Are Competitors Clicking on Your PPC Ads?

by Helen Overland

Almost all advertisers who run PPC campaigns have had the sneaking suspicion that competitors are clicking on their ads. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out if they really are? And wouldn't it fascinating to know what keywords your competitors are clicking on, and gain insight into their interests over time? Here's a tightly-packed introduction to tracking your competitors' search activities.

If your organization is using the Google Analytics (GA) platform to monitor traffic, you can find out if your competitors are clicking on your PPC ads and which keywords they clicked on.

Now, GA doesn't allow us to identify an individual through its system. However, the platform tracks and records the "network location" of each visitor on your site. Many businesses, especially large organizations or highly technical ones, tend to have their business name as their network name. Therefore, you can use this information to help identify your competitors' activities.

As long as you have a GA account that tracks your AdWords ads, and your competitors have their business name set as their network name, you can easily find out which ads they clicked on, and you can even look retroactively at other data.

Step 1: Set Up a Custom Report

To find out if your competitors are clicking on your ads, simply log in to your GA account and create a new custom report. The report can use whatever metrics you choose, but a few good choices are "entrances," "pages/visit," and "goal conversion rate." In a GA custom report, a "metric" is the data that will be measured.

When building the custom report, it is very important to use the correct dimensions. The dimensions sort the data in your report and allow you to drill down further.

For this report, the first dimension should be set to "network location." This will allow the GA reporting system to drill down into the activity of each network location tracked by the system.

The second dimension included in the report should be set to "keyword." Once you identify which networks have clicked on a PPC ad, you can see exactly which keywords the visitors from that network clicked on.

Step 2: Narrow Your Focus

Once your report has been created, simply run the report. You should see a list of network location names, many of which are the generic network names of ISPs that people use to access the Internet. A few of these network locations may be the familiar names of your competitors, and these are the visitors we are interested in.

At this point, however, if you're not running the report on a profile that only includes PPC traffic, you are still looking at visitors who may have clicked on an organic listing. To run the report for paid visitors only, use the advanced segments function. Click on the drop-down menu, check "paid traffic," and un-click "all visits." Now you're looking at a list of networks that have arrived on your website through a paid ad.

Step 3: Identify the Keywords

If you can identify your competitors in this list, you can now find out which keywords the people from each network clicked on. Just click on the network location in the report to drill down further. If people from that network clicked on a search ad, you will see each keyword in the report, along with how many times they clicked on each ad, when they clicked on it, and other valuable information.

Because we also set up the goal conversion rate in the custom report, we can also now see if a competitor generated a conversion. Are your competitors filling out your forms and downloading your white papers? The information could be in here.

Gain the Advantage

What advantage, really, does this information offer? Think of it this way: What is it worth to you to find out what your competitors are interested in, when they are interested in it?

For example, if one of your competitors suddenly starts showing interest in a product or service that you offer (and you know they don't offer something similar), this could be an indication that they are preparing to compete with you. What is that information worth?

Finding out what your competitors are searching for can be a profit-oriented activity. The information you learn will reap benefits over time if you are the more prepared and informed business.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the June Issue of SES Magazine.

Helen Overland is director of search engine marketing with non-linear creations, a technical services and online marketing firm. She's been marketing online for almost a decade and has generated significant results for small and enterprise organizations, including TD Canada Trust, Petro-Canada, and The Canadian Press. Find out more at nonlinearcreations.com.