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.