The world of search advertising, and pay per click (PPC) in particular, is often framed as an industry that rewards only the most aggressive and bold tactics. In fact, talking heads love to toss out that notion that if you're not willing to "grab the bull by the horns" and employ tactics like conquesting, then you're ultimately letting customers slip right through your hands and into the outstretched arms of your more intrepid competition.

While this perspective might seem like it makes a lot of sense on the surface, the reality of today's paid search landscape is that putting stock in the effectiveness of conquesting is an easy way to put the brakes on your PPC operations before they ever have a chance to really get rolling. To prove this point to you, and ensure that your dealership always gets the most out of its advertising budget, let's sit down for a few minutes and have a conversation about exactly why conquesting is a massive waste of time, effort, and resources.

Understanding the Conquesting Ideal

If you're not familiar with the concept of conquesting, then it's probably a good idea to bring you up to speed with a quick recap of the "ideal" or mindset behind this practice. As Emily Steel of The Wall Street Journal so eloquently explains, the act of conquesting is nothing more than an attempt at "raining on the other guy's parade."

"…it's called 'conquesting.' Another way of putting it: Raining on the other guy's parade."
- Emily Steel, The Wall Street Journal

More specifically, this aggressive tactic involves bidding on keywords, terms, and even trademarks related to other dealerships within AdWords as a way to "conquer" enemy ad space and lay claim to conversions and sales that would otherwise go to the competition. In some cases, this practice can take on the form of "geo-conquesting"; an approach in which ad content is served based on a customer's proximity to a competitor's physical dealership location.

In many ways, it's easy to see the allure of such a bold and proactive approach to search advertising. After all, who doesn't love the idea of sticking it to the competition, both on their "home turf" and in the digital world?

Unfortunately, subscribing to this enticing point of view comes with a veritable avalanche of potential blowback and steep costs.

The Shortcomings of Conquesting

Now that you understand the principles of conquesting, as well as why it's such an attractive proposition for dealerships, it's time to move on to the next portion of this discussion: Tearing this practice down to ground and showing you exactly why your marketing budget would be better spent on other strategies. The best way to go about this process is by running through the major flaws with conquesting as it stands today.

Google Isn't a Fan

First up is probably the most damning blow against conquesting: Google isn't a fan of this practice in the slightest. While Google won't outright disavow this practice, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the brain trust over in Mountain View is not thrilled with the notion of sabotaging or leeching off of someone else's digital presence.

Don't believe it? Then taking note of the fact that AdWords representatives are expressly forbidden from answering questions about conquesting, and that Google has gone out of its way in the past to up the minimum bids of these types of campaigns by as much as $10, should change your mind in a hurry.

Neither Are Customers

Even if Google's disdain for conquesting isn't enough to curb your enthusiasm for this belligerent approach to AdWords management, then the realization that your target audience of car shoppers won't reaction kindly to this practice should give you some pause before giving your PPC team the green light on this front.

To understand the truth behind this statement, let's break this idea down into a real-world example. In this scenario, you'll be a customer looking for a certain type of make and model - let's say a Chevy Camaro. Once you hone in on this vehicle and get ready to do a little research about Camaros for sale in your area, the following happens:

  • You sit down at your desktop with the intent to learn more about buying a new Camaro from a local dealer.
  • You search for "New Chevy Camaro in (insert your location here)" on Google.
  • Google returns a search engine result page (SERP) with a paid search ad for new Ford Mustangs as the top ad listing.

How does this unrelated - and often confusing for the consumer - instance of conquesting strike you as a potential customer? Does it make you want to learn more about a car you've clearly shown zero interest in up to this point?

As you can see, conquesting is - at best - a nuisance to customers who don't fall into your target audience. At worst, it stands as an approach that can lead to consumer ill will and a prime example of marketing dollars that could have gone toward connecting with more engaged prospective shoppers instead.

Conquesting Can Hurt Your Entire SEO Process

On the overall search engine optimization (SEO) front, conquesting doesn't offer up a lot to be excited about either. In fact, industry expert Jacob Baadsgaard notes in an article posted on LinkedIn that merely engaging in this practice at all can wreak havoc on your overarching SEO strategy via substandard landing pages, which in turn cause the quality score of your ad group to plummet.

"When you bid on the competition, you can expect your quality score to be in the 1/10 - 3/10 range."
- Jacob Baadsgaard, CEO of Disruptive

And what happens when the quality score of your ad group goes down? You can expect to pay more on your ad bids within AdWords and enjoy higher bounce rates as customers end up on unrelated landing pages and realize that they have fallen prey to a gimmicky marketing tactic.

Speaking of landing pages, the only true way to overcome these low quality scores is by going the comparative route and contrasting your inventory with the opposing vehicle that relates to the targeted search term or keyword. However, does offering up information about the competition on your landing pages to a segment of potential customers that are already considering selections from another manufacturer actually sound like that great of an idea?

It Falls in the Moral (and Legal) Gray Area of Advertising

Baadsgaard goes on to note that there is also a certain moral ambiguity associated with this practice, due primarily to the fact that bidding on competitors' branded keywords sends a decidedly potent message - that you are willing to leverage misdirection and openly hostile PPC tactics as you work toward a sale - to both the rest of the automotive industry and your target audience.

At the end of the day, is this really how you want to shape and mold your dealership's public image?

On the legal side of things, Ellen Keohane of Direct Marketing News points out that engaging in conquesting has led to plenty of courtroom brawls between brands in the past. The most notorious example of this process in action comes from 2008, when 1-800Contacts filed a trademark infringement complaint against industry rival Lens-World.

"…1-800Contacts filed a trademark infringement complaint against its competitor, Lens-World, for allegedly purchasing the keywords '1-800Contacts,' '1800Con­tacts,' and '1 800 Contacts' for its online advertising."
- Ellen Keohane, Direct Marketing News

The seriousness of this event shows that even though no legal precedent for trademark infringement via PPC advertising currently exists and each relevant suit is determined on a case-by-case basis, there is still plenty of legal risk that comes with dipping your dealership's toes into the murky waters of conquesting.

Hostile Advertising Isn't a One-Way Street

Even if you're not too worried about painting the wrong picture of your dealership for the rest of the world to see or facing down a marketplace adversary in your local courthouse, there's still one more moral quandary to consider when it comes to conquesting: Are you prepared for competitors to utilize these same tactics as a way to strike back at your brand?

"What goes around, comes around."

Initiating a PPC campaign built upon the concept of conquesting is kind of like opening up Pandora's Box; once you've introduced this approach to your local marketplace, don't be surprised when other dealerships start bidding on your branded keywords and driving the prices up on your own library of search terms.

A Better Course of Action

So now that we've firmly established that conquesting is a waste of time, what's next? Unfortunately, answering this question isn't as simple as breaking down the myriad issues found within one of the most aggressive, and ultimate unnecessary, paid search tactics found on the web today.

The truth of the matter is that there is no universal method to developing successful PPC campaigns. Each dealer requires its own unique approach to this process, which is why the team of search advertising experts here at Remora always makes it a point to tailor our managed campaigns to the unique needs and considerations of the dealership in question.

Once you add in this powerful (and effective) perspective to the rest of what you've learned here, there's really only one question left to ask: Isn't it about time to kick substandard advertising methods like conquesting to the curb and start building a foundation for true PPC-based growth and audience engagement?