Protecting your brand!

A while back I wrote about how Google REFUSES to stop showing ads for search terms that we clearly have trademarked such as “bluehost” and “hostmonster” etc. It is a frustrating experience to say the least. This is how it works (within the crazy machinations of Google) – You fill out a trademark complaint with google and list the search terms that violate your trademarks. After about 8 weeks (If you are VERY lucky) and your trademarked terms really are trademarked, etc they will grant you a reprieve that blocks advertisers from using Google adwords with your trademarked terms in the text. At first this seems like it will help, but let me show you exactly why its a waste of time.

Lets say a potential customer types “web hosting” into google. I want our site to show if we can, and I especially want our affiliates sites to show. We want our affiliates to make the most money they can! This holds true for all kinds of hosting terms such as “php hosting, frontpage hosting, best web hosting” and so forth. What I want to protect from are the cherry picker affiliates that buy up our trademarked terms such as “Bluehost, hostmosnter, blue host, host monster, blue hosting” etc. When these search terms are typed in on google any adwords advertisements are blocked (BUT ONLY IF THEY HAVE THE WORD “BLUEHOST” or “HOSTMONSTER” in the text of the ad itself. They can still buy ads based on our trademarked keyword of “bluehost” as long as they don’t use the offending “term” in the text of the ad itself.

So with the first half of the battle won with Googles help anyone that has “bluehost” and “hostmonster” in the text of their ad is blocked. However, all that did is make everyone creative in their ad text using “Host – monster” , “blue web hosting”, and other “similiar terms” to get around our block. The next step to protecting our brand was to contact all the main affiliates with a list of “trademarked” terms that were currently violating and explain our policies regarding this. There were only about 20 main affiliates that were doing this on a consistent and wide spread basis. Most of these were large affiliates that I knew and have dealt with personally. All but one agreed to immediately stop buying keywords based on our trademarked terms, and within a week the final holdout affiliate group had also come around and agreed to remove the terms.

Ah, all was good right? WRONG! Within 24 hours an entire new group of affiliates had purchased every available ad spot for our trademarked terms. What to do, what to do. Now with all our main affiliate relationships taken care of the first round, this next group of “violators” were affiliates that received very few signups and preyed mostly on these type of “brand recognition” signups. Since buying these keywords are important to us, and we don’t pay affiliates for buying up our own domain name and brands to promote our services we simply disable and informed the new list of violators that we don’t pay the affiliates that don’t follow this rule now. With over 30,000 affiliates for Bluehost this rule now affects less than 20 of them, yet new affiliates try this method out everyday. They won’t get paid for the signups, but I guess they can keep trying.

The reason I write about this is two fold. First, Google could make this MUCH easier on us, but they never will. Why not? Because it makes them a pile of money to allow others to trample our trademark and advertise for terms that are clearly 100% related to our business. That is why it is so important to have someone regulate this other than the search engines themselves. You can’t put Cookie Monster in charge of protecting the cookie jar. The temptation is too great (Even for him!).

The second reason I write about this is to say that even after all the rubbish we have to go through to “protect” these keywords it is worth it. We save over $30,000 a month in bogus affiliate fees that we would have normally been paying out to affiliates. We LOVE our affiliates and want them to make money, but bring us NEW business. Don’t take our brand and charge us for signups that are already ours based on our trademarked search terms.

Thanks,
Matt Heaton / President Bluehost.com

12 Responses to “Protecting your brand!”

  1. A lyoal Bluehost customer says:

    You have really got to square things out with Google, having a grudge against them might even lose you some customers, or at least make them wary of you. Their business model actually is justifiable in many ways, even though I understand why it might piss you off. It’s just business.

  2. Tom says:

    Ah the world of PPC advertising. I’m surprised that the term BlueHost isn’t already bought up by competing affiliates who have no ties to BlueHost but want to use your brand to try and get people to sign up for their other service. This is usually what happens. So now you have to figure out, do you want Bluehost people making money or other hosting providers. In the end though its Google who makes all the money!

  3. Marisa says:

    I’m really sick of Google. What was once a great search engine is now a monopolistic bully. Good luck fighting the Evil G. (Yes, I’m bitter that they replaced my PR5 with a PR0.)

  4. J Ramey says:

    Protecting your brand is a never ending headache.
    Google could care less and now that they’ve become a behemoth they can simply ignore your pleas.
    On the other hand if you can’t beat’em join’em.
    …if everyone on the floor is playing basket ball and you’re in a helmet and shoulder pads who’s as fault?

    regards,
    James

  5. Dan says:

    I can see how this would be frustrating, but I disagree.

    Even your competitors should be able to use “bluehost” in their hidden keywords. If I was your competitor and someone was ready to search and sign up for your service, I would want to make sure they know who I am first… Even though it seems like the customer may have already made up their mind on where they want to go.

    To a lesser degree, your affiliates are also your competition. They don’t want customers to go right to your site and sign up for service, they want them to go through them! The only difference with these competitors is that you don’t 100% loose out when they win.

    Personally, If I had customers searching specifically for my brand name, so much so that I was worried about where that traffic was going, I’d take a step back and realize what a wonderful problem I have.

  6. Lazar says:

    Huh,

    putting aside that I agree with many points you make, as well as last commenter’s, lets try to analyze one thing:

    ‘blue web hosting’

    Just imagine how would you prove on court that this is a play on your brand name. Blue is very common word. A Color. It may have some meanings (http://psychology.about.com/od/sensationandperception/a/color_blue.htm)
    People may be using it because of some of these meanings. Or may not.

    Now, because you are the first SUCCESSFUL guy who used this color in his brand web hosting name (there may be others before you who did not become widely known), you think that you have an ownership to it! Little arrogant I think.

    How about ‘blue seo’? Web hosting and seo industries have common business points. Should that guy also be banned from google ads for ‘blue web …’ phrases?

    And even if you actually did hold ‘authorship’ over all things ‘blue’, how do you think Google is supposed to deal with it. To analyze every conjugation, pluralism, word variation, combination, extension, whatever, that MAY relate to your brand. And simply BAN others from using all those dozens (probably hundreds) of relevant phrases. Imagine now all these guys suing Google for doing that, and Google having to prove in court that your authorship requests were valid. Not so easy as you think!

  7. Mark says:

    OK Matt – think about this a bit.

    Basically, you are saying that Google should automatically GIVE you their business for practically nothing, and that you shouldn’t have to pay market rates for advertising – which is what Adwords is.

    First, there is no law against a company that uses another company’s name in their advertising. How anti-capitalist is it to suggest that there should be? If there were, you could never say, “Pepsi beat Coke in a national taste test.” Those cute little beer commercials where the Budweiser dog jumps into the Miller truck would be right out also. Those wonderful Mac vs. PC ads would of course be out.

    The point is, it is good healthy competition for upstarts to be able to draw comparisons between themselves and the big guys. And paying to be put in front of eyeballs that are looking for a certain well known company is not illegal, immoral or even to be discouraged.

    The line is only crossed into trademark infringement when the little guys actually call themselves something similar to the larger entity so as to confuse the consumer into thinking that they might be the more established entity or be affiliated in some way.

    Doing that is still against Google’s rules, and is clearly illegal.

    But you’re not talking about stopping that – you are demanding that Google – which routinely points hordes of customers in your direction FOR FREE – stop monetizing their service by charging advertising rates for the popular search terms.

    I say, if you want Bluehost to be taken out of the paid search terms, then it should also be taken out of the free results as well. I wonder how well THAT would go over for your business.

  8. Mark says:

    I will add that with your affiliate program, you are free to run that as you please, and tell your affiliates that money will not be paid out from business gained from AdWords advertising. That, however, is a “Your Problem” not a “Google Problem”.

  9. Martin says:

    Interesting & new subject to me.

    Yet , on a different take ..a bit outside the box, yet a perspective thought.

    I had a business on a busy street, and used to notice how well a Mc Donalds and Burger King always did side by side. they attract the same crowd and hold different menu items and recipes.

    Ok so they both are doing well side by side, and we all have noticed similar competitors benefit from local traffic in our home area.

    So..to corner the business on that street for fast food and win no matter where the fast food junkies go, I say own both …so how does it apply to this?

    Simple…Encourage your affiliates to be the competition, let them only, secure the TM phrases by encouraging them to snap up every one they can imagine.

    This might more effectively leverage cornering the market and minimalising Google sending the competition to an unaffiliated different hosting firm.

    You get the customer, your people pay for and corner the market for you.
    Win win …that squeezes the G factor out mostly and downsizes competitors.

    Affiliates will pay the ad words…time and seo to do it for you, perhaps more than the 30k you noticed was slipping away, and perhaps adding much more to your earnings per month long term and displacing the Google arbitration through domination of a huge affiliate base.

    That way most “Blue” roads lead to you… hence you earn a larger market slice by encouraging the affiliate to actually go ahead as long as they are sending the sale to you and in good standing.

    Macdonald’s and Burger King… blue this and that…most will go to you or affiliates & you…leaving Google to assist your affiliates in securing most of the search market.

    I am new as an affiliate, so perhaps I see it as an opportunity to blow the G out without the headaches and limit undermining your TM phrases or similar?
    Plus take back the market that “G Factor” may continue to be selling to unaffiliated competition.

    Fast Food for thought. :) although I type to slow~lol
    Jeffrey

    PS: Please don’t be too hard on my new affiliate site… its new to me, and I wanted a unique fun appeal…it is a work in progress.

    *I have not employed ad word bids…yet I have purchased links and traffic to launch the week old affiliate site.
    1,025,000. hopefully quality direct visitors to start.
    (No Mailings or ad words, yet I d think it may need to look very similar to your site for lead in refferal sign ups. So this is the approach I began with.

    FEEDBACK ASSISTANCE VERY WELCOME FOR MY AFF’ SITE

    Thanks again.
    JM

  10. Laura Myob says:

    You don’t say what Google’s reason was for not publishing things like ‘bluehost’. Did they give a reason or just a frowny face? :)

    Cheers!

  11. Hi Matt

    Working with Affiliates is difficult. You want them to bring new business and they want to make money. Obviously it’s easy for them to make money on the terms that describe what they are selling – that is, your trademarks. If you think about it this way – you might have less affiliates if they can’t make money as easily and cant advertise on your terms. Which would you prefer?

    In Australia (which is where we work) Google still prevents other using trademarked terms as keywords in AdWords. Not sure how long that will last as the rest of the world seems different, and our law isn’t much different.

    And, as you point out, Google really loves the money from AdWords.

    Regards

  12. [...] the brand owner would have received anyway.  The web hosting company Bluehost estimated it saved $30,000 per month in ‘bogus’ affiliate fees by not paying commissions to affiliates who leveraged their [...]

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