Should You Advertise on Branded Keywords?

Today we’re discussing one of the most common arguments in search advertising: branded keywords.

Should you or should you not bid on your branded keywords?

There are very strong cases on both sides of this argument. But, one side’s position is grounded in facts, while the other is based on sentiment.

Let’s take a look at both sides of this argument.

And… I’ll show you why a data-driven analysis provides a decisive answer on how to approach branded keywords in paid search.

What are branded keywords?

Branded or brand keywords are search terms associated with a company’s brand name.

Here are some examples of branded keywords searches:

“PPC Mastery Course”
“PPC Mastery Course reviews”
“What is PPC Mastery Course”
“PPC Mastery Course price”

Should you bid on branded keywords?

There’s a pretty hot debate about bidding on brand associated keywords.

In my experience, about 75% of the PPC community wholeheartedly believes in including brand names in their PPC campaigns.

Yet, there’s another 25% of people that are totally opposed to bidding on branded keywords. The opposition to branded keyword bidding is usually pretty vocal. They can’t fathom why they should have to pay Google a single cent for the brand notoriety they’ve worked hard to build.

PPC Course student question

Shelly, one of our PPC Course students, posted this question in our Course forum.  She wants to know if she should include her clients branded keywords in their PPC campaigns.

Shelly asks:

branded keywords PPC question

Fortunately, there’s a right and wrong answer to this question.

Let’s look at both sides of the branded keywords argument, while I answer Shelly’s question.

The “No Brand Keywords” argument

Here are the most common arguments against bidding on branded search terms.

Established organic search ranking

Most companies rank at the top of organic search for their brand name. They’ve spent time and money on building up brand related authority. If they’ve already solidified top search ranking on a keyword why pay to advertise on it?

Google already has enough of our money

Why should you pay Google for ads on branded search terms, when you’re already spending money to advertise on other searches?  The argument here is that you shouldn’t throw PPC money at branded keywords. Instead, save the budget for search terms where you don’t show up in organic rankings.

We own the brand, not Google

This argument is based on outright frustration. “How dare Google make us pay for clicks on our brand!”

They will just click on us anyway

If someone’s using a branded search they must be looking for that companies home page, right? If that’s true, there’s no reason to pay for ads. Your organic result will win the click anyway. Advertising would have you competing against yourself.

The arguments against advertising on branded keywords are usually supported by strong convictions. But they’re not grounded in data.

So what’s the argument for advertising on branded keywords?

Let’s look at how branded keywords factor into organic search results.

As we can see from the WordStream analysis below, head terms, 2 to 3 word search terms, have about a 20% organic click-through-rate (CTR).

Organic click through rate

Long tail keywords, search terms comprised of 4 or more words, get approximately a 30% organic CTR.

Brand names usually fall into the category of head terms.

So, if your brand ranks #1 in organic search for your branded keywords, you still only get about 20% to 30% of the available clicks.

Even the best organic search results miss out on nearly 70% of all search traffic.

If you rely only on organic search to capture traffic, you’re missing out on most of the searches for your brand.

That’s the CTR argument for advertising on your branded keywords.

Now, let’s look at branded keywords from a customer perspective.

Below are the search results for the manufacture of my favorite drone – “dji.”

The first result is a paid add that fills up most of my screen. The company information shows up on the right side of my browser. Then below the paid add is the latest news about DJI.

If I want to get to the organic results, I have to scroll over halfway down the page. I even have to bypass Dji’s latest tweets to get to their organic “homepage” result.

Does your customer have enough patience to find your organic search results?

Now put yourself in the shoes of a customer. How many people really have the patience to scroll all the way to your organic listing?

The searcher will have to ignore the paid ad on your brand name, if there is one. Then, they will have to bypass all the latest news and ignore your twitter feed to get to your organic result.

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t even want to do that for this result! I want to know the latest information. Why should I scroll down to the organic listing when there’s so much other information to consume?

Search ads give your brand more real estate and more opportunity to get clicks

It comes down to a question of real estate. Are you willing to pay a tax to Google to dominate the search results for your brand? Or, are you willing to potentially give up top-of-the-page space to competing information?

In DJI’s case, they are not willing to lose any real estate. And they’ve done a great job of making sure they own all the clicks for their brand name.

So, we’ve looked the argument for branded keywords in terms of CTR. We’ve also taken a customer based approach to this debate.

But, What does Google have to say about this?

The impact of incremental clicks

In 2011 Google published a study that showed incremental clicks have a big impact on search advertising.

Here’s what Google found:

incremental clicks for paid ads

Listings with paid ads and organic results got 89% more clicks than listings without search ads.

So, combining paid search with organic rank has a significant impact on CTR.

Google released a follow-up study on this same topic in 2012. Once again they found combining paid ads with organic rank has a big incremental impact.

the impact of incremental clicks for paid ads

In fact, the biggest incremental gains were found through the top five organic results.

The impact of incremental clicks fro paid ads

The Google studies are a bit outdated. But, there’s less organic search visibility now than there was in 2012. So, I would expect the data supporting the incremental impact of paid advertising to be even stronger.

What’s my experience with advertising on branded keywords?

I found quite a few other benefits from advertising on brand related search terms over the years.

Ads on branded keywords tend to have a high CTR and quality score

These metrics can improve your account quality score. Increasing your account quality score can help your ad campaigns across the board.

Brand clicks are dirt cheap

Branded keywords usually offer the lowest cost-per-click of all your advertising by far.

Conversions on branded keywords are also inexpensive

As opposed to your organic results, your paid ad directs searchers to the landing page of your choice. Searchers that click on your ads for your brand don’t have to navigate your home page to find what they want. Instead, they are directed to your best answer for their search.

Overall, ads on branded keywords make your account performance better! The benefits of advertising on brand related search terms far outweigh the cost.

So what’s my final answer to Shelly’s question about bidding on brand keywords?

Trust the data. Don’t get hung up on the principal of this argument.

You should advertise on your branded keywords 100% of the time!

Ok, Maybe 98.7% of the time. But if you’re using AdWords, you should be advertising on your branded keywords.

There are very few cases where this strategy won’t work for you. And if this strategy is ineffective for you, it’s likely an indicator of a deeper problem.

You own your brand. But Google owns the Search Network. You’re using their platform to bring in customers. So pay the small tax on your brand. Understand that branded keyword advertising is part of bigger strategy.

A strategy that will produce incrementally better results, and cost-effective conversions!

That’s my take and my resounding data-driven answer to the branded keywords debate.

What are your thoughts?

Do you advertise on your branded searches? Or are you opposed to paying Google for clicks on your brand name?

Post your argument for or against advertising on branded keywords in the comments below!

This post and video was episode 30 in our 90 Day Challenge digital marketing series.

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  • Theresa K says:

    We have a separate branded search campaign. From a cost/conversion perspective, some illustrative data based on the last 12 months:
    Total search campaigns (3): Total conversions = 9.46%; cost/conversion = $113.29
    Branded search campaign: Total conversions = 23.70%; cost/conversion = $3.27
    Other search campaigns (service type keywords): Total conversions = 7.43%; cost/conversion = $162.00

    30% of our total conversions came from the branded search campaign at a very low cost. As a service provider in a construction-related industry, a conversion for us is a form fill from our website or a phone call to schedule an appointment. Having a branded search campaign is very beneficial for us.

  • Matt M says:

    Although, I do agree with using branded searches, I feel like the argument that the good CTR’s positively affect account quality score is null. Is there really an account quality score? I once asked a google adwords representative about account quality score and he said there is no such thing.