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How Well-Run PPC Campaigns Reveal Valuable Inside Information to Competitors

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Although it seems counter-intuitive, the better PPC campaigns are managed, the more they actually reveal about the company’s inside information. Those individuals who effectively manage these campaigns, at first glance, seem like they are doing great things for their companies. In all actuality, they are unknowingly releasing a world of practical, usable data to their direct competitors, but only if competitors know how to find it.

Let’s pose a hypothetical to illustrate exactly how a singular piece of datum from one company can yield multiple pieces of usable, practical information for its direct competitors. Take large credit card company like Capital One, who has numerous competitors that exist in the same market and have roughly comparable numbers in terms of responses to direct mailers. The more comparable the businesses, the more accurate the estimates will be.

All of these companies use the same type of direct mail, which includes three separate options to apply for the credit card: online, phone, or snail mail. So, Capital One includes the URL of “application.capitalone.com,” on the mailer which customers can reach by either typing the given URL into the address bar at the top of the screen, or typing the URL into a Google search.

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Let’s imagine we are Chase, a competitor of Capital One. We know that our data is comparable to Capital One’s data. Thus, at Chase, we can apply our own data to each method of response for a direct mailer: online yields 70 percent of the referrals, phone bank calls yield 20 percent, and the remaining 10 percent of the referrals are snail mail. These numbers would be ubiquitous throughout comparable companies in the credit card industry.

Given that Chase has about the same information in terms of responses, we can utilize Google Keyword Tool to find out exactly how many potential Capital One customers used a Google search to locate the URL in the direct mailer.

By performing a search for the keyword “application.capitalone.com” it reveals that approximately 18,100 people in a given month reached Capital One’s page by typing the URL into Google’s search bar. Being that we have comparable companies, we can apply the 18,100 customers to Chase’s internal company data that approximately 40 percent of our customers reached our application URL by using a Google search and that roughly 70 percent of respondents to Chase’s direct mail use the online option to apply.

Let’s do some math: 18,100 divided by 40 percent divided again by 70 percent = an estimated 64,642 applicants responded to Capital One’s Direct Mailer in all three methods (online, phone, and traditional mail). With this example, we see one piece of seemingly innocuous datum has given a competitor a window into Capital One’s closely guarded information. Despite Capital One’s best efforts, their well managed direct mail campaign allows for their competitors who analyzing the available PPC data to make more prudent decisions about their own direct mail strategies.

This type of research driven decision making is not just applicable to multimillion dollar corporations. For example, let’s suppose you own a small online business that sells body piercing jewelry and you have a competitor who has a business comparable to yours, but they have recently ventured into selling piercing tools in addition to body jewelry. You have considered moving into selling the tools like your competitor, but you are unsure if this is a sound business decision.

It’s definitely time to roll out the heavy artillery and use a site like SEMrush, SpyFu, or KeywordSpy (disclosure: I am COO of SEMRush). Using one of these tools, we extract the relevant data and make an informed decision: Should I or shouldn’t I start selling piercing tools?

If you knew how much of their advertising budget your competitor was allocating for their new advertising campaign over a series of months, couldn’t you then make the decision to enter the market or just stick to selling just the jewelry? With one of these services, you can look at the proportional increase or decrease of the advertising budget that your competitor is allocating for their new line of piercing tools.

Suppose that in one month your competitor allotted 7 percent of their advertising budget to selling the tools, next month they move to 15 percent, and 20 percent the following month. Keep in mind; the money being put towards the piercing tools campaign is also money that is not being put into advertising the jewelry side of their business.

Moving away from one product line and investing more in another is a huge decision on their part and should be a clear indicator to you as a business owner. An indicator of what though?

Excluding the possibility that they’re an eccentric millionaire and enjoy throwing their money away on unsuccessful advertising, it’s much more likely that your competitor is expending more of their budget on the piercing tools side of the business and less on the jewelry because it’s yielding positive results for them. By looking at the data for their advertising of piercing tools, we can see that this campaign is clearly making them very happy because they are steadily increasing the amount of money allocated to it every month. Also, according to the data, they are only getting happier with each passing month that you aren’t in the market, but they won’t tell you that.

So, these companies who desperately try to guard inside information, unintentionally reveal their inside information and are really only left with two choices: begrudgingly accept that your competitors will eventually know your secrets, or drop their online component. Companies, both small and large, can choose to jump headfirst into the unknown, or make an informed, data driven decision for less than a $100/month that gives them access to immediate, usable information with openly available tools.


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