Why you need generic, not branded keywords in your paid search

Many businesses struggle to get results from paid search because they excessively or exclusively bid on brand keywords. This article will show you why you need to target generic keywords instead.

The difference between branded and generic keywords

You can categorize keywords for your ads by splitting them between branded and generic terms.

For example, let’s say you have a mattress business called “Sleep Well.” Some branded keywords you might use are:

  • Sleep Well mattress
  • Mattress by Sleep Well
  • Sleep Well home products

Of course, you’ll also want to target other words, like the following generic terms:

  • Best mattress
  • Comfortable mattress
  • Luxury mattress

The main difference between these two keyword categories is what audience they reach. If you run branded keyword ads, you’re restricting your audience to people who already know your brand. With generic keywords, you are going after people interested in your products.

The problem with branded keywords

Many of the customers and prospects we speak to use branded keywords on Google Ads. In many ways, that’s understandable. Branded keywords are cheaper and less competitive. Additionally, the type of person searching using branded search terms is further down the sales funnel, so they have solid conversion rates.

Low-cost, high-converting keywords, what’s not to like? Well, it’s a little more complex than that.

Let’s explore why bidding on branded keywords can be a suboptimal strategy.

#1. The results are misleading

As we mentioned, branded keywords for your business are generally cheap and have a high conversion rate. Let’s think it through.

How does a user come to enter your brand name into the search bar? Probably from some brand awareness activity, like a non-branded search ad, word of mouth, or a display ad. Whatever it is specifically, they don’t enter your name without prior touchpoints.

Secondly, when they enter your name, it’s generally for two reasons: to search for information or to buy. If they’re in the research phases, sending them straight to your landing page could be a good idea, but top or mid-funnel content is more appropriate for pushing them toward conversion.

So, when users enter your brand name with the intent of buying, they are either to state the obvious:

1) already aware of your brand

2) ready to buy

Serving these audience ads is preaching to the converted. It’s fine to do, and maybe it helps in a few cases, but let’s be clear: that’s why these ads have lower costs. So, while the conversion rates might be impressive, you are spending some of your ad budget unnecessarily.

#2. Google Ads are about using intent

Secondly, Google is an intent platform. When people use specific phrases, you can divine the intent behind them. For example, if someone searches for a generic keyword related to your product, it’s an opportunity to serve information based on where they are in the buyer’s journey. I.e., if they’re early, direct them to short, sharp, easy-to-digest material on your brand. If they’re at the consideration stage, use comparison pages, case studies, social proof, etc.

#3. Broader reach

Targeting generic keywords is a critical way to reach an audience interested in the type of products you sell. You need this sort of reach to grow or scale your business.

So get out there and fight for the audience who needs your brand but doesn’t know your name or the best qualities of your service just yet.

Situations where branded keywords can work

Of course, we’re not mandating that you should never use branded keywords. What we are saying is to be deliberate about when they’re employed.

Here are a few reasons why you might consider using them.

#1. As a bottom-of-the-funnel tool

If you’ve already done the work of raising awareness and consideration, branded keywords can be helpful as the last-click conversion.

#2. If your competitors are bidding on your brand name

It’s a fairly common tactic these days for brands to bid on their competitors’ names. As such, if someone is looking for your brand, they’ll be offered an alternative product.

If you bid on the words, it can drive the price up and make this strategy less financially viable for them. However, the risk is that it won’t be financially viable for you either if you take it too far.

#3. Directing users to specific pages

In an ideal world, your users will get information from your landing page. However, organic traffic won’t always work like that. If your user searches your brand name, they will likely go straight to your home page.

Paid ads, on the other hand, will go where you want. Plus, they’re an opportunity to use copy on your ads to increase the likelihood of sales.

As you can see, these all fall within the scope of very specific scenarios. If you use branded keywords, you need to know why you are doing so.

Final thoughts

There is a pretty active debate in the paid ads community about the wisdom of bidding on branded keywords. We’re not saying it’s always a bad idea, but just that it can give you misleading conversion data because you attribute organic traffic to your ads.

If you want to grow your business, you must get out there and start competing with people who don’t know your brand. These segments are where most of your potential audience resides. Not coincidentally, it’s also where your growth revenue lies.

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