Ad Technology

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Compete – Why Competitive Search Campaigns Are A Must for Advertisers

Amanda HeadshotBy Amanda Fiore and Oliver Nelson 

Competitive paid search campaigns should always be a cornerstone consideration for your SEM campaign. While many industries understand the advantages of bidding against competitive terms we find healthcare and pharmaceuticals, in particular, continue to lag behind in their employment of these campaigns; we’re shocked each time we transition existing campaigns that don’t include any competitive keywords.

OK, so how do they work?

Let’s start with the basics. Buying your own terms in paid search is best practice; typically, your cost-per-click (CPC) is low while your click-through-rate (CTR) is high. People searching on your branded terms are typically aware of your product and lower down the purchase funnel. Buying the branded terms of the competition has several advantages as well. Bidding and showing up against competitor’s keywords allows your company to gain brand awareness and capitalize on searchers who know enough about a need to be dangerous; if someone searches on a specific competing drug, having your ad pop up inserts your product into the conversation and establishes your product or company as a competitive brand.unnamed-18

I know what you’re thinking – if they’ve already keyed in a competitor’s therapy, why would they be interested in my own? Performance metrics clearly indicate in the majority of campaigns we manage that users are still in a consideration funnel of their own. If your brand has a compelling message or a unique market advantage you have a great chance at wooing a searcher already knowledgeable about the condition to your cause. This cuts down on education time and cost when compared to unbranded search campaigns.

Bidding on competitor branded terms an easy way to capitalize on a qualified audience. Those who are searching for your competitor’s product are also in the market for your product, which means minimal waste. By capturing that qualified audience, you are ensuring that your ad is appearing in front of the right searcher at the right time. Not to mention, that each time a searcher clicks on your paid search ad that is one less click for the competition.

…but won’t I pay more to show up on my competitor’s keywords?

In short, yes – but that shouldn’t be a concern with careful optimization. In fact, recent ROI data across our portfolio indicates that competitive search campaigns generally return an ROI over 10x higher than unbranded search campaigns. This analyses accounts for the higher cost endemic to a highly competitive environment.

…aren’t their regulations that make this practice against the rules?

All of the search engines have varying rules in place to help minimize fraud. This includes preventing advertiser A from writing explicit claims in search copy about advertiser B. Google, Yahoo and Bing take trademark infractions very seriously and act quickly to delist advertisers found in violation. However, this has nothing to do with bidding on the branded term of a competitor.

In the pharmaceutical world there is often the misconception that the FDA will prevent an advertiser from bidding on a competitive keyword. We have found this to not be the case. Instead, what is most likely to happen is that competitors will propose a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ whereby all parties will agree to not bid on each other’s branded terms. While this may seem advantageous to all upfront (lower CPCs and campaign spend) given the high ROI potential of competitive campaigns, this should be avoided at all costs.

In short, all is fair in love and war!

I’m still concerned about the cost – my competitor is heavy in market with TV and there is high volume on their branded terms. What should I spend?

Valid concern! A few thoughts here. For peace of mind you can always control the anticipated spend with tight budget restrictions in place within the engines. That said, I would strongly urge you to open the floodgates and maximize your impression share against their terms. What we have found is that the ‘TV effect’ is valid even for competitive terms; In other words, lower CPCs and higher percentages of qualified traffic occur when TV is live in-market. In one case study we ran we were actually able to obtain a higher share-of-voice (SOV) percentage in market than our competitor on their own terms. See the chart below:


The data is reflecting impression share for a competitor on their terms. As you can see, towards the end of September we actually began to have a higher impression share than our competitor on their own terms! What’s more, the traffic was highly qualified spending, on average, almost as much time on-site as branded keyword visitors and with an average CPC only 10 cents higher than our branded traffic.

This is all great, but right now my competition is a bit different – how do I fight off those pesky law firms?

Competitive paid search strategies can also be used as a form of reputation management, through the effective use of multiple paid search listings.

Take a drug recall for example. Drug recalls can be detrimental to the parent company, as they often receive negative attention from law firms who try to take on patient cases in relation to the recall. We have seen this instance occur as law firms have bought up specific drug keywords to reach patients who may have been affected by the recall to try and get a law suit out of them.

Multiple listings is a paid search approach that allows one company to own the top paid search ad positions for specific keywords, by using different website properties. In this case, the parent brand had created a product recall website where consumers could learn more about the recall. They also had an official drug site. Using these two web properties, they were able to act on a multiple listings approach to take control of the top two search positions on product related keywords and block out the competitor’s ad from appearing on those specific keywords. This means they were able to take back the control over the product recall conversation, specifically taking those conversations out of the hands of law firms. Good agencies will manage the spend and position strategy between the ‘competing’ web properties to ensure CPC remains in check.

A few final pointers

Make sure that the competitor is actually a company that you are currently competing against in the marketplace and see yourself as having a competitive advantage over. For example, a competitor would be another drug which has the same indication that your drug has. The search engines can penalize your website with a low quality score if your paid search ads do not align with the keywords and content on your site. Keeping these factors in mind will ensure you capitalize on the opportunity competitive campaigns provide.