In July 2022, the ASRC’s Kon Karapanagiotidis called out the practice of bidding on competitors’ branded keywords. Here we explain why it is a problem and what to do about it.

What is the issue?

Paid search advertising is a digital marketing strategy where organisations pay search engines to place their ads higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) with the goal of driving traffic to their site. Pay-per-click (or PPC advertising) is the most common form of paid search. You select and bid for keywords your donors might use and, when they are, your ad will (hopefully) show up first.   

Commercial brands bidding on each other’s branded keywords on Google is fairly common practice. In the not-for-profit space the practice has different consequences and results. A hypothetical example of bidding on another organisation’s “branded keywords” is if someone types “Wildlife Rescue” and the first search result (a paid ad) comes up as The Wildlife Foundation. That means that The Wildlife Foundation has bid on Wildlife Rescue’s brand name. This is different from bidding on a “keyword” such as “Wildlife” or “Save Animals”. Bidding on branded keywords means you are specifically targeting a competitor’s name.

3 reasons why it is harmful 

1 It inflates costs By directly bidding on other charities’ branded keywords it drives their costs up because they must compete with you for their own brand name. 

2 It hurts smaller charities They cannot easily absorb the increased cost-per-click that results from competitors bidding on each other’s branded keywords.

3 It confuses donors While they might land on a competitors’ landing page, they are not likely to donate and instead go in search of the charity they were
originally looking for. 

What action can your NFP take?

We have worked with the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA) to develop tools to help stop this practice. You can find the Guide to Best Practice on Keyword Bidding on the FIA website. 

Action 1: How to stop others from bidding on your branded keywords

Unfortunately, there are no rules preventing anyone from bidding on competitors’ branded keywords unless there is a trademark violation. If another organisation is bidding on your brand, we suggest:

Contact the charity directly. There is a chance they may not even realise it is happening, especially if they have outsourced their Google Ads to an agency unfamiliar with charity marketing practices. Feel free to use the FIA code to facilitate the conversation.

You can submit a complaint to Google if a competitor will not stop bidding on your branded keyword and you believe there is a trademark violation.

Read more about FIA’s Digital Fundraising Practice Note in the Practice Notes section on the FIA website (for FIA members). If the perpetrator is an FIA member, they must adhere to recommendations provided.

Action 2: Do unto others 

If you do not want other charities bidding on your branded keywords, do not do it to them. 

Discuss this with your internal teams or external agency to ensure they are not bidding on competitor keywords.

Set up an exclusion list of keywords such as common charity brands so these keywords will not be targeted across any campaign on your account. The FIA has a Branded Keyword Exclusion list for FIA members — use it to add your own branded keywords and to access instructions for setting up an exclusion list. 

Together, we can end this self-defeating practice and help ensure all Australian charity marketing dollars are used as effectively as possible. 


Richenda Vermeulen is the founder and CEO of ntegrity, an award-winning digital strategy agency.