Take Off The Blinders! Your Competitors Are Killing You, Whether You Realize It Or Not

The guy was in a panic. His ROI had been in a nose dive for the last few months, and he couldn’t figure out why. With no major changes to keywords, copy, landing pages, bids or budget, he was dumbfounded about the decline. But when I asked him what his competitors were doing, his response was telling—he looked at me like I was from another planet. Suffice it to say, he failed to see the connection.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone. Many marketers fall into this trap. And this trap can be lethal to your paid search success.

More often than not, they establish goals and measures of success— in fact, many get caught up in metric madness as they grapple with the merits of measuring their CPA, ROI, CTR, or ROAS—but fail to track the one thing they need most. Yet it’s readily available. And better still, it’s not another damned acronym.

What is it? External factors.

To be sure, internal metrics are important, but do you think that they exist in a vacuum? Hardly. They are influenced by other external factors—anything from the number of competitors in the marketplace, to competitor strategies, and even competitor funding.

Think about it. How would your metrics be affected if your top competitor got additional funding, and started bidding in top positions and pushed bid prices up? What about fluctuations in the number of people bidding on your brand? Are they partners or competitors? How would that affect your metrics? What about the pricing of competitors’ products? If they change their prices, their conversions may shoot up, and their bids may get more aggressive. Surely, that will have an impact on your metrics.

The point is that external factors can play a big role in a campaign’s success or failure. Yet many marketers envision themselves as the mastermind behind the curtain (campaign) pushing and pulling the levers and in complete control of the results. Unfortunately, this thinking is myopic.

Today, marketers need to look beyond what they are doing. It’s time to take off the blinders and understand the other forces involved.

Take our above friend for example. He couldn’t figure out the cause for his declining ROI; however, his analysis didn’t include external factors either. If it did, he might have realized that a new competitor had entered the same PPC marketplace in an aggressive fashion, and that another competitor had finally gotten their act together. Clearly, these developments were out of his control, but they translated into serious threats to his success. In the end, he learned two important lessons: 1. It is essential to keep an eye on the marketplace; 2. Assuming your ROI will continue to cruise along is a very flawed assumption.

And while he learned this the hard way, you don’t have to. Instead, toss the blinders and start paying attention to the external factors that can influence your success. Below are suggestions for a few items you may want to keep an eye on.

Competitor Ad Copy

It is critical to understand the types of messages that your competitors are using. Are they doing a good job of attracting users? Do they qualify their audience? The more insight you can gain on what they are doing in this area, the better positioned you will be to take advantage of opportunities to stand out from them.

Competitor landing pages

Take a look at the landing experiences your competitors are providing for their users. How compelling are they? How easy is it to convert? Do your competitors give users multiple conversion options (i.e. download a whitepaper, or get an RSS feed, etc.) or is there a single conversion point? This insight will help you understand what to offer your users. In addition, it could also help you develop an angle that others haven’t thought of yet.

Share of views

How often do your ads come up in relation to your competitors? Many search firms have tools to gather this data, and there are self–serve tools (e.g. AdGooroo) that do the same job. The insights gained from this information can help inform budgeting decisions. For example, you might learn that a certain keyword presents opportunities for you to gather more clicks and conversions at a reasonable cost, or that some terms are just too expensive for you to try and gather additional share of view.

Keyword bidding

Pay close attention to the terms your competitors are bidding on. Doing so will help you better understand what terms they are not bidding on. As a result, this information could help you uncover some hidden gems that you can bid on with little to no competition, which in turn would allow you to obtain relatively cheap clicks and conversions.

The bottom line is that while internal metrics are useful to marketers, they don’t exist in a vacuum. Smart marketers will pay attention to the external factors that can affect their metrics, and in doing so, gain additional insight in the process.

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

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing

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About The Author: is managing director of search engine marketing firm iProspect in San Francisco, and can be reached at b.kaminski@iprospect.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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