How To Spy On Your Competitors Like A Pro
We have briefly touched on spying on your competitors in previous blog posts, but now we are about to tell you how to efficiently do it yourself. You know who your competitors are - you saw them on Google search, heard about them from clients, they target you on social media and display.
You think you know who they are but do you also know how much they spend on PPC, what chunk of your traffic they steal and what all of their ads are? Have you checked the keywords they target and whether they utilise different strategies and audiences on desktop and mobile? Do you know how many back links they have, keywords bringing organic traffic and even how many organic visitors they get each month? If you don't know any of the above, keep reading because you're about to find out how to professionally spy on your competitors.
Unlike other articles on the topic, this post won't be recommending any tools to spy and track your competitors. Instead, you will learn how to identify them, how to keep track of their performance and what metrics matter when you're trying to get an objective overview of the market landscape.
Competitor PPC Spend. This is one of the most valued insights we provide for our clients - what their competitors spend and how that compares to our clients' budget. Before you even decide to spend anything on ads, you need to make sure you can be competitive and know your market. Preparing to launch a PPC campaign does not end with keyword planner - you should have accurate estimates of how much your competitors spend and who they are.
A good way to check who bids on your terms is to simply google it. Use different devices, incognito mode as well as different Google profiles, if you think this is relevant to your product. If you are a 50 year old man who runs an online business selling shoes and clothes for women, naturally competitors would bid lower or even exclude you from their marketing campaigns. Create a new identity for yourself while mystery shopping, matching your target demographic. It's worth doing that not only on a Google profile, but also on social media, for the sake of being targeted with ads.
Once you know who your competitors are, dig into their PPC spend. There are different tools which give you historical metrics on a website's ad spend per device, ad copy, display placement and other valuable insights. Below is a snapshot of a PPC report we did for a client. The metrics below are for a gambling company and an overview of their ad spend in Germany, specifically on desktop.
You can use the number and variety of keywords to determine what bidding strategy your competitors are using, the terms which work for them, whether they utilize different landing pages, what their search ads copy says and much more. You could even go back in time and track how competitor spend has changed. If you make the most our of your PPC research, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort and money on testing your ads campaigns. Some tools even show you the text and image ads certain websites use. Below is an example of the same ad variation in different sizes.
Competitors on your Google Ads account. Once you start running your google campaigns you should keep track of everyone directly affecting your performance. The above research is a great place to start, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone you came across would directly compete with you. More importantly, you could be missing out on new competitors. The best and most reliable method of checking who bids on your terms is through your Google Ads account. Navigate to the campaign or account you want to analyse. Click into Auction Insights on the left hand side and you should see the report below.
This report gives you valuable insight on who you overlap with, how often their ads show above yours and how often your ads and your competitors' show on top of the page. Impression share, showing how many times your ad was displayed when it was eligible to show, is another important metric you should keep an eye on. Knowing the above is great, but what is even better is regularly tracking your competitors, making sure you know who dropped out and just popped up.
You can do that by putting your daily, weekly or monthly performance into a Google sheet and tracking every metric individually. Below you can see an example of a report we do for a client, this sheet particularly tracking what percentage of impression share every competitor serves on a weekly basis, for a certain keyword in their campaign. To protect the data and client identity we have hidden some of the websites, but you can clearly see in the last column that some new competitors have just arrived in May, while others have dropped off and served 0% impression share.
This is valuable because it shows a reduction or increase in spend for the keywords, campaigns or accounts you track. If you have had a few difficult days or even weeks, dig into your auction report and check if your competitors bid more aggressively, how their position on Top and Abs Top has changed. Using the above auction insights reports will include any new competitors and show the day or week when a website dropped from PPC.
Organic traffic & keywords - Spying on your competitors does not end with their Google ads and marketing spend. You may end up severely underestimating a business if you only judge them by their PPC performance. Once you know how much someone spends on ads, you need to work out their organic traffic, keywords they rank for and how they got there, i.e their backlinks, overall website performance, DA and other SEO factors. This would help you accurately evaluate their performance and work out why they may choose some channels over others.
There are multiple tools to measure a website's organic metrics, links and visits. Whatever tools you use, the main part of your competitor SEO audit should look something like the below examples. Firstly, get an estimate of their top keywords, keyword rank distribution across SERPs, as well as which countries they rank in.
Above you can see a snapshot of a competitor organic overview - their estimated organic traffic in the UK is approximately 1,200 visits on desktop.You can also see the number of backlinks, display ads, an estimated spend on Google search, as well as targeted countries.
Next, you'd need to check their backlinks. This will give you a valuable information to not only reverse-engineer those backlinks and use for your website, but it will also show you what your chances of ranking are. For example, if a competitor has 35,000 links from 10 domains, you can be absolutely sure that they are using a link farm. Our reports come with a detailed list of indexed backlinks, so you can examine and utilise all sources competitors are taking advantage of. A very high number of Follow links is another evidence that your competitors are using a link farm.
Social Media Presence and Ads. Social Media ads are as important as PPC, especially if your business heavily depends on social media. A company's profile says a lot about its values, USP, tone of voice and it clearly shows engagement. The comments section could give you valuable insights on what your competitors are lacking or where your entire industry could use some improvement. There are many and different tools to utilise when spying on competitors on social media.
A good, accurate and free way to peak into competitors' ads is the Facebook Ads library. It shows you the ads a page is running, what landing pages they're using, as well as the platform they're showing it on. To find out, simply go to a page, navigate to Page Transparency panel, click on See more and scroll down, then navigate to the Ads Library. You can view and filter competitor ads by country, platform and impressions by date. Click into See Ad Details to check out different ad variations.
It's important to not only be aware of who your competitors are and what they do, but to also track and record their performance and strategy. Knowing how other similar businesses navigate the market gives you the advantage of learning from their mistakes, saving you time, money and effort. Your business can take advantage of competitors' strategies by closely monitoring their performance and replicating successful competitor campaigns. If you can't copy them, make sure your offer is better.
If you need some help or have any questions about the process or tools you could use to spy on competitors, drop a comment or leave us a message, we will be happy to help.