Essential Competitive Intelligence Platforms For Your PPC Toolbox

It’s important to keep a well-stocked search marketing toolbox. Third party technology vendors offer a wide variety of discovery and management tools and are absolutely vital in the research phase. A few weeks ago we took a look at some tools that allow you to upload and then track keywords on major search engines to give you visibility on when your advertiser’s ads are showing up, how often, and who the other players are in that keyword landscape. This week, we’re going to check out some competitive intelligence tools that can help take your research to the next level.

At this point in the research phase, we’ve learned a lot about the keyword landscape of our advertiser. You should have a pretty good idea by now what kinds of keywords and creatives are being used in the space and how you will organize them into relevant ad groups. Last week, we used the advertiser’s own web analytics platform to mine some solid data such as keywords that visitors have already used to reach the website, where the majority of users are coming from (and using which language), and uncover some more competitors by understanding what sites users are coming from directly before their visit.

Competitive intelligence platforms come in two varieties: ones that simply track millions of keywords in a similar fashion to the keyword tracking tools we examined previously and ones that actually follow real people (called panelists) and their internet habits. SpyFu and SEMRush are examples of tools of the first variety. SEMRush continually tracks over twenty five million keywords and lets you query their database of results. You can input a website and the tool will return a list of keywords that have links associate with that property. Here’s an example of SEMRush’s AdWords report for the video game review site,

You can also type in a keyword and get a list of sites competing for that term. Unlike other keyword tracking tools, you don’t have to upload these terms into the system and wait for them to be tracked. The immediacy is great, and twenty five million keywords may sound like a lot, but if you’re in a niche industry, your core terms may not be included in these tools’ default lists. Here’s an example of a competitor report from SpyFu for the term: “video games.”

These tools have grown over the years and provide more robust features than simple keywords and competitors. You can find estimates on prices and click volume along with suggestions for alternative terms and other helpful tools. They are very reasonably priced as their solution relies mainly on technology and little manual interaction. Both SEMRush and SpyFu offer free, scaled back versions of their reports so you can try before you buy.

Other types of competitive intelligence tools track actual user behavior. They are similar in design to the television tracking systems that are installed, by permission, in a statistically significant number of households which can then project the viewing habits of tens of millions of Americans. Companies like Hitwise, comScore, and Compete have hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of users who have agreed to allow these companies to install tracking software on their computers. A whole host of data is collected such as where these users shop online, what blogs they read, what websites they visit, and of course, how they interact with search engines.

These companies are can be costly as tracking actual human behavior is a more extensive process than simply pinging search engines, but the data they can collect can be invaluable to you. As well, the ability to analyze search behavior in relation to buying behavior and other cross channel activities can open your eyes to how your target audience is truly engaging your brand online.

Some of the reports are similar to those found in their more lightweight cousins, but overall, the data is handled more carefully and segmented into more interesting slices. For example, here’s a report from Compete where two sports websites, and, are compared from an SEM perspective:

Because these companies are larger, have a global focus and employ veteran analysts, the tools themselves are much more robust. Here’s a shot from one of Hitwise’s report filters. Check out all of the options that let you really dive into exactly what you want to see:

One of the main advantages of having a robust tool isn’t even the direct paid search data it can return but rather the complete industry intelligence that can educate you on the changes and trends that affect you, the search marketer. One of the things that definitely separates the good SEMers from the great SEMers is that the really great ones keep an eye on total internet behavior because they know that it will provide context and answers to important questions about their account.

Companies deeply entrenched in online research such as Compete, comScore, and Hitwise are more than just your tool provider—they’re your partner. For example, here’s a great bit of research that only companies like these can truly uncover—it shows how universal search (SERPs that return more than just organic/paid links but video, news results, etc) is starting to become the norm. For paid search folks, this kind of data can explain declining click-thru-rates or other head-scratching metrics.

Competitive intelligence tools are crucial to have in your search engine marketing toolbox. If you don’t have the budget for the “big guns,” the lightweight tools still provide a ton of value and can be an excellent resource for your paid search research.

Next week, we’ll wrap up the research phase and then begin the fun part of building and launching your first paid search campaign.

This week’s question: “What other kinds of research tools can be applied to search engine marketing?”

PPC Academy is a comprehensive, one-year search advertising course from beginning to end. Starting with the basics, PPC Academy progressively explores all of the varied facets of paid search, and the tactics needed to succeed and become an advanced paid search marketer.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | PPC Academy


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

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