Competitor Analysis: Assessing the Competitive Landscape

This week’s series will focus on using competitive data from a variety of sources to inform your pay-per-click strategy. We’ll cover a number of ways to collect this data, and how to use it to gain and maintain a competitive edge.

It’s critical to understand your online advertising performance in context. When you fire up a new campaign, it’s easy to quickly become bogged down in performance data and this often results in a myopic and insular optimization focus. This is largely due to the amount of internal considerations one needs to make to maintain performance — day-to-day bidding, ad testing, landing page testing, etc.

Of course, AdWords is an auction, so it’s inherently competitive and you’re technically doing “competitive research” every time you make a bid adjustment because you’re basing your bids on the dynamic nature of the auction. However, actually taking a step back and focusing on what your competitors are doing can be hugely beneficial.


Use competitive data to:

  • Understand your performance in context
  • Identify opportunities to gain a competitive edge
  • Identify top competitors and locate gaps in their advertising strategy for you to fill
  • Consider competitor messaging — what are they doing that you’re not?
  • Analyze competitor websites and consider user experience opportunities

These insights can be extremely informative when it comes to honing your own advertising strategy. What’s more, without this information, it can be easy to draw the wrong conclusions about your own internal data. You may be doing everything right from an optimization perspective, but still experiencing the following performance issues:

  • Cost-per-clicks rising in spite of healthy quality scores
  • Finding the need to bid higher to maintain the same average position
  • Click-thru-rate dropping without explanation

If you’re experiencing these issues when assessing longer term performance trends it may be due to the natural evolution of your competitive landscape:

  • Is your industry as a whole becoming more saturated on Google, thus resulting in increased cost-per-clicks?
  • Are more advertisers bidding on your most valuable terms, resulting in the need to increase bids to maintain your target average positions?
  • Are your click-thru-rates dropping as a result of a competitor offering a better deal in a competitively placed ad?

Competitive research will help you understand what’s happening in both your industry and your auctions.


Growing Complexity of AdWords

Google AdWords makes enhancements at a pretty good clip and it can be difficult for advertisers to keep up. Here are just some of the most exciting enhancements from the past year:

  • Enhanced campaigns — allows for more multi-device flexibility from within the same campaign, bid modifiers, enhancements to sitelinks
  • Sitelink descriptions — basically turns one ad into five with the ability to add 70 characters to each of your sitelinks, thus greatly increasing the size of your ads

Sitelink Descriptions

  • Review extensions — more social qualification within ads

review extensions



  • Auction insights report – more data on direct competitors in the auction

Auction Insights Report


  • Flexible Bidding – allows you to use multiple bidding strategies within the same campaign
  • Google Shopping – a more streamlined approach to inventory organization, competitive benchmark data

These new features are all great, but you need to assume your competitors are jumping on them too, and a failure to keep up will result in a loss of your competitive edge. This is why AdWords account management is a full-time job — at the rate Google introduces new features, a huge part of the search engine marketer’s job responsibility is just keeping current with new product and feature implementation!


Use Competitive Data to Inform Strategy, Not Determine It

Use competitive insights to your advantage but make sure to stay true to your own performance goals. These insights should to be used to help craft your strategy and identify opportunities within the competitive landscape, but your business is unique so don’t try to replicate your competitor’s advertising strategy outright.



  • It’s critical to understand your performance in context
  • Use competitive insights to inform advertising strategy
  • Viewing data without context can lead to the wrong conclusions
  • AdWords is growing more complex and SEMs must remain current with products and features in order to stay competitive
  • Use competitive data to inform strategy, not determine it