Using Competitors’ Names as Keywords

A client asked us this morning about using competitors’ names as keywords for his website. He’d heard the suggestion from a marketing guy, he said, and what did we think?

The idea here is simple. Imagine that you own the Apex Dental Clinic on 1st street and your competitor is the Acme Dental Clinic on 2nd street. If you can come up strongly in search for “Acme Dental Clinic,” then people looking for the Acme Dental Clinic might click through to your website and switch their allegiance to the Apex Dental Clinic.

First, let’s clarify just what “using keywords” could mean in this context.

  • If you’re talking about paid search, you could bid against the Acme Dental Clinic for terms like “Acme Dental Clinic” or “Acme Dental Clinic hours” and show up in ads right above the organic results, which will almost certainly show the real Acme clinic. This is actually a pretty common tactic for brands if not for local businesses — you can see below that Dove has put in a bid for “Pantene Shampoo” and shows up in that spot.

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  • The other way to use competitors’ names as keywords is to write about them at your website. I’ve seen this done effectively. If your company sells a generic replacement head for electric toothbrushes, for example, you could have pages for each of the major electric toothbrushes going into so much detail that those pages come up well in search. Add a nice big graphic showing that your replacement heads fit the Philips Sonicare brush on your Philips Sonicare page and you are very likely to make some sales with people who were planning to buy the brand-name replacement head. And our blogs for resellers of products often rank ahead of the manufacturers of those products.

Does this make sense for a local business? Not necessarily. Going back to our example of competing dental clinics, the dentist at Apex might be able to snag some traffic from the dentist at Acme if Acme is not doing a good job online, but it’s hard not to make that look hostile. We actually write about our friendly local competitors here in a sincerely friendly manner, and that absolutely doesn’t hurt them at all. If you are aggressive enough with your competitors’ business names to hurt them, they’ll notice. The Burger Wars were probably beneficial for the participants, but it’s probably not a cost-effective approach for local businesses.

If you are able to accomplish it in a sneaky way… well, then, you’ve done something sneaky. Trust is the top currency on the internet. Look shady and not only Google but also your customers are likely to respond badly. We have never seen a customer take a hit in any search engine algorithm update in our seven and a half years in the industry, and we think it’s because we never cross the line into sneaky tactics. Companies that look after their own websites may face penalties and not even realize until they’ve gotten a lot of damage to their SEO. It’s not worth it.

Plus, consider the path to purchase. Someone looking for a local business will typically search first for information about the goods and services they want, then for specific terms like “mobile dog groomers in Rogers,” and only later — once they have narrowed their search — for the name of the business. Catching people in the earlier stages, before they’ve already chosen your competitor for their short list, is likely to give you better results.

So, is using your competitors’ name as  a keyword a good idea? It depends on lots of factors. And as always, it comes down to the best strategy for your particular business, your particular industry, and the resources you have available. We’ll be happy to talk with you further about how it might work out for you.

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