Open Season on Trademarks in Search?

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Watch posts on a legal victory for Google (I totally missed it) that basically allows Google to permit companies to use their competitors’ brands as keywords (not as visible text or title tags). Barry points to a San Jose Mercury article and more technical legal analysis from Eric Goldberg that explain the ruling and its potential implications.

As Goldberg points out, the favorable ruling came at a low federal court level. Until there are federal appellate court consensus rulings or an eventual US Supreme Court ruling all this isn’t totally over. But for now, Google can sell “Pontiac” to “Mazda” and vice versa.

One of the SEM firms that presented on my “research” panel at the San Jose SES (360i) said that some of the consumer research they’d done found a “significant brand lift” benefiting those marketers who were appearing in the top results (organic and paid) on search results pages.

That plus everything else points to more branding dollars getting into paid search. Eventually we will have big brands who want to “own” categories in search, spending branding dollars there to ensure their position whenever one searches on “printer” or “digital camera” or “mp3 player” and so on.

You’ll eventually have direct response marketers bidding against branding marketers who will be using a very different “ROI” calculus.
In addition, you’ll have the same phenomenon regarding competitors’ products, as in Mazda buying keywords related to the Pontiac Solsitice, as mentioned, earlier this year. In that instance, when people were prompted by Pontiac’s TV campaign to “Google” the new Solstice an ad for Mazda came up.

This should eventually create more keyword inflation and drive more marketers into local (as a cheaper keyword strategy) and the tail. However, contradicting that is the apparent fact that, on average, keyword prices remain flat or are trending slightly downward although in any give category they may be more competitive and therefore costly.


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