Google trademark changes: the latest


Over the past couple of months I’ve been tracking the fallout from the changes made by Google to their trademark policy. A couple of you have posted comments on our blog about this issue – Google trademark decision: 1 month on. Thanks for your responses; I’ll try and give some quick answers.

A comment posted by Richard raised the issue of bidding on your trademark when you may not have done so in the past. And while it looks as if you’re driving better returns, actually all you’re doing is paying for traffic that was previously free.

What is the value of organic vs paid search?
My view is that you will certainly see a switch of website visitors from Google organic to Google Adwords. But if you were already top in the natural search rankings you shouldn’t be too drastically affected.

Between 60-80% of out-clicks from the search engine results pages will be on organic search results, not paid search. This will especially hold true for brand-related searches e.g. trademarks.

To illustrate this I recommend adding your Google organic and paid search visitors together. Then compare the traffic volumes before and after the trademark decision. You will likely find that you haven’t lost much of your traffic to competitors.

Strong brands will continue to perform
Also, try switching your pay per click off for a week and see what happens to your traffic. If you have a strong brand, Google’s trademark decision may not be too damaging. Remember, paid search marketing on your trademark is likely to be uneconomical for competitors – if this is the case they may soon disappear.

To explain, if a user is carrying out a search relating to a trademark name such as BMW; Coke; or Nike, chances are they may be looking for the official brand website. I don’t see their respective competitors such as Mercedes; Pepsi; or Reebok succeeding long-term in paid search simply because of the economies of Google Adwords. In the scenario I’ve used ads are likely to be non-relevant to the end-user, click-through rates accordingly low, and therefore their average cost per click, prohibitively high.

And it’s important to keep patrolling your ‘keyword borders’. Your trigger keyword may no longer be protected but competitors are not allowed to use your trademark terms in their actual Google advertisement text. You need to stay on top of this.

Is the UK market a precursor to a European rollout?
A further comment was added by Martin raising the issue of whether Google is testing the EMEA market (Europe Middle East and Africa) perhaps using the UK and Ireland to see what happens, before relaxing their rules across the rest of Europe.

I am with you on that. The UK market is the most developed Google Adwords market outside of North America. And with a well-developed market comes a lot of competition. Competition equals more money for Google.

For me there are a few factors that could have influenced Google’s trademark decision:

  • Google is a publically-owned business with shareholders. They are being pushed to increase plateauing revenue streams. This is a soft option to increase revenue.
  • Users have grown accustomed to seeing ads on the search engine results pages of Google. If a user doesn’t want to see an ad, it’s up to them to ignore it; in which case the trademark becomes irrelevant.
  • Google is looking to maximise the available options on any one results page. Trademarks remove 10 of a possible 20 search results on the page.
  • Google usability engineers would argue that showing ads for competitors provides greater choice to the end user. “Don’t be evil” translates to “provide an open advertising market”.
  • Google have created an open marketplace where relevant advertisers will be rewarded. If your ad or product is non-relevant to a search phrase you will lose money.

Is there any value left in having an online trademark?
Martin’s comment also raised the issue: what is the point of owning a trademark if it can be abused with impunity?

On one hand the Google trademark decision allows advertisers to bid on any search term. On the other, however, Google protects trademark holders by blocking competitors from using another’s trademarks in their ad text e.g. Mercedes can’t say “don’t buy BMW; buy Mercedes” in their ads, or attempt to missile the end-user by misguiding them to a competitor website.

Final thoughts
Martin, you have really got me thinking about the opportunities of the trademark change…

For me, the biggest threat to trademark owners isn’t from competitors – it will end up too expensive for them – but resellers and aggregators. However, that threat can be to your gain; if you work with them to erode your competitors’ position. You need to plan whether to use your trademark text to work with them or against them.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario; I’m not currently aware of anything like this being undertaken so I’m using names to help it make sense.

If you own the trademark ‘Barclaycard’ you can choose whether to let partners use the phrase to bid on competitor terms, say: ‘American Express’. It would be neither ethically nor politically right for Barclays to advertise against American Express, but, what if they were to give a third-party aggregator permission to do so on their behalf? Another point to consider and perhaps debate with colleagues or peers.

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