Yahoo! Modifies Trademark Keyword Policy

Yahoo Search Marketing has begun notifying U.S. advertisers that they will no longer be allowed to bid on competitors’ trademarked keywords beginning next week.

In the past, advertisers were allowed to bid on competitors’ keywords if their site provided detailed information comparing the trademarked item to its own, in order to help consumers make a decision. Yahoo this week began notifying advertisers that had previously bid on trademarked keywords, explaining in an email that the policy would change on March 1.

“In order to more easily deliver quality user experiences when users search on terms that are trademarks, Yahoo Search Marketing has determined that we will no longer allow bidding on keywords containing competitor trademarks,” the message states.

A likely reason behind the move is Yahoo’s desire to court more brand advertisers to link offline campaigns to search, while protecting the trademark owner from competitors who “hijack” the keyword with their own ads, Search Engine Watch’s Danny Sullivan wrote in the site’s blog.

A “hijack” situation occurred recently with Google advertiser Pontiac, which is running a TV campaign urging viewers to “Google ’Pontiac’” for more information. Competitor Mazda capitalized on the traffic by placing its own ads on the “Pontiac” keyword.

Under Yahoo’s new rules, resellers and non-competitive information sites will still be allowed to bid on trademarked keywords, but only if they meet certain conditions. For resellers, the advertiser must sell or facilitate the sale of the trademarked product or service. For information sites, the advertiser must provide substantial information about the trademark owner or its products and services, and they may not sell or promote competitors’ products or services.

Google placed restrictions on use of trademarks in 2004. Under its policy, U.S. advertisers can bid on trademarked keywords, but cannot use the trademarked word in the text of an ad. In Europe, trademarked terms cannot be bid upon or used in ad copy. Google has been the target of several lawsuits filed by trademark owners, all of which have been settled out of court.

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