If you’ve ever done competitor analysis, then you’ve probably stumbled upon this common SEO marketing hack: using competitors’ names in AdWords. Whether you look up your fiercest rivals on Google or search for your own brand name, there’s a fair chance that one of your competing firms will appear in the results too. But have you ever wondered whether this is legal or whether this makes any sense at all? Never fear! Here’s all you need to know:

Is it legal?

What Google says

From the perspective of Google’s approach to trademarks, you don’t need to worry if you’re just using your AdWords competitors’ trademarks as keywords since their policy states: “Google will not investigate or restrict the use of trademark terms in keywords, even if a trademark complaint is received.

Of course, Google is more strict about including a competitor’s name or trademark in your ad text. In this case, it will review complaints, may restrict the use of the trademark in your ad text or even stop your ad from being run altogether. Moreover, some additional country or region-specific rules may apply such as Google’s EU and EFTA policy. However, long as you’re using competitors’ names in AdWords text in their original context, as opposed to in reference to the trademark or in an ad which isn’t for goods or services corresponding to the trademarked term, then you should be fine.

What the courts say

Regardless of what Google states, the more important question might be what the governments and courts say. After all, a hefty fine might be much more damaging to your business than a warning by Google or a refusal to permit your ad. Obviously, court rulings vary between different countries, so you should definitely exercise due diligence. Even so, as a general rule of thumb, you should be safe in most markets so long as your ad as a whole doesn’t suggest to the average internet user that there is a connection with a brand name or trademark owner. That means that bidding on, and using, brand names as keywords should be perfectly okay. With any other activity that goes beyond that, you should take extra care.

Is it profitable?

As a growth hacker or marketer it’s easy to get lost in CTR, impression rates and other figures that can be measured more directly while ignoring the most important metric – ROI. If you’re looking to growth hack your competitors’ names in your ads, keep in mind that people expect to see the competitor’s website or product. That’s exactly why, most of the time, this strategy leads to high bounce-rates as most customers simply click away instantly once they don’t see what they expected to see. The result for your campaign is that you end up paying for lots of clicks, but will get little money out of it.

Moreover, you might also give your rivals free publicity with your ads. Ultimately, you are also running the risk of ending up in costly trials for manipulative marketing or copyright infringement. You’re particularly likely to get sued if you’re using a competitor’s name as your ad keyword in the headline and/or the text of your ad. In the case that you’re using dynamic keywords that match your headline text with the keyword, this might even happen unintentionally.

Of course, if you’re smart, you might find interesting ways to use this strategy to your advantage. For example, you can amplify the keyword and use remarketing lists for search ads in order to create an audience that includes people shopping and looking for the best alternative solution. Still, as Google’s algorithms and users are getting smarter at spotting misleading ads,such a strategy is usually quite inefficient.

Conclusion

In short, the legality of using competitors’ names in AdWords is questionable. You might not need to worry about Google, but if you cross a certain line, the courts could penalise you. But even aside from the legal matter, the profitability of such approaches is dubious too. If you do still opt for such a strategy, play it safe and follow some of the advice above. Additionally, we highly recommend checking with a trademark lawyer or with your AdWords account manager whether the ads you want to launch are legal or not.