Spy vs. Spy: 4 Tips to Use Auction Insights for Smarter PPC

Have your CPCs been rising, or your conversion volume declining overtime? If so, your competitors may be making moves. Tracking and analyzing your PPC performance is critical, and you can’t truly know how you’re doing without an account analysis tool like Auction Insights. This tool will give you a benchmark for your performance, and then show you how you stack up against competitors. This is information that can help you make smart decisions – and ultimately lead you to the “winning” side of things.

Today we’re looking at:

  1. Where to find the Auction Insights tool, and which metrics (fields) in the tool will be most helpful
  2. 3 tips to help you focus your efforts
  3. An example of one advanced use of the tool

3 Sources of Change: Account, Search Behavior, and Competition

Driving performance in digital marketing is about learning from change. Be excited when metrics in your account change, because good or bad, it’s an opportunity to learn. Hopefully your tests are driving the change. Improved landing page? Should see an increase in conversion rate. Create a kick-butt ad? Hope to see an increase in click-through rate.

Before jumping into competitive analysis, it’s important to rule out the other sources of change. Good news, though there are hundreds of factors that can cause change, there are three fundamental sources of performance changes. And there are easy to use tools to troubleshoot each source.

Source of Change Examples Troubleshooting Tool
1. Account
  • Increase bids drive position and click volume
  • Add keywords
  • Change targeting settings
  • Keyword disapproval
Change History
2. Consumer search behavior 
  • Fewer searches due to weekend
  • More searches due to seasonal event
  • News event drives spike in searches
  • Gradual shift in search or buying behavior
Top Mover

Traffic in Bing Ad Intelligence

3. Competitors
  • Agressive bids
  • Decreased budget showing fewer impressions
Auction Insights

Account changes are easy to undo. You can’t change consumer search behavior without significant investment. What about competition? You can’t control the competition, but you can react to it.

Symptoms of Increased Competition

The symptoms of increased competition can show up in a number of ways. The most common symptoms of increased competition are:

  1. Higher CPC driving a higher CPA (if your conversion rate is lower that’s usually something else)
  2. Lower position driving lower conversion and click volume

If you see one of these problems, that’s where Auction Insights comes in.

Where to Find the Auction Insights Tool in the UI

The tool is available right in your “Keywords” tab, under the “Details” menu in both the Google AdWords and Bing Ads UI. You can generate a report for keywords, ad group, or campaign, as long as you’ve met a minimum threshold of activity.


Now that you’ve found the report, let’s go through a few tips to help you get the most of it.

Tip #1: Use Auction Insights One Keyword at a Time at First

A common rookie move is loading the tool with all 3,000 of your keywords. More than a handful of keywords can be misleading – the data is based on impressions, a single high-volume impression keyword with a different set of keywords a cloud the data. Drilling into the top terms will give you a solid picture of the competitive landscape. Typically, you’ll want to analyze your top-performing or top-priority keywords from brand terms to keywords you just added because your CMO says it’s a must.

When possible analyze one keyword at a time.

Tip #2: Use Competitive Metrics for Identifying Your Top Competition

Now that you’ve picked your keyword(s), it’s important you know what you’re looking at. The two important competitive benchmarking metrics that show up in the auction insights report are Overlap Rate and Position Above Rate. Use them to monitor progress, but also to identify your competition.

  • Overlap Rate – Tells you the percentage of time competitors’ ads showed up on the search results page when your ad was shown. The higher your overlap rate, the more competition you face from their competitor. Any competition that share an Overlap Rate of more than 25 percent, pay attention to.
  • Position Above Rate – The percentage of time competitors’ ads showed up higher than your ads on the search results page. The more they’re above you, the more work you’ve got to do.
  • Impression Share – One of my favorite metrics, Impression Share, will tell you what share of searches you’re showing up for. If your impression share is low pull a Share of Voice report to get specific details on what you should change.

Tip #3: Be Aware of Your Quality Score

And remember, a huge chunk of quality score is a competitive CTR benchmark – how well is your ad performing versus the competition. So combining quality score and auction insights is powerful.

If your quality score is 10/10 for the keyword, you have little room for improvement in CTR. Focus on bids and targeting. If your quality score is 2/10, focus on better ads, negatives, and potentially restructuring the campaign.

Pro Tip: Compare Different Time Frames on the Same Keyword

In addition to providing look in to the previously-mentioned metrics, the Auction Insights report can be a valuable tool in troubleshooting the occasional CPA spike at the Keyword, Ad Group, or even Campaign level. This is best done by identifying inflection points in your account performance- points where your CPA takes a noticeable turn for the worse, in this case.

Like so:


In this particular account, we’ve identified that CPA performance for this keyword has taken a jump starting on January 16. We see a brief relapse back to our normal CPA for this keyword, but as of the last seven days, it went haywire. There are no bid, budget, or targeting changes on our end to account for this, so what happened?

Here’s the Auction Insights report from before the CPA increase, looking at January 12 – January 18.


And after, looking at January 19 – 25…


And we see an immediate difference in our competitive landscape. While we see Competitor #4 dropping out of the marketplace, we have five new competitors entering the space to replace them.

In addition, several of our existing competitors have become more aggressive – Competitors #1, #2, and #5 all see an increase in both Overlap Rate and Position Above Rate – meaning that we’re competing against them more often, and they’re now showing above us more often, too. Recognizing what’s going on here helps us understand the CPA spike, and how we should or shouldn’t respond.

Combining Auction Insights in different time periods gives you incredible insights.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you use the Auction Insights tool? What do you think of it?

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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