If you’re a marketer, few competitive tactics are more frustrating than a phenomenon known as “brand squatting.” If you’ve never heard of it before, brand squatting occurs any time a brand manages to claim real estate on the search engine results page after a consumer has searched for a rival company.
Think of it this way: Each year, brands spend billions of dollars and countless hours creating awareness and name recognition. Marketers invest heavily in high-rotation TV ad campaigns and brand-building display programs—all so they’ll be top of mind when a potential customer begins the purchase process in their category.
But when it comes to shopping online, even when a consumer enters the brand’s exact name in the search box, brand squatting can prevent that company from earning the subsequent click. Why? Simply put, search engines like Google allow paid search advertisers to bid on a competitor’s branded keywords. When brand squatters do this, they’re able to take up valuable space on the search results page, and siphon off consumer clicks from their rivals.
And every time the consumer clicks a competing link, all the effort and expense that went into that brand-building work leads to a search referral…for someone else.
Brand squatting in the auto insurance industry
While brand squatting happens across a number of industry verticals, let’s examine how this plays out in the auto insurance category in particular.
Anyone who’s watched sports programming on TV can likely rattle off the taglines and jingles of at least half a dozen or more major insurance brands. Allstate, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, State Farm, Progressive, The General, and others have spent years establishing their spokespeople—be they celebrity, fictional, or emu—and value propositions in the minds of consumers. And when a consumer is ready to shop for a new policy, she’s likely to head to Google and type one of those brands into the search box.
So then what happens?
First off, one of two scenarios plays out on the search results page:
1 ) The brand IS bidding on their own branded terms
2) The brand is NOT bidding on their own branded terms
It may be surprising to learn that the latter scenario happens more often than it should (that is to say it should never happen, but we’ll get to that in a minute).
When it comes to winning at search, it’s similar to playing Monopoly—you want as much of the most valuable real estate as you can get your hands on, through a combination of both paid and organic results. Ceding the entire paid search portion of the page to competitors gives them ample opportunity to grab consumer attention and clicks with a brand squatting strategy. And in the auto insurance space there is no shortage of competition—both from direct carrier competitors and quote aggregators looking to send referrals to carriers through click arbitrage.
Second, even if you’re bidding on your own branded terms, you may not be in first position. Someone else may have outbid you to secure the top spot…riding your coattails to grab clicks.
And finally, even if you’re bidding on your own branded terms, and even if you’ve successfully secured the top position, you’re still contending with as many as three additional competitors in the paid results at the top of the page. That means that your marketing budgets and brand equity are benefitting a lot of other brands.
So what’s a brand to do? Is there any way for carriers to win this digital land grab and direct as many branded searches as possible to their own web properties?
Here’s your action plan
Step 1: Bid to first position on your own keywords
If you’re not already bidding on your own branded search terms, you might be thinking it’s unnecessary. You’re likely at the top of the organic results and that’s good enough, right?
You want to occupy as much of the search results page as possible, through a combination of both paid and organic results. The more space your brand takes up, the less room there is for competitors to divert consumer clicks.
Step 2: Take advantage of MediaAlpha’s brand protection program
Unfortunately, a robust search engine marketing (SEM) program isn’t enough to protect auto insurers from brand squatting entirely.
Take a look back at the example above: Even when Acme Auto Insurance is on top, competitors and aggregators are still listed high up on the page, threatening to steal clicks from users who started out searching for Acme’s products.
This happens because you’re only allowed to place one paid ad per keyword per domain, preventing any one website from stacking the entire ad box. However, there is a solution.
MediaAlpha offers a brand protection program whereby we work with clients to set up partner sites on new domains, enabling you to bid on your branded terms and occupy additional space in the paid results. Though these domains are owned and operated by MediaAlpha, we work with you to quickly direct visitors to your web property, helping consumers get to the site they originally searched for. And it’s worth noting that we of course implement this program in compliance with search engine guidelines.
Together, SEM and MediaAlpha’s partner sites can dramatically improve your click share.
While brand squatting is a major threat to auto insurers’ search referrals, the combination of SEM and MediaAlpha’s partner sites can alleviate most of the pain.
For instance, one of our customers claims a click share of about 22% for organic searches of its keywords. But when you factor in the traffic it receives from bidding on its own keywords and working with our partner sites, this number nearly quadruples to 85%—with our partner sites accounting for 15% of click share all on their own.
When the customer added MediaAlpha’s partner sites to its SEM spend, it was able to recoup about a third of its lost traffic, reducing lost click share from 43% to 28%.
Brand squatters aren’t going away, but you can limit their impact with the right tactics and partners.
All of this is to say that while brand squatters are certainly a challenge for auto insurers, savvy marketers can dramatically reduce their exposure to them. By implementing a coordinated, multifaceted SEM strategy that leverages multiple sites, insurers can reach a sizable majority of the consumers who search for their brand.
Given the enormous amount of resources you pour into your brands, these steps are a small price to pay for capitalizing on the equity you’ve worked so hard to build.
Interested in learning more about MediaAlpha’s Brand Protection program? Reach out to your account team or contact us for a demo.