If you’ve come across a great Internet marketing strategy, it’s usually a good idea to imitate it. That’s especially true if the strategy is practiced by one of your competitors.
The question is: how do you find your competitor’s most successful online strategies? Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that help you do just that.
With a little bit of an investment and some research, you can determine which of your competitor’s PPC campaigns are the most successful. Then, you can imitate them.
Here are a few pointers on practicing a little bit of digital espionage for increased profitability.
Pick Your Tool
There’s no shortage of tools on the market that will enable you to spy on your competitors. Kissmetrics has a list of 37 of the best options. The particular tool that you select will be based on your overall business needs, the amount of spying you intend to do, and your budget.
Most of the tools bill monthly. Many of them will give you a discount if you pay annually for your monthly subscription, so you’ll have the benefit of economies of scale if you opt to make digital spying a long-term strategy.
Also, some of them offer a free introductory period. If you’re limited on resources and unsure about where to start, take advantage of a free option so you can at least get an idea of what you’ll be getting when you eventually pay for the service. Also, keep in mind that as you go over your free reports, you’ll get ideas about the kinds of information you need to properly reverse-engineer your competitor’s strategy. If those reports are lacking that data, you’ll need to look for another service.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using a SpyFu report on sears.com. In a real-world situation, of course, we’d run a report on one of our competitors.
Start by looking at your competitor’s keyword strategy. It might be the case that there’s a longtail (or, heck, even a shorttail) keyword that you’ve overlooked but your competitor is using successfully.
In this case, SpyFu tells us that Sears invests over $34,000 per day on the keyword “tires”. As of this writing, the Sears ad for that keyword is in 3rd position in the paid results.
So here’s the first lesson: if you’re running a department store that competes with Sears and you have tires for sale, you’re probably losing a lot of automotive market share if you haven’t adopted a PPC strategy that uses “tires” as a keyword.
There’s more to the story, though. As we’ve seen, Sears is only in third place in the paid search results even though the company spends more than $34,000 per day in advertising on the keyword “tires”. That begs the question: who’s in first and second place?
Fortunately, SpyFu has the answer. As of this writing, tirerack.com and firestonecompleteautocare.com are in first and second place, respectively. However, they’re both spending much less money per month than Sears.
Good news: you don’t need a budget as big as Sears to compete with the retail giant online.
If you examine the “tires” keyword for tirerack.com, you’ll see that the company is paying $2.24 per click. That keyword gets 15,293 clicks per day (across all advertisers, not just tirerack.com).
There’s more, though. SpyFu shows that tirerack.com also advertises for the keyword “buy tires” – a search term that gets more than 1,100 clicks per day.
Somebody at tirerack.com is a smart marketer. That’s because the company is running an ad that caters specifically to people in the lower end of the sales funnel. If somebody Googles “buy tires”, there’s a safe bet that the person is interested in buying tires. The marketer at tirerack.com is aware of that and ran an ad to find those people.
Unsurprisingly, though, Google makes tirerack.com pay a little more for the “buy tires” ad. It’s $2.74 per click versus $2.24 for just “tires”.
However, there’s more to that story, too. The company also runs ads for “tires for sale” – another keyword used by people in the lower end of the sales funnel. That keyword receives three times as many daily clicks as “buy tires” and yet costs less. It’s only $2.05 per click, which means it’s even cheaper than the generic “tires” keyword.
That’s a valuable nugget of information if you’re operating on a marketing budget that’s significantly less than what tirerack.com is spending. You can capture at least some of the company’s market share with a relatively inexpensive – and yet, very effective – campaign using the “tires for sale” keyword.
At this point you might be asking yourself: “What just happened? I started looking at sears.com and now I’m looking at tirerack.com? Did I lose focus?”
No, you didn’t lose focus. It’s perfectly normal to use a tool like SpyFu to begin looking at one company and then find yourself looking at another company. You’ll find that happens a lot because you have more than one competitor and it’s best to imitate the one with most profitable strategy.
If you do look at the PPC strategy for sears.com, though, you’ll see that the company doesn’t do a very good job at capturing people in the lower end of the sales funnel. Sears runs ads for search terms like “tires sale”, “tires sales”, and “tires coupons”. While those are good search terms for finding consumers ready to buy, the number of clicks per day for all of those search terms combined doesn’t equal the number of clicks “buy tires” receives and they receive just a fraction of the clicks that “tires for sale” receives.
Which Ads Are Working?
Another great way to spy on your competitors with a tool like SpyFu is to find out which of their ads are successful.
Remember, even if a competitor is placing well in the paid search results and is paying a fortune to ensure that their ads are right at the top, that doesn’t mean that the ad copy is necessarily effective. You want to mimic the company’s overall successful advertising efforts and not just the bidding strategy.
If you take another look at tirerack.com, you’ll see that the company’s ad that sits at the #1 position is using this copy: “Buy tires for your vehicle and get them delivered super fast!”
So right there you have some great information. The ad copy that sits at #1 for “tires” is promising to deliver tires quickly. Does your ad copy do that?
SpyFu also shows the top ads over time for tirerack.com. In this case, the top ad reads as follows: “Find the right tires & wheels for you. We make it easy!”
Note the “We make it easy!” part. That’s just another example of good marketing that anticipates an objection (“it’s too difficult to order tires on the Internet”) and immediately answers it.
If you take another look at sears.com, you’ll see that it’s been historically most effective with the keyword “mattress.” The best performing Sears ad for the keyword “mattress” uses this copy: “Save 50-60% on mattresses at Sears. Free delivery on orders over $599!”
There’s a lot going on there, and it’s probably why the ad has been so successful for Sears. It promises not only steep discounts but also free delivery on any order over $599. That’s appealing to consumers.
Keyword Buy Recommendations
Another great feature of SpyFu is that it tells you which keywords you should buy based on the competitor that you’re looking at.
How does it do that? It looks at keywords that other competitors are buying but not the one that you’re analyzing. In this case, SpyFu looks at competitors to Sears and determines which keywords they’re buying that Sears isn’t. It provides you with a list of those keywords and recommends that you buy them.
In this case, SpyFu recommends PPC strategies for the following search terms: “commercial dryers”, “scratch and dent washer and dryers”, and “appliances MA”. The tool also tells you the monthly cost for each PPC strategy and the number of clicks that each search term receives.
SpyFu also shows how much competitors have invested in their PPC strategy over the years.
It’s worth noting that Sears has dramatically reduced its PPC investment in recent months. In December of 2014, the company was advertising with a whopping 407,000 paid keywords. Now, the company is down to 97,000.
Sears isn’t alone in cutting back its PPC investment, either. Chief competitors Lowes and Home Depot have significantly scaled back as well.
There’s probably a story there. It’s best to do some additional research to find out why all three companies are trimming their online marketing efforts.
Practicing Covert Ops
By now you might be thinking to yourself: “If I can spy on my competitors, can’t they spy on me?”
There are, however, ways that you can make it more difficult for your competitors to get a glimpse of your PPC strategy.
For starters, you can prevent your PPC ads from running in the city where your competitor is located. It’s easy to find out where your competitor is located because companies typically disclose their address on the “Contact” page of their website. Once you have that information, you can configure our AdWords campaigns to not run in that city.
To do that, just click on “Settings” at the campaign level and scroll down to Locations. Select the city you’d like to exclude, click on “exclude”, and your ad won’t show to anybody in that city.
The down side to that option, of course, is that potential customers who also happen to live in that city won’t see your ads, either. That means if your competitor is located in Los Angeles, you’ll be cutting yourself off from millions of people.
Another way that you can make it more difficult for your competitor to see your ads is to prevent them from showing to your competitor’s IP address. That’s a far more effective strategy than blocking out a whole city.
You’ll probably need the assistance of a tech geek to find your competitor’s IP address. If you’d like to tackle the task yourself, you can open a command prompt on your Windows workstation and ping the name of the domain. For example, you can type: “ping sears.com”. You’ll see the IP address of the company displayed repeatedly in response. In this case, the IP address is 220.127.116.11.
Once you have the IP address, you can configure your campaigns to hide your ads to anybody browsing from that address.
You do that by clicking on “Settings” at the campaign level and scrolling down to IP Exclusions. Enter the IP address that you’d like to exclude and you’re all set.
Now You’re a Special Agent
Now that you’re armed with information about how you can ethically and effectively spy on your competitors, it’s time to put some of that knowledge into action. Evaluate several spymaster tools and determine which one works best for you. Then, use it to find out what your competitors are doing successfully that you aren’t. Finally, craft your AdWords campaigns so that your competitors won’t see your own PPC ads.