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How to Create an Effective PPC Competitive Intelligence Report in 3 Easy Steps

Purna Virji
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Competitor KeyRaise your hand if you’ve seen your costs slowly but steadily increasing over the years while also losing some market share to your competitors.

Let’s face it, not only is PPC getting more competitive, but the competition is getting smarter.

How can we defend against rising costs and remain a step ahead? It’s simple. We just leverage the hard work of our competitors in our favor.

Enter the competitive intelligence report. This research document will be vital in helping you do more of what works and identify any weak spots.

Running competitive intelligence reports at regular intervals can be incredibly powerful in helping guide your own strategies. The insights from this report can help you:

  • Optimize your creative testing process.
  • Fine-tune your bidding strategies.
  • Find new keywords and placements.
  • Tailor your offer or pricing to be more competitive.

These learnings can have an incredibly tremendous impact on your PPC account; it’s worth building this into your regular processes and re-running them once every six to eight weeks.

Especially if you're taking on a new client, it’s critical to learn how the company is stacking up against their competitors before you begin the main optimizations. After all, even the best media optimizations won’t work for your new client if their competitors have much more interesting offers or stronger ad copy. Thus, seeing what’s out there will help you poise your client for even greater success.

Here’s the best way to get started.

1. Decide Who Gets on the List

For the report to yield the best results, it’s critical to find the right “competitors” to research. You’ll get the best learnings by looking at more than just direct competitors though. Put together a list that includes both successful direct competitors who are very active in PPC as well as top companies in a similar industry or with the same business model.

This will give you a well-rounded mix of strategies and tactics, allowing you to take successful tactics from other areas and apply them to your space.

2. Ask the Right Questions

Decide what the ultimate use is for this report. What do you most hope to gain from it?

That will help you compile the list of “questions” or areas you want to explore. Ultimately, we want to see how we compare against the competition so we can leverage best practices and enhance our current performance.

Examples of questions would be:

  • What are the prevalent themes across the ad copy?
  • How are they positioning their product – is it based on USP, price or special discount?
  • Are they using ad extensions?
  • Are any sales being offered?
  • How do they position their ad copy for branded searches vs. non-branded?
  • What is their sales offer?
  • What type of content do they have on their landing pages?
  • What keywords are they bidding on?
  • What’s their average CPC and budget?
  • Do they bid on their competitors’ keywords?
  • How do they react to seasonal changes?
  • What tests have my competitors been running, and what can I learn from them?

A good tool to help you answer some of the questions posed is SpyFu. Although SpyFu is helpful for looking at the keywords being bid on and ad copy, you should take the budget and cost data with a grain of salt as it isn’t always 100 percent accurate.

Most Successful Advertisers and Their Best Ads

3. Putting it All Together in an Actionable Report

For all that valuable research to be easy to read and digest, putting it together in an efficient manner is really important. Excel is the recommended tool of choice to help facilitate this. Essentially, you want to plot on the grid all the different metrics you want to look at for the different competitors.

There are two views to take here:

  • For a top-level overview of the competitive landscape, make the columns your individual metrics that you want to track such as ad copy, top keywords, offer, landing page, CPC, etc. Then fill in the rows with the companies on your list, starting with your company at the top to help you compare.
    Remember to fill out the rows for both categories of ads – branded and non-branded.

Competitive Intelligence Report Overview

  • If you want to really drill down deeper into what the competitor is doing, create additional tabs for each of the top three to five competitors that will cover different keywords and related ads and landing pages. This drilled-down version will also allow you to identify if your competitors have been running any tests.
    Testing can be intuited by looking at the recent history of ads they have run—have there been a few different versions of an ad running until one was settled upon? That will indicate a winning ad test and could be something you can leverage to your advantage.

Competitive Intelligence Report Drilldown

Now that you have the report, you can create a plan of action for optimizing your PPC account. Often from the report you’ll find some clear trend standing out, for example:

  • Some of the top competitors are using review extensions in their ads, which is not only providing social proof but also taking up more real estate.
  • All the competitors are offering free shipping both ways, so in order to stay competitive it’s probably not recommended to continue to charge $10 for shipping.
  • Keywords are being bid on by several of your competitors that you don’t target, so you could expand your reach by adding them to your account.
  • You’re looking at non-direct competitors, but other top players in the industry are offering a bonus with purchase – it would be worth you testing it as well.

Prioritize the action items and tests gleaned from this report in addition to any media optimizations and you'll be well on your way to PPC success here.

Do you have any other tips or tactics that you use? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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