One of the most common topics we encounter when planning a new paid search engagement is how much focus should be placed on the competitive landscape. More specifically, is it prudent to bid on competitors’ branded and/or product terms? There are a lot of considerations to make when answering this question.
First off, the major paid search venues use some form of Quality Score or ranking system based on relevancy. Always keep in mind that the search venues get paid based on the click, not the conversion goal. Your profitability is secondary to theirs. As such, always consider – “Is my product/service/company more relevant for my competitors brand than they are?” If you answer “yes” than either you’ve found a utopian business or you are deluding yourself. Since your competitor will almost always be more relevant for their brand name and products, you will find yourself bidding higher just to maintain visibility. You are fighting an uphill battle with this one.
So should you even bother to bid on competitor terms? Yes, if you can commit to it. Strategy becomes crucial in this endeavor. Here are some tips to point you in the right direction:
#1 Make sure all your competitor-related terms are separated from the rest of the terms. Assign a specific budget to these competitor terms. Bear in mind that branded searches of any kind indicate that some preliminary research has been done or a familiarity exists. Because of this you are faced with the challenge of persuading someone who may be quite far down the decision making path to consider a different alternative. In order to convert these customers with a high degree of success, you likely need the perfect storm of: 1) better value 2) lower price 3) stronger call-to-action 4) and a reasonable degree of brand strength. It is not often a prospect will abandon what they are familiar with for an alternative they are not without 1, 2 and 3 being in place.
#2 Focus on what you can control. Often, when aggressively targeting competitors’ terms, you can expect lower Click Through Rates and a higher Cost Per Click than the campaign average. However, this doesn’t mean this traffic can’t or won’t convert. It does mean you need to focus on what you can control. Most prominently, your landing page and user experience. The traffic that is generated by this segment needs to be hit hard and fast with the information needed to ideally make a new buying decision, or at the very least, reset the buying process. Since the latter situation is far more likely, conversion measurement may need to be treated differently.
For instance, in the case of an e-commerce Product A and Product B: A certain percentage of the searchers for Product A will buy Product B if presented with the right value proposition. A larger percentage, which remains largely unknown or unidentified, will take a step back in their buying process and will start to consider Product B alongside Product A.
The first step is to create this audience by establishing credibility and proposing Product B as a worthy alternative to Product A. A word of warning: This cannot be done by disparaging Product A or its source, and it will take more than “Before you buy A, take a look at B.” If you do this, you will decrease your chances of converting these customers and will solidify their buying decision to purchase Product A. Give your potential customers/clients a little more credit.
This is a perfect opportunity to deploy a specifically targeted landing page, with an objective Features Matrix or some other tasteful comparison tool. It is our job as marketers to play to our strengths so definitely highlight what is better about Product B. Testimonials and third-party validation and accolades are appropriate to use here as credibility builders. Don’t be shy, but don’t be over the top either. There is plenty of research surrounding how to appropriately use testimonials, etc. and when to use them.
If you can build enough value in Product B’s strengths, then it is possible to overshadow its shortcomings. Not to point out the obvious, but if Product B has no positive comparisons to Product A, find a new job. In this day and age if you aren’t as good as your competitor, you better be cheaper, and if you aren’t cheaper you are out of business – you just may not know it yet.