations and will help you reduce trademark bidding and affiliate abuse.
How much control you have depends on the advertiser type. Below are some of the restrictions you can stipulate and things to consider based on each type of advertiser.
Channel/Marketing Partners sell products and services on behalf of brands. While they can vary widely, some examples include resellers, wholesalers, authorized dealers, and online travel agencies (OTAs). For partners, a well-defined legal agreement explains the rules of engagement. Your agreement serves as a legal document detailing the ways and means of marketing that you consider legitimate for your company and brand. The language of the agreement should be in plain English and describe exactly what techniques are allowed. The more specific this document is, the less opportunity there is for any future misunderstandings.
Consider including the following in your partner agreement:
- Allowed and prohibited keywords. With some partners you may want to restrict the use of brand and brand plus keywords. With other partners you may allow it under certain conditions. For example, maybe your top three performing affiliates are allowed to bid on a brand plus keyword combination.
- Allowed and prohibited ad copy. Make sure your policies have clear rules around offering discounts, using competitors’ names in ad copy and the use of specific phrases such as “best price” and “official.”
- Ad rank. If you are bidding alongside partners, you will need to define ad position rules. Examples include: never above you, or your brand is always first on certain specific keywords.
- Think through the tiers of you channel partners. You may want to use different rules for different levels or tiers of partners. For example, if you are Nike, the policies you write for Foot Locker, Amazon.com and a local mom and pop discount shoe store will differ significantly.
- Clarify what is allowed in each market. In some cases your policies may differ by geography. For example, in the U.S. Nike shoes are sold online through Nike.com, through resellers like Amazon.com, in Nike brick and mortar stores, and in other sports stores like Footlocker. In Europe or Asia, however, those channels may be different and therefore require policies tailored to those geographies.
Affiliates and Lead Generators
Affiliate websites can vary tremendously in content, complexity, and tone. Common affiliate sites include coupon sites, review sites, cash-back sites and blogs. And lead generators collect information from prospective customers and sell that information to brands. Typically, they incentivize visitors to fill out forms by offering free quotes, comparisons, or offers on anything from insurance policies to online education programs to pest inspections.
While affiliates and lead generators differ in the ways in which they interact with brands, you as the brand owner can exert control over how these advertisers use your brand name. Your terms of service agreement or contract needs to describe exactly what techniques are and are not allowed in your program and what the consequences are should an affiliate or lead generator violate the agreed upon policies.
There are several components of affiliate agreements and lead generator contracts that we deem essential:
- Require the use of negative keywords in PPC Campaigns. If you do not allow brand-bidding in paid search, also require that your affiliates include your brand terms as negative keywords in their campaigns. This will prevent the search engines from broad matching their ads onto searches containing your brand and provide for clear accountability should you find affiliate ads on your brand terms.
- Prevent use of TM terms in domain names, subdomains, usernames, etc. Allowing an affiliate to use your trademarks in any sort of internet naming system may forfeit your rights to that name.
- Directly address incentive marketing programs. Consider the different forms of incentive marketing and clearly state which forms are and are not allowed.
- Require disclosure. Affiliates, particularly affiliates that are writing reviews of your product or service absolutely must disclose, in a conspicuous manner, their relationship with you.
- Prohibited web site content. If there are types of content that you don’t want your brand promoted alongside (adult content, hate-speech, etc.) identify it in your agreement.
- Require CAN-SPAM compliant email. If you allow your affiliates to include your affiliate links in emails they send, require that every email be CAN-SPAM compliant.
- Ability to delay and withhold payment. Your Agreement should also grant yourself the right to delay payments to affiliates. Fraud is often detectable through data monitoring but verification of fraud can take several weeks to produce. By delaying payments, you give yourself the time to investigate potential fraud, collect the necessary data, and then deny or reverse payments.
- Include ‘detrimental to brand’ language. A generic statement that can be applied to future abusive techniques provides you with protection from the ever-evolving state of affiliate poaching. A common approach to this statement would be a clause that prohibits campaigns deemed detrimental to the merchant’s brand.
For partners, affiliates and lead generators, or any other type of advertiser with whom you have a written contract or legal agreement with, you should spell out the penalties for noncompliance. For example, if an affiliate is caught brand bidding, will they be removed from the program? Or if an affiliate doesn’t follow the rules, will their commissions be zeroed out? If a lead generator sends you leads acquired through brand bidding (and that you could have acquired yourself), will they be paid for those leads? All of these scenarios need to be considered and included in the agreement.
Any written agreement should also clearly state that you are monitoring your paid search. The agreement should say that it will be enforced through an automated monitoring tool so that all parties are aware that active monitoring will be in place.
You have much less control or leverage over your competitors. As long as your competitors aren’t using your trademarks in their ad copy, their brand bidding is legal. For example, Adidas and Nike are in direct competition for the same set of customers. In order to lure customers away from Adidas, Nike may decide to place an ad on a search for “Adidas” and vice versa.
Through your monitoring tool you can see if your competitors are bidding on your branded terms. And if they are, what can you do?
- First, see if the brand bidding is a one-time thing or a regular part of their paid search strategy.
- If the data reveals they are regularly bidding on your branded keywords, look at the ad copy to see if there are any trademark violations. The BrandVerity monitoring tool gives you a screenshot of the ad copy so you can easily review it. If there is a trademark violation contact the brand directly and if that doesn’t work, submit a takedown request directly to the search engine via your monitoring tool.
- If there are no trademark violations, you can decide to ignore the brand bidding or retaliate with brand bidding of your own. While some PPC experts say that this type of retaliation is a “race to the bottom,” others say that it can work under certain circumstances, depending on what your goals are. If you decide to retaliate and brand bid on your competitor’s terms, check in to see if the tactic is working before spending more money.
These include search arbitragers who use ads to lead consumers to an additional set of ads (i.e. farther away from their intended destination), scammers and counterfeiters. Some third-parties are search engines themselves, such as Ask.com and Wow.com. Others are comparison shopping engines who target brands that they don’t actually work with (sometimes by accident, sometimes intentionally).
The only way to stop abuse by third-parties is to look for it and submit takedown requests to the search engines. Each search engine differs slightly as to what they will and will not allow, with Google taking the hardest stance on search arbitrage. If you are monitoring manually, you need to first familiarize yourself with the various search engines’ policies regarding trademarks. Then you can send a trademark complaint to the relevant search engine (using the Google trademark complaint form, or the Bing trademark complaint form). The BrandVerity paid search monitoring tool makes this process easy by automatically flagging ads that violate the search engines’ policies and generating complaints in bulk directly from the tool’s interface.
Step 4: Actively enforce your policies and partner agreements
Once you have carefully crafted your policies, you need to enforce them. An automated paid search monitoring tool streamlines enforcement since the tool flags all the violations. But when the tool uncovers trademark abuse, you need to take the next step, whether it is contacting your partner or affiliate directly or submitting a violation to the search engine.
If you don’t have an automated tool, you can use some manual techniques such as searching a list of your priority keywords across several search engines once a week, and then contacting the trademark abusers directly or submitting take down request manually, when you find abuse. While these types of manual efforts may identify and stop some of the abuse, you’ll only catch the low hanging fruit. Trademark bidders are adept at hiding. There is a reason we like to call them The Monsters of Paid Search.
If you consistently submit takedown requests to the search engines, trademark bidding will go down. For example, our customer, Getty Images, saw the number of trademark infringing ads decrease by more than 60% after only five months of using our automated tool.
For a monitoring program to be successful in the long run, consistency is key. A few months after launching a monitoring program, you’ll notice a decrease in violations. This, however, doesn’t mean you should stop monitoring. Ongoing maintenance is necessary to keep tenacious trademark bidders at bay.
After following these four steps, you are well on your way to protecting your brand and improving the PPC metrics that you care about! Through monitoring, you’ll be able to maintain stronger brand integrity and brand image, increase visitors (by preventing traffic from being diverted) and decrease CPCs.
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