Once you know your competition, you can be better prepared to beat them.

Here, you’ll learn how to analyze a company’s paid search strategy. Including:

  • Why you should conduct a competitor analysis for PPC
  • How this data can improve your PPC campaigns
  • Competitor analysis tools to use
  • Key metrics to consider during this analysis

If it’s visibility you want?

Then you know PPC is how you get it.

We’ve seen over and over how pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is the name of the game for increasing visibility on the almighty search engines.

With PPC (or paid search), there’s reportedly a 50% higher chance for the visitor to purchase compared to organic visitors.  

But, as French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.”

This can also apply to PPC advertising. Competitors can shape the way you pay for your ads and how (or if) they’re shown. That’s why it’s critical to keep an eye on your PPC competition through conducting an analysis, just as you would conduct a competitor analysis for SEO

Here, we’ve laid out everything you need for an effective and actionable analysis of your PPC competition. 

competitor analysis for PPC tips

Competitors can shape the way you pay for your ads and how (or if) they’re shown. (Image: Unsplash)

Why is a competitor analysis for PPC important?

As your developing your strategy when building out a new PPC account, you’ll want to know how to compare competitor’s SEM campaigns to give you some insight into what’s working and what’s not.

But that’s not the only time you should be considering what the competition is doing. 

During your regular optimization process (e.g., when optimizing Google Ads), you can also conduct regular analyses to ensure you know where you stand vs. the other names in your industry.

“Competitor analysis helps provide a visual of the PPC landscape before you enter it,” says HawkSEM PPC Expert Alyssa Galik. “It allows you to see who the biggest players are in your priority keyword set and gives you insights into how difficult it will be to get your ad to the top of the page, maintain an affordable cost per click, and steer your  budgets, ad copy, and approach.”

It can inform your PPC ad performance

So, why does this kind of analysis matter? 

Competitive research tells the story behind why your campaigns are performing the way they do – because what your competition does affects you.

For example, this process can provide insight into rising cost per acquisition, loss in impression share, and “stolen” clicks. 

If you want to scale your accounts and keep them on an upward trajectory, then it’s vital to keep watch on your competitors.

It allows you to monitor changes in the landscape

Digital marketing is an ever-changing landscape — duh, right? 

What’s more, PPC is a race in which you can never take your eyes off the road. Doing competitor research often allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of industry trends, changes in competition levels, and keywords and topics that are growing in popularity. 

You’ll be able to discover new competitors as they come on the scene and track those rising up the ranks. After all, in PPC, you need to know who is bidding against you in auctions and not just businesses that are in your industry. 

With marketplaces like Walmart and Amazon bidding in nearly every auction, it’s vital to look outside your sphere to maintain successful PPC campaigns.

Figure out who your competitors are

In most cases, your offline competition isn’t the same as your online competition. 

That’s why it’s helpful to start your analysis by determining who your PPC competition is, meaning those bidding on the same keywords as you.

The “Details” section on the Google Ads (formerly AdWords) and Microsoft Ads dropdown menus should have the answers you need. You can find it under “Auction Insights.” Some metrics to look at here include: 

  • Impression share

    The frequency of the times both you and your competitors received impressions — your impression share is the number of impressions you received vs. what you were eligible to receive

  • Overlap rate

    How often a competitor’s ad and your ad both received an impression

  • Position above rate

    How often an advertiser’s ad is shown at a higher position than yours when both ads were shown simultaneously

  • Top of the page rate

    The number of times your competitor’s ad is shown at the top of the page

  • Outranking share

    How often your ad ranked higher in the auction than the competitor’s

Besides using the Google Ads UI to discover your competitors, you can also use a tool like Semrush or SpyFu to discover competitors. You’ll see metrics and information like:

  • Ad copy
  • Cost per click
  • Keyword overlap
  • Paid keywords
  • Ad budget
  • Recommended buys (keywords you might want to buy)

Create a competitor analysis plan

Visualization tools can help generate graphs that illustrate the metrics from your competitors. They can also show your trending costs per click (CPCs) so you can come up with a plan of action on areas you need to improve. 

You may see that CPCs are becoming too expensive for certain keywords or new keywords are trending. This data can be used to inform your whole marketing strategy, not just PPC. 

For instance, you can plan content marketing to fill the gaps where keywords have become too expensive. The holistic approach will prove beneficial when recessions or disasters hit or when significant changes occur in an industry.

Pro tip: Don’t just look at data in the user interface (UI). Run reports, use Data Studio, and create pivot tables and graphs to find patterns and trends.

ppc competition

The final step of identifying and understanding your PPC competition is to unveil why they’re competing with you. (Image: Unsplash)

Determine what kind of competitors you have

Competitors are rarely created equal. 

Some have big budgets, some are barely breaking through, and some are simply overlapping you on a few keywords. While these competitors could pose a significant threat to your success, others cannot be considered serious competition.

Understanding the types of competition can better inform your action plan. The different types of PPC competitors often include: 

  • Affiliates 
  • Comparison Shopping Engine (CSE) 
  • Online Travel Agency (OTA) 
  • Marketing partners 
  • Search arbitrage 
  • Reseller 
  • No trademark 

It can be difficult to compete with non-approved trademark users and resellers. If an advertiser runs your trademark unapproved, the best way to handle it is to escalate the complaint through Google’s trademark policy channels.

You can use tools like AdGooroo and Semrush to monitor and track your (and your competition’s) top branded PPC keyword trends. 

You can also run a direct channel activity comparison between your domain and a competitor’s domain to glean more insights.  

Where are they competing with you? 

You can’t pull and track every impression share and ad positioning for an entire account. 

However, you need to be frugal but effective with your analysis to get the most vital KPIs. This way, you can better identify where you should focus your time to optimize your PPC. 

Here are the easiest ways to determine where the competition is coming from: 

  • Label your top-performing keywords

    You can use labels within the third-party or publishers’ bidding tools to monitor any major changes on your best performing keywords. These will notify you if a competitor starts to push you out. You can also use the data to look for changes and adjust accordingly.

  • Set up reports, alerts, and automated bidding rules

    For your top-performing campaigns, ad groups, and keywords, set up automated Search Impression Share (SIS) reports that are sent to your email. You can also prevent keywords slipping from their positions with tools like Target Search Page Location or Microsoft Advertising’s automated rules.

Why are they competing? 

The final step of identifying and understanding your PPC competition is to unveil why they’re competing with you. Once in a while, you’ll run into a competitor domain that bids on your keywords simply to try to price you out of the running. 

However, in most cases, your competitors have the same intentions you do. That means you might not succeed through bidding alone. Because of this, it’s imperative to review your competitors’ strategies and develop an action plan around what you learn. Yes, we’re talking about tools once again. 

Top competitor analysis for PPC tools:

  • SEMRush

    This is actually a slew of tools, including an excellent competitive analysis feature. It allows you to generate competitive analysis reports and download the reports as PDFs, saving your serious time.

  • SpyFu

    Spare yourself the trouble of building your PPC account by duplicating your competitors’ campaign. With SpyFu, you can download your competitors’ most profitable keywords and ads for organic and paid searches. 

  • Brandverity:

    This is an excellent tool for monitoring, identifying, and removing harmful ads from appearing on your most popular branded keywords.

  • Ispionage

    As a play on “espionage,” this tool gives you access to 7 years’ worth of PPC and SEO keywords data for the top three search engines for your competitors. You can use this data to set up your campaign better and improve your results.  

What to look for during your competitor analysis

Leveraging tools during your competitor analysis for PPC allows you to peek into their campaigns in various ways. But what should you analyze? 

Keywords and ad copy are the two highest priority areas to pay attention to, but you can discover additional insights from your competitors. You may also be able to gain visibility into what their monthly budget might be and what platforms they have a presence on.

An open mind will go a long way when researching. Learn everything you can, then consider how you can use it to your advantage. Some things may be obvious, while others may take some brainstorming. 

No matter what, take in all of the info. You never know how you might be able to use it at a later date. Some helpful things you might learn from your competitors are:

  • Keyword and offer opportunities you’ve missed
  • Whether your budget is in line with others in the industry
  • Changes in competitor spend
  • Who you are currently competing with
  • Potential threats
  • Keywords you should buy that your competitors are not
  • Get new ideas for ad copy and calls to action

Keep in mind these tools don’t tell you how successful your competitors’ campaigns are, so you should avoid making wide-sweeping changes overnight just because your competitor is doing it differently.

Pro tip: Sometimes, the most useful thing you can learn is that your competitor is making a lot of mistakes that you can take action to avoid.

bike competition

Use your competitor’s ads to help you get creative with ad copy. (Image: Unsplash)

After the analysis: Dig into the data

Now that you know more about your competitors, what do you do? You look for opportunities, of course.

Examine landing pages

Compile a list of competitor landing pages. Examine their site speed — is it better or worse than yours? 

Site speed is crucial to being competitive. Potential customers will go somewhere else if you make them wait too long.

Next, review the offers, calls to action, and benefits. Where do you stand by comparison? Do you see places where you can improve? 

Take note of how you can change your landing page if you see areas of concern. When you’re reviewing landing pages as part of your competitor analysis for PPC, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is it user-friendly?
  • What’s the site speed like?
  • How does your call to action compare to theirs?
  • Is your offer competitive with theirs?
  • Are your key features and benefits competitive with theirs?
  • Are there key features or benefits you should add?
  • As a whole, how does your page compare? Do you need changes?

After analyzing the landing page itself, consider if the ad leading to the landing page is relevant to the landing page. Are the target keywords on the page? Do they have the appropriate level of congruency? 

Take a look from top to bottom, and consider how Google might rate it. Find copy and formatting that might inform and improve your own landing page strategies. Use your competitors’ websites to improve upon your own.

“It is critical to review competitors’ landing pages and conversion processes,” explains Galik. “It is vital to observe the call to action they use, how they generate leads, and what user experience they are providing. Each of those pieces can help you develop a stronger PPC strategy than your competitors.”

She adds that, when it comes to paid search, it’s not just about your ads and keywords – landing pages are crucial, too.

Pro tip: A/B test elements and ideas you gain from your top competitors’ pages to see if they improve performance on your own landing pages.

Ad copy analysis

Competitor research should allow you to look at the ad history, both current and historical, for competitors. 

Ad text is the first impression a brand has on its potential clients. Examining their offers, benefits, and features will allow you to learn more about how they attract clientele.

Investigating the messaging that garners clicks shows you what you may be missing. They may include pricing, specific features, hours, or even sales. 

What stands out to you? How could you change your ad copy based on what you see? Take note of these items:

  • Headlines
  • Calls to action
  • Special offers
  • Features
  • Pricing
  • Sales or discounts

But don’t just stick to evaluating the ad copy itself. Look for patterns in the ad history too. 

Is there a seasonality to the trends? Use the ad history to find the busiest months of the year. Developing a better understanding of seasonality will help you compensate for traffic levels and keyword bid changes. 

For instance, you might want to consider running a sale during a slower period to compensate for the higher costs of advertising during the busiest season.

“By analyzing competitors’ ad copy, you understand what pain points or benefits they are highlighting,” adds Galik. “This helps you define how you want to position yourself and what value proposition you can outshine your competitors on.”

Pro tip: Use your competitors’ ads to help you get creative with ad copy. Making your ads more clickable will help you get more qualified traffic to your landing pages. Don’t forget to mine the ad history for insights, not just the ad copy itself. There’s a wealth of data you can use to your advantage.

Keyword competition and keyword gaps

You’ve done the keyword research, but have you dared to venture outside the proverbial box? 

Tools will tell you more about your competitor keywords. You can see what they are bidding on and how much budget they invest. You can even find out how long they’ve been bidding on them for. 

Once you know more about their keywords, you’ll be able to make educated choices for your own strategy. You may choose to stop bidding on certain words because you just don’t have the budget, or bid more heavily on others because you can afford it.

If you find there are specific keywords they’re not bidding on, that’s called a keyword gap. This is a great opportunity to cash in. You may want to invest more ad spend here since it will help you get more traffic to your site without paying a premium. 

Watch out, though: your competitors may figure out what you’re doing and follow suit.

Pro tip: Take advantage of keyword gaps, they’re an easy place to get low-cost traffic. Just keep an eye on the search volume. It may not be enough to give you a real competitive advantage.

The takeaway

The main purpose of running a competitor analysis for PPC is to identify your competition and come up with a strategy to improve your campaigns. 

Of course, you don’t want to merely follow in others’ footsteps. However, when you’re armed with all this insider info about the brands vying for your same customers, you can leverage some of their techniques in your own unique way.

When you know who your competitors are and how they operate, you’ll be in a better position to outrank them on the search engine results page.

This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2021.

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Shire Lyon

Shire Lyon

Shire is a passionate writer and marketer with over eight years of experience as a writer and digital marketer. She's well-versed in SEO, PPC, and social media, helping businesses both big and small grow and scale. On her downtime, she enjoys hiking, cooking, gardening, reading, and sailing.