Welcome to Part 2 of Brand Bidding & PPC Optimization, a series to help today’s search marketer answer the biggest question facing PPC advertisers in 2016: How do I get meaningful growth numbers out of an expensive, crowded and competitive PPC market?
In Part 1, I reviewed the history of PPC optimization and how easy it used to be to achieve big growth numbers from PPC advertising. To summarize part 1, I discussed the evolution of keyword advertising:
- Inexpensive search terms (Remember minimum bids under five cents?) drove significant returns on ad spend (ROAS).
- Next came analytics, which enabled advertisers to set costs per click (CPCs) wisely, based on conversion rates and keyword costs.
- Followed by analytics were automation platforms, which enabled the industry to manage huge volumes of keywords efficiently.
- Then, relevancy was introduced, along with a greater focus on effective ad copy and landing pages.
This brings us to today, where competition for clicks makes it challenging to derive meaningful growth from paid search advertising. Merkle RKG reports that first-page bid costs have risen more than 75 percent from mid-2014 to mid-2015.
As an illustration of how tough competition is getting, I pulled The Search Monitor’s keyword data for the footwear category (Disclosure: Search Monitor is my employer) and saw more than 3,700 different PPC advertisers on Google in the US during December 2015.
From my experience, our customers have cracked this code by deploying brand bidding strategies. These strategies, discussed in the subsequent articles in this series, include ad monitoring, carefully crafted partnership agreements, addressing your competition head-on, making search engine complaints coupled with other available legal responses and effectively employing brand bidding techniques.
These strategies have allowed our customers to control CPCs on their branded terms and drive clicks that otherwise would go to competitors. The result has been strong growth in ROAS.
What Are Brand & Brand-Plus Keywords?
Let’s start with some definitions. A brand keyword (aka branded keyword or brand term) is the keyword used to search for a company name. A recognizable example is “Macy’s.” Note that brand keywords can include obvious typos, such as “Macys.”
A brand-plus keyword, meanwhile, refers to a keyword phrase that includes the brand term plus a qualifying phrase. An example would be “Adidas running shoe.” There are many variations, such as:
- Brand + product name (“Adidas Flux”)
- Brand + review (“Adidas Ultra Boost review”)
- Brand + coupon (“Adidas coupon”)
- Brand + sale (“Adidas sale” or “Adidas discount”)
- Brand long tail (“Adidas men’s Springblade running shoe size 13”)
- Brand + website (“www Adidas” or “Adidas website”)
To quantify the competition on brand and brand-plus keywords, consider this: We observe that bigger brand names often enjoy autonomy, with limited competition on their actual correctly spelled trademarked name.
As soon as we iterate the brand name with typos, dot-com extensions or brand-plus variations, the entire first page of paid results is filled with competitors, affiliates, partners and URL Hijackers.
The Value Of Brand And Brand-Plus Keywords
Instinctively, you just know that these searches provide incredible value to a brand. Search marketing blogs are overflowing with anecdotes and recommendations that discuss the need to focus on these keywords for PPC success.
To back up our instincts, check out these real values with juicy stats to back them up:
More Clicks On Paid Ads
Brand terms generate lots of clicks. A study conducted by Bing at the end of 2015 revealed that running ads on branded terms results in 31 percent more clicks for retail advertisers and 27 percent more more clicks for travel advertisers.
Also, don’t forget, that some (okay, lots) of consumers use search engines as a replacement for the browser address bar. A common behavior is to type the website address into the Google search box. Brand bidding allows you to capture these clicks and their high click-through rates.
More Clicks Overall – SEM + SEO.
Then there is the concept of amplification, which, according to this Search Engine Land article, occurs when “[t]he traffic through the sponsored link is 100% incremental AND the ad is responsible for increasing the traffic on the organic link as well.”
A study by 3Q Digital quantified this amplitudinal (new word!) gain when it showed there was a significant difference between whether you receive 56 percent of all clicks (with no brand ad appearing) or 88 percent of all clicks (with a brand ad at top) from a search on your brand. That’s a gain of 157 percent more clicks.
Improved Conversion Rates
What good are more clicks if they don’t convert and drive a healthy ROAS? The conversion benefits of brand bidding are vast. Let’s tackle them with a nice bulleted list (I feel like I am selling a miracle wrinkle cream that actually works):
- Searchers who use brand keywords are more likely to be familiar with the brand and have an existing level of trust with your company. In other words, they are likely farther down the buying funnel.
- Running an ad on your branded keywords lets you control the landing page experience much more easily than you can with your organic listing. And we all know how optimized landing pages, especially with continuous A/B testing, should convert at higher rates than non-relevant landing pages.
- Studies have shown that branded keyword phrases are 5X more likely to convert visitors into leads, and paid conversion rates can be upwards of 4X higher than organic conversion rates. Simply put, it’s better for conversions to have a paid ad representing you than relying on your organic listing.
- What does Google have to say on this? They reported that paid clicks from branded searches had double the conversion rate of paid clicks from non-branded searches.
- This search marketer was able to increase his ROAS by 159 percent by realizing that it was more profitable to lower the max CPC bid for his branded keywords. In this example, just the simple act of paying greater attention to his branded campaigns led to huge revenue gains.
Better Quality Scores
Brand searches are more relevant and can have low bounce rates. According to Larry Kim, writing in Search Engine Land, “[o]ne way to raise your overall account CTR is by bidding on branded keywords.” Better Quality Scores lead to lower CPCs, which can possibly offset some of your lower-scored terms.
Real Estate Building
By bidding on brand keywords, you can own more of page one and control your message better than with SEO alone. Picking on automotive for a second:
- Fiat was able to grow brand awareness by advertising on paid search. They leveraged search as key part of their US market re-entry strategy. In a case study published in June 2014, Google concluded that “[t]otal unaided brand awareness increased 11.5 percentage points when a [branded] Fiat Search ad was present.”
- On the flip side, your competitors can brand bid on you. Don’t let them. Here is what we saw happening to Ford, because everyone wants in on their brand action. The Search Monitor noticed that Honda and Chevy were paying for high-ranking ads appearing on a Ford trademark, the Ford Focus. They were getting away with it by using the Ford brand in their display URL and not their ad copy (More on that in Part 5, “Addressing Competition”).
The UFC Of SEM
Brand terms are the Ultimate Fighting Champions of SEM. Competitors are trying to give you a beatdown by stealing your clicks, but don’t let them.
In the first article, I told you about one of our clients who gets 66 percent of the clicks on their brand terms when they advertise. Our client is the UFC of their brand, with their sad competitors only taking home 33 percent of the clicks as a group.
If our client didn’t spend the dime, then their competitors would get 100 percent of the take-home purse on their brands all of the time.
Another one of our UFC super-fighter clients recently increased clicks on their branded keywords by 34 percent (and cut costs by 51 percent). How? They removed unapproved advertisers using an automated search engine complaint submission process.
Brand Bidding Grows Revenue… Convinced?
One of our big travel clients boasted recently that by protecting its brand keywords by advertising on them and blocking the competition, they saved (i.e., earned) hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide in revenue that otherwise would have walked out the door into the hands of rival brands. We got excited when we heard this. You should, too.
We’ve concluded from the great results we have seen that brand bidding is your secret growth weapon heading into 2016. If you don’t know how to do it, don’t worry, we have you covered.
Stay with us for Part 3 of this series. We will tell you how to take advantage of the great values from brand bidding through industry best practices including: maximizing mobile, working with partners and affiliates to block the competition and knocking off competitors by using the engines to help you.
We will also discuss tweaking your copy, ad extensions and offers to maximize the presence on your branded keywords. We will offer tips for both big recognizable brands and for smaller lesser known brands. Stay tuned.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.