Who Your Paid Search Competition Is & What To Do About It: Answers to the 2 Biggest Competition Issues Facing Marketing Managers in 2019

We asked Marketing Managers from start-ups to FTSE 200 companies to tell us the largest issues they face in PPC today. Our sample included B2B businesses as well as more traditional ecommerce.

This article is part two of a four part series, trying to address those issues.

In this series, we’ll be answering the predominant issues facing marketing managers in 2019, covering:

  •     Performance
  •     Competitors (this article!)
  •     Attribution (coming soon!)
  •     Account management (coming soon!)

The competitor issues addressed in this article:

  1. How to determine who your competition is on Google
  2. What to do when you enter a bidding war with your competition

How to Determine who your Competition is on Google

If you have an account structure that clearly differentiates between different types of activity, this one is fairly easy to answer.

For example, you have campaigns divided into Brand and Non-Brand, and by different product.

If not, you can still see who your competition is – you will just have to filter for different keywords within the interface.

1. Before You Start

Bear in mind that auction insights data can be heavily sampled, and so should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

Google is never going to give you a 100% transparent view into what your competitors are doing.

However, the PPC community see correlations often enough and strong enough between changes in competitor activity and performance, that it does seem a legitimate source of information.

Once you have navigated to the auction insights section of the Google Ads interface (use the search bar if you can’t find it), think carefully about which campaigns and data you are going to analyse.

You need to look at Brand, Non-Brand, and any other meaningful splits separately.

 That is why I mentioned how much easier this will be if your campaigns are already laid out as such.

Aggregating together data from campaigns and keywords that are distinctly different from a searcher’s and a performance perspective will not provide you with an accurate view on what’s happening in your account.

For example, if the majority of your traffic is through Non-Brand, by aggregating this with your Brand, you might miss the fact that one competitor in particular is increasing their presence on your Brand terms.

Clearly that could have a large impact on your results overall, especially if it goes unchecked.

As an aside, many advertisers choose not to run paid ads on their brand terms, because they are confident that organic search will pick up the traffic. However, you cannot see who is bidding in which auctions unless you are also bidding in them.

That means, if you want to determine who is bidding on your brand, other than manually and unreliably scraping Google search results, you can temporarily run ads on keywords containing your brand name.

For example, you can do that for a few hour periods throughout the day for a couple of weeks. Your CPCs will be low, and it will give you reassurance as to whether anyone is bidding on your terms.

That is a practice you might want to repeat during different periods of the year, or maintain a small presence on Brand (i.e. run activity with very low budgets) to check in on whether anyone starts to appear there.

2. How to Interpret Auction Insights Data

Below are the metrics that are present within the auction insights section of the interface, and what they mean.

It is crucial to know how to interpret these in order to know who your real competition is, and who has just splurged a load of money one week by accident.

Impression share – how often, out of the number of times you were eligible to appear, you actually appeared.

Looking at competitor’s impression share will indicate your relative market saturation (within Google search anyway).

In isolation however, without looking at the other metrics, it will not tell you much about their strategy.

Overlap rate – how often, out of the number of times your ad appeared, that it appeared alongside a competitor.

If your overlap rate with a specific competitor increases, then you know that you are increasingly often in direct competition with this competitor.

That is useful for diagnosing otherwise unexplained changes in CTR for example – and would signal the opportunity to run an ad audit on your competitors.

Position above rate – how often your ad appeared above a competitor’s, when they both appeared in the same auction.

This metric is important if you have a competitor in particular who you want to make sure you dominate; it is less useful for determining whether you are dominating the search results page.

The next metrics are more useful for this.

Top & abs. top of page rate – these two metrics will tell you how often you appeared above the organic results (i.e. the top of the results page), and how often you appeared as the first item on the results page (i.e. the abs. top of the results page).

Fluctuations in these metrics will give you an idea of how much you are dominating searches.

They are also useful for determining the cause of CPC increases. For example, a competitor’s impression share may stay the same but they have raised their CPCs, putting pressure on yours.

You’d be able to deduce this if their top of page rates have increased. If those rates increase and their impression share remains stable, that’s indicative of them not being limited by budget.

3. Limitations & Useful Tools

Frustratingly, you cannot easily compare time periods with auction insights data like you can with other metrics.

There are a couple of manual ways of handling this: firstly you can duplicate the tab and change your data range, switching between the two. That’s relatively painless if you have two monitors.

Secondly, you can set your date range to cover the whole period you wanted to look at and then segment by day or week.

For example, to compare week on week, set the start date as 2 weeks ago, and the finish date as yesterday. Then in the interface you can segment by week or by day, and view the data that way.

It won’t average it over the time periods, but it’ll give you an idea of how the stats have changed within the whole time period.

The other option is to use an auction insights tool like this one, which will show you top competition over whatever date range you pulled the data from.

This is great in terms of a visual representation of how things have changed, but a few limitations: it will only show the top 6 competitors within a period, so if you are comparing over a year for example, it may be that a more recent competitor has emerged but they won’t be graphed.

Also, you still need to manually figure out which points on the graph to compare in order to get a period on period comparison.

That is, if you start at September 2018 and finish at September 2019, you need to compare the left and rightmost points on the graph, which isn’t easy to do by eye.

How to Handle a Bidding War with your Competition

Firstly determine which terms the bidding war is on – is it your own brand terms, or is it more generic non-brand terms?

Your response will be very different depending on where you are competing with them.

1. Competing on Non-Brand Terms

If your resources are limited, and a competitor is squeezing your budget, simply assess which areas are the most valuable for you to cover.

For example, if there is a set of keywords in particular that drive most of your revenue then focus on dominating those. Once you’ve increased your revenue enough you can begin to compete on the more competitive terms.

Focusing on one set of keywords or campaigns also will give you test ad copy, landing pages, and the various facets of quality score, in a less competitive environment.

This will give you an advantage when you try to compete more aggressively on the competitive terms.

It is a good idea however to keep some presence on the more competitive terms, as this will give you access to auction insights data.

Should the competitor who has been squeezing you out suddenly drop their spend or change strategy, then you’ll be able to see it. At that point you can swoop in and maximise on hopefully cheaper impression share.

So, consider reducing your bids and budgets on these terms, but not cutting them out entirely.

If you are being squeezed out of the market, it could also be time to step up your remarketing game.

Each click is precious when you’re limited by budget, and so the more present you can be (within reason!) for those people after they’ve left your site, the less likely you are to lose conversions.

You can improve your remarketing for Google Search, as well as GDN, and on other platforms like Facebook.

For example, to be serious about remarketing, you should be using different ads (in both Search and GDN) for previous visitors depending on their previous interactions.

2. Competing on Brand Terms

Obviously you cannot stop someone from bidding on your brand terms, but there are a few steps you can take to ensure the damage to your performance is minimal.

2a. Check for copyright infringement in their ads

If someone is bidding on your brand terms, determine what their ad copy looks like if you can. If they are using any copyright infringement then you can escalate that to Google and get their ads taken down.

2b. Assess whether you are at 100% impression share on your brand terms.

If you are not, adjust either your bids or your budgets (depending on whether you are losing impression share to rank or to budget), and make sure you are as present as possible.

2c. Contact the competitor

To deter someone from bidding on your brand, a legitimate technique that big agencies use is to simply contact the company.

If your company name contains words or phrases associated with your industry, the competitor might just be capturing your brand terms in Broad match generic KWs in their account accidentally.

2d. Consider bidding on their Brand

If you have contacted them, or decided that wasn’t appropriate, consider bidding on their Brand instead.

When a competitor has been bidding on your terms for a significant period of time, this will have cost them a large amount in CPCs (let’s say approximately 10-20x more than bidding on your own brand terms would be per click).

Unless their Google Ads accounts are being run terribly, that must mean they are seeing some commercial value out of it.

There’s a good chance therefore that you would see the same if you bid on their terms.

We find this is particularly the case in the B2B sector, whereby product offerings aren’t necessarily as subject to brand loyalty or personal taste as B2C ecommerce.

Read the other parts of this series, where we address the other main issues facing Marketing Managers:

  •   Performance
  •   Attribution (coming soon!)
  •   Account management (coming soon!)

Let us know through our contact page or in the comments below which issues you are facing in your PPC accounts, and we’ll see if we can help.

Amy Hawkins
About Amy Hawkins

Amy joined Clicteq in March 2019 as a Paid Search Account Manager. She has a wealth of experience in managing enterprise retail and lead generation paid search accounts including BMW, Hive, Secret Escapes and iRobot.

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