Spying On Your Paid Search Competitors

Last time around, I wrote about paid search planning and some cool tools to help you understand your customers and your target market (here). This time, I’ll take a look at the competitive landscape and understanding competitors in general—and show you some excellent tools that can help you gain better insight into their specific strategies and tactics.

Obviously, being competitive is more than just changing bids in an attempt to jockey for ad positions. I find competitive information useful for:

Marketing strategy. Understanding differences between you and your competitors can nail USPs (unique selling propositions) and determine overall positioning strategy.

The one up factor. Plain and simple, if I know what competitors are up to, I can:

  • Identify competitive gaps and pinpoint opportunities

  • Beat a competitor to the punch (if applicable)
  • Prevent a competitor’s “punch” from having a profound impact on my business

For example, you notice that a competitor’s ads say negative things about your industry’s lack of technical savvy. To head this off, you change your website and PPC ad copy to address the potential objection before it becomes an issue.

So, here are some useful tools to help you figure out what competitors are doing online.


With this tool, you enter several URLs (up to 3 for the free tool and up to 5 for the paid tool) and get monthly information over a period of a year on competitor site visits and site rankings. Compete.com pulls information from ISPs, ASPs, the compete.com toolbar, and opt-in panels, and monitors browser activity of over 2 million people. I use this tool mostly to gauge whether I’m getting an appropriate piece of the ever-so-delicious market share pie. Here’s an example using Adidas.com vs. Nike.com.


With this tool, the rank information in this tool is a little vague. The tool provides a relative metric that shows the significance of a site but doesn’t provide much. In a report I pulled for three sites, these were the rankings: 7133, 5,361, and 3,729, which basically just says that one site ranks better than the two others. The rank information can be useful for top ranked sites (like in the top 1000) who want to know if they are at the top of their game, but with this comes a lot of other considerations where more detailed information would be needed. For solid ranking information, it’s better to use other reporting tools to obtain detailed information.


Of course, there’s also old tried and true Alexa. This tool also shows reach, rank, and page views for up to 5 sites. The tool is handy as you can pull information for a long period of time – anywhere from 7 days to 6 years. Take a look at the example below for restorationhardware.com vs. pier1.com:



To use this tool, users can enter a keyword term, a company name, a URL, a category, or an industry to get competitive information. Most importantly, this tool reveals what keywords competitors are bidding on (and also which ones they’ve optimized their sites for). It is useful as it allows users to identify terms competitors are bidding on that may have been missed. As the tool shares average cost per click and the expected daily cost of terms, it also allows users to gauge how much competitors are spending on advertising and helps advertisers to project (which is difficult on a good day!) and set budgets accordingly. Here’s an example for the keyword “cars”:


Below, I’ve included some of the information provided by the tool at the domain level and the keyword level. The tool also provides non paid search information, but for the purposes of article, I’ll focus exclusively on the paid search competitive data.

At the domain level:

  • Average cost per click

  • Average clicks per day
  • Total clicks per day
  • Average ad competitors
  • Average ad position
  • Estimated daily advertising budget
  • Alexa rank
  • The top 10 ads
  • The top 20 ad competitors

At the keyword level:

  • Cost per click

  • Click per day
  • Cost per day
  • Number of advertisers
  • The top 5 AdWords results with ad

SpyFu.com gets their data directly from the engines (no middleman). To obtain competitive information, they claim to extract 125 million ads and search results. Companies that “extract” ads are likely doing so against Google’s TOS (unauthorized scraping without paying API fees), so buyer beware.

The above suggestions should give you a good start in terms of getting acquainted with competitors. It never hurts to have too much information on your competitors, so good luck with your competitive research! Feel free to chime in if you have any of your own competitive research tips to share.

Mona Elesseily is director of marketing strategy at Page Zero Media, focusing on paid search campaigns and conversion improvement. She’s also the author of Page Zero’s Mastering Panama: A special report on Yahoo!’s new search marketing platform (August 2007). The Paid Search column appears Mondays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column | Search Ads: General | SEM Tools


About The Author: was recently voted the 2013 Most influential SEM. She is the Vice President of Online Marketing Strategy at Page Zero Media where she focuses on search engine marketing strategy, landing page optimization (LPO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO).

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