Dealers say murky rules and heightened Internet competition for shoppers are contributing to clashes between rivals over Google ad words and phrases.
Chris Fousek, e-commerce director for Village Automotive Group in suburban Boston, said a dealership is prohibited by Google and trademark law from using a rival's proper name in the actual text of a paid search ad.
Those are the small ads with links that appear in shaded boxes on a Google search page -- either in the upper part of the page or sometimes along the right side of the page.
But it gets trickier when rivals decide to buy each other's names when bidding for search terms for directing Web surfers to paid ads on Google.
Google holds a continuous auction for specific ad words and phrases that allow dealers bidding the most for those phrases to attain top position on a Google search page. Fousek said dealers should bid on their own names to protect their ad position when a shopper, for example, types in a Google search specifically looking for "Cadillac Village of Norwood," one of the group's stores.
Sometimes a rival also will bid on a competitor's proper name. That is readily apparent when that competitor's paid ad appears right below that of his rival, Fousek said.
Advertisers only pay when a shopper clicks on the ad.
Generally, dealers adhere to an unwritten agreement not to bid on a rival's proper names because it can start a bidding war that costs each dealer more money for the ads, Fousek said.
Fousek said the best way to know if a rival has hitched a ride on a dealership's proper name is to search for your store's name frequently.