How to Win the PPC War Using Competitor Market Research

If you’ve been doing pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for a while, you know better than anyone the overall costs to run and sustain an effective campaign are steadily rising, and you are losing market share to competitors.

Pay-per-click is getting more competitive, and that’s a fact you cannot change. But what you can adjust is how you use your competition to position yourself in the PPC space.

If you think this sounds like a war tactic, you’d be right. If you want to win at pay-per-click advertising, you’d better start thinking like your rivals and leverage their game in your favor.

The companies that are dominating in pay-per-click advertising are not at the top because they waited around to make moves, or simply because they followed PPC best practices. Best practices should surely be adhered to, but PPC heroes know these rules are widely dispersed and accessible to their competitors, and thus can’t be the sole tools used to gain the upper hand.

They have an arsenal to edge out their competition, and it’s market intelligence. They are using it to gather intelligence on their competitors’ ad campaign moves. They adjust their strategies not just on what the competition is currently doing, but on what they’ve done in the past and what they predict, based on those patterns, they will do in the future.

To win at PPC advertising, you need to conduct market reconnaissance.

What is Market Intelligence?

Market intelligence is not just a SWOT analysis, whereby you look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis certainly helps you keep track of your competition and remain aware of the changes taking place in your industry, but market intelligence uses a variety of information sources to answer critical questions about current and potential customers as well as competitors, so you develop a vast picture of your existing landscape—market, customers, problems, competition, growth potential for new services and products, etc.

These answers then help you determine how you can create demand for your product or service in the PPC space. It is also used to improve your business model and projections.

In terms of PPC, market intelligence can specifically help you:

  • Determine which keywords you should devote resources to and which keywords you should try to bid for.
  • Pinpoint who your target audience is and into what demographic segments your company can push new and existing products or services.
  • Optimize your testing process.
  • Refine your bidding strategies.
  • Discover new keywords and keyword placements.
  • Fine-tune your offer or pricing to be more competitive.

With enough intelligence gathering, you will establish patterns, to which you can use to adjust and test your strategies—one way being to split test your ads to see which is likely to perform better.

4 Ways to Win the PPC War: The Competitor Market Intelligence Analysis

For every war, the end-goal is to squash the competition. Before you sharpen your tools and use them on your adversaries, you have to assume the role of a soldier and take inventory before you deploy.

Step 1. Distinguish the Civilians

Before you began your company, you had to ask yourself: What does our company do? What specifically are we selling? What is our unique value proposition? What do we have over our competition?

We want you to ask yourself these same questions again, but instead of taking what appear to be superficial questions and respond with half-baked answers, we want you to dig deeper and extract value from them.

Many times what companies think they’re selling isn’t actually what they’re selling from the consumers’ perspective. Should your interpretation be different from your consumers’, you can get into the competitive analysis and miss the boat on how you should be selling your product or service.

For instance, Subaru realizes they are selling more than a car, they are selling a lifestyle. This is the out-of-the-box thinking you need to have when it comes to your brand, because it is this thinking that is going to set you apart from the competition once you’ve gathered intelligence and created an actionable plan.

So take time to write down exactly what you sell from the consumers’ point of view. You can determine this by speaking with employees who interact most with your current customers and by conducting customer surveys.

Also draw from Google AdWords itself. Conversion tracking is based on the goals you’ve set for you business, and it shows you what occurs after customers click on your ads.  

  • How many people clicked on your ad and arrived at your landing page?
  • Which device did they use to get to your ad (mobile vs. desktop)?
  • What step did they take upon arriving at your landing page? Did they make a purchase? Did they sign up for your newsletter? Did they call you directly?

Focus on your most profitable customers. Note their age, gender, occupation, income level and other applicable factors, as this will help you know who you should be targeting and how to prioritize efforts so you get in front of them—this goes for customers you’ve gained organically through your website and through your PPC campaigns.

A big mistake many small business owners make is targeting who they want to be their “ideal” customer and not who their ideal customer really is—at times this is influenced by who their competitors are serving.

Don’t be blind to your most profitable customers; they may make up 80% to 90% of your customer base, and this is who you should be focusing on when creating your PPC ad campaigns. Trying to gear your PPC campaigns toward a different audience could put you at risk of pulling in leads who aren’t serious—a problem you don’t want to have. Empty clicks lead to wasted ad spend.

Pro tip: The beauty of this step is when you know your customer personas and their behaviors, you can more easily identify their unmet needs and tweak your unique value proposition in your ad campaigns. At the same time, by doing this, you’ll be attractive enough to appeal to those who you want to be the “ideal” customer.

All you’ll do with the below steps is find the best tactics your competitors use, apply them to your ad campaign, and test to see which resonate the most with your customers.    

Step 2. Zero In On Your Opponents

Be selective and discerning about the competitors you choose. The more methodical you are in your approach, the more valuable the results of your action report will be.  

Look for:

  • Big companies in industries like yours
  • Direct competitors who have a related or similar business model

Examining these groups will give you a well-rounded mix of successful strategies and tactics that you can apply to your space.

Competitive intelligence data providers like these can assist you in choosing the best competitors:


Spyfu offers estimates for search traffic and paid advertising budget numbers. With these estimates, you can gain valuable insight on the keywords your competitors are bidding on, and with what success. You can also see actual copy of the ads they’ve run.  

Type in the web address of your competitors, and Spyfu will show you their estimated budget, ad position, advanced keyword statistics, clicks per day, ad texts, keyword overlaps, and cost-per-click estimates. Remember, these are just estimates, but they can still set you off in the right direction.


With iSpionage, you’ll see the keywords your competitors are bidding on, as well as which ads they are running and how they rank. You can then build new campaigns based on the information you discover. After you’ve finished your keyword research with the intel you’ve collected on your competitors, you’ll conduct an audit of that keyword research, group the terms together, and then create campaigns that can later be uploaded to Google or Bing.


SEMRush is similar to Spyfu. Type in your competitor's’ website to see who their biggest competitors are, what ad texts they are using, their average rank/position for the top keywords, and the percentage of their total traffic and budget allocated to those keywords.

Google AdWords

Paying to spy on your competitors may be within your budget, but if it is not, use the free versions of the above in combination with Google AdWords’ Auction Insights. Go into the tab and look under “details” to view your impression share and where your competitors appear.

There is also a nifty keyword tool you can use to evaluate each competitor you are bidding against and quickly view their top keywords, what ads they are running, and what landing pages traffic is being directed to.

These are just four tools at your disposal; there are many more that allow you to spy on your competition. (Makes you wonder whether your competitors are already spying on you!)

Pro tip: These and other spy tools may not be 100% accurate because they do not have direct access to your competitors’ accounts, only the information they were able to gain from the search engines your competitors use. For this reason, you’ll want to go beyond the free version to get a fuller view of what’s taking place, and it is recommended that you average out your findings after completing reconnaissance through these tools.

Step 3. Gather Intel

You can’t do a complete analysis report without first clearly defining what you are looking for. To go in blind would most certainly give your competitor the opportunity to penetrate your weak spots as your strategies will be misguided. This is why you need to armor up and find out:

  • How have they positioned themselves in terms of product/service USP and price?
  • Are they using ad extensions and if so, what information are they including or not including?
  • What keywords are they bidding for and how are they using them (exact match vs. broad match vs. phrase match, etc)?
  • Are they bidding on competitor keywords?
  • What type of content is on their landing pages and how have they positioned their message?
  • How are their landing pages structured (inc. design)? What are the key elements?
  • What is their ad copy ranking for branded vs. non-branded searches?

To get deeper insight, it pays to go beyond these surface-level queries and discover answers to more strategically important questions, like:

  • What analytics do they use?
  • Do they track clicks, ads or keywords?
  • How many ads are they running?
  • How often do they put new ads into rotation?
  • How quickly do they react to changes in your and other’s ad copy?
  • How much are they investing in paid search and whether your investment is enough?
  • How big is your opportunity?
  • What are the main themes across their ad copy?
  • Are they offering sales? If so, what?
  • What type of content is used on their landing pages?
  • What’s their average CPC and budget?
  • Do they bid on their competitors’ keywords?
  • How do they react to seasonal changes?
  • What are their unique value props?

Pro tip: Use the spy tools we mentioned, but also do some footwork of your own. With the keywords you’ve collected, go to Google and Bing’s search engines and type them in. When your competitors come up on search engine result pages (SERPs), go into those ads and take note of what you see. Also, go to their websites, sift through every page and notate what you find.  

The information you gather here will be useful for step 4. When everything is outlined in a spreadsheet, you’ll see how you compare to competition, so you can leverage best practices and enhance your current ad performance. More importantly, you’ll be able to forecast what your competitors will likely do in the future, as well as when they are more likely to implement a strategy.

Step 4. Compile Intelligence and Devise An Action Plan

Convert your customer research and competitor into separate Excel spreadsheets. Format it in such a way that makes the data easily digestible.

These should be columned, and the most important companies and customers should be atop.

Pro tip: For a more comprehensive view of the competitive landscape, produce extra tabs that cover different keyword sets, related ads, and landing pages of your top 3 to 5 competitors. How many different landing pages do they use? How often do they update them? How good is their page construction and SEO? What type of calls to action do they use or don’t use?

Next, build out a third report that details actions you can take based on your overall analysis.

Prioritize them based on what your business goals are and what you predict will render the best results. Implement a few key strategies you know you can realistically achieve and test over a period of a few weeks, all the while gathering data around your metrics and comparing them to ad campaigns you ran prior to enacting your action plan.  

Step 5. Stay Vigilant

The key to creating demand in the PPC realm is to combine best practices with market intelligence. Remember, competitive analysis is not a one-time thing. To remain ahead, you need to be vigilant when it comes to scoping out your competition and their moves.

It is possible that your competitors will set in motion a new product or feature set, modify their prices, or revise their unique value proposition and messaging.

If you are constantly monitoring your competition, you’ll be the first to know when they make a change.

Pro tip: You should run your reports every 6 to 8 weeks. Since doing so can be time-consuming, it is recommended that you use competitive watch software to automate the process. This will ensure you have the critical data you need without expending manpower by having staff manually track competitors. The software will alert you when competitors have launched new ads and landing page offers. You’ll also see how their ads have changed, as well as the times and locations they are launching their ads.

Let's Chat About Your Paid Search Strategy and Wasting Less Time