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Lazy Webbing: Google Brand AdWord Roadblocks?

By - February 26, 2009

I noticed something interesting while Googling around today: Certain brands, and they seem to fall into a class of brands that would understand the value of this – but certain brands seem to “own” all the AdWords associated with their trademarks. IE, there are no other buyers in the auction, it seems. Now, I’ve covered the trademark issues in the past, they are many of them, but did I miss the ability for brands to buy out any other bidders and “own” a result?

It’s the equivalent of what is called a “roadblock” in the online ad biz – also known as “100% Share of Voice.”

I can’t upload images right now but will get one up once I fix that… are the searches I’ve found this on:




BTW, this is NOT true for search on Yahoo…, Apple on Yahoo.

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23 thoughts on “Lazy Webbing: Google Brand AdWord Roadblocks?

  1. nmw says:

    What about the so-called “organic” results? Have you heard whether and/or to what extent Google sells these placements?

    It’s long been known that they manipulate organic results, but primarily to eliminate results they don’t like.

    I think perhaps I underestimated your prescience WRT twitter as a “customer service interface”. So now I have started a list of brands @IANAL !!

    😉 nmw

  2. Cory O'Brien says:

    There are surprisingly few ads for such a popular keyword, but this non-Apple owned ad did pop up under the Apple search:

    Apple Macs For Less
    Pay No Sales Tax When You Buy
    Mac Computers From PowerMax

    So I don’t think they’re selling exclusives.

  3. Tim says:

    Google recently made a change that gives brands preferential treatment in the SERPs. I’m sure this is related.

  4. John, I had noticed this last year around the same time. A few of the brands I noticed were Southwest, Target, and United.

  5. Greg says:

    Or is this a case of Google allowing the trademark owners to block others from buying their trademark? Most of these seem like the sort of companies that would actively protect their mark.

  6. Greg – Google has a trademark policy, and to paraphrase they do nothing in prevention of an AdWords user using a trademarked word to trigger an AdWords Ad from displaying. You cannot, however, use a trademarked term in the Ad copy.

    The exact wording:

    When we receive a complaint from a trademark owner, we only investigate the use of the trademark in ad text. If the advertiser is using the trademark in ad text, we will require the advertiser to remove the trademark and prevent them from using it in ad text in the future. Please note that we will not disable keywords in response to a trademark complaint.

    Apparently they have another set of standards for large corporations.

  7. alefbetac says:

    This doesn’t seem to be the case in localized google search. I am located in Greece and get routed to and i’m not getting any ads whatsoever when googling for “apple”. Then again I just tried the same thing on Perhaps it has to do with location filtering…

  8. Mike Bunnell says:

    AFAIK, there is not explicit roadblock option that Google gives big brand advertisers.

    What’s going on here is rooted in the trademark policy, but also involves Quality Score. It’s a confluence of effects that give the appearance of a roadblock.

    So as others have noted, Google’s trademark policy allows TM owners to restrict use of TMs in the ad copy. But anyone can use a TM as a keyword to trigger an ad.

    However, just because you bid on a keyword doesn’t mean Google has to display your ad for that keyword. It basically comes down to yield management and relevancy thresholds; for the naked brand keywords in question, the trademark owners’ ads perform SO much better than anything else, that Google’s ad ranking formula (bid x quality score) says “that’s the only ad worth showing for this keyword.” Another contributing factor is that having the keyword in the ad copy helps your quality score, so if you’re not allowed to have the TM keyword in your ad copy, your ad rank potential is inherently limited.

    Another way of thinking about it is: if I type simply “apple”, there is such a high likelihood that I am searching for the official apple site that any other result is irrelevant.

    Test this theory out by searching “apple computer” and you see that suddenly there are a full page of ads, because that term is more open to interpretation: I may be looking to buy an Apple computer, and they are sold by many retailers, not just by Apple direct, so those retailers’ ads are more relevant.

  9. The Greek God says:

    Trademark law is not completely settled on this point, and Google may just be playing it cautious on this front. Not all courts agree that the input of a trademark term for company X should result in an ad from a competitor Y. This cause and effect has the result of impressing on the consumer’s mind that there is a relationship between the term and competitor Y, when, in fact, the term is associated by trademark with X. Last time I checked, there were a few lawsuits still pending on this against Google…

  10. nmw says:

    @Mike Bunnell

    Good analysis… and it’s what I’ve said for years: a search for “Amazon” will return virtually nothing about the river.

    Google (indeed: all “one-size fits-all” search engines) return(s) domain names — they have to, because that is what users expect.

    Using it is actually a waste of time (if you know how to use your browser to navigate to,, or whatever,… then you don’t nothing Google at all).

    The strange thing about apple and amazon is that they’ve named their company something totally nonsensical — they should have gone with something like “computers” or “books”. At least CBS and NBC were smart enought to realize their “mistake” (and they’ve at least started to correct it).

    🙂 nmw

  11. Similar to alefbetac, I am in the UK and there are plenty of competing advertisers for those search terms.

  12. Patrick says:

    From my own AdWords experience, I agree with what Scott McAndrew says. Perhaps people just aren’t bidding on the keywords or it’s too expensive to buy them for a good ROI.

    Why I’m really writing is because I noticed something strikingly related over on Matt Cutt’s blog. Today he was fielding questions on Google moderator, and this exact question but re organic SERPs is the one the people have chosen.

    So we should be getting a response out of him soon.

  13. Rob says:

    This isnt true in the UK. A famous retailer is marketing Apple products when you search for Apple.

  14. nmw says:

    Applause @Patrick!

    The voting is apparently closed and the winning question is:

    “Can you verify that Google is putting more weight on “brands” in search engine rankings? If the answer is “Yes” — what is Google’s definition of a brand? Inspired by Aaron Wall’s post:

    [question contributed by Monica in Madison,WI; 110 like, 47 don’t like]

  15. JG says:

    John, you give three examples: Apple, Dell, and Lenovo. Aren’t both Apple and Dell partners of Google? Google+Dell have that huge half-billion dollar distribution/default Google toolbar installation deal. And Google+Apple have some iPhone and some software integration deals.

    As for Lenovo.. aren’t they a Chinese company, and isn’t Google trying to get in good with China?

    Ok, so maybe I’m being a little too much of a tinfoil hat. But let’s test my theory with the query [Microsoft]. Who ownes that ad space?

    (raises eyebrows)


  16. Greg says:

    Scott McAndrews – thanks and I suspect both you and Mike Bunnell are correct. I just did a search for “Apple” and got one ad from the computer giant and one from

    A separate search for “Apple Computer” returned 56 ads, the first one from the computer giant.

  17. You CAN bid on trademarked terms … you can NOT use them in your ad 🙂

  18. Mike Bunnell is absolutely spot on. We have been helping clients manage this for years per Google’s trademark usage policy (anyone can bid on a word, but not being able to use it in your ad copy kills your CTR and Quality Score).

    The real question is why more brands don’t do this. It is relatively easy to manage and the results are dramatic – brand searches convert well and when you get the others off the page your costs also drop.

  19. Michael says:

    Stuart touches on a great point – the role of white listed agencies in subverting the adwords TM issue.

    The TM issue with the big G is sticky and one that even authorized resellers of big brand products can struggle to understand. Resellers (rightfully) think they should have the right to fully advertise brand products via AdWords (keyword in ad text) but control-centric brands can (and will) push back on the actual resellers getting white listed through Google. That’s where agencies fill the gap – essentially allowing certain brands to extend control through paid search by requiring resellers to use approved agency channels.

  20. Nadzent says:

    You can definitely complete trademark “paperwork” for a brand that precludes anyone else from bidding on predefined brand keywords. If you see anyone bidding on your trademark term you notify Google and they stop the bidding. I have done this for several clients over the past two years.

  21. Mike Bunnell says:


    Actually, Google has one trademark policy for US, Canada, UK and Ireland, and another policy for everywhere else.

    In US/CA/UK/IRL, you cannot stop anyone from using your TM as a keyword.

    Everywhere else, Google’s TM policy does allow you to prevent using TMs as keywords.

  22. nmw says:

    On Twitter @Google has posted SEO tips from @MattCutts (actually it’s a youtube video, not a tweet):

    The video is an answer to the question contributed by Monica in Madison,WI which Patrick and I noted above.

    Using the example “eclipse”, Mr. Cutts elucidates how Google’s top ranked results follow the Wisdom of the Language (e.g. the #1 result is

    Very interesting response — and I am happy that my ideas are being validated in this transparent manner… Kudos!

    For more information about how the Wisdom of the Language works, see: