Competitive Intelligence - Part V: Paid Media Research

Now that we have looked at your competition’s on and off-site SEO efforts it is time to start looking into their paid advertising campaigns. Online paid media spending generally falls into two categories: Pay per click (PPC) and display (banner or video-based) ads. Of the two, PPC ads are generally easier to research since they appear primarily on search engine results pages.

PPC Research

You probably have some idea, based on your SEO research, of whether or not your competitors are running PPC ads. If you have seen a few of their ads showing up in search results for your keywords, chances are they have a broader campaign that is worth looking into. There are a number of things to look at when you are researching a PPC campaign. The big picture questions have to do with size and scope: Approximately how much are they spending, and how many keywords are they bidding on? Once you have an handle on those basic questions you can dig into details like their approach to ad copy, use of geo-targeting, mobile tactics, and landing pages. As with organic search, Spyfu, SEMRush, and Ahrefs all provide competitive reporting on paid search campaigns. You can get top-level estimates of campaign spend and keyword coverage from Spyfu and SEMRush without an account. To run your search:
  • Spyfu: From the homepage, search for your competitor’s domain and click on PPC Research.
  • SEMRush: Similar process. Search for your competitor’s domain, then click on Advertising Research in the left hand navigation or in the report interface.
  • Ahrefs: Go to the Positions Explorer page and search for your competitor’s domain. From there, click on PPC Research to view the list.
There are a variety of factors that make PPC campaigns difficult to track with complete accuracy (ad scheduling, budget constraints, geo-targeting, etc.). Cost data, in particular, can be very difficult to pin down. As a result, it is a good idea to check multiple sources for campaign budget and keyword data and use their estimates as guidelines. Take AuthorityLabs for example. Spyfu reports an estimated budget of $1,960 per month, while SEMRush says $675. For paid keywords, Spyfu shows 657, and SEMRush says 360. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. There are a few services out there that monitor the banner advertising universe. In the same way that AuthorityLabs or SEMRush track search engine rankings, these companies use web crawlers to monitor the display ads that appear across a massive set of websites. What Runs Where, and Adbeat are two of the major players. Unfortunately, neither of them offers a free version (although What Runs Where has a $1 trial). One service that does: If you would like to collect some samples of your competitor’s banner ads, Moat is probably the way to go. Search for ‘IBM’ for example, and Moat returns a set over over 1500 ad creatives. One thing to note however, their inventory is great for big name brands, but much more limited when it comes to smaller players. If you primarily compete with smaller companies you may not be able to find much. If you would like to dig deeper into the competition’s ad performance, ad networks, budgets, and most successful publishers, you will probably need to use one of the paid services. Moat has a pro level that provides more advanced analysis, primarily focused on ad creatives and placements. What Runs Where and Adbeat’s services cover a wider range, delving a little deeper into things like ad performance, version testing, and landing pages. At this point, you should have a clear picture of your competitor’s web presence and business strategy. The next step is to create a system you can use to easily stay informed as your competitors’ business evolves.


Continue to Part VI: Using AuthorityLabs > Back To All Guides >
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