Over the last few months I have had a number of emails and calls from clients and other website owners asking about how to protect their trademarks that are being targeted by competitors in Google paid placement ads.
It seems that a number of organizations have gotten hip to the practice of using brand names (other than their own) as targeted keywords for ad placements. Generally this is because either the brand name has become common usage for a product or service or simply because the brand is far better known and has much better organic placement in regular search results.
So what can you do if a competitor is targeting your trademark brand in Google searches?
The answer is mixed. If someone is using your trademark in the actual text of their ad then you can file a trademark complaint with Google here.
However, if someone is simply targeting your trademark as a keyword AND DOES NOT use your trademark in the actual text of their ad, then you essentially have no recourse. Google Scope of Investigation document states:
“Google is dedicated to providing relevant advertising to our users, advertisers, and publishers alike. Accordingly, our trademark policy aims to provide users with choices relevant to their keywords. At the same time, we investigate trademark violations in ad text, both as a courtesy to the trademark owner and to ensure that ads are clear to users.”
They then provide a list of countries in which their policy of allowing trademarks in targeting keywords applies… they list all but about 8 countries.
In addition, while they do not allow direct ad copy that includes trademarks, they will allow – and I quote – “We do not take any action in situations where an advertisement is being triggered by non-trademarked terms, even though the search query contains a trademarked term.
The example provided shows that you can use the term ‘shoes’ as a keyword for your ad and Google will send you traffic from people searching for “Nike shoes”
Confused about how this can possibly be legal?
While I am not a lawyer (apologies to my parents), the sense I get is that a direct ad title with a trademark brand is a very black and white area legally. So Google has no choice but to disallow (if you go through the dance involved in complaining to them). However, the rest of the issues on targeted keywords without trademark text as well as query strings including trademarks are sufficiently grey that they can afford a legal fight more than you can.