Pay per click advertising is amazing…

If done right, you can use it scale your store almost indefinitely. You know, as long as there are more people to reach and you have a positive ROI.

But if you’re reaching your market limit, or worse, losing money on your ads, don’t worry. There is one thing you can do:

Competitive PPC analysis!

Spying on your competitor’s AdWords account is one of the easiest ways to improve your ad ROI while simultaneously reaching more people. Pretty cool, right?

But that brings the question…

Why is competitive PPC analysis so important?

PPC competitive analysis is important because it literally shows you your competitor’s most profitable keywords. It’s a key part of AdWords keyword research for eCommerce.

But it goes a step further…

As you’ll learn in step four, you can use competitor analysis not only to find competitor’s best keywords but also to see how they’re getting the best ROI from those keywords.

More on that later. For now, let’s start at the beginning – you’ll need a PPC analysis tool.

PPC competitor analysis tools you’ll need (pick 1)

PPC competitor analysis tools are like magic mirrors that let you see competitor’s AdWords accounts. Not literally, of course – but it’s just about as good.

While there are dozens of programs out there, here are four of the most popular:

  1. SEMrush
  2. SpyFu
  3. iSpionage
  4. KeywordSpy

I could go on all day about iSpionage vs. SEMrush etc., but the fact of the matter is, what works best is what you use.

Personally, I love SEMrush because it’s easy to use and has an attractive user interface. And, once you get comfortable with it, there’s a lot more it can do than simple PPC analysis. But that’s for another article!

SEMrush Competitive PPC Analysis Tool

I’ll be using SEMrush for all the examples in this guide, but you can do basically the same thing with any of the other tools.

Now then, let’s get to spying!

Step #1: Find your best competitors

You probably know who your competitors are. But do you know who your best competitors are?

Here’s what I mean:

If you choose any random competitor and copy their ad strategy, you’re playing poker. Who knows if they even have a good PPC strategy? Or if they’re even getting a positive ROI?

Of course, you’ll find out in step two, once you know what to look for. But wouldn’t you rather save the time, energy and guesswork, and steal straight from the best?

I say shoot for low-risk, high-reward. Here’s how:

First, pop your URL into your PPC analysis tool. If you’re using SEMrush, click the “Entire menu” tab, then “Competitors”. If not, find out where your program shows your competitors.

SEMrush Competitive Research

Here you’ll see your main competitors based on the keywords you’re bidding on and ranking for. You’ll see how heavily they’re competing with you via the “Competitor Level” column on this page.

SEMrush Competition Level

However, don’t rely solely on this bar – you can dive a little deeper for even better results. All you have to do is look at their traffic to traffic cost trends. Let me explain:

To find your competitor’s data, enter their URL (or click it under the “Domain” column) and click “Advertising Research” in the left-hand menu. You’ll see a graph showing you their Traffic, Keywords, and Traffic Cost.

Paid search competitors report

If you see the number of keywords and/or traffic is rising, while their traffic cost is falling (as shown above), that could mean two things…

First, the competitor is trying to scale their PPC efforts by bidding on more keywords. This could indicate they are getting a positive ROI from their campaign. Dive deeper.

Second, if traffic cost is decreasing while number of keywords is increasing this could indicate the competitor has a well optimized PPC campaign in place. Typically, higher quality scores equate to lower cost per click.

Wanna know their secret? It’s all in the landing page info we’re going to cover in step four. But for now…

It’s time to spy.

Step #2: See what keywords competitors are bidding on

Go back to your competitor’s tab from the beginning of step one.

You’ll see a hyperlinked number under the “Ads Keywords” column. Clicking this number will bring you to a page where you can see your competitor’s PPC keywords, ad spend, ad copy, and more.

SEMrush Competitors PPC Keywords Ad Spend

How’s that for competitive PPC analysis? Once you see all their top keywords, it’s time for…

Step #3: Pick the best keywords to steal for yourself

The absolute best way to find the golden nuggets in this massive excel sheet nightmare?

Look at how long the ads have been running.

PPC advertising is a numbers game. The big companies with huge budgets test lots and lots of keywords, ad copy, and landing page variations to find the best match.

And when they find a winner?

They keep running that sucker for as long as it’s profitable!

So, to see ad history, simply click on the “Ad History” tab on the left-hand side of SEMrush.

Use SEMrush to see what keywords competitors are bidding on

Here are the results for a site called Pet My Wiener (don’t worry – it’s a wiener dog gift store!). A couple things to note:

  • Coverage % is the percent of ads displayed in the last 12 months. So if they paid for ads 6 out of 12 months, you’d have a 50% coverage %.
  • The numbers in the blue boxes show the average position of the ads they ran for that keyword in that particular month. Clicking on it shows their ad copy AND any changes they’ve made to it over it’s lifetime. Pretty friggin’ sweet.

In the above screenshot, almost all of their ads have been running for a full year. But, if we scroll down, we see that’s not the case for all of them…

Ad Spend Lapse

They an ad in position 3 for “clothes for dachshunds” in October 2016, then didn’t bring them back until July 2017. This could mean they didn’t see a good ROI from the original search ad, but decided to test it again.

Also worth noting that the term “dachshund gifts” gets its biggest traffic spike in November through December, probably because it’s mainly given as a gift (shocker). It’s always a good idea to understand seasonal trends for your product searches.

The takeaway here? Steal the keywords they’ve been targeting consistently for the last 6-12 months. Rinse and repeat for all your competitors until you have a sexy list ripe for the copying.

You should also note their ad copy and average position of the ad, as this can help you improve your own ads’ clicks and conversions.

But you’re not done yet!

Step #4: Don’t forget the secret sauce

You can find the best keyword in the world that your competitors have been using for 12 consecutive months. But what if it’s not working for YOU?

That’s where this “secret” technique comes in.

I’ll hand it over to Larry Kim, CEO of MobileMonkey, to give his advice:

Larry Kim PPC Expert

“You can do all the A/B testing in the world. But if your offer is a donkey (converts at 2% at less), it will never get unicorn results. You need a great offer to get great results.”

In other words, what are your competitors offering on their landing page? How can you make your own offer (and landing page) more appealing for that keyword?

In many cases, the landing page is your product or category page. Here’s an example:

Landing Page Ad Example

This is The Smoothe Store’s landing page (a competitor of Pet My Wiener) for the keyword “Dachshund gifts”. Let’s compare it to PMW’s:

Pet My Weiner Landing Page

There’s a glaring difference here; one leads to a category page, while one leads to a home page. It’s possible that by sending ad clicks to their category page instead, The Smoothe Store might increase their conversions.

Also worth noting is that PMW has a big “Why shop with us? We give back to Dachshunds in need” on the top of their site. Donations to charity have been shown to increase conversions, so this could be helping them.

Let’s look at another example:

This is FelixGray’s landing page for the term “blue light blocking glasses”. They open with a single sentence: “Our eyes weren’t made to stare at screens all day, every day”, then proceed to talk about YOU. Good tactic.

Now here’s one of their competitors, Transitions:

Bad Landing Page Example

They both use dedicated long-form landing pages meant to educate the consumer on blue light blocking glasses. However, FelixGray does a much better job. Here’s why:

  • Design. FelixGray looks modern, with big, high-quality images, large text, and lots of white space. Transitions has virtually no white space, small (and ugly) font, and light text on a dark background (a big no no). Not to mention the ugly stock photos.
  • Clear call to action. FelixGray has two calls to action, both are buttons that stand out and catch the eye. Transitions CTA is blue text that blends in with the background. Pro tip: Don’t make the user think any more than they have to.
  • Testimonials. FelixGray has them, Transitions doesn’t.
  • A focus on YOU. FelixGray’s whole page is focused on you – the reader. “Do you experience any of the following?”, “You’re not alone.” Transitions, on the other hand, focuses on blue light in all their headings. People want to know “What’s in it for ME?”

For more tips on creating long-form landing pages, check out this article by Oberlo.

Finally, let’s take a look at a product page example:

Long-Form Product Page

This is Solo Stove’s landing page for “Bonfire”. I love their design – the site really looks incredible. Let’s look at their competitor, Littlbug:

Product Page Example

Time to tear it up! Here’s what I noticed:

  • Call to action. Littlbug’s buy button is below the fold. Even worse, it’s kind of small. Solo Stove’s CTA is above the fold, big, and impossible not to notice. Also worth noting – Solo Stove adds “100% Guaranteed Returns” and “Lifetime Guarantee” under their CTA.
  • Reviews. Littlbug doesn’t display any user reviews. Solo Stove has 269 5-star reviews, and they showcase them really well.
  • Product images. Littlbug’s images have a bland gray background, and one even says “pot not included” – yuck! Solo Stove not only features better product images, they also have photos of the product in use.
  • Price. Littlbug’s price is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper. However, Solo Stove uses price anchoring; showing a bigger price crossed out. They also note “You save $50.00 + Free Shipping & Returns” in big, noticeable text. Free shipping brings conversions.
  • Content. Littlbug has a long product description, which is great… except it’s not well-written, and it distracts the user from purchasing. Solo Stove instead created full long-form content detailing everything a user would want to know about their product, but they did it under the product to avoid distracting anyone who just wants to buy now.

And there you have it! We’ve now compared home pages, long-form landing pages, and product and category pages so you can get a higher ad ROI from your sexy new keywords.

Here are a couple of things to note as you compare your landing page to your competitors:

  • Look for the obvious differences. Are they offering a different product? A better price? A cleaner user-interface? Better landing page copy?
  • Note the page they’re sending traffic to. Is it a full-fledged long-form landing page? A plain product page? A category page? Something else?
  • Check their consistency. Do they use the same copy and offer in the landing page as they did on the ad’s title and description?

Finally, use all this insight to create killer AdWords campaigns targeting the best keywords in your niche with the highest ROI. Easy-peasy!

A few words of wisdom from PPC experts

Before I send you on your way, I’d like to share some expert advice I got while putting together this guide. You know,  just to make sure you have every resource you need.

First up, here’s some advice on using your competitor’s weaknesses to your advantage by Ed Leake, founder of Midas Media, a PPC agency based in the UK:

Ed Leake PPC Agency

“Instead of just bidding on your competitor brand terms, find their weaknesses and highlight your remedies instead.

Here’s how to use your competitor ‘bottom of funnel’ keywords to your advantage:

Start with Google’s seller and consumer ratings. You can find them by using the below url and simply change the domain for each of your competitors.

Google seller reviews

Google surveys customers after they make a purchase and sources data from third party platforms such as TrustPilot and Reviews.co.uk. This data is the blended to give an overall rating.

But you’re not too concerned with that top rating. Instead, you want to focus on the 3-4 star ratings. You can often ignore the 1 star reviews – those are very salty opinions filled with buyer’s remorse and can skew what we’re trying to achieve here.

Simply put, people who didn’t quite give a full 5 stars represent an opportunity for you to improve your positioning.

They made a purchase but weren’t entirely satisfied with their experience, your job is to find out why – which is easy – because it’s all here for you!

Ask yourself; What is the theme or trend of 3-4 star reviews? Is it:

  • Slow delivery
  • A lack of communication
  • Missing information
  • Pricing disparity

The list goes on.

More Google reviews

Take notes, because there are two ways to use this information to your advantage.

1. Go straight for the review search terms

People searching for your competitor reviews are further down the buying journey. This represents an opportunity for you to swoop in on their search, and take some sales.

For example +brand +reviews.

Your ad copy (and landing page) should reflect the experiences you’ve found above by answering them and highlighting why you won’t let them down.

Are your competitor reviews littered with delivery gripes? Good, you can offer next-day delivery or even better, delivered on ”the day and time that suits you”.

Noticing a lack of communication after the sale? No problem, you offer “regular text updates on your order progress” to keep those 5-stars rolling in.

2. Product/service specific terms

Using specific issues to improve your sales potential (and your product or service) goes a layer deeper.

This approach takes more work of course. You could literally write ad copy for each product that you and your competitor compete on.

Start with your best sellers and confront their customers using search queries such as +brand +product or +brand +category.

Competitor’s product cheap in quality? No problem, target those people who care – “our English Oak has a lifetime guarantee”.

Missing features or omissions from product descriptions? Time to showcase those for your benefit, “complete fitting kit included”.

Hopefully you get the idea.

This strategy works particularly well when you’re trying to nibble away at a bigger competitor. Find their weaknesses (courtesy of their customers), tackle those concerns in your ad copy, ad extensions and on landing pages, and of course strategically target keywords to suit.

Remember: Answer the pain, win the game.

Great stuff from Ed! Next, we have some tips on how to see your competitor’s keywords without a PPC analysis tool from Brian Murphy, the Marketing Manager at Zaius:

Brian Murphy

“To start, simply use Google for your competitive research. You know which keywords your brand is focused on, and simply searching those terms will give you strong intel into your competitive set.

Google Keyword Planner can help you take a keyword or idea and provide targeted recommendations on similar keywords you should focus on. This is a great tool for marketers to use when brainstorming keyword research at first.

As you advance your SEM skillset further, there are a variety of easy-to-use keyword research tools out there to help you dive even deeper into your competitive set, and specific keywords that competitors are bidding on.”

He also has some advice on how to pick the best keywords to target:

“In my career, I’ve always turned to tools like SpyFu or SEMrush to help prioritize which keywords I should be bidding on. These tools provide you with a lot of data around competitor keywords, average cost-per-click, and overall competitiveness in the space.

A common mistake I find marketers making is that they bid on hundreds of different keywords and campaigns at a given time, and as a result, they struggle to remain competitive – when your resources are spread very thin, you’re not able to stay on top of your performance, and your account suffers as a result.

Instead, consider honing in on a smaller keyword list. That way you can better allocate budget, focus on optimization, and use A/B testing to continuously improve. You’ll quickly find a lot more success taking this approach.”

Thanks, Brian and Ed! That concludes our expert section.

Conclusion

Losing money on your PPC ads sucks. Capping out on how many people you can reach with your advertising sucks.

With a competitive PPC analysis, you can find keywords you may have missed in your ad campaign. Keywords with a low cost, high conversion rate, or both.

But if you still feel overwhelmed, consider getting a free no-commitment proposal from our PPC management experts. We’re always profitable, guaranteed.

2 Comments

  • Felix Abur says:

    I have been trying to master SEMrush for a while, and Bill, this is a great guide for not just how to use it but how to effectively increase my ad ROI. Thanks

  • Bill Widmer says:

    My pleasure, Felix! Glad you found it helpful. 🙂 Couldn’t have done it without Andrew! He’s crazy smart with all this PPC stuff.

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