SEM Top 10: Monitor Brand vs. Nonbrand

Digging into the details can help you win sales from each advertising dollar. To maximize return on their paid-search efforts, savvy direct marketers slice and dice their reports, analyzing results by phrase concept, copy, landing page, engine, and time of day. The resulting insights help retailers spend more on the advertising that performs well and less on the advertising that doesn’t

One of the most important analyses a retailer can perform is the breakout of brand vs. nonbrand paid-search economics. As you drive your program to its target metric, evaluate its success excluding the effect of the sales and cost associated with sales on your brand.

By brand we mean your brand itself (“Toyota”), as well a variations, misspellings, and domains (“Toyota motors,” “Toyota USA”, “Tyota,” “”).

The brand vs. nonbrand breakout is significant for every marketer. How to approach it depends on the nature of your business.

For all retailers, searches on your brand are often among your most profitable campaigns. Indiscriminately rolling brand-name results into your program’s overall results can mask the performance of less effective terms. This leads you to continue to overinvesting in poor-performing terms.

Marketers working with third parties on paid search should make sure their partners also pay heed to this distinction. Your affiliates and your search provider will always be happy to report strong aggregate results. It’s up to you to determine how much of the good news you should credit to the messenger.

If you’re a cataloger, searches on your brand name are a product of the catalogs that you mail and any other offline advertising you buy. Therefore, to truly evaluate the success of your paid-search program, you need to report on these ads tied to your brand, separately from your other ads. Failure to do so can lead to inefficient cross-subsidization among your marketing programs, with your catalog paying the true costs associated with brand–phrase orders credited to paid search.

Some catalogers may in fact be willing to tolerate some subsidization by their brand-name terms, allowing their print media to offset a portion of paid-search cost. Likewise, some marketers may choose to allow brand-name phrases to bankroll bids on more-competitive terms. But the decision to subsidize should be always be made deliberately, not due to lack of visibility.

For noncatalogers, the brand vs. nonbrand breakout is less clear-cut. If you’re both a direct retailer and a manufacturer, and you compete against your resellers, your brand name is simply a “word in play.” As with all other phrases associated with your business, you will be bidding on this term alongside all your resellers.

The same holds true if your company’s name contain a generic term describing your good and services. For example, a retailer of men’s trousers doing business as “Best Possible Pants” could not attribute orders on “pants” to people searching for his brand.

The bottom line? When analyzing your search marketing campaigns, report on results with and without your brand terms. Partitioning your analysis in this way will likely provide you key insights on what is working and what isn’t.

Next week, we’ll take a look at another key factor in SEM success: taming your affiliates. See you then!

Alan Rimm-Kaufman is founder and Lawrence Becker is vice president, marketing and business development for The Rimm-Kaufman Group (, an online-marketing consultancy based in Charlottesville, VA.