A competitive analysis is not just about gaining insight into what your direct competitors are doing digitally – it’s about taking that insight a level deeper and determining what they are and isn’t doing well. Armed with this intel, you can essentially enhance your own strategy by adapting and building on the successful parts of your competitors’ strategy. Add the finishing touch of your own flair (based on best practices, of course), and you’ve got a winning strategy.
The first thing we want to know is what the competitive space looks like from a high level. What’s the overall market overview from a digital standpoint? Who are the major PPC players? Who are strong organic competitors? Who shows in the local pack? From here, we can drill down into individual competitors and analyze their strategies.
Search Like Your Target Audience
A great way to scope out the search engine results page (SERP) is to pretend you’re the ideal consumer and search on various, relevant keywords. Better yet, test keywords you plan on targeting in your own PPC strategy.
The trick is to do so from an incognito window, so your search results are not influenced by your previous browsing history or preferences, which are stored by cookies in your browser.
Note which businesses are showing at the top of the page, what ads appear, and whether the results match your search intent. By the latter, I mean, are the keywords you typed in triggering listings for what you meant to search for, or are they generating ambiguous or irrelevant results? You may want to rethink your keyword targeting if the SERP doesn’t match.
After several searches, you may notice a few businesses that offer your service/product consistently showing in competitive positions on the page. You may have gone into this exercise knowing your perceived competitors, but these businesses are your true digital competitors. Your target audience is seeing these results and clicking over to their pages as we speak.
A caveat of this exercise is worth noting: the SERP you are served at any given time is dependent on several factors (e.g., your location), which are determined by the search engine. This is why it’s difficult to simulate a SERP for a user in another location. Therefore, you are likely not getting the whole picture.
Individual Competitor Analysis
Now, we’re ready to drill down into individual PPC competitors. The main components of our individual competitor analysis process are paid keywords, ad copy, and landing page. The three most prominent businesses you’ve noted on the SERP are usually a good place to start. This is where SEMrush comes in handy.
Using SEMrush for Competitive Research
SEMrush allows you to input domains to research information on the company’s ad spend, monthly traffic (organic and paid), example ads (pulled directly from the SERP), and landing page URLs. While it’s not 100% accurate as things change constantly in the digital world, this tool is perfect for gauging your perceived competitors. It’s also useful if you’re curious about any sort of competitor that you didn’t see listed on the SERP. You may even find your perceived competitors are not running any paid advertising. Instant win for you!
However, organic competitors with strong keyword rankings should be taken seriously. You may be able to bid your way to the top, but strong organic keyword rankings can place a business’s listing up top for several high-quality keywords – for free.
First, we want to know what keywords a competitor is bidding on and if there is any overlap with our own keyword targeting strategy. If so, we come up with a strategy to win the click. For example, this can involve outbidding our competitor for a particular keyword and writing compelling ad copy (which is always part of our strategy).
Conquesting keywords is a risky yet fun strategy that involves bidding on your competitors’ branded terms. These keywords can include your competitor’s brand name and their branded product/service name(s).
While this strategy has the potential to successfully steal traffic from your competitors, you risk retaliation if and when they find out. Next thing you know, you’re in a bidding war for your own branded terms. As they say, it’s only fun until you get caught!
TIP: It’s much sneakier to conquest the branded keywords of competitors who are not running any paid advertising because it will likely take them much longer to notice (if they ever do). That said, some PPC strategists aren’t high-touch, meaning they don’t pay as much attention to their campaigns and whether another advertiser is conquesting their branded keywords.
Another caveat to conquesting is sacrificing good keyword quality scores. It’s difficult to get great ad relevance scores, landing page experience scores, or CTRs on branded terms since you won’t be using those keywords in your ads or on your landing page.
Also, most of the time, someone searching on a branded term is doing so because they already know which brand they want to connect with, so you won’t always be able to win the click on your ad. Poor quality scores mean you’ll be paying more per click, so know conquesting won’t be the cheapest bidding strategy.
Next, we assess ad structure and copy.
- What keywords are being used?
- What does the display link look like?
- What kind of extensions, if any, are included?
- Are ads utilizing three headlines and two descriptions?
- Overall, is the ad optimized for click-through rate?
Furthermore, pay attention to the verbiage used and any offers or promotions called out in the ads. This will help you determine your specific competitive edge over each individual competitor.
Landing Page Analysis
Finally, we click the ad (costing the competitor money), analyze the landing page, and determine whether the page is optimized for conversion rate.
- Are they making use of prominent CTA buttons?
- Does the content align with the ad copy and keyword targeting?
- Is it good-quality content?
- Are the benefits of the service/product effectively highlighted?
- Are they doing something on the page that you can take and use to enhance your own landing page?
From assessing keyword targeting to landing pages, a competitor analysis helps tell the story of what you’re up against in the digital world. This piece of the campaign setup process can easily make or break your success. Done right, it will give you a competitive edge and a solid foundation on which to build out campaign optimizations and to kick some ass out on the playing field.