Partner PPC – Doing It Right

In the world of business, there are makers and sellers: companies who make products, and companies who sell them. Sometimes they’re one and the same, and other times they’re different. If you buy plastic bags for your retail store, chances are you’re not buying them from the bag manufacturer, but from a vendor who bought the bags and then resells them to you. It’s common practice, and it’s good for business.

Years ago, in another life, I sold radio and newspaper advertising for a living. We frequently dealt with co-op advertising, where a product manufacturer would agree to pay for a portion of a reseller’s ad, provided the reseller included certain elements about the manufacturer – their logo, name, slogan, etc.

Nowadays, I find myself working on similar programs for PPC. We usually call them partner programs, although they go by different names. Still, the premise is the same: working with a reseller to promote a manufacturer’s product or service.

Like with most things PPC, there is a right way to do partner PPC and a wrong way. The wrong way is for the partner to go rogue, trying to bid on manufacturer trademarks without permission. I once had a client whose resellers were doing just that – using PPC effectively to sell their products, to the point that the client lost nearly all control over them, including the prices they were charging. The resellers were using PPC for acquisition, with rock-bottom prices that undercut the manufacturer themselves. Needless to say, this was a challenging situation for all involved.

So what’s the right way to do partner PPC?

Work together.

Too often, partner PPC ends up as a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Resellers decide to start bidding against manufacturers, never talking with one another – and soon, no one is getting good results from PPC.

Avoid this trap by calling a meeting with resellers and manufacturers and work out a program. Decide on the parameters first! Advertising is a business deal, so it makes sense to have a contract or at least program guidelines for participation.

Decide who gets what keywords.

Many vendors selling the same thing to the same audience means many different advertisers bidding on the same keywords. Depending on the partner program setup, you may even be sending traffic to the same display URL.

For these and other reasons, it’s crucial to decide who gets to bid on what keywords. Many partner programs work well with a “divide and conquer” strategy, where the keyword list is divided as evenly as possible across all partners. Other times, if traffic goes to partner sites, it can be possible for multiple partners to bid on the same keywords. Decide what makes sense, and stick to it. Periodically run reports to make sure duplicate keywords haven’t slipped into the mix.

Keyword coordination takes time, but it’s worth the investment in better performance for all involved.

Get trademark approvals in place ahead of time.

A huge benefit of working with a well-known manufacturer is using their name in your ad copy. But often, the manufacturer has applied for trademark protection with Google, meaning partners won’t be allowed to use the terms in ad copy. There are several workarounds for this, all involving the trademark owner giving express permission to companies to use their trademark. Get all this done before launching PPC! It’s frustrating and time-consuming to set up a campaign and get approvals, only to have all your ads declined for trademark use.

Get tracking and reporting in place.

Tracking is important no matter what kind of PPC you’re doing, but it can be especially challenging in partner situations where you’re sending traffic from multiple accounts to the same website. Make sure your analytics package can handle this, and be sure to use tracking URLs so you know whose traffic is whose!

A word of caution:  If you’re an agency managing multiple partner campaigns, be very clear about what type of reporting partners will receive. I once worked on a national program that had one manufacturer and 20 partners – and I managed all of the campaigns. The partner budgets were relatively small – but reporting time isn’t usually dependent on advertiser spend! We had to be very clear about the kinds of reports we’d provide to partners (and to the manufacturer), and how to handle requests for extra reporting. Luckily, we were able to use automated reports that didn’t take much time to create. Otherwise, you’ll find your workload increasing for every partner you take on!

With advance planning, and a true partnership attitude, partner PPC can be very lucrative for both the supplier and the partner. Have you done partner PPC? What are your favorite tips? Share in the comments!

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Google Revises Adwords Trademark Policy

Well hallelujah and the saints be praised – Google has finally come to their senses and modified their Adwords trademark policy to allow the use of trademarked terms in ad copy. It’s about flippin’ time!

I’ve written about this a couple times, most recently just over a month ago. This trademark thing has bordered on the ridiculous many times, as anecdotes about people not being able to use the words “target” or “daddy” or “next” or other common terms abounded on forums, blogs, and Twitter. Now all that silliness has been laid to rest. From the Inside Adwords blog post:

Imagine opening your Sunday paper and seeing ads from a large supermarket chain that didn’t list actual products for sale; instead, they simply listed the categories of products available – offers like “Buy discount cola” and “Snacks on sale.” The ads wouldn’t be useful since you wouldn’t know what products are actually being offered. For many categories of advertisers, this is the problem they have faced on Google for some time.

Hey, that sounds familiar. In my post Trademark Trials and Tribulations, I wrote (emphasis added):

What I don’t understand is why this is such a big deal in the search space. I mean, can you imagine JCPenney running a newspaper ad for Levi’s or Carter’s or Samsonite or any of the hundreds of other brands they carry in their stores – without using those names in the ad?? How silly would that look? And how many people would be compelled to shop for “great brand name jeans” or “cute brand baby clothes” or “super durable luggage” after seeing such an ad? Where would all the grocery store circulars be without using brand names and logos? What about TV ads for just about anything? What about magazine ads??

I won’t go after Google for paraphrasing me. I’m just glad they’ve finally seen the light and modified their policy – it’s long overdue.

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Why All The Hype Over Trademarks in PPC?

Last week, there was a flurry of news covering Amazon being sued over using trademarked terms in their PPC ads. In a nutshell, a company called Video Professor was unhappy that Amazon was bidding on their name, but the landing page had competing products featured on it.

At first pass, I thought “fair enough.” But then I read the details and discovered that the landing page on did indeed include Video Professor products. While it is a best practice to send PPC searches for “video professor” to a landing page on showing only Video Professor products rather than a broader category page with multiple product lines, the fact that other competing products also appear on the search page does not make this a trademark infringement.

I am continually surprised and perturbed by these type of complaints and lawsuits. If this were an ad in traditional media, no one would bat an eye. For whatever reason, search is under the microscope for frivolous trademark complaints. Further, I believe that Google’s trademark policy only exacerbates the issue. By allowing companies to file trademark complaints, Google encourages lawsuits such as this, and hurts the advertisers who are legitimate sellers of the trademarked product.

I wrote about this 2 years ago, so I won’t rehash the whole argument here. My take on the Amazon suit is that, especially in tough economic times, companies are lawsuit-happy and perceive successful online organizations such as Amazon and Google to have deep pockets. In reality, all they’re doing is making things difficult for all PPC advertisers.

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