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Why bid on branded keywords?

A common SEM question I get is "why should I bid on brand keywords? Isn't this a waste of money as they'll just click my top-ranked organic search result if my ad wasn't there?"

That line of thinking is not false - you may be paying for clicks you would have otherwise received for free if someone clicked your organic search result - but if you stop bidding on brand keywords you are leaving more money on the table than what you save. Here's why:

1. Prevent competitors from entering your potential customers' minds

Bid on brand keywords to prevent competitors from entering your potential customers' minds
Samsung bid on Apple's iPhone brand keywords to show this cheeky ad.

Google allows advertisers to show their ads above a brand's official website, even when people specifically search for that brand. If you don't run ads on branded keywords, your competitors' ads would show up at the top of your official website instead.

You can check what advertisers are running ads against your brand name by opening your brand campaign in Google Ads and pulling up the Auction Insights report.

2. Push down competitor organic results

Even if you rank #1 organically, do you rank #2? #3, 4, and 5? Your competitor may have a comparison page ranking there or there may be negative news of your brand. By buying the top of page real estate, you're pushing all those other search results further down. Off screen, out of mind.

Here's a good example: even though multiple kids have died after it fell on them, IKEA still sells its MALM dresser (with more disclaimers about attaching it to a wall). Buying the ad spot for this keyword would push down the negative news.

By not bidding on its brand, IKEA gives more prominence to negative news about it
By not bidding on its brand, IKEA gives more prominence to negative news about this dresser.

We also don't want people getting distracted by going down the rabbit hole of clicking through the "People also ask" infinite accordion either.

By having the branded ad you control the experience more.

3. You don't rank well for ALL your brand keywords

Robutussin DM doesn't rank first organically for its own brand name
This is an extreme example of a brand not ranking for its own name.

Most sites rank well for their standalone brand name, but for long tail brand keywords they may not. These then become lost opportunities if others rank there and you lose a visitor and a sale.

Test your ranking coverage for all your brand keywords by going to keywordtool.io and typing your brand name. Copy all the keywords returned and do a rank check on them. You may be surprised to see what branded keywords you don't rank for.

4. Precisely control your message

Honda's brand ad plays up the latest Civic model
Honda plays up the latest Civic with this brand ad.

If you're having a flash sale or want to draw attention to a new product launch, you can change the copy in your ad much faster than your organic search result, and use ad extensions to stand out.

An analogy would be the point-of-purchase displays that brands buy next to their products on store shelves. While they don't need it as their products are on the shelves anyway, they buy it because it allows them to stand out and control the message to boost sales.

Bidding on brand keywords is like buying shelf stoppers
Bidding on brand keywords is like buying shelf stoppers.

5. Adjust your message based on previous behavior

Adjust your brand ad copy to past behavior
You can't do this with organic search results.

The journey people take before they purchase is multi-step. The behavior in each of those steps we can learn from and adjust our ad's message next time they search for you. For example, we can show a different discount to people who abandon their carts, remove ad copy about discounts altogether if the person is known to buy full price, or show gender-specific messaging about new arrivals if the person's shopping gender intent is known.

Organic search results cannot be differentiated based on whether someone has visited before or not.

Too long and don't want to read? Here's the reasons why:
  1. Prevent competitors from entering your potential customers' minds
  2. Push down competitor organic results
  3. You don't rank well for ALL your brand keywords
  4. Precisely control your message
  5. Adjust your message based on previous behavior

And don't forget that bidding on brand keywords is cheap. The added value that comes from keeping branded keywords on far outweighs the additional spend.