Unfortunately, no matter what industry you’re in, there’s a good chance you have competitors. In some cases, these competitors can make things quite difficult for you. After all, they’re competitors!
But in other instances, they can actually provide you with a great learning opportunity. This is particularly evident in the realm of PPC keyword research. By studying the tactics used by your competitors, you might be able to learn of better ways to market your own business. Thereby turning competitors into educators.
In this post, we’re going to explore how you can stalk your competitors, using tried and tested keyword research strategies. Put these strategies into action and it won’t be long before your competitors are obsessing over your marketing, wondering why it’s so effective.
Are Tools Just a Waste of Your Money?
Throughout the bulk of this post, we’re going to cover a range of tools that can help you improve your PPC strategy.
Marketing tools tend to get a bad rap. Some people think that they’re a bit of an overindulgence. Especially if you’re already dealing with a tight marketing budget. Why spend money on tools when you can spend it on ads, right?
But taking that stance could be a mistake.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that a lot of these tools provide a free trial option.
If you don’t want to fork out a lot of money, you can test out the strategies mentioned in this post, using the free trials on offer. If you happen to come across one useful keyword/strategy, you may end up generating enough revenue to pay for these tools in the future.
It’s also important to think about how you would do this otherwise.
The truth of the matter is that keyword research is based on finding PPC angles you’re not aware of. You’re trying to find opportunities that your competitors are aware of, but you have yet to exploit.
Without the help of certain marketing tools, it can be hard to figure out exactly what these opportunities are. You can’t just go to Google and type in keywords until you see an ad for your competitor. Taking this approach isn’t really going to work and any time spent doing so would probably be better spent working on your business.
Tools are recommended in this post because they really do make things a lot easier. Not because an attempt is being made to overcomplicate the process.
How to Think About Competitor PPC Keyword Research
We’re going to take a look at some specific strategies in this post. But if you ever want to stray outside of these strategies, it helps to have a framework to appreciate how to go about this process.
In general, there are two main considerations you need to make when conducting PPC keyword research.
The first thing you need to do is identify your competitors. If you don’t know who your competitors are, you can’t study them.
Then, think about how you’re going to discover useful keywords. You can do this using the following two approaches.
- One approach is to identify all the keywords your competitors are bidding on and then bid on those keywords yourself. This is a very basic approach, but it can work. If it works for them, it might work for you.
- The second is to find keywords your competitors should be bidding on, but aren’t. You then bid on these keywords and test the waters.
As we go through the tools in this post, it’s important to remember that those two areas of focus are what we aim to investigate when using the tools.
On a related note, you’ll also want to study the copy and style of the ads and landing pages your competitors are using. This will help you improve the odds of a winning campaign from the start. With that being said, we’ll also look at some tools that’ll help you achieve that too.
SEMrush is a tool that would typically be associated with SEO research. But this tool also has a powerful PPC keyword research suite. Within this suite, there are many tools you can use to identify keywords being used by your competitors. This tool offers a 30-day free trial.
For the sake of this post, let’s suppose we’re going trying to create a PPC campaign for a company that provides software for construction firms. This software is used to help manage the process of a construction project.
The idea here is that we’re going to find the keywords competitors are bidding on. But we’re also going to find keywords they’re not bidding on, of which are likely to provide a good return on investment.
Following that, a good ‘base’ keyword for this term would be ‘construction project management software.’ This is the keyword we’re going to use to inspire the results we discover throughout the rest of this post.
How to Identify Competitors Using SEMrush
Firstly, you need to login to SEMrush and select the ‘Advertising Toolkit,’ from the drop-down menu.
To begin with, let’s type in the keyword ‘construction project management software.’
You should then see a screen like the one below.
Note: Always make sure you select the correct location for your campaign. If you don’t do this, the data might still be relevant in terms of the keywords shown. But everything else is likely going to be quite misleading, due to the difference in location.
It’s also worth noting that SEMrush has more data for some regions than others. This is often due to the capability of the tool and not the nature of competition in your chosen region.
As you can see in the image above, the tool has now returned some general data related to this keyword.
If we scroll down this page, we should the ‘Organic Search Results’ section. But we’ll also see a section known as ‘Ads Copies.’
This section is particularly helpful because it allows us to do two things.
Firstly, it allows us to identify some of the competitors we’re dealing with. But it also lets us review the ad copy being used by competitors.
Here are some of the competitors –
It’s important to note down this information as it can be used to identify a number of things about our competitors later on.
Once you have the URL of a competitor you can use it to identify even more competitors. You can do this by using the ‘Competitors’ option, underneath the Advertising Research header. If you’re going to do this it can be a good idea to use a significant competitor that has a highly similar offering to yours. This will help ensure relevance.
You should then see a screen like the one below.
There may be some irrelevant results to sift through here, but you should still be able to identify competitors that you can study.
How to Find PPC Keywords With SEMrush Using Competitor Data
This process helps you do two things.
- It helps you find opportunistic keywords your competitors aren’t bidding on.
- It also helps you find keywords competitors are bidding on, but seem to look affordable. Because they’re affordable, it means that they’re likely good options for you too.
To get started, go to the Keyword Research section and type in your base keyword. You should then see a screen that resembles the one below.
Scroll down until you see data regarding ‘Phrase Match Keywords’ and ‘Related Keywords.’
These two sections can help us identify keywords that have been neglected by our competitors. We can then swoop in and bid on these keywords, without having to pay excessively high CPC costs.
Note: You’ll notice later that there is something known as the Competition column.
Whilst this is a good indicator of the competition you’ll face when going after keywords, you shouldn’t let it dictate whether you bid on a keyword or not. CPC and volume are better metrics for that. Because of this, we’re not going to focus too much, on this metric. It’s better to test things than let this metric throw you off.
The Phrase Match option is going to help us identify keywords that contain the initial keyword we typed in.
This is helpful as it can help us quickly find some relevant keywords that have the potential to provide a high ROI, because they’re so relevant.
Here are some of the ‘phrase match’ keywords shown.
These keywords look interesting, but they’re a bit jumbled. Let’s refine the results to find some good opportunities.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is adjust the CPC.
In this case, I’m going to set a maximum CPC of $30. Now, $30 CPC is a lot – but for this industry, it isn’t excessive. $30 is a good figure because it’ll help us find relevant keywords. It’s also worth noting that $30 is the maximum, so there are going to be good keywords that cost a lot less than $30.
Here are the results.
As you can see, there are some promising options here.
These keywords look like they’re going to provide a good return, simply because they’re so focused. Plus, because the CPC is relatively low, it’s a good sign competitors aren’t necessarily aware of them. Or at the very least haven’t gotten around to utilizing them fully.
It’s important to note these down and then investigate them at a later point.
The Related Keywords option can help us find keywords that are related to the initial keyword we typed in. These keywords don’t have to contain the base keyword.
This is useful because it can help us find keywords that might not be that obvious when creating a PPC campaign.
Upon first glance, the Related Keywords section can feel like a bit of a mess.
This is because it provides a lot of related keywords. All which means there are a lot of keywords to go through. Again this can make things tedious and inefficient.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to make use of filters once more.
Here are the filters I’ve used.
I’ve set things up this way so that we identify focused keywords that have some volume but aren’t going to be hugely expensive.
Here are the results returned.
As you can see, taking this approach has helped us uncover some very interesting keyword opportunities. Some of them look as though they don’t even have that many competitors bidding on them.
Remember, SEMrush knows what competitors are bidding on. Therefore, it’s able to use competitor data to highlight what your competitors aren’t doing too.
This data is then reflected in the CPC figures and to a certain extent the Competition column. This is why researching keywords this way is a good idea when it comes to studying competitor PPC keyword research.
How to Identify the Keywords Being Used by a Competitor
So we’ve taken a look at how you can use the keyword tool to find keywords that your competitors might be ignoring – or aren’t really doubling down on.
Now let’s take a look at how you can find out exactly which keywords your competitors are bidding on.
To do this, click on the ‘Positions’ option, underneath the ‘Advertising Research’ header.
Then type in the name of a competitor. We’re going to use www.buildtools.com. This is because they’re a significant competitor in this space and so they’ll be able to provide a lot of actionable data.
Once you’ve done this, scroll down and you should see a screen similar to the one below.
This page lets you identify the keywords driving most of the traffic for this competitor. You can also identify which keywords are driving most of the cost.
This can be a lot to digest. One of the main things you’ll want to look out for are keywords that are driving a lot of traffic, but aren’t necessarily representing a lot of ‘cost.’
Here’s a good example.
This keyword is fairly relevant. It represents nearly 9% of traffic, but the costs only amount to around 1.72%. This can represent a good opportunity. If you really want to dig into this data, it can be a good idea to make use of filters.
You’ll also want to do this for a wide range of your competitors so that you end up with a large set of data. This will make it easier to unearth keywords that look promising.
If you click on the ‘Keyword Gap’ tool, you can also compare the keywords being used by two of your competitors.
Once you’ve clicked on this section, select ‘Paid Keywords’ from the drop-down menu. Then enter in two or more competitor URLs.
You then need to click on the ‘venn’ diagram to determine what kind of data you want to be shown.
How you go about this is going to depend on what you want to find out.
The ‘Unique to the first domain’s keywords’ option is going to tell you which keywords are being used only by the first domain.
This can be a good approach if you pick a large competitor with a large PPC budget. You can compare them to everyone else to see if they’ve found anything novel.
The other approach is to identify ‘Common Keywords.’
This option won’t necessarily provide you with a lot of insight, because it’s likely going to tell you stuff you already know. Though the fact that both competitors are targeting these keywords can be a sign that the keywords shown, are producing an ROI.
The ‘Unique Keywords’ approach can provide some interesting insights.
It can show you keywords that are unique to each URL. This can help you find out new/novel keywords a competitor is going after. If the keyword looks good and the CPC looks low, it might represent a good opportunity for you. You can get in on the action whilst the CPC is low.
Here’s an example of results returned, if we use the ‘Unique Keywords’ option. Highlighted is an example of a keyword that’s unique to buildtools.com.
Suppose we take a look at the history of this keyword. If we find that buildtools.com has been targeting this keyword for a long time, it can be a sign it’s working for them. Considering the low CPC, it might be good for us to also target this keyword.
How to Study Competitor Ad Copy Using SEMrush Competitor Data
You can also use this section to improve the quality of your ad copy. If you’re going to go after the same term as a competitor, it helps to get a feel for what kind of ads will work.
If you don’t know how to craft compelling copy for a competitor term, you can bid on it, and it will still take weeks of trial and error before you see results. By taking a look at existing examples of copy for a particular term, you can shortcut the process.
To do this, click on the ‘Ad Copies’ option, in the left-hand sidebar.
Then type in the name of a competitor. For the sake of this example, we’re using www.buildtools.com again.
Below you can see examples of the text ads being used this particular competitor.
If you click on the ‘Keywords’ drop-down menu, you can even see which keywords are being targeted, with this particular ad.
If any of these keywords are relevant for your campaign, you can use the related ad copy to help you inspire your ads.
How to Tell How Long a Competitor Has Been Focusing on Certain Keywords Using SEMrush
Generally, the longer an ad has been running, the greater the odds that it is a successful ad. After all, why would a company run the ad for so long, if they’re losing money on it? Following this, you can use this tactic to find keywords that will likely produce a high ROI.
You can find out how long an ad has been running by visiting the ‘Ad History’ section of SEMrush.
Once there, you’ll need to type in the URL of a competitor. In doing so, you’ll be able to spot certain keywords and how long they’ve been running for.
As always, you’ll want to go through this process using a wide range of competitors, to obtain a detailed set of results.
The next tool we’re going to take a look at is SpyFu. This is a tool that can provide a lot of good data for AdWords Search Ads. There is a free offering of this tool which can offer up some interesting insights.
Note: SpyFu presents a lot of similar data to SEMrush. Because of this, we won’t go through SpyFu in the same level of detail. This is essentially because the thought process you use to extract insights from the data is similar to how you’d work through SEMrush data.
There are essentially two parts to this tool. Competitor keyword research, which is a more general analysis of competition. Then there’s PPC research. Which is a more focused look at a specific kind of competitor.
How to Perform Competitor Keyword Research Using SpyFu
The Keyword Research section can help you identify the kind of competition you’re up against and what’s generally working in your chosen niche.
Suppose I go to the Keyword Research section and type in my ‘base’ keyword. That would be ‘construction project management software.’
If I scroll down, I’ll see an overview, that provides some stats related to this keyword.
Another helpful thing I’ll see here, on this page are some Profitable Related Keywords. This can be helpful, I’m trying to find keywords worth adding to my campaign, that is also working for my competitors.
If I scroll further down, I’ll also see some examples of current ads, targeting this keyword. As mentioned earlier, this can be used to help inspire my own ad copy.
If I scroll back up and click on the ‘Advertisers’ section, I’ll be able to see a list of my competitors, for this keyword.
Aside from the ability to snoop on what these competitors are doing, a competitor list makes it easier to perform in-depth research at a later date.
After all, we can input these competitors into other competitive analysis tools. Or we can use them when using PPC Research side of SpyFu, which we’ll look at next.
How to Research Specific Competitors Using SpyFu
The other section is the PPC Keyword Research dashboard. To get the best results here, it helps to type in the URL of a competitor. I’ve used Buildertrend.com.
Upon doing this I’m provided with a snapshot of their PPC campaign, as shown below.
This page is okay, but on its own, it doesn’t provide a lot of actionable insights that. Because of this, it helps to check out one of the dedicated research dashboards.
One such example if is ‘Buy Recommendations’ option, as highlighted below.
Clicking on this text will then reveal a dashboard like the one shown below.
This section highlights keywords other competitors are buying, but Buildertrend is ignoring.
These keywords represent opportunities, because other competitors are already bidding on them. There’s a chance these competitors are already seeing results.
Another interesting data set we can check out is the ‘Exclusive Keywords’ section.
This is a list of keywords that only Buildertrend.com is bidding on, but competitors are not bidding on.
This list of keywords can highlight keywords that this company has come across, that other people in this space are yet to discover.
The fact that only Buildertrend.com is using these keywords is good for us because it means the CPC might be low. After all, there isn’t that much competition, since Buildertrend.com is the only one going after these keywords.
Here are some examples of exclusive keywords.
All things considered, these keywords look like they could provide great results and would be worth testing.
Another useful dashboard is the one labeled ‘Ad History.’ You can find this by clicking on the relevant tab at the top of this page.
This section lets you see data regarding the ads this company is running and has historically run.
The best thing here is you can see the ad copy for a certain ad. You can also see all the different variations of copy, for a specific kind of keyword. You can do this by scrolling down the ‘Top Ads’ section on the right.
You can also isolate the ads for a certain keyword. To do that, you just have to type in the keyword you want to focus on. The tool will then return a list of ads, of which are focused on that keyword.
Suppose you’re thinking about going after a specific competitor keyword that few others are aware of. this section can provide insights on how to write copy.
The next tool we’re going to take a look at is iSpionage.
To be fair, this tool does a lot of similar stuff to what we’ve already covered in this post.
Following that, we’re going to cover two specific features, where this tool really excels. One feature is the ability to study landing pages. The other is the option to create ‘Competitor Alerts.’
Both of these features can really help you figure out what’s working for your competitors and how you can benefit as a result.
How to Study Competitor Landing Pages Using iSpionage
To get access to this feature you first need to sign up for an account.
Once you’ve done this, type in the name of a competitor. Let’s continue using the example of Buildertrend.com.
After doing this, you should see a screen similar to the one below. Click on the ‘Landing Pages’ tab.
You’ll then see the corresponding keywords, ads and landing pages. An example is shown below.
You don’t have to copy your competitors’ landing pages. But they can prove to be very helpful. Especially if you’re using data from other tools to create PPC campaigns that you’re worried might fall flat.
Competitor Alerts With iSpionage
This feature lets you find out if your competitors are using new keywords. This feature is helpful because it can remove a lot of the manual ‘due-diligence’ that might go into conducting competitor research.
To set this up, go to the main dashboard and click on ‘Create an Alert.’
You’ll then see this pop-up. Click on ‘Add Alert.’
Once you’ve done this you should receive alerts whenever the competitor adds new keywords to their campaign.
You can now also take a look at their ‘New PPC Keywords’ by clicking on ‘Competitor Alert’ of which can be found in the ‘Competitor Research’ drop-down menu.
If you take a look below you can see an example of the kind of data that’s on offer.
These keywords may have low CPC figures, as they might not be targeted by a lot of competitors. This represents an opportunity to double down on some potentially high ROI keywords, without spending a lot of money.
Yet the fact that it works, also means that you likely have a lot of competitors going after the same audience as you.
On the face of it, this can seem like a problem. But if you take the time to figure out how you can learn from them, competitors can actually teach you how to improve your marketing.
In this post, we’ve reviewed how you can stalk your competitors with keyword research. You can use tools like SemRush to find keywords that are being ignored by your competitors. You could even use SpyFu to study the ads competitors are using for specific keywords. iSpionage can even help you study the landing pages being used for specific ads.
It’s important to remember that these tools are only going to provide you with raw data. It’s down to you to figure out how to turn this data into profitable campaigns. Stick to proven PPC principles, and you’ll be able to capitalize on the data available, without losing your marketing budget.
Best of luck!