caveman_trademarkMost affiliate programs have trademark (TM) bidding rules. The intention of these rules is to guide the affiliate in what is permitted and what is denied. However, like the contrast of seeing a Cro-Magnon enjoying music from his iPod in a Jacuzzi, in many cases these rules use verbiage that appears to predate the internet age and the reality of today’s search engine marketing (SEM) world.


Here are example of bidding rules:

  • “You are prohibited from bidding on keywords containing trademarked terms or confusingly similar terms”
  • “No bidding on our trademarks, misspellings and variations, such as …”

For some this type of bidding policy implies no bidding on trademark terms with any other term attached. This ignores that when customers use search engines to assist in shopping needs, they can be partitioned by their very distinct “trademark searches”. Let’s explore the two main types of searches involving trademarks in further detail.

1) “Direct Trademark bidding”. In this type of search the internet user is looking for the site of a particular vendor. In this case, the user will typically search the trademarked term, sometimes with typos (misspellings).  If the intent of the user is to find the vendor’s site directly, the previous bidding rule would explicitly deny this type of bidding. Although it might not always be a good strategy, since your competition or anyone else could purchase those terms (this will be the subject of a separate article), it is crystal clear to all affiliates.

Indirect Trademark Bidding
2) “Indirect Trademark bidding”. There are multiple types of indirect searches. I will describe two important types.

2.1) The first type of indirect trademark search is when a user searches a term like “trademark  review” or “trademark versus the Competition” (example: Homestead versus HostGator).  In this case, the internaut is NOT directly looking for the vendor’s website. He is obviously looking for a 3rd party website that will provide him with additional information or opinions to guide him in his purchasing decision.

2.2) The second common type of “indirect trademark search” is from the thrift shopper. This person might search terms such “Homestead coupon”. Again the user is NOT looking directly for the vendor’s site but for a site that will provide him with a code or deal for a particular merchant or product.

In all these cases of “indirect TM bidding”, the user is NOT looking directly for the vendor’s site but for a 3rd party site. We can see here that the “old school” way to express that concept that the merchant does not want affiliates doing “direct trademark bidding”  does not explicitly permit or deny this “indirect TM bidding”. For some affiliate managers the previous bidding rule denies this type of bidding while for others it does not. Regardless of a merchant’s trademark bidding strategy, we can see how a more specific trademark bidding policy would be helpful for affiliates to comprehend if the merchant understands these nuances and has a specific stance about them.

For merchants that wish to deny “indirect trademark bidding” they should adjust their agreement to include something similar to:
No bidding on our trademarks, misspellings and variations, such as “trademark, trademark.com …”
Additionally no bidding on trademarks plus “any term” such as “trademark review, trademark deals, trademark coupon …”

marketing_strategyI recommend merchants and their affiliate managers spend some time understanding/discussing this basic nuance in search engine marketing in order to build their own internet marketing strategy. Once they understand the strategic implications of these different types of bidding they should clearly communicate their intentions to affiliates via their bidding policy.

Blanketly denying trademark bidding or any type of trademark bidding could be a lost opportunity for a merchant, since they can “control” their affiliates and search engines limit advertisers to one entry with ads or even organic results. We will cover these strategies in more details in follow-up articles.

Note: Other indirect “trademark” searches might include an unemployed person looking for work, an investor looking for financial information, a dissatisfied customer searching for “dirt” on the vendor (“trademark sucks” or “trademark lawsuits”…etc). Again in each of these case the person is not looking directly for the vendors e-commerce site.