Branded vs. Non-Branded Keywords – Worth It To Budget for Both?

By , Senior Digital Advisor at Hanapin Marketing


A company’s brand is defined by many things – the people that make up the company, the clients or customers that company serves, the mission the company sets for itself, the messaging that brand uses to market itself…along with a much longer list of other factors. Splitting out that last piece about how the brand goes to market, they have to determine which marketing channels to tackle and when. That brand will (more than likely) break in to digital advertising (PPC for our purposes today) and then an entire mini-branding effort takes place.


Specifically when it comes to PPC, how loud do you need to be screaming your brand’s name from the rooftops? Should you invest a large percentage of your PPC budget to branded terms? The quick answers are: as loud as you can, and probably not! Brand term bidding in paid search can be highly effective for a number of purposes, but before we get in to the reasons why and how to do it…some definitions (we’ll use our very own blog here as an example):


Branded Keywords

  • those terms or keywords containing your company or client’s company’s name.
  • Ex: “ppc hero”

Non-Branded Keywords

  • those terms or keywords that define or explain your company or client’s company’s products or services.
  • Ex: [paid search blog]


This conversation can get confusing if you have products or services within your account that have their own brand. Branded keyword bidding by this definition is meant for the brand of the top-level company, not the potential brands housed under that one.


More examples! My imaginary company Kayla’s Kicks carries Brittany’s Boots, Hannah’s Heels and Suzy’s Sneakers (which, pretend with me, are name brands all on their own). My Branded PPC campaign and/or ad groups will be for terms containing variations of Kayla’s Kicks; not Brittany’s Boots, Hannah’s Heels or Suzy’s Sneakers. There may be ad groups somewhere that keywords for those brands can live within product categories, etc., but that would not be referenced as Branded traffic for the Kayla’s Kicks account. Now if Brittany’s Boots also has their own website with direct to consumer purchasing available, their Branded PPC campaigns/ad groups would then contain Brittany’s Boots brand name variations as keywords. Everybody clear? Next!


So the typical next question when it comes to Branded PPC is: “But do we want to pay for those clicks when people will probably find our organic result anyway?” It’s certainly important to note that Branded clicks and traffic do tend to be fairly inexpensive in relation to the rest of your terms, so these won’t be keywords you break the bank on. In most accounts I’ve seen, Branded terms can be as inexpensive as a few pennies, or more than 80-90% lower than average CPCs across the rest of the account. Those decreased CPCs tend to lead to fairly productive conversion production (see the screenshot below for a client’s Branded campaign performance over the last 6 months – click on the photo to see it larger).

Branded PPC Performance

 During this 6 month snapshot, this particular Branded campaign produced 32 leads at a $6.62 CPA. The account overall has a $30 CPA goal and 300 leads/month. Considering the total investment in that time for this campaign was only 0.04% of the total budget spent, it produced 2.04% of conversions. I don’t know many advertisers who would say that wasn’t worth it, especially if you are advertising in a competitive vertical. Which brings me to my next point…


Personally I think the best way to answer that original question about whether Branded PPC spend is worth it, is with another question: do your competitors bid on your Branded terms? If they do, you should be. Even if potential customers or searchers could find your company in organic listings within the SERPs, if a competitor has a good enough message (without using your Branded terms in their ad copy, of course) they could reach that customer before they scroll to the organic listings and effectively steal away your click. The more real estate you can take up on a SERP the better, in my humble opinion. Even more impressive is if you can take the time to line up your message across PPC and organic listings so that customers read your similar message twice in or around the same place.


My closing thought, and the ultimate most important one of this entire post, is that while you should be bidding on Branded terms for you or your client’s account, you should be doing so to scale. For example, we’re currently working with a few new clients who are getting a great ROAS in their accounts and they’re very happy with performance. But guess what? They’ve gotten there with 75% of the budget to Branded terms, which means they’ve probably not even begun to tap in to the rest of their market (read: REVENUE). Your focus absolutely can not be predominantly on Branded terms, and you can not rest on the performance of those terms to carry you through the long haul. I would recommend reporting on total traffic through any particular account, but then also provide data with Branded traffic and performance split out, so the people you send those reports to know that you’re not stacking the deck or pushing Non-Branded reach.


What are your thoughts on Branded vs. Non-Branded PPC? Share your ideas or strategies with us in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!

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19 thoughts on “Branded vs. Non-Branded Keywords – Worth It To Budget for Both?

  1. sandy

    I always recommend my clients to bid on branded terms as a) they are very cheap as compared to the nonbrand terms and b) tend to give good ROIs with small percentage of budget spend on these terms c) i have seen branded terms almost all the time outperforming nonbranded terms in terms of conversion rate by a good percentage for obvious reasons.

    In my opinion even if you are ranking first for these branded terms, it always helps to have that top spot and add to the trust factor. Of course, your competitors can definitely take an advantage of you not bidding on those terms and even if they succeed to get 10% of that traffic, then the brand is potentially loosing a lot because that 10% traffic might convert at a very good rate. So, it is well worth to have separate budget for the own branded .terms.

  2. James Dunford

    I saw this post in my inbox and thought “YAY!”, exactly the process I’m looking into at the moment.

    Some great points raised, and the competition point is key – thanks Kayla 🙂

  3. Scott Johnston

    Great article. I see a great deal of competition with my branded campaign and it can be a struggle to justify high CPCs, but I agree with the shelf space/real estate argument.

  4. Marc Bitanga

    Beyond the shelf space argument to substantiate bidding on branded keywords, by bidding on branded keywords you can direct users to a better conversion oriented landing page. One of the ways to prove that branded SEM is worth it, is by comparing conversion rates between organic branded & SEM branded.

    1. Kayla KurtzKayla Kurtz

      I agree there, Marc. I think if you can, at any time, show that even a segment of a channel is performing better on PPC than in another channel, it certainly begins making an argument for itself.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Alessandro

    Definitely a great post, I would add a couple of notes:
    1) bidding on brand keywords might help to push better messages in cases the client website is not that optimized in terms of headlines and meta descriptions, not only in the homepage but also in internal pages (that are the ones appearing as organic sitelinks)

    2) bidding on brand keywords is a strong need in case of competitors bidding on your brand, no matter if it is protected or not, since Google anyhow allows to include the protected brand keywords in the display url, with a significant likeliness of losing clicks

    1. Kayla KurtzKayla Kurtz

      Great additions, Alessandro!

      Absolutely if your website isn’t showing well in the organic listings for one reason or another, I would definitely recommend getting competitive on the PPC side.

      Thanks for reading!

  6. Loken Singh

    How many of you clicks on rebook ads when you looking for puma? Why did you typed puma? When you can not find our website by on SE typing your brand name, how many people in this world would have known your brand name already?

    1. Sam OwenSam Owen

      Just because you’re looking for Puma, doesn’t mean you’re 100% dedicated to buying Puma. What if you see some styles you like at Reebok while you’re browsing? What if there’s a sale going on?

      This is even more true for companies with less brand recognition. Say I’m searching for a local plumber and a friend says “Try Steve’s Plumbing co.” – Later I go home and search on Google for ‘Steve’s Plumbing Co’ but there are some other plumbers who show up in ads with good deals. I might be tempted to click them too to learn more about similar services/products.

      Brand campaigns tend to work really for smaller businesses with less name recognition for this reason – making sure that competitors don’t show above their organic results with better offers highlighted.

      1. Loken Singh

        That makes sense Owen. However, how you going to know that Puma does not having the style you like?
        When you look for “Steve’s Plumbing co” on SE, are you going to completely ignore “Steve’s Plumbing co” appearing on the top of SERP and click on the ads of other similar business and inquire about their service?
        How ads of other similar business appearing on SE? Is that because other companies bidding high on “Steve’s Plumbing co”? I don’t think so. The key for showing our ads on the top of SE is bidding high on the best define keywords or key phrase of our business. If Steve bidding high on “Plumbing co”, obviously “Steve’s Plumbing co” shall appear on the top or first page when someone typed “Tom’s plumbing co.” on SE. Then, what is more important here?

        1. Sam OwenSam Owen

          You wouldn’t know Puma doesn’t have the style you like, but you might see a Reebok ad and think “actually, I’d prefer some Reeboks” or you might tab to the Puma site, the Reebok site and any other sites that show up in the SERP ads.

          For the plumbing question, competitors actually DO bid high on “Steve’s Plumbing Co” – this is because they know people searching for that term are relevant traffic. They clearly want a plumber, and even though they think they want “Steve’s plumbing co” they might be wrong. Quality scores will most likely be low due to poor revelancy, but you aren’t going to get position 1 anyway on a competitor term.

          1. Loken Singh

            But i am sure the person is going to buy the thing from Puma if he find the style he likes.

            Quality score is rate based on ads copy and keywords that you bidding. Not only the keywords you bidding for. This is an obvious practice to use brand name and important keywords on ads copies.

          2. Sam OwenSam Owen

            The stats from competitor campaigns tell us they are worth doing – they normally always make money for us.

            Quality score is also just a means to an end – sometimes you’ll want to bid on keywords that aren’t optimal for your account because they make you money. If you are getting sales from things Google consider less relevant, should you pause due to low QS? Nope, keep running as long as you make a good ROI!

          3. Steve Power

            Wow Loken.. u seriously that dragged out longer than it needed to. You clearly love your Pumas.. are you wearing them now?
            Anyway one thing is for sure and as Sam rightly touched upon – brand loyalty is dead in the majority of cases. When consumers are shopping online, a similar brand or product at a lower price will almost always win.
            Disclaimer: Almost always win OK Loken, please do not respond about Pumas again or your friend who really had to have some Nike Air Jordans.
            Thanks for the article Kayla.

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