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PPC: Who Owns The Keywords?

Posted on 11.12.2007
If you have outsourced the management of paid search campaigns, who owns the keywords (the intellectual property) that are being used to promote a website and its products and services?
 There are two schools of thought on the subject. The first is that it is owned by the client because it is a service they are paying for. The second is that since "keyword selection" is such an important part of a PPC marketers skill set that the list should be kept confidential. There are many good reasons for keeping keyword lists private as giving out such valuable information means clients could potentially leave. Unfortunately, it's not a black and white issue.
Best practice for both sides may just be to establish detailed guidance within a formal contract. If a paid search campaign manager were to spend time researching keywords, they should be compensated for the time they invest. On the flip side, advertisers contracting PPC specialists should understand that there is more to effectively managing campaigns than raising and lowering bids alone. This, in my opinion, does not warrant ownership however. Unfortunately, it's not a black and white issue.
 In the end, it is simply very important to understand at the outset what should happen when it comes to your intellectual property and ideally it would come in the form of a contract. Companies outsourcing their paid search activities to qualified parties should also consider setting up their campaign separately from the paid search managers account as if ever there were a need to go in-house, the transition would be much smoother.
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