Paid Search for Brand Keywords: To Bid or Not To Bid?

retro diner sign, Market Street

Retro Diner Sign, Market Street, by put_the_needle_on_the_record

We’ve long held the belief that bidding on your brand terms in paid search advertising is inadvisable for most advertisers. In order to make your marketing dollars work hardest, we reason, why pay for users who are already aware of your business? Instead, use paid search advertising to attract new prospects who were searching for your service category and don’t already have you in mind.

But a recent analysis of multi-visit data for one of our clients has us rethinking that blanket statement. Our customer, a large retailer with locations throughout the Midwest, has great brand recognition. We found that 73% of the visits that happened before a conversion included at least one branded search, and 14% of the paths to conversion were all and only branded search.

With so many customers converting after searching for the brand name, perhaps paid search advertising on your own brand keywords is a great opportunity to get prospects to convert faster, by providing them with your marketing message right before they enter the door of your website. Bid on your brand keywords, and you get one more billboard to throw a message at them before they visit your website. Would a special offer entice them to go from browsing to buying? Now’s the time to try it.

So our advice is evolving. Here’s what it looks like now:

Don’t bid on your own brand keywords if:

  • You have limited marketing funds. You want to use those dollars to attract new customers who don’t already have you in mind.

Consider bidding on your own brand keywords if:

  • Your competition is bidding on your brand keywords and you want to counteract that effect.
  • The organic search results for your brand don’t show stellar results, for example bad news or a complaint website appears on the first page of results. Having a paid search ad will push those results farther down the page and possibly under the searcher’s radar.
  • There are multiple companies with similar names to yours, or your business name is easy to misspell, and you want to make it easier for prospects and customers to find the right website by having a search result you control completely.
  • (new!) You can influence the time-to-purchase by sharing a marketing message before users visit your website. Or you want to promote something special that’s going on at your company, like an event or a sale.

As with so much of online marketing, there isn’t one simple answer that applies to all situations. What do you think? What factors have you used in deciding whether or not to bid on brand keywords?


  1. Derek R. Austin says:

    I’ve actually evolved in the exact opposite direction, to the point that I advise clients to use negative keywords for their brand and to shift funds away from Adwords Express to Adwords. It’s going to depend on brand recognition, value of a conversion, and why existing or repeat customers are searching for you. If they’re searching to make another high-value purchase, maybe you should bid. If they’re searching to make their monthly storage payment because they don’t use bookmarks, you are hemorrhaging marketing funds. However, almost always businesses place their websites at … And since we know that keywords in the domain are given huge importance in organic SEO, I’ve found that most businesses are number one in their identity or brand search.

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