Competitive Paid Search

Competitive PPC Campaigns Done Right

A popular concept in the paid search practice centers around the attempt to ransack a competitor’s mind share by bidding on that adversary’s brand name as a keyword phrase. Simply put, when the audience searches for our competitor’s name and/or derivatives of its brand, our advertisement also shows up. If executed to plan, the prospect has an abrupt change of heart, decides to click our ad, falls madly in love with our content and offering, and {Boom!} we consummate the equivalent of paid search plundering.

Good Guys – 1
Bad Guys – 0

What marketing person wouldn’t love to pull that off, right? For some of us competing against industry behemoths, this move is similar to swooping in and stealing the prom king’s girl. Kind of hard to lead the Philistine army with that rock stuck in your head, eh, Goliath?

Comparison Landing Pages

But hold the phone; there are some caveats.

  1. While you can bid on any keyword phrase you choose, including the namesake of your arch nemesis, Google will not allow you to include your competitor’s brand name in your ad. This rule went into effect nearly a decade ago, when Google was sued by Geico for trademark infringement. It seems State Farm and others were bidding on “geico” terms, including Geico’s brand name within their own ad text, Geico pitched a fit (and a hefty lawsuit), and a PPC rule was born.
  2. There are some schools of thought that competitive bidding is a waste of time. Skeptics of this strategy will question, “Why spend money on a lost cause?” The point is well taken. If a competitor’s customer has shown their allegiance, our budget may be better served on those potential clients who have yet to decide.
  3. Finally, there is the issue of Quality Score, a metric Google uses to evaluate keywords and ads based on a number of factors including:
    • Keyword-to-Ad Relevance – admittedly difficult for this kind of campaign thanks to Geico’s lawsuit mentioned above
    • Click Rate – probably not stellar either given the point expressed in #2 above
    • Landing Page Quality – this often involves placing the keywords utilized in our campaign on our landing page

Regarding landing page quality and the need to include target keyword phrases on corresponding landing pages, does anyone really expect United Airlines to somehow work “British Airways” onto its landing pages? Maybe not for that industry, but in other markets, this is exactly what is happening. Brands are literally comparing their offerings side by side with their competitors and in doing so, solving a large portion of the Quality Score puzzle in competitor campaigns.

Competitive Paid Search Through Comparison

The following examples demonstrate how a few brands are going about competitive paid search the right way – with honest comparisons that portray their brand as the clear choice over rival brands.

Brand #1: Citrix
Competitor: Dropbox
Keyword: dropbox enterprise

Dropbox has traditionally been known as a tool for person-to-person file sharing. Dropbox for Business is specifically targeted for enterprise users and aims to help large groups of people within an organization to keep files safe, secure and organized. Among the competitors standing in this space is Citrix and its ShareFile product.

Citrix has created the ad text below. At first glance, it appears Citrix has broken the “Geico” trademark rule, but not so fast. The ad refers to “Drop Box” as two words and does not technically use its competitor’s one-word name. In a word, this is brilliant.

Citrix ShareFile Ad

On the corresponding landing page, Citrix has created a comparison chart, which not only refers to Dropbox by name but also positions Dropbox as a tool to be used among friends, not necessarily for business.

ShareFile vs Dropbox


The Brand #2: Volkswagen
Competitor: Mazda
Keyword: mazda3

VW Jetta Comparison AdVolkswagen seeks to position itself as the clear choice for customers seeking an affordable, efficient compact sedan. Meanwhile, Mazda is heavily promoting it’s Mazda3, a fuel efficient car which claims to achieve a very impressive 40mpg. When car shoppers search for “mazda3”, the will see Mazda’s ad and Volkswagen’s well-placed text to the right.

Volkswagen’s landing page is a true comparison chart. The Mazda3 is present, but users can also add two other car to contrast. What the page lacks in visual aesthetics it makes up in accuracy and detail. 104 individual features, benefits, and other elements are compared. Volkswagen places a little blue star next to those items in which their model has the clear advantage.

Volkswagen Comparison Chart


Brand #3: VerticalResponse
Competitor: Constant Contact
Keyword: constant contact

Constant Contact is very well known among small business owners thanks to their marketing and advertising efforts. They have successfully positioned themselves as an inexpensive, self-serve email service provider.

Among Constant Contact’s competitors in the small business email space is VerticalResponse (VR). Here is the ad VR shows on the search results page for “constant contact.”

Vertical Response PPC ad

VR offers a similarly inexpensive email marketing tool complete with templates, support and pay-as-you go pricing. All of those benefits are highlighted in the landing page below.

Vertical Response Landing Pages


Creating Your Own Competitive/Comparison Campaign

Please note that this comparison strategy is particularly effective for brands with discernible features and benefits. How can you replicate this strategy for your own campaigns? Here are some steps to follow.

  1. Analyze your offering vs. that of your competitor(s). What makes you different AND better. Make an honest comparison.
  2. Construct a comparison landing page to show the competitive contrast in your brand’s favor.
  3. Build a paid search campaign that utilizes your competitor’s brand name and derivatives in the keyword list.
  4. Make adjustments as necessary to keyword selections, ad text and landing page elements to improve campaign ROI as you progress.

Best of luck. I hope you win customers away from your competitors and drink the tears of your enemies.