Let’s Put Paid to Brand Bidding Ignorance

Daryl Burrows | February 12th 2015

Following our first study into the relationship between SEO and PPC we’ve taken a closer look into a specific area of SEM strategy, the question of brand bidding.

There remains an argument within the paid search landscape that not all brands need to be bidding on their own branded terms. The argument against such a practice usually goes: “Why on Earth are we wasting money bidding on our own branded keywords? Surely this money would be better spent elsewhere and organic can pick up all our brand revenue for us, and that’s free!”

This notion is true to an extent. An example would be a brand with complete SERP domination where no competitors currently exist on their terms to circle them like revenue-crazed vultures. There does, however, remain a brand-bidding advocacy camp (of which I’m a camper) who staunchly defend such a strategy, and below I’ll illustrate the sound, logical reasoning behind brand bidding and the beneficial implications for doing so.

Two Is Always Better Than One

Let’s forget any time you were ever told doubling up on something was disadvantageous and greedy – yes, any time. I use this analogy to detail my first point, to unite and marry your SEO and PPC strategies harmoniously and ask why each facet of your digital marketing mix can’t appear for a branded search query in tandem. Is your brand and its offering credible? I would like to think so, so implementing a brand-bidding strategy within your PPC reinforces your credibility and positioning as a brand, allowing for brand recall and recognition. Furthermore, research suggests that once a search query is performed, the likelihood that the user will scroll down the page is somewhat small. The below image from Moz details brand and non-branded clicks and identifies the aforementioned trend.

Google Organic Click-Through Rates in 2014

Therefore, using this information, why is it such a bad thing to appear twice in the SERPs? The reasons for doing so are as follows. Double your search result page real estate, and both your PPC and SEO listing will work to push any scamp of an unwanted negative review that has appeared like a black dot against your brand will be banished from the sight of the user.

Turf Wars

This leads me on to my next point, and what I consider to be the most important and well reasoned argument for bidding on your brand terms. Imagine your competitor shrewdly rubbing their hands when they see the opportunity to bid on your brand term and occupy the space above your organic listing, thus sniping at your very own traffic. If they’ve got wind that you’re not defending your own turf and you’ve left the back door ajar, they will almost certainly be in there before you can say PPC – I know this because I’ve been the sneaky one doing this exact thing to competitors. Underhanded? Yes. Morally wrong? You bet. Well within the remit of PPC? Absolutely. If you don’t, they most certainly will.

Let’s Piggyback

Ultimately your account performance across all your desired and monitored performance verticals is of paramount concern, and as is the case within PPC, any slight advantage to improve your figures you can muster – be it the improvement of conversion percentage or reduction in CPA – should be grabbed.

Bearing that in mind, what if I told you there’s a ‘magic’ campaign you can include in your account to boost your overall figures and performance verticals? Brand campaigns have exponentially higher CTRs and conversion rates and the lowest CPCs and CPAs to boot. Therefore, why not improve your non-brand campaigns and the overall efficacy of your account by piggybacking on the performance of your brand campaigns? You can expect to see improvements as a result of higher average Quality Scores and low CPCs.

River Deep, Mountain High

The online purchasing decision is often likened to a funnel. Just as SEO and PPC work effectively in tandem, so does a strategic PPC approach to brand and non-brand campaigns within an account. Where brand campaigns boast high figures accrued for conversions at low costs, they also assist in the conversion and attribution within the conversion funnel. If we observe purchase behaviour, most of the time you will see search queries that surround non-brand campaigns being the main traffic driver where there is an interest surrounding a product or service; the below illustration details the PPC search funnel:

Conversion Funnel

Therefore, where non-brand can be considered initial research, if the user likes your offering or something piques their interest, chances are they’ll come back through one of your paid brand ads. Imagine then if you weren’t there, but a competitor was above your organic listing, the searcher more likely to click the first related result they see on the page. This a potential sale that you could have had, and thus, it’s all about the synergistic approach you must adopt, and not seeing your paid strategy as black and white – there’s much more to it than that.

Plenty Eggs, Plenty Baskets

With Google continually updating the appearance of paid ads and SERPs, new and fresh changes are always going to be tested. PPC has seen a glut of recent changes in formula, most notably their increasing likeness to an organic result. Therefore, with a range of ad extensions at a PPCers’ disposal such as sitelinks and the ability to tailor your brand ad copy to promote special product offers, you have the ability to land the user on a specific desired sale page and further down the conversion funnel than the home page.

“Brands with a unique name and domain are always likely to rank top organically, whereas the whole PPC brand bidding issue is a completely different proposition for a brand with a more common name. So in these situations the additional question is ‘How difficult will it be to appear for my brand term?’ The power of the exact match domain has long been diminishing; any business that has unfortunately gone down that route due to historic organic benefits has now been left with a much bigger challenge to control their SERP. Our own brand PushON is a relevant example; with little unrelated search for our brand name and no similarly named competitors we’re in a much better position to control our organic space without the added necessity of a PPC ad.

However, had we gone down the EMD route in order to rank for a relevant term such as ‘SEO Manchester’ we’d now be facing a lot more competition. In addition to the cost of having to pay over £7.00 a click for the “branded” search queries (compared to a nominal amount for a more unique brand name) there is the further issue of the volume of competitors also wanting their paid ad to show for what is really a non-brand term – ‘SEO Manchester’ has a full set of paid ads at the top and side of the SERP.

Broad brand names are always going to be a challenge, not least to rank first organically and control the whole space, but to even be able to compete on a PPC level. The various case studies, such as the Bing Ads Study last year, show that brands who can easily control top spot for both their paid and organic results are likely to receive a much higher level of clicks than those who simply chose to rank organically, but is this always the case? It certainly doesn’t mean it’s the most cost efficient option.

An ecommerce site we worked with recently decided to try their hand at PPC brand bidding. The company is in a similar position to PushON in that they have little competition for their brand name and already control their branded results with organic site links, knowledge graph profile and other social profile links. Around 70% of their total traffic is organic and this itself is heavily made up of brand searches, so what effect did this new paid campaign have? The site saw a 15% growth in total traffic year on year; organic was up 10% whilst paid was up 93%.

The Bing Ads study linked to above shows that the overall click yield increased to 88% when a paid ad is top alongside an organic listing, compared to just 56% for an organic listing only. Whilst the client example here saw traffic growth in both channels the resulting impact on conversion was lower than expected. The addition of much stronger brand messaging in PPC ads led to a 414% increase in paid conversion (7% from 1.4%), however organic fell 11% (4.9% from 5.5%). The growth in transactions was just 5.2% and this all came as a result of the branded paid campaign.

No study is conclusive and clearly any brand looking for a definitive answer needs to carry out its own testing; there are clear traffic gains to be made as demonstrated here but there is an opportunity cost between the additional revenue brought in and the cost of the PPC campaign.”

 Jonny Pennington, Senior Online Marketing Consultant

Concluding Thought

Ultimately PPC is one facet of your digital marketing mix, and as is the old business adage, the more synergistic you have your whole digital marketing mix, the more successful your advertising will be. However, the points raised in this post have centred on how critical a brand campaign can be in terms of your overall PPC account’s efficacy, and how PPC and SEO can work in tandem to produce more favourable brand results than that of branded organic listings alone.