They say that an internet marketing campaign is like your underwear: stick with it long enough and it becomes obvious when it needs changing. This is why one of the most effective things you can do is play the Google Adwords game. True, it’s not really a game, but it’s low cost enough that you can target your advertising in specific—and multiple—ways, each keyword campaign like efficient little blasts that drive traffic to your site, until you reload with new keywords. Sometimes, though, it really feels like a game, where you actually bid on using your own brand name as a keyword. That’s not as bad as it sounds, because really: who else but you is going to want to use your brand? But here’s where it gets interesting: this natural inclination away from buying competitor keywords keeps their price low, which makes it totally worth it to bid on your competitor’s keywords.  You obviously provide a similar product or service; that’s why you’re competitors. So why not get in on a little of their search action?

Hallam Internet is a UK digital marketing firm that recommends this very strategy—but with some important caveats. As Elliot Kirk wrote on their blog recently,

  • Always bid low. The idea is to drive cheap traffic to your site, not to outdo your competitor. You want to be listed second, and you definitely don’t want to get in a bidding war over their keyword. You’ll hit a point where you’re paying more than it’s worth to you.
  • You should always include original and unique copy. You’ve put yourself in front of the customer just as they were going through the door of another company: you’d better give them a good reason to listen to you. Let them know what makes you different.
  • The keyword is only a keyword. Don’t use your competitor’s keyword in your ad copy, says Kirk. “Not only is this bad practice and misleading to visitors, it is actually against Google’s trademark policy.” Again, the point here is to get some cheap traffic: a little gravy for your mashed potatoes. You don’t want to end up looking bad.

Just so this makes more sense, let’s see how this all looks in action. Here’s a sample screenshot of the sponsored content that appears when someone searches for the keyword “kounta.”


So, as you would expect, our ad comes up first. A high number of people who search for “kounta” at Google end up going to our site. Go figure. Below that, you’ll see a competitor’s ad. Nothing wrong with that—we all do it. They’re listed second, just a polite little reminder from them that, “Hey! We do this, too!”

The ad copy is fairly unique, at least from a keyword perspective. So far, this is a great example of how to do it right. The competitor isn’t mimicking the text of the top spot and maintains a respectful second position in the sponsored content lineup. They’ve done such a good job meeting Elliot Kirk’s criteria for bidding on your competitors keyword, that I feel fine ending the post right here. I’m sure there’s no need to examine that third one.