Brand search queries – to pay or not to pay?

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With Pay-Per-Click Advertising platforms like Google Adwords, it is common practice to run a campaign which contains keywords relating to your brand name – not branded products but your actual company or brand name. This means that when someone searches on your brand name, your advertisement appears either above or next to the main results in the Sponsored Listings area.

In terms of lead generation, there are two main arguments with regards to this practice:

1. Why the hell should I pay to appear in the search results for my brand name (especially if I am already number one for that search term)? Surely users clicking on competitor ads will realise their mistake and come to my site?

2. You have invested significant amounts of money to build your brand and to get people interested enough to search for it – don’t through it away by being too cheap to bid 10 cents on your brand name and letting your competitor steal the sale at the last minute.

I can see both arguments and the pros and cons of both sides are explored in this post by ABC Copywriting. I think it is a cheek that Google takes money hand over fist for brand searches so I looked for ways to cut down on my spend in that area.

What is Google taking money for?
When I looked at the data I was getting a variety of different types of brand searches:

• Brand/Company name only
• Brand + product/area of business
• Lazy URL based searches
• Typos

It seemed logical to leave PPC campaigns running for the typos and URL based searches (especially as the .com version of the brand served the US and I was driving UK based traffic to the version). Also some brand + area of the business type searches like “brand jobs”, “brand PR dept”, etc. had poor natural search coverage so I felt it best to leave them running.

After making sure my bases were covered I stopped bidding on brand terms for which we were already numbers 1 and 2 in natural search and closely monitored changes in search volume for the brand keyword:

Generic Brand Terms Graph

From the graph above you can see that over the last 8 months I have been paying for roughly 12 clicks on brand terms a day – a significant reduction on the 150 odd the PPC management company prior to me had been paying for over the same period in 2009. So what is the impact of cutting this spend?

PPC Brand Terms Last 8 months

Nothing. Year on Year the traffic seems to just convert in Organic. OK I hear the argument that I could have experienced more growth in this keyword set if I had continued to bid on generic brand terms so when a special promotion came up in September 2010 I started bidding on generic brand terms again so as to make our ready to buy visitors aware of the new promotion:

September PPC Generic Brand Campaign

Monday is always the busiest day for this particular website and we can see a peak of 382 visits on the 20th Sept. How does this new campaign impact on organic search for this keyword set?:

September Generic Brand Campaign

Keep an eye on the Mondays: 6th 1,599; 13th 1,550 and 20th 1,150. From the pattern of the campaign it appears that the paid traffic is cannibalizing the organic traffic offering no added value. And year on year we seem to still be following the same pattern of the last 8 months:

Year on Year Brand Campaign September

What about keyword value?
When comparing pre and post launch of extended brand searches we get the following results:

Branded Keywords per visit Goal Value
  PPC Organic
30/8 to 12/9 £1.96 £1.39
13/9 to 26/9 £1.46 £1.27
(Site Average £1.01)

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Similarly conversion rate is down:

Branded Keywords conversion rate
  PPC Organic
3/9 to 14/9 11.9% 9.9%
13/9 to 26/9 10.8% 9.0%
(Site Average 7.1%)

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So we have experienced no noticeable difference in traffic volume but a double negative in terms of conversion and Goal Value across both mediums which would support the hypothesis that for this site at least, bidding on all types of brand terms is not the best course of action.

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About Geoff

I run the digital marketing for the UK division of a global supplementary education provider. To find out what I'm up to join me on Google+


Mark Smith September 27, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Great post. The data is great. Nice touch to set the Analytics data one year back plus a day so you are comparing the same days a year ago – will be taking that away when analysing data in future. Thanks.

PPC Mike October 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

Nice to see someone looking beyond the standard line that bidding on brand terms is a good thing.

While it does work in a lot of cases, PPC agencies often do this as a way to make CTR/Conversion results look better, or at least that is the theory…

Geoff October 12, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Thanks Mike,

I think each site is different and it is worth testing the “standard line” in all instances to see if it is relevant to the niche, site, etc.

I take on board your comment re: the possibility some agencies (and indeed in-house PPC specialists) will use brand searches to make the bottom line look better for the client or manager.

Personally I believe in providing as much relevant data as possible and keeping clients/managers in the loop with regards to the work that I am doing as this, in my experience, tends to win bigger budgets to work with 🙂

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