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Google drops trademark bomb

South African companies are going to have to realise that Internet search giant Google will no longer protect their trademarks, and their competitors or others may bid for their brands, says Clicks2Customers director Jonathan Gluckman.

An e-mail sent by Google's UK office to clients and advertising agencies says that from 4 June, it will no longer monitor or restrict keywords for adverts served to users in 80 countries, including SA. This will bring those countries in line with Google's current policy in operation in the US, UK, Canada and Ireland.

Gluckman says this means Google is now effectively forcing companies to bid on their own brands and to use paid search for their online campaigns.

“By and large, South African companies and their advertising agencies are not used to paying for their search optimisation strategies and this is going to cause some confusion and possibly even lawsuits,” he says.

Google uses an auction type of system for adwords campaigns run through its search engine. This means a company bids on how much it is prepared to pay for every click-through on the adverts that usually appear on the right hand side of a page, once a keyword has been entered.

However, Google also gives relevancy a high score and this can mean the more relevance an advert has to a keyword, the higher up it will appear and possibly the lower the price the company will pay for the click-through.

“It is part of Google's overall policy to give consumers more choice and make their searches as relevant as possible,” notes Gluckman.

He says Google's new policy of not protecting trademarks will make large companies nervous, but it could be good for smaller companies.

“This will allow smaller companies, which cannot afford to run very expensive TV and other print campaigns, to leverage off the keywords that their larger competitors are trying to link with their campaigns. For instance, if one company runs a campaign for furniture, then their smaller competitor, who doesn't have the same overheads, can link into those keywords and then say 'come to us and check out our prices'.”

The analogy used by Gluckman is that this policy is almost an online version of having a street hawker located outside a grocery store, selling the same product at a cheaper price, because he does not have the same overheads, such as rent.

Google's South African office could not be reached for comment.

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