David Hall, communications director at Affiliate Window, looks at the potential impact of Google’s move on brands and suggests solutions to the problem for marketers managing an affiliate marketing programme.
Earlier this year Google announced an AdWords Trademark policy revision allowing marketers to create new AdWords campaigns including trademarked keywords where they had previously been unable.
Google now no longer prevents you or anyone else from using AdWords to place ads for trademarked terms of other companies or competitors, nor will they prevent previously unauthorised ads from showing.
There has been a large amount of industry debate surrounding the change and Google’s move has implications for any brand using an affiliate marketing campaign because affiliates can now bid on your brand name – potentially diluting brand value.
At this point it is important to clarify that there is no single one size fits all solution to this matter and it is vital for the success of any campaign that you consider all options available to you, prior to committing to a strategy.
It is also advisable to include any third parties such as your affiliate network and search agencies in any discussions as they will be able to provide you with some valuable insight into which solution best suits your requirements.
In the past, affiliates have primarily been given brand bidding rights by merchants in order to reinvest the associated returns into the generic search space. However, following Google’s latest move affiliates have become critical to certain merchants looking to protect their brand space from competitor bids.
With so many issues to consider here are our recommendations for reviewing your online marketing:
Direct linking on your brand terms
Merchants can ensure a sponsored listing is in place that links directly to their site across the brand space including brand, misspells and brand plus generic hybrid terms.
The major advantage of using this methodology is your CPCs (Cost Per Click) on these terms will not be driven up by other adverts supporting your brand because running your own adverts against your brand name (and miss-spells) and forbidding affiliates to bid on these terms means there is less competition; therefore lower bid costs.
You also save yourself from paying affiliates commissions for sales driven on brand It also provides you with vastly improved control of your marketing message in the brand space.
The obvious downside to this approach is that your competitors are also able to bid in the space and potentially divert traffic away from your customers that are specifically looking for your brand. Even if your leakage is low, the fact that your competitor is getting exposure on your brand terms could improve their brand awareness to the possible detriment of your own.
Adding support from landing pages
Landing pages are built by affiliates because Google does not allow two ads to link to the same URL for a given term (known as “double serving”). A landing page acts as an intermediary site and can add significant value by offering additional content or highlighting different marketing messages from your own site. Most importantly, the site will have a different URL which means an additional ad can appear on the same term in your brand space.
You should look to work with trusted affiliates to operate landing pages in your brand space. This will increase the number of sponsored slots promoting your brand and therefore decrease the number of slots available to competitors.
If you decide to go down this route we recommend that you work closely with your affiliate network to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) structure to ensure you reach all interested affiliates and the most suitable are chosen for your programme. It is important to remember that you are giving the selected affiliates a big advantage by allowing them to bid on your brand.
With this in mind we recommend that these affiliates are tasked with supplying generic search traffic as well as that from the brand. You should be able to discuss how this is tracked / reported and what levels to expect with your network.
The parties operating on your brand should be under a continued process of review with the following activity being essential for review:
• The effect on your own search campaign’s CPC
• The return you are getting from the selected affiliates in the generic space
• Whether the cost of having affiliates in the space outweigh the cost of leakage to competitors and the value of the business to you.
Other important points to consider
It is important to note that Google has positioned this as a legal matter between advertisers. If your brand is trademarked, you can still send ‘cease and desist’ letters to competitors who infringe on your trademark terms.
Merchants should also consider getting in touch with other advertisers in their field to see if a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ can be put in place to avoid bidding on each other’s brand. This should ultimately help make the search space much more workable and has already been implemented by many merchants.
Finally, changes made to the structure of your search strategy should be communicated to your affiliates as this allows for a much greater level of transparency surrounding your campaign.
Google has made major changes to its system before and will do so again. The impact of these changes is often over estimated however there is always some fallout that when carefully managed can be controlled.
No single solution fits all and we recommend that you consult your affiliate network, search agencies and trusted affiliates to discuss your individual needs. Communicate your ideas and the opportunities available to you and ensure you look at how you intend to evaluate your successes on an ongoing basis.
Once you have decided on your approach ensure that you communicate this with your affiliate network. It is essential with a potentially sensitive area such as this, to ensure transparency and to give your affiliates the opportunity to share their experience with you.
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