The bidding war for keywords in SEM is competitive. The bidding for general terms (think laptop, tablet, and smartphone) is typically more saturated than it is for brand terms (think Samsung, Dell, and Apple). But just because the brand term market is less saturated—and thus less expensive—should you invest your search marketing dollars in terms that might go beyond the scope of your company? Is it wise to buy competitor brand terms?

Bidding on competitor keywords helps companies and consumers. Marketers have already done enough research on competitor products to know about analogous offerings from rival companies. By bidding on competitor brand terms, these companies are giving consumers more choices about products, leveling the product playing field, and making it easier for customers to choose the solutions that best suit their needs.

A search for brand terms “galaxy tablet” yields mostly Samsung ad results and one SEM result from Dell. The Dell ad does well by bidding on a strong brand and being clear about the product offered.

A search for brand terms “galaxy tablet” yields mostly Samsung ad results and one SEM result from Dell. The Dell ad does well by bidding on a strong brand and being clear about the product offered.

If you are going to bid on competitor brand terms, there are three things you should always remember:

1. Be Clear

Clarity is key when bidding on competitor brand terms. Bidding on competitor keywords is a fair practice as long as you don’t try to “bait and switch” your searchers. Be clear about your offer. There is no need to deride, or even mention, other companies in your ad copy. Plus, doing so can get you in a lot of trouble. Although companies can no longer trademark keywords, they can trademark ad copy. Clarity also helps customers know what they’re getting, and being clear is vital if you want to stay out of legal gray areas.

2. Bid on Strong Brands

Bidding on strong brands may be the only way you’re going to show up in any results. But make sure that plenty of people are searching for your competitor terms before you spend your marketing dollars on them. If consumers barely search for your competitor, then makes little difference whether you buy competitor terms or not. The point of bidding on competitor keywords is to get your name out there, offer customers an alternative, and give searchers the ability to make an easy choice. In the competitor keyword race, all you need to do is place. But make sure you are competing in a well-attended race.

3. Run on Performance

Don’t try to outbid your competitor on his or her brand terms. Search engine algorithms will make it difficult to do so, plus you’re not bidding on your competition’s terms to take over their product—you are doing so as an opportunist. With competitor terms, it matters more that you show up than where you show up. You’re just trying to show customers that there are other options. You will not be the first SEM result when bidding on competitor terms—but don’t sweat it—as long as you’re in the results you’re making a difference.

Bidding on competitor terms can be beneficial, especially if you’re the small fish in an ocean of a market. It is a way to get noticed when consumers may not know about you; and it’s a way to put the choice in the hands of searchers.

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