How to Conduct Competitor Research for a PPC Campaign

PPC

So you’re setting up your Google Ads account and campaigns, and you want to gain a deeper understanding of how your competition operates on Google. After all, the more you know about how your competition operates, the better prepared you can be to beat them.

Below, we break down some of the most critical aspects of Competitor Analysis on Google Ads, including: 

  • Identifying your Competition
  • Conducting Competitor Keyword Analysis
  • Identifying Keyword Gaps and Opportunities
  • Conducting PPC Landing Page & Website Analysis
  • Conducting Competitor Display Ad Analysis
  • Our Competitor Analysis Checklist
  • Our Favourite PPC Competitor Analysis Tools
  • Building your Competitor Analysis Report for Success

Why Is Competitive PPC Analysis Important?

One of the most important aspects of a Google Ads or other PPC campaigns is competition. When you create ads and keywords for your campaigns on Google Ads, your aim is to get these ads in front of as many potential visitors as possible, as well as converting these potential visitors to website visitors and customers. 

Seems simple right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite so straightforward. 

The best way to understand how competition can affect your Google Ads success is by understanding the way in which Google decides what ads are shown to which potential customers. Google Ads determines which ads should show with a lightning-fast ad auction, which takes place every time someone searches a term on Google or visits a site that shows ads.

There are 3 main factors at the ad auction that determine which ads appear, and in what order:

  1. Your bid: When you set your bid (Max CPC), you’re telling Google Ads the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a click on your ad. How much you actually end up paying is often less, and you can change your bid at any time.
  1. The quality of your ads: Google Ads also looks at how relevant and useful your ad, and the website it links to, are to the person who’ll see it. Google’s assessment of the quality of your ad is summarised in your Quality Score, which you can monitor, and work to improve, in your Google Ads account. Quality Score is calculated based on the combined performance of 3 components:
  • Expected Clickthrough Rate: The likelihood that your ad will be clicked when shown.
  • Ad Relevance: How closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.
  • Landing Page Experience: How relevant and useful your landing page is to visitors.
  1. The expected impact from your ad extensions and other ad formats: When you create an ad on Google, you have the option to add additional information such as a phone number, or links to specific pages on your site. These are called ad extensions. Google Ads estimates how extensions and other ad formats you use will impact your ad’s performance. So even if your competition has higher bids than yours, you can still win a higher position at a lower price by using highly relevant keywords, ads, and extensions.

Together, these 3 factors determine when and if your ad will appear to potential customers. So, in the ad auction that will fire every time someone searches a term in Google, you will be competing with a whole host of different local and international businesses and websites, to get your ads shown for relevant searches. 

Because of this, one of the most critical aspects for success for any Google Ads campaign is a solid understanding of both your industry and your competition on Google. At Salt Water Digital, we always recommend a thorough Competitor Analysis as part of your setup process for Google Ads, to gain a deeper understanding of the competition you may face and how that can affect your overall performance. 

How to Identify Your Competitors

The very first, and potentially most important step in your competitor research will be to accurately identify your main competition on Google Ads. The initial step we recommend here is to analyze your current industry landscape and identify the primary competitors you face in the market. 

For example, if you have opened up a local coffee shop, you could identify other coffee shops within a 5km radius, and you might find that you are competing with a Starbucks and two local coffee stores. These competitors then need to be added to your competitor list. 

Whether you’re just starting to set up your account, or you have been running ads for months, a great way to identify who your competitors are on Google Ads is to use Keyword Research Tools such as Semrush or Ahrefs. We will discuss these in more detail later, however, essentially these are third-party paid research tools that can give you insights into who your competitors are, what keywords they are ranking for and how much they are bidding. Insights like these are invaluable to a Google Ads campaign, and by knowing the lay of the land before creating your keywords, ads and bids, you can really get the upper hand in creating campaigns to beat out the competition. 

If you are already running a Google Ads campaign, one of the best competitive features of the Google Ads platform is called ‘Auction Insights’. This feature allows you to compare your performance with other advertisers who are participating in the same auctions that you are. So for each campaign and ad group, you can see what impression share you have received in comparison to your competition. In other words, you can see the total percentage of searches that your ads fired for and got served to potential visitors. 

You can also see Top of Page rate, which shows the percentage of total searches that resulted in your ad being shown in the top three positions of the search engine results page. This is an important metric to analyze regularly, as the higher up an ad is on the search engine results page, the more likely it will be clicked on. 

The aim of these steps is to develop a list of primary competitors that compete with you in your area and more importantly on Google Ads. Once you have done this, the next step will be carrying out your PPC competitor analysis.

How to Carry Out PPC Competitor Analysis

Find Competitors PPC Keywords

Once you have determined your competitor list, the next step will be to try and identify the keywords your competitors are utilizing and ranking for. There are not many free keyword research tools, however, Semrush is one extremely useful, and free option. 

When using their keyword tool you can enter a competitor’s URL, as well as their industry and country, and it will produce a list of top keywords used by that website, including performance data such as search volume, CPC and competition for both Google Ads and organic listings. This will give you in-depth insights into competitors’ keywords and ultimately guide you in developing your own keyword list. 

The overall search volume of each keyword will determine the potential reach of your Google Ads, whilst competitiveness will determine the difficulty in getting to the top of the search engine results page, as well as the likely CPC that you will need to pay. 

Of course, there are also paid keyword research tool options, including programs such as Ahrefs, Semrush and Spyfu. Again, we will discuss these in more detail later, but essentially these programs allow you to enter a competitors website domain and receive a huge amount of useful information, such as the keywords used in PPC campaigns, associated search volumes, estimated monthly clicks and much more. This data can be crucial in determining which keywords are right for your business and will drive the best conversions and return on investment. 

Having an in-depth understanding of competitor keywords can give you a strong advantage when setting up or running your Google Ads campaign, including: 

  • Giving you a better understanding of what keywords your competitors are targeting as well as how many keywords they are using. 
  • Presenting you with insight into new keyword ideas that can enhance your keyword list
  • Allowing you to discover potential missing keywords, that both you and your competitors don’t use, which you can integrate into your campaign with lower competition and CPCs.

Find Keyword Gaps Between You and Your Competitors

The primary reason for developing an in-depth keyword list for your competitors is to see what opportunities this can present to your own Google Ads campaign. From this keyword list, we can determine some of the best and worst-performing keywords for our competitors, and based on competitiveness and cost, we can choose to target specific keywords and beat our competition to them.

However, an equally important use of our competitors keyword list is to identify gaps in their keyword strategy. In other words, we identify keywords that our competitors aren’t targeting, that may reflect our business and have relatively low competition and cost whilst still having good search volume. These types of keywords can make a huge difference in your Google Ads campaign performance. 

Once these keywords are being used in a live Google Ads campaign, it is imperative to regularly check the auction insights report. This will tell you your search impression share and what competitors are bidding on the auction with you. For example, you may have found some unique keywords that have been converting very well for you, but you notice that the CPC has risen by 50% over the last month. By analyzing the Auction Insights, you may discover that this is because more competitors have started to bid on these keywords, and so you will need to raise your max CPC bids or identify other keyword opportunities.

 Target Keywords With Low Search Volume

Generally speaking, the aim of our keyword research is to identify keywords with the highest possible search volume at the lowest possible competition, in order to maximize our ROI opportunities. However, keywords with higher search volumes tend to have a higher cost too, due to the nature of the ad auction. 

This is why a comprehensive keyword strategy is needed, one which also targets ‘niche’ keywords that may have low search volume, but also have lower competition on Google. It is important that these keywords accurately describe your business and the exact product or service you are offering. Although they may have low search volume, the idea is that a high degree of relevance to your business should lead to a higher conversion rate for these keywords.

For example, you are a Physiotherapist specializing in acupuncture for sports injuries. When building out your campaign you may see that the keyword ‘acupuncture’ has 2,000 searches per month and is highly competitive. You may also see the keyword ‘acupuncture for sports injuries’ has 100 searches per month and has low competition. The long-tailed keyword ‘acupuncture for sports injuries’ is a lot more descriptive and describes your business and service offering in a lot more detail. For this reason, we would expect this keyword to have a higher conversion rate.

PPC Landing Pages Analysis 

Another important aspect of competitor analyses here is to evaluate the landing page competitors are using in their Google ads. As we have seen earlier, the landing page copy, call to action and overall relevance will have a big part to play in the results of the ad auction. 

The best way to start this is by heading over to the ‘Auction Insights’ tab in Google Ads. This can be accessed based on your overall account performance, at campaign level or even at ad group level. Of course, it will give much more insight at the specific ad group level, as you will have a smaller set of keywords and targeting options. The metric you will be looking for here is the ‘Display URL’ domain, and this will include the list of landing pages that your competitors ads are using. 

When you’re analyzing your competitors’ landing pages, you’re looking for clues about what’s working well for them and what’s not. You may find that they’re using specific keywords or phrases that you’re not or that they have a stronger CTA (Call to Action) than you do.

In short, by understanding what’s working for them, you can adapt your own strategy to compete more effectively. 

We have compiled a few quick tips in order for you to get your landing page analysis right the first time: 

  • Find competitor landing pages from the auction insights tab in google ads. 
  • Don’t copy competitors. This doesn’t help you stand out from the competition, and is a common mistake. Instead, you should analyze what is good and what is bad about their landing page, incorporating the good into your own design whilst avoiding the bad. 
  • Analyze competitor landing pages for things like keywords, and how their ad copy and CTAs reflect the keywords they use in their ads. However, it’s also important to analyze the landing pages for style and design, how they present the information, and how you can potentially improve on this.

Analyze Website Quality 

Another important factor in determining competitors performance in Google Ads is to conduct website analysis. As well as reviewing the landing pages competitors are using in their google ads campaigns, we should take a broader research perspective and look at the entirety of the competitors website. Some questions we should ask ourselves here include: 

  • How easy is it to navigate from the landing page to additional resources such as reviews or testimonials? 
  • How quickly does each page load and are there any 404 errors?
  • How consistent is their brand messaging from their ad copy and landing page to other content across their website?
  • What other CTA’s and conversion actions do they include throughout their website, including the header and footer. Maybe they have a ‘book a consultation’ button in their header that helps to capture additional leads? Is this something we can incorporate?

Track Competitors Display Ads

Another important, and often overlooked, aspect of PPC competitor research is tracking what our competitors are doing on the Google display network. The Google display network feeds image ads to visitors across a whole host of various websites. One very common use for this network is remarketing or targeting ads toward web users who previously visited and interacted with your website. 

There are a few different ways to get insights into the types of display ads and content your competitors are using. Perhaps the simplest is to turn off your ad-block and visit competitors websites. Usually, they will have a remarketing campaign in place and you will be able to get an insight into some of the types of remarketing ads and campaigns they are using. 

Another free option would be to use the Semrush ‘Display Advertising’ dashboard. You can type in your competitors websites here, and once entered you can see a huge amount of information about their display ads, including which countries they advertise in, what ad types are the most common, which devices deliver the best results, and which publishers are the most popular. You can also see the actual ads they use, including ad copy and CTA’s. It’s important to analyze this data carefully, seeing what ads work best for different locations and audiences and incorporate this into your own Display network campaigns.

Checklist for PPC Competitor Analysis

  • Identify your competition.
  • Find out what keywords your competition are ranking for.
  • Analyze these keywords in relation to your own keyword list.
  • Identify opportunities by finding relevant keywords with low competition. 
  • Also include high volume keywords to enhance your campaigns reach. 
  • Analyse the landing pages your competitors use on Google Ads.
  • Analyse competitors website in terms of form and function. 
  • Analyse your competitors display campaigns.
  • Know the competitor analysis tools that can help. 

 PPC Competitor Analysis Tools

Auction Insights

Every time a user performs a search for one of your keywords, Google runs an ad auction in the background to determine which ads serve and where on the search results page they should appear. In Google Ads search campaigns, the ‘Auction Insights’ tab provides us with detailed information about how we performed in the ad auction relative to competitors. 

So some of the key metrics we can discover from the Auction Insights Tab are: 

  • Impression Share: The number of impressions we received in comparison to the total amount of impressions and also compared to the percentage of impressions or main competition received. 
  • Overlap Rate: How often a competitors ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression.
  • Position Above Rate: How often does another advertiser’s ad show in a higher position than your own when both of your ads were shown at the same time.
  • Top of Page Rate: How often your ad was shown in the top results of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). 
  • Absolute Top of Page Rate: The percent of your impressions that were shown as the very first result, which is above the organic search results. 
  • Outranking Share: How often your ad ranked higher in the auction than another advertiser’s ad, or if your ad showed when theirs did not.

The ‘Auction Insights’ tool in Google Ads can only be used effectively when you are running a live campaign. However, once this is the case, it can provide a huge depth of insight into how your ads are performing versus the competition. A sudden reduction in impression share might be due to an increasing CPC due to more competition for particular keywords, or it may be down to a reduction in overall ad quality and landing page experience. It is important to analyze the Auction Insights tab regularly to give insights into your ad performance and potential next steps in terms of optimization.

Google Merchant Centre: Price Competitiveness for Shopping Campaigns

Another free resource to conduct competitor analysis is Google Merchant Centre, specifically the price competitiveness report. Google Merchant Centre is used to list online inventory on Google. You can connect Merchant Centre to your store using a content API, a page crawl, or by manually uploading your product list via CSV. We recommend using either a content API or Page Crawl, so that when your online store updates, that data is fed automatically to your Merchant Centre. 

The primary reason for setting up a Google Merchant Centre account is to avail of the Google Shopping Network. The Shopping Network consists of product listings on the Google SERPs page. It can be a great way to advertise products online, and quite often users can be further along the buying process as they are specifically looking for that product, as opposed to a demonstration video or blog post. 

If you have or are thinking of setting up a Google Shopping campaign, one of the best optimization tools can be found in your Google Merchant Centre account. The price competitiveness report is available for each of the products you have listed on Merchant Centre, and it will detail how your product’s price matches up in comparison to competitors with identical products on the Google Shopping network. 

Due to the nature of how Google Shopping operates, showcasing similar products with similar descriptions and CTA’s side by side, price becomes an imperative piece of your Google Shopping campaign. Users are able to view huge amounts of similar products and compare prices from a number of vendors with ease. This is why your price competitiveness report is so important. 

One of the best ways to optimise your Google Shopping campaign is to go through this report and highlight all the products that are more expensive than the average industry price. Next, you should come up with an acceptable price variance, as it is inevitable that your prices will differ from competitors on certain goods. Let’s say you set an acceptable price variance of 10%. You will then look through your product list, and any product that has a higher price variance than +10% from the average, you should pause, meaning it will be removed from your Shopping campaign. This will ensure you are staying price competitive on Google Shopping, and that will lead to higher conversion rates and a better return on investment.

Ahrefs 

Ahrefs is primarily an SEO software suite that contains tools for link building, keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking and site audits. For now, we are going to focus on how you can utilize Ahrefs to optimize and improve your PPC competitor analysis. 

One of the best tools within Ahrefs is their keyword explorer. With this tool, you can discover thousands of great keyword ideas, analyze their competitiveness and calculate their traffic potential. You can also see metrics such as a keywords average CPC, global search volume, location-specific search volume and average clicks. Data like this is really invaluable in setting up or optimizing any Google Ads campaign. Using Ahrefs to analyze your keyword lists will give you a huge level of insight into the potential success of your campaign, as well as identifying weak and low potential keywords. 

You can also use the ‘Site Explorer’ tool within Ahrefs to gain insight into your competitors paid search advertising and where they funnel their paid traffic. You will be able to see an extensive list of your competitors keywords, as well as their search volume, average CPC, impression share and linked URL. By knowing the keywords that are working for competitors, you will be in a much stronger position when developing your own keyword list.

Serpstat

Serpstat is similar to Ahrefs in that it originated as an SEO research tool but has since developed a host of PPC tools as well. One such tool is their paid PPC competitor analysis tool. This tool helps is to find relevant online competitors, collect and analyze their most popular pages, uncover the keywords which they use for promoting these pages and the ads that bring in conversions and sales. 

One of our favourite features here is that you are able to see data on the common keywords you share with your competitors as well as missing keywords. This can provide insight into keyword performance and assist in optimizing your own keyword list. 

In tandem with this, you can also use their Keyword Research tool to analyze industry keywords, seeing their search volume and competitiveness. This will be useful when comparing to your competitors keyword list, to see which may be able to provide your campaign with the biggest opportunity for success. 

Finally, Serpstat will also allow you to analyze keywords based on trends and seasonality. You will be able to see the change in search volume and competitiveness over time for certain keywords. This can be crucial in developing a keyword list, with certain products and services being affected by seasonality. For example, the keywords ‘Sunscreen’ and ‘Beach Towels’ are going to have much higher search volumes in the summer, so by only looking at their search volume and competitiveness during December, you are not seeing the true picture. This is why analyzing keywords over time can be a crucial aspect of choosing the right keyword list.

iSpionage

iSpionage is a competitor research tool that users employ for both SEO and Adwords competitor research. This tool will identify your top Adwords competitors and can also reveal their approximate monthly budget whilst giving insights into their overall Google Adwords strategy. The application essentially spies on competitors advertising and website, identifying which of their landing pages, keywords and ad copy are attracting the most visitors and converting the most. 

iSpionage will give you a complete list of Adwords competitors keywords, as well as in-depth data on these keywords, such as their search volume, competitiveness, and custom metrics such as the KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index), which essentially ranks how effective each keywords would be for your Adwords campaign. Using this tool, you can add the most profitable keywords with the highest search volumes and clicks to make sure your Adwords campaigns are targeting the right keywords to convert and make your campaigns successful. 

With espionage you can also find and evaluate competitors ad copy, identifying which was most profitable and why. They also use a custom metric here, AEI (Ad Effectiveness Index) to measure an ads effectiveness and profitability. By selecting the ads with the highest AEI, and then incorporating some of their elements into your own ads, you can set your ad copy and ads up for success the first time.

Semrush

Semrush is also a keyword research tool that has developed into an all in one suite for market insights and competitor research. It is a paid service, however, you can avail of aspects of the Semrush suite for free. In terms of Google Ads, its most beneficial features are its keyword research tools and its paid advertising research tools. 

As we discussed earlier, Semrush has a free keyword research tool that is extremely useful for identifying potential keywords for your Google ads campaigns. Here you can enter a specific phrase or website, and see a list of keyword suggestions. You will also see metrics such as Search Volume, Number of results, Intent, Average CPC and Competition level for each keyword. These metrics will help you to draft your keyword list for your Google Adwords campaigns. 

On top of this, Semrush also provides additional features for competitor analysis, such as the ‘Paid Advertising Research’ feature. This allows you to see which keywords your competitors are bidding on as well as what ad copy they are using to serve those keywords. It can be a great way to look at how industry leaders are laying out their Google Ads campaigns, and how you can emulate this approach.

Spyfu

Spyfu is another tool that originated as a keyword research tool but has expanded to become an SEO and PPC marketing suite. SpyFu’s PPC competitor research tools are quite extensive and allow you a huge amount of insight into your competitors keywords, bidding and ad strategies within Google Ads. 

Using this tool, you can search for a particular competitor, and see every keyword that they are purchasing via Google Ads as well as every ad they are running. This allows you to gain a deeper understanding of their ads strategies, which in turn can be used to optimise your own. 

One of our favourite features of SpyFu is its Google Ads Advisor tool. This is an extremely powerful research tool, where you enter your own website, and the tool will analyse your competitors Google Ads bidding strategy and history, and recommend the most profitable keywords that you’re not already targeting. This can be extremely useful as a catch all method to make sure you are targeting as many profitable keywords as possible.

Building Your Competitor Analysis Report

Once you have finished your Google Ads competitor analysis, the final step will be compiling all this information in a singular, easy-to-digest report. This actionable data can then be fed to decision-makers to optimize your Google Ads strategy going forward.

Essentially, the main aim for this report will be to display your competitor analysis in a simple way that shows key findings and takeaways and explains them as straightforward as possible. The idea here is that you should not need to have any marketing expertise to understand any suggestions and recommendations. 

Your Competitor Analysis report will contain: 

  • A list of our competitors and their targeted keywords.
  • A list of keywords you are targeting, and potential gaps and opportunities.
  • Metrics on these keywords such as Search Volume, Average CPC and Competitiveness.
  • Competitor landing page and website analysis, and potential opportunities.
  • Competitor display campaign analysis and recommendations. 
  • Key takeaways and recommendations going forward.

 How to Use this Analysis to Beat Your Competitors

The reason for carrying out this thorough competitor analysis is to gain insight into competition and industry on Google that should help to create campaigns that are set up for success. From keyword lists to display campaign setup, each stage of your Google Ads campaign should be created with a deep understanding of how your competition operates in this space. 

When building out your Google ads campaigns and ad groups, it is absolutely vital to understand the competition behind each keyword group, as well as the likely CPC and costs. This can help to create a realistic budget as well as forecast potential results. Similarly, having good knowledge of competitors landing pages and CTA’s, as well as being able to accurately predict what will convert will allow you to set up our landing pages for success and help to boost conversion rates and ultimately ROI (Return on Investment). 

Finally, an in-depth understanding of how your competitors are using display ads to reach and engage visitors can help you to evaluate your own display campaigns to cut through the noise and captivate your audience.

FAQs

How can I adjust bids in PPC to beat the competitors?

There are a number of ways to adjust your bidding in order to beat competitors. The first stage here will be determining your Google Ads bidding strategy, which can be automatic, such as Maximise Conversions, or it can be manual, such as Manual CPC. With Manual CPC, we can adjust bids based on their campaign, ad group or even individual keyword performance. This bidding strategy allows the greatest amount of control however we only recommend this when you are very familiar with Google Ads, as it can take a certain level of expertise to optimize. 

Another use of bid adjustments within Google Ads would be location-based bid adjustments. These essentially increase or decrease your bid based on a visitors proximity to a specific location. 

For Example: if you have a gym in Downtown Vancouver, you may adjust your bids by +15% for visitors within 20km. For every search within this radius, we are prepared to bid 15% more for a click. This is because users are much more likely to attend a gym that is closer to them, and so traffic within 20km will be more highly qualified and more likely to convert and lead to a sign-up or visit.

What are the best PPC competitive analysis tools?

This will depend on your own preferences, as well as what you are looking to accomplish with your Competitor Analysis. Some very useful free tools include Google Ads Auction Insights, Google Merchant Centre Price Competitiveness and Semrush’s keyword research tool. Some of our favourite paid competitor analysis tools include Ahrefs, Semrush, SpyFu, iSpionage and Serpstat.

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