Why Keyword Lawsuits Fail

Barry Schwartz over at SearchEngineLand today commented on an article by Eric Goldman regarding American Airlines’ lawsuit against Google over the use of their trademarked names in competitor campaigns. Quite frankly, suing someone over targeting keywords that contain your trademark is a waste of time. Why? It has a little something to do with how Google matches search queries with ads.

I’m going to have to step out of my recent Google-bashing stance and actually side with them this time, because there are several things corporations can do to protect the use of their trademarks in Adwords. First and foremost, Google knows who these large organizations are, and for the most part, do a damn fine job of screening display ads for trademark infringement. But as Barry and Eric both point out, the words “American” and “Airlines” are not quite unique branding terms as a trademark such as iPod, RAZR, and Kleenex.

If, and this is a big “if”, Google does happen to slip up and allow an ad to run with a trademarked term displayed (or a close variation thereof), I would personally hold whoever is running those ads personally accountable. Your marketing teams should also be aware that online advertising vendors such as Google have trademark departments, so get in contact with them and spell out your policies on trademark infringement.

Suing over the use of keywords, however is a losing battle. Think about the advertisers who are running the ads in question: travel agents, wholesalers, travel insurance companies, AA affiliates, credit card companies with AA rewards, etc. Do you really care if they’re running ads targeting your keywords? Depending on your advertising policies, perhaps, but the onus is on you – do something about it.

Now riddle me this… Who’s to blame over a poorly written Adwords campaign? Google? The advertiser? Should Google be sued because some marketing bozo bids on broad match keyword combinations such as americans rate airline food and their ad shows up?

Whenever I go to see a client that has been managing their own Adwords account, I get a chuckle reading the Google Search Query Report. Broad match keywords can bring up the weirdest placements for ads because advertisers don’t take the time to properly optimize their keywords. I can guarantee you that some poor sap is paying dearly for bidding on broad match keywords such as windows safety that gets matched to software-related ad placements.

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