Jul 12 2019
Basis Technologies

Evaluating the Role of PPC Competition in Your Google Adwords Audit


PPC competition is a huge factor when it comes to advertising performance. Most advertisers perform paid search competitor analysis when first setting up their campaigns, but few revisit it as a long-term consideration in campaign performance. When you only focus on your account strategy, you overlook opportunities to adjust to competitor changes. If your campaigns aren’t performing the way you expected, changes in your PPC competition could be the cause. Here’s how to consider this in your Google Adwords audit, and make the right changes to optimize.

Evaluate Ad Rank and Impression Share

Google Ads provides free internal tools you can use to see how your ads are performing compared to the competition. To access these reports:

  1. Click the Campaigns, Ad groups, or Keywords page
  2. Select a specific campaign, ad group or keyword
  3. Click on Auction Insights 

The Auction Insights report includes valuable data such as:

  • Impression Share
  • Average Position
  • Overlap Rate
  • Position Above Rate
  • Top of Page Rate

If changes in PPC competition are responsible for your performance issues, these metrics will likely show it. Impression share data shows how much visibility your ads are getting compared to your competitors, including Search Impr. share, Search Lost IS (rank), Search Lost IS (budget) and Search. If your budget, Quality Score, or bids are preventing your ads from getting impressions, they’ll perform poorly on these metrics.

For example, if your Search Impr. Share is 80%, that means you’re capturing the majority of impressions. If your Search Impr. Share is 40%, then there could be a lot of competitors bidding on the same terms, or your budget is too low. Search Lost IS (rank) and Search Lost IS (budget) will help you understand which of these issues are responsible for low impression share.

Overlap rate will show you how often you and your competitors are appearing in the same auction for search results, while Outranking share shows you how often you outrank competitors when you appear in the same auction. 

Auction Insights allows you to segment these statistics by Device or Time as well. So if competitors are performing better in auctions on mobile devices, that gives you a clue as to their device targeting strategy. Same applies to performance differences at different times of day.

Evaluate Ad Copy

Bid strategy and keyword targeting could be responsible for performance issues with your PPC competition, but it could also easily be your ad copy message. If their ad copy is more relevant and better at driving clicks, this can affect your relative ad rank and performance immensely. 

One way you can evaluate competitor ad copy is using Google’s Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool. It shows you what ads are appearing for a keyword you’re targeting. There are also many third party tools that can show you competitor ad copy and give insights into their strategy. Spyfu and SEMrush can show you competitor ads from as recent as a month ago. 

Here are some important points to pay attention to with your competitor ad copy: 

  • Unique selling proposition (USP) - Is it sufficiently unique from yours? Does it do a better job of capturing your audience’s attention? Does their USP contradict yours? 
  • What strategies are they using to encourage clicks? Are they highlighting an offer or using a special ad extension? 
  • How relevant is their landing page to their ad copy? What strategies are they using on their landing page to encourage conversions? 

While landing page content isn’t an element of their ad copy, it does have a huge impact on bounce rate. This is an important metric Google Ads uses to calculate Quality Score, which in turn affects ad rank.

Evaluate PPC Competitor Keyword Targeting

Most marketing managers ignore PPC competitor keyword targeting when building their own keyword lists. They focus on including all the most relevant terms that align with their ideal customer’s needs. But often the best keywords have a lot of PPC competition, and targeting too many highly competitive keywords will use up your budget quickly, leading to a high cost per acquisition (CPA) and poor performance overall. Auditing PPC competitor keywords is important when building keyword lists and when evaluating campaign performance down the road. As competitor targeting strategies change, keywords can become more or less difficult to effectively rank for.

The metrics mentioned in the Auction Insights report can help you determine if a lot of other PPC marketers are competing with you for the same keywords. Third party tools can also provide more insights into the competitive landscape of keyword targeting. 

In addition to ad copy insights, Spyfu shows you which keywords your competition is bidding on and how they perform. All you have to do is type in a competitor URL and it will bring back their Google Ads budget, paid keywords, ad position, and clicks per day. If you use the paid version, you can also see keyword overlap and other advanced statistics. KeywordSpy is another helpful tool that shows you competitor keywords, domains, and ad copy. It also suggests new keyword and ad combinations based on competitor analysis.

Ways to Improve Paid Search Performance Against the Competition 

Having some idea of your competition’s strategy and targeting can provide valuable insights to improve your own campaigns. It’s a bad idea to simply copy competitor strategies - instead use paid search competitor analysis to inspire new ways to optimize. 

For example: 

  • Maybe their ad message includes a selling point that you could present better
  • Maybe they’re targeting some valuable keywords that you missed 
  • Maybe something’s missing from their ad copy or strategy that you can capitalize on 

There are lots of ways to use your knowledge of PPC competition to improve paid search performance. Here are a few examples:

1. Optimize your account structure

If competitor ads are consistently outperforming yours, it could be because they have a better, more targeted campaign structure. In general, the more specific your campaigns are to promoting different products or services, the more relevant your targeting. 

It makes sense for even the smallest businesses to have more than one campaign to target audiences. Having too many ad groups and targeting too many keywords within one campaign makes it difficult to prioritize promoting your most valuable products or services. 

Creating separate campaigns also makes it easier to optimize for different audiences you want to target. For example, having different campaigns for different countries you target allows you better control over country-specific bids. You can also include relevant location-based keywords for each campaign.

If your account currently only has one or a few campaigns, consider how you could create more. Is there anything you would change about your bidding or targeting strategy if some of your current ad groups were in different campaigns? This could be the key to outperforming the competition with more relevant, targeted ads.

2. Improve keyword targeting

If you find PPC competitor keyword targeting is a problem in your Google Adwords audit, then you need to make changes to your keyword lists and targeting strategy. Start by identifying your highest cost keywords. Are they driving a good number of acquisitions? Is their CPA acceptable for your marketing goals? Outliers could be pushing your overall CPA up, and should be removed from your keyword lists. 

You can also beat out the competition with keyword targeting by creating better ad groups. If all the keywords in an ad group are closely related, they’ll also be more relevant to the ad copy your PPC ads deliver to audiences. Creating intelligent ad groups can improve click-through rates, ad rank, and overall performance.

3. Improve your bidding strategy

One aspect of competitor strategies that changes most is bids. Thanks to automated bidding technologies, advertisers can make many micro-changes in their bidding strategy to take advantage of the market. 

As mentioned earlier, the Auction Insights report can give you some idea if competitor ads are outranking yours because of their bidding strategy. If they’re using time of day, device, or audience bid adjustments to outperform your ads, you can adopt a similar strategy to beat out the competition. Say competitors are outperforming you on mobile, for example. Create a campaign experiment, then create a +15% bid adjustment for mobile. 

Use this bid adjustment with a portion of your audience to see if it improves your search impression share or conversions. If it doesn’t, then likely ad quality and relevance are a problem.

If you can’t identify any clear patterns in how the PPC competition is outbidding you, it could be because more of them are adopting automated bidding. Bid automation tools can process large amounts of relevant business and bid landscape data to make informed changes to your bidding strategy. To see if this is the case, you can create a duplicate campaign in Google Ads and choose an automated bidding strategy to see if that improves your ad rank compared to the PPC competition.

4. Improve ad copy targeting

If competitor ad copy outperforms yours, then making changes to improve ad copy targeting could fix your PPC performance issues. Here are some important areas to focus on when assessing your own ads:

  • Is your call-to-action effective? 
  • Can your USP be improved? 
  • Is your landing page URL functional? 
  • Is the landing page content optimized for the related ad copy? 

The goal here is not to emulate your competitors, but to take advantage of opportunities to stand out from them. Is there anything you can incorporate into your landing pages to improve conversions that your competitors haven’t thought about? 

You should also make sure you’re using ad copy elements to their fullest extent to drive conversions. Clickthrough rate is another important factor impacting Quality Score and ad rank. 

Consider what ad elements your competitors are using, and which ones would be relevant to your business:

  • Site links 
  • Location extensions 
  • Call out extensions
  • Review extensions 
  • Call extensions 
  • Structured Snippet extensions

Ad extensions is one area where you really should emulate the competition if they’re outperforming you. For example, if your competitors have a higher impression share on mobile devices, it could be because they’re using call extensions or other copy elements to optimize their ad for mobile. You should test out using the same extensions with a unique call-to-action to stand out from the competition.

Always Consider PPC Competition in Your Google Adwords Audit 

It’s easy for account managers to forget about paid search competitor analysis after launching a new campaign. But if you want to stay ahead of the PPC competition, it’s important to conduct regular audits of their changing strategies. Understanding how competitor strategies affect your own campaign performance offers invaluable insights to improve targeting and budget spend efficiency. So incorporate competitor analysis into your campaign audit routine overall. You can also take advantage of bidding technologies to automatically make adjustments based on constant changes in the competitive landscape.