How Competitive Intelligence Shapes Your Keyword Landscape

Following the process laid out in this column, you will have already worked with the advertiser to set up clear goals for your PPC account. And using last week’s advertiser interview, you now know some of the key specifics such as the key dates and milestones of the program, an initial list of top terms, competitor intel and other important logistical information.

It’s now time to actually start the work.

Soon, you will be building your advertiser’s keyword list and writing great creative for their text ads. You will load their assets into the engine platforms and bid for position. But before that can happen, you need to scope out as much intelligence as you can. The amount of diligence you put into the research phase will be rewarded tenfold in your search engine marketing efforts.

The first thing you’ll want to do is some basic research to get a better understanding of the keyword landscape in which you’re going to be competing. The goal here is not necessarily to learn everything, but to get a good sense of the overall topography of your competitive landscape. You’ll want to answer such questions as:

  • What are the core terms in this keyword landscape?
  • Who are the biggest competitors?
  • What trends are occurring in the creative messages?
  • What kind of landing pages are advertisers sending users to on these terms?
  • Are there any major differences between the keyword landscape in Google, Yahoo or Bing?

Example: An advertiser who sells and installs home theater systems in the greater Chicago area. The keywords that they gave you in the advertiser interview were home theater and home theater systems.

The first thing you should do is type those into Google and see what comes up.

Of course, every search engine results page (SERP) is going to be different based on what the engine knows about you. There are tools that we will check out next week that can help you get a better aggregate view of the total U.S. keyword landscape (and for different times of the day/days of week), but there are still some good insights to be gleaned here.

For example, note the absence of big nationwide retailers like Best Buy, Sears, etc. There’s a good mix of local companies and specialty online retailers. One good thing to note is that there are advertisers involved in other activities than selling or installing home theaters. Look at the sponsored links to the right: home theater seats, motorized blinds, soundproofing, etc. You may not initially think that a company selling theater seats would be in competition with your advertiser, but they are when it comes to the keyword landscape around home theater terms.

Next, go to the Google Keyword Tool (found inside your AdWords console, or use the external version here). Type in the term, “home theaters” and let’s see what we find.

Google will return results that are similar to the search you performed. Look at all of the iterations of the term. Start thinking about which terms will be important to your advertiser and jot them down. Your mind should naturally start to group these terms into different categories such as “custom,” “wireless,” “audio,” etc. These will become your paid search campaigns and ad groups. It’s just as important to understand which keywords you don’t want to include in your landscape, so keep track of those terms too. For example, this advertiser doesn’t sell or install wireless home theater systems so you won’t necessarily want to waste their PPC budget on those terms.

Now, go back to the search engines and try typing in some of these other relevant terms. They are all part of your keyword landscape so see what you can find. Are you seeing the same set of advertisers in the sponsored results? What trends can you see in the ad text? Home theaters are not a small ticket item so price will be a consideration for consumers and thus, you will see mentions of price in the ads.

Now, as a paid search pro, it’s not ethical to click your competitor ads. However, in this part of the research phase, I’ll grant you permission to look once and then bookmark the page so you can come back to it. Start a folder in your browser’s bookmark/favorites section and snag a bunch of competitor landing pages. Then, go back through them and see what you can find. Are they sending users to product pages? Category pages? Home pages? You can garner a lot of insights into what may or may not be working for competitors which can be very useful to your own account.

By the end of this exercise, you will have a much better sense of the keyword landscape that your advertiser must play in. You will have an idea of some additional keywords you’ll want to incorporate into your account and maybe even find some terms that you know you’ll want to avoid. As well, you should be able to name the major competitors in the space as well detail some ad message and landing page tactics they are currently using.

Next week, we’ll dive into some tools that will help you build out your knowledge base even further around your advertiser’s keyword landscape.

This week’s question: “What are some other ways to quickly build more awareness on your keyword landscape?”

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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  • mlfsolutions

    Great article. However, before you start the Keyword research, I wonder whether you should design a quick and small digital marketing strategy (target market,goal, tool to use and metrics).
    Tell me what you think.
    Leon Fangnigbe —

  • Josh Dreller

    Yea, that’s a good point. I’m not sure if you’re aware but this PPC Academy column is a “one-year search advertising course from beginning to end.” so the most recent past posts do cover the initial goal setting and some other of your points. Check out for the entire post collection. (covering some of the tools next week–to me the initial “quick landscape glance” has always been my starting point)

  • dash Von RipRock

    I developed an AI based CI tool which is free. It starts by supporting the user in developing a set of key words. This section is very similar to Google Squared. The site is

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