Yes, You Should Bid On Your Own Branded Terms

Ryan MootHart, PPC Architect

One of the most frequent questions we get asked regarding paid search advertising is whether or not clients should really be bidding on their own branded terms – why pay money for clicks on their brand name when users are searching for them anyway? 

The inclination to not bid on their own branded search terms usually stems from one (or more) of the following rationales:

  1. Businesses assume that branded search traffic will lead to a click-through on their organic listing, and they don’t want to pay for the traffic they could otherwise get for free.
  2. Businesses assume that branded paid search traffic “takes credit away” from organic search performance, thereby inflating the value of paid search advertising and undercutting the efforts and investment made in search engine optimization.
  3. Businesses are prioritizing savings and cost-cutting. Reducing branded spend seems like the least harmful way to do that.

While these reasons may seem rational, they’re not necessarily rooted in fact. 

This post will cover why you should bid on your own branded terms in paid search. Additionally, I will lay out the results from a recent experiment with one of our own clients who wanted to test if bidding on branded terms is actually worth the spend.

“Tell Me Why I’m Wrong and Why I Should Still Bid on My Own Branded Terms If My Budgets Get Cut”

Your words, not mine. (See what I did there?)

Let me start with the definitive statement: If you have a budget for paid search advertising, you should bid on your own branded terms and pay for those clicks. Now, we’ll look at two reasons to support this claim.

Sponsored Listings Take Up at the Top of the SERP

When you process a relevant search query on Google or Bing pertaining to a business or the services/products it offers, chances are you’re going to see a results page (SERP) with sponsored listings dominating the screen:

Screenshot of sponsored listings at the top of a Google SERP

Sponsored ad listings, sponsored local services ads, and sponsored product listings all usually appear at the top of a SERP before any organic listings. All that space at the top of the SERP is prime real estate, where users spend significantly more time versus anything “below the fold” (y’all remember actual newspapers, right?). 

Even if someone is searching for your brand, they’re not necessarily going to scroll down far enough to find your organic listing if something else catches their attention first.

One of those things that could distract said user is a sponsored listing from one of your competitors. Perhaps they’re showing a special discount or offer for users searching for your brand name. Maybe they have a competitive product or service that’s enticing enough for a user looking for your brand to explore instead. Whatever the reason, you risk losing a potential customer who tried to search for your brand name because they found something else at the top of the SERP.

Will your competitors turn all of those users into customers? No. But they’ll turn some. Will they make a profit on those campaigns alone? Probably not. But they will make enough money to incentivize the investment to take away your potential customers.

Bottom line: If you do not bid on your own branded terms and take up the space at the top of a SERP, your competitors will. And they will happily take that traffic away from you.

You Can’t Bank on Organic Traffic

You might have read those paragraphs above and said to yourself, “This isn’t convincing enough for me. My site performs well organically, and I’m convinced my organic listings for my own brand name can do the job that paid search ads would do. I still don’t want to pay for those clicks.”

That’s fair, but let me show you why you’re probably wrong. It’s time to bring in the data.

What Happens When You Pause Branded Paid Search Ads

Earlier this year, one of our clients wanted to test this hypothesis. At a time of the year when their seasonality was down, and their paid media budget lowered, we coordinated a plan with them to pause all branded search campaigns for three weeks.

We compared lead trends year over year, looking at the testing period (Period B) and the three-week spans before (Period A) and after (Period C).

Paid Search Versus Organic Search Trends

First, we analyzed paid search versus organic trends for these three time periods in 2022 to get a baseline for what to expect in 2023:

2022Period A LeadsPeriod B LeadsPeriod C LeadsTotal Leads
Organic Search4,5153,8773,55311,945
Paid Search3,1143,3493,94810,411
% Organic59.2%53.7%47.4%53.4%
% Paid40.8%46.3%52.6%46.6%

Our paid search budget patterns in 2023 closely resembled what we allotted and spent in 2022. Furthermore, organic search followed a similar seasonality pattern year-to-date in 2023 with consistent conversion rates year over year (albeit with lower traffic volume).

Here is what we saw in 2023 for Period A:

2023Period A Leads
Organic Search3,200
Paid Search3,381
% Organic48.6%
% Paid51.4%

At the end of Period A, we paused all branded search campaigns for three weeks (Period B). We then turned branded search campaigns back on for Period C.

Here are the actuals we saw for 2023, which included us pausing all branded search campaigns during Period B:

2023 ActualPeriod A LeadsPeriod B LeadsPeriod C LeadsTotal Leads
Organic Search3,2003,1723,0029,374
Paid Search3,3812,8023,85310,036
% Organic48.6%53.1%43.8%48.3%
% Paid51.4%46.9%56.2%51.7%

As you can see, we saw a dip in lead volume for paid search in Period B when we would have otherwise expected an increase. Furthermore, leads from organic search in Period B stayed quite close to the volume seen in Period A when we were expecting a more drastic decline.

So, by looking at the actuals, we can conclude that organic search acquired more traffic and leads from branded search terms while the paid branded listings were paused. 

The question we now face is: 

If the branded paid search campaigns were never paused, would organic search still have acquired all the leads typically acquired from paid search ads? 

To help us figure out what would have happened in Period B had we left branded search campaigns running, we looked at the actuals from Period A and Period C and made the following assumptions:

  • The percentage of total leads from paid search would have gradually grown from Periods A to B and B to C, similar to last year.
  • The conversion rates from organic search seen in Periods A and C were nearly identical and would have held steady in Period B.
  • Because organic search traffic, leads, and percentage of total leads had been lower year-over-year in Periods A and C, that trend would have also held in Period B

Once we put these assumptions into place, we projected the following would happen in Period B if paid search ads were left active:

2023 HypotheticalPeriod A LeadsPeriod B LeadsPeriod C LeadsTotal Leads
Organic Search3,2003,0503,0029,252
Paid Search3,3813,5233,85310,757
% Organic48.6%46.4%43.8%46.2%
% Paid51.4%53.6%56.2%53.8%

By looking at these numbers and comparing them to our actuals, we see that leads from organic search got a 4% lift as a likely result of pausing branded search campaigns. However, the gain in leads from organic search was just +122, while our projected loss from paid search was -721. The projected total net loss of leads between these two channels was -599. 

We lost nearly 600 leads that organic listings did not acquire by pausing branded search campaigns. That’s almost 10% of our projected total!

Final Thoughts

The results from our experiment allow me to make the following conclusion with confidence: organic listings won’t necessarily capture all the clicks and conversions you would have gotten through branded paid search ads. Pause these campaigns at your own risk and your own peril.

One caveat I will mention: if your business meets all of the following criteria, then you might get away with pausing branded search campaigns without harming overall traffic or conversion totals:

  • You are an extremely well-known brand in your industry vertical.
  • You have a proven record of growing a base of loyal, repeat customers.
  • Your website has excellent content, is technically sound from an SEO perspective, and has as efficient conversion rates as your paid search campaigns.

Otherwise, while I would not recommend it, you can try this experiment yourself if you still don’t believe me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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