Google Further Muddies the Waters, Finds More Money

On May 15th my esteemed colleague Steven Swaney posted on Google’s then upcoming changes in AdWords trademark policy. One of the changes goes into effect today – Google is no longer investigating the use of trademarked terms as keywords in “certain regions,” said certain regions being, apparently, 99% of the civilized world. This prompts the question, “did they ever?” Terms in any keyword list that were previously restricted due to investigation will become active. Google’s careful to say they’re in no position to recommend people bid on trademarked terms, (but heck, I bet they’d sure like it if you did).

Regardless, that’s done, which leads us up to the impending June 15th update. This change in policy will ostensibly allow anyone, provided they are a reseller or “informational site,” to not only bid on your trademarked terms, but use them in ad copy. The description of “informational site” is a bit murky:

“The primary purpose of the advertiser’s site must be to provide non-competitive and informative details about the goods or services corresponding to the trademark term. Additionally, the advertiser may not sell or facilitate the sale of the goods or services of a competitor of the trademark owner.”

To me, this leaves some room for interpretation: for example, couldn’t a competitor support an “informational” blog critical of your product? Ad copy: “Thinking of buying a (Trademarked Term)? Learn why you shouldn’t.” Maybe they haven’t said “buy a (competitor’s product) instead,” but they sure haven’t done you a whole lot of good.

There has long been a debate as to whether advertisers should bid and run ads on their own trademarked terms, and typically those who consider it a waste of money bring up the fact that they position in the natural results, so why pay more money if they’re already there? Here’s why (and this is where previously muddied waters clear somewhat): because you can’t afford to give all that real estate to your competitors. You can’t even afford to give all that real estate to your affiliates and resellers (if you don’t have a policy that forbids their use of trademarked terms). You need to control the message, and bidding and advertising on your own terms is a relatively inexpensive way to facilitate that control. Should you bid on competitor’s terms? That’s a decision you need to carefully consider and/or discuss with your paid search manager. But your own trademarked terms? Those are what your brand is made of, and your brand, well, that’s your baby.

And you don’t want to throw your baby out with muddy water.