New Google Trademark Policy – Affiliate Marketing Implications

On May 14, Google announced an adjustment to their “trademark policy in the U.S.” which has been changed “to allow some ads to use trademarks in the ad text.” The reasoning behind loosening up on trademarks was reported in light of aiming “to improve ad quality and user experience.” Just as generic newspaper ads, which do not communicate specifically what brand product they are advertising/selling, carry little value for the reader, so Google believes it is with paid search ads which cannot list the exact brands they are associated with. More on Google AdWords official blog.

As Matt McDougall (aka @sinotechian) has pointed out “this brings Google’s policies in line with those of Yahoo, which allows trademarks to be used in text ads with similar restrictions” [source].

Meghan Keane (@keanesian on Twitter) believes that this change “is likely to spark more lawsuits against Google” as not only companies are now able to directly mention the brands that they sell “but also, they can refer to their competitors, and bid on key words so that their ads show up first on searches for their competition’s products” [more here]. McDougall, in his turn, wrote that whether Google’s advertisers and partners are going to love or hate this decision, “Google should benefit from the sale of more relevant – and more expensive advertising.”

But what implications does this change have for the affiliate marketing channel?

Before the change, brand name owners had to specify to Google which affiliates may reference their trademarks in their ad text, while others couldn’t. Now, on the other hand, any affiliate “who sells a brand on its website can use that brand name in the text of their Google ads.” The “cumbersome white-listing process” has now been deleted from the procedural sequence of getting an authorization to use a trademark in the ad text [source].

Is this a good change for affiliates? It definitely is. Obviously the change is going to have a positive effect on affiliate CTR’s, and revenues.

What about merchants that run affiliate programs? Should they prohibit using their trademarks in the ad texts, or should they have an open policy for affiliates (because their competitors are likely to take advantage of this change as well)? These questions leave us with some food for thought.

6 thoughts on “New Google Trademark Policy – Affiliate Marketing Implications”

  1. Great article Geno. Definitely a changing search landscape.

    One thing to note – the rules have not changed for competitors. Competitors are still not allowed to utilize trademarks in their ad copy and Google will remove those ads if requested.

  2. Dave,

    I appreciate your comment.

    So Keane was incorrect? Where exactly does the policy say that businesses are not allowed to use TM’s of the competitors? Is it the clause that says that “the advertiser may not sell or facilitate the sale of the goods or services of a competitor of the trademark owner”?

  3. I used to run an affiliate program for a merchant and we allowed affiliates to bid on our trademark as an experiment. After all if we want to help affiliates to sell more of our stuff – why we should interfere with their efforts?

    Google will definitely get an injection of extra Adwords cash that likely will be enough to deflect lawsuits and report better earnings.


  4. I interpreted the new rules the same as Dave did. The restriction against competitors’ use of the trademark is based not only on the clause you quoted, Geno, but also on the one that says “The advertiser’s landing page must clearly demonstrate that a user is able to purchase the components, parts or compatible products corresponding to the trademark term from the advertiser.”

    So for example, the trademark term “TurboTax” (which Intuit has registered with Google) cannot be used in ad text by H&R Block because they only sell TaxCut and their landing pages would not be within Google’s requirements.

    I think it’s a good change, but it won’t have a big impact overall. Many advertisers (both resellers and affliates) were using other methods to get around the restrictions anyway. Take a look at the ads at … you’ll see spacing tricks, special characters, trademark in display URL, pluralization, etc.

  5. This new policy sounds too good to be true. I am very concerned with how well Google will monitor a new era of bad behavior.

    Working for a merchant and having to monitor what was considered trademark infringement (including trademark text in PPC ads) on a daily basis was a whack-a-mole, never ending saga. Now as an affiliate, primarily working in PPC, I feel the need to promote a sense of trust in existing and new relationships with merchants. Merchant CEO’s must have some reservations and/or terror of paying double for the same traffic after learning about this new rule, right?

    Google’s search partner network is already diluted with poor results pages and they certainly don’t monitor ‘quality’ as they promise to do.

    Will the revenue stream from this policy really fight off an army of lawyers?

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