Google’s Search Trademark Rules, Disputes and Adwords Policy

Google. It’s one of those brands in the past decade synonymous with goodness and all the internet could be about: positive and well-balanced work life. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin certainly had that intention positioning the company well to do good (not evil) and bring about positive change online in the ’90s. Google Labs was a huge demonstration of this. Rolling out tons of free apps and tools, it was the envy of developers and software firms big and small. Even the Google headquarters, the Googleplex, was a place people and businesses around the globe would idealise as a new benchmark. Every software engineering student I knew at university would talk about wanting to work at Google like it was walking into heaven itself! While I’m certain the culture at camp Google hasn’t changed that much in recent years, it’s policies like, trademark rules, certainly have. Over the past few years Google have made more moves that are redefining the company, in a pretty straightforward way, something every business wants – to grow market share, maximise profits and reduce overheads.

Now, this isn’t an article bagging out the fine, founding virtues of the company. On the contrary, it’s about the commercial reality all businesses face. The ability to remain in the game, at the top or anywhere above the profit line is tied to the free market policy – you can only do so much good, and that good has to be good for the business.

Google’s expansive Labs project, which launched Gmail, Goggles, Maps, Reader, Docs and hundreds of other free and loved tools was closed more than a year ago. Disappointingly, Reader joins the official RIP list of more than 100 tools, following recent spring and winter cleaning press releases from Google. They are clearly starting to focus on platforms that lead to revenue and profit.

Google's Search Trademark Rules, Disputes and Adwords Policy

(Above – live example of Audi advertising on BMW keyword – 15th April 2013 )
Their biggest earner, AdWords, recently announced a massive and somewhat surprising change to their best practice. They are allowing advertisers to buy keywords associated with trademarks of other businesses. This means, starting April 23, Sony could start AdWords campaigns on search terms like “Panasonic” or “LG”.  Sure it can be argued it protects the open market for small and medium businesses. But if you are ACME accounting (ACME being your registered trademark), I’m sure you won’t be happy when I search for your company name and one of your competitor’s lands on top of you in the search results. But that’s exactly what Google are advocating with this announcement:

“Our trademark rules are designed to provide greater choice to users via Google ads. This is similar to the way a shopper benefits when they see a variety of brands’ products on a store shelf.

Even if they are looking for a particular brand of running shoe, for example, seeing many different options enables them to compare features, prices, and more to buy the best running shoe for them.

The same idea applies on the web – people searching for one brand of product should be able to easily find information about products from similar brands to make informed decisions.”

While I can see this balances the playing field for companies and simplifies the worldwide trademark policy for Google, it means a massive rise in offensive and defensive advertising requirements for companies, at the same time probably not hurting AdWords’ profits.

Add to this Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which has changed so considerably in the past 18 months, the funding required for best practice and certainty in results, based on our clients’ spends, is tipping over to be more expensive than advertising. While Google have, in some ways, done the right thing with SEO, tailoring their algorithms to move away from low-cost offshore providers ramping up their search results with fake links and content, they have also aligned search to favour larger organisations, pushing power back towards advertisers including, of course, AdWords itself.

With organic and paid search being a priority for many companies and one of the largest companies on the planet now as focused as you on the bottom line, it is a real wake-up call for online marketing. My advice, after providing expert testimony in a recent online trademark dispute, is unless you’ve got deep pockets and enjoy litigation, start ramping up your digital sales channels to give your business a good spread across advertising platforms. This will not only serve as a great defensive strategy, if calibrated properly to ROI, you should also considerably grow your business.

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