PPC5 SEM Spying Strategies You Can Use Today to Generate More Profit

5 SEM Spying Strategies You Can Use Today to Generate More Profit

Drive more search profit by using keyword and competitive research tools, crowdsourcing, reverse engineering competitor campaign structure, monitoring competitor search activity and changes, and hiding your best keywords and ads from competition.

Internet Marketing is getting more and more competitive and if you want to run profitable campaigns, you need to know what your competition is doing. We have all done market research on our competitor’s website, keywords and ads, but how actionable is that data?

I’m going to show you what spying data can actually help you improve results.

If you’re doing paid search, you typically want to know which keywords your competition is using, what ads and landing pages they serve up, and how much they are spending.

If you’re doing SEO, you want to know who is ranking for your important keywords, how many links do they have, and from where. Some popular spying tools for SEO include www.moz.com, www.majesticseo.com, www.similarweb.com, and www.raventools.com.

Remember, begin with the end in mind.

You can’t be successful at marketing if you don’t know who you are marketing to. Ask yourself, Who is my ideal, best or most profitable customer? What keywords would they be searching to find my products or services?

Once you’ve clearly defined your target market, important keywords and specific PPC and/or SEO competitors, the spying can begin!

1. Keyword and Competitive Research Tools

Most marketers have used a keyword spy tool before, usually entering in a keyword or domain to see what the tool reports back. I highly recommend doing this for anyone involved in marketing and especially the organization’s executives.

Here is a good post that lists and reviews competitive analysis and keyword research tools.

We break the spying down into three components:

  1. Visibility for keywords searched and content sites that your target market is using.
  2. Ad Creative and effectiveness.
  3. Continuity between the keyword searched and the ad, also the ad to the landing page.

There is obviously different data to collect within the three strategies, but it’s really important to define each metric and how it can be used to improve your results.

Use this example of metrics to benchmark your efforts against the competition and measure visibility, creative, and continuity.

Visibility Creative Continuity Spreadsheet

This post will cover some specific examples from a tool called www.ispionage.com and a few specific examples of how to monetize this data. The same principles and strategies apply no matter which tool you’re using, so go ahead and apply them with any keyword and competitive analysis tools.

Keyword Research

Entering a keyword, for example “iPhone cases”, reveals that this keyword has more than 4 million monthly searches and the average CPC is $.88.

Also, you can quickly begin to see who you’re up against. You can analyze how many PPC advertisers, which keywords they are using, which ads have been shown, how many SEO competitors, and any social mentions for this keyword.

iPhone Cases Keyword Example

By trying different combinations of keywords that are important to my business you can find opportunities and threats. By shifting money into these opportunities, avoiding extremely competitive terms and finding more profitable keywords, you bring the overall campaign ROI up.

In the example below, the keyword phrase “Search Marketing Agency” has 8,100 searches per month and a CPC of $16.76. It shows the 1,420 ads that have been used for this keyword, the 262 PPC competitors and 357 SEO competitors.

Search Marketing Agency Keyword Example

If we change the keyword phrase slightly to “Search Marketing Consultant”, there are still 5,400 searches per month (2,700 less) but a CPC of $13.99 (17 percent less). Most importantly, there are only 40 PPC competitor (85 percent less) and 94 SEO competitors (66 percent less) for this phrase. By doing this simple exercise, we can find less competitive keyword that we can focus on to drive more profit.

Search Marketing Consulting Keyword Example

If we look at the more competitive keyword, “Search Marketing Agency” I can evaluate the top competitors, how many keywords they are using and the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) to determine which keywords are working for them. The KEI works by analyzing when they starting using that keyword and how recently they have used that keyword.

If we saw them advertising on a keywords several months back, and they are still advertising for it now, most likely it is working for them. For example, I can filter my results to only show keywords that have been see for at least 365 days and a KEI of greater than 70.

KEI Filter Option

Use your competitor’s data to find profitable keywords.

What About Competitive Data?

This information is primarily on paid advertising, but on the SEO / content marketing side of keyword competitive spying, the example below shows the keyword “Web Hosting Company” top SEO Competitor; Root URL, Google Rank, # of Back Links, Indexed Pages, Page Rank and Share of Voice.

Web Hosting SEO Data

Keywords are the root of all search marketing efforts, so knowing this information for each keyword keeps you ahead of the competition.

Another good free data point is SimilarWeb which breaks down your competitor’s traffic by country and by these sources:

  • Direct
  • Referrals
  • Search
  • Social
  • Email
  • Display

You can also see the type of audience visiting the site and similar sites that you can analyze. We use this data to get a better idea of where they are getting most of their traffic and see if there is a correlation to our marketing channel traffic sources.

We may find new channels for increased visibility, other markets we can expand into or with this screen shot we can see Sears.com gets 24.3 percent of its traffic from referrals.

SimilarWeb Sears

With this report, you can drill into the referrals to see exactly which ones are driving most of the traffic to your competitor. My favorite feature is being able to analyze where the visitors go when they leave the site. So what do you do with that information?

Ask yourself: Do any of the referral or exit sites offer advertising opportunities? This is how you can monetize this data by getting in front of or remarketing to visitors on these sites.

SimilarWeb Referring Traffic

Competitor Domain Research

By entering a competitor’s domain, you can immediately see approximately how much they are spending in PPC, which keywords they are advertising for, which ads they are using, the landing pages associated with those ads, number of keywords they rank for organically, and any social mentions.

Not a bad summary for just entering my competitor’s domain into the search box. Let’s look at President Obama’s healthcare.gov website below.


The March deadline to sign up for health care is here, and as you can see by the Monthly Ad Budget graph, the peak of their spending was in February just before the deadline. I’ll let you decide if the estimated PPC budget using our tax dollars of over $539,255 per month is a good Investment.

2. Crowdsourcing to Find the Best Ads

When someone searches Google or Bing and sees your ad, you only have 3-5 seconds to catch their attention otherwise they will click on a competitor’s ad.

It’s critical to write unique, compelling ads that attract targeted clicks otherwise you can have all the visibility in the world, but no one clicks on your ads.

I recommend ad testing as one of the first things you should optimize and crowdsourcing your competitors ads is a great place to start.

Dreamhost Ad Efficiency Index

We can look at the 1,608 ads and sort by the Ad Effectiveness Index (AEI). Basically using the same algorithm of the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) we can tell how long they have been running this ad, and if seen recently, we can assume it is still working.

Wholesalefavors Ad Effectiveness index

This example helps me see which combination of “wholesale” “wedding” and “favors” does best in the ads for wholesalefavors.com.

3. Reverse Engineer Competitor Campaign Structure

One of the questions we often ask ourselves is: what does my competitors AdWords account structure look like? How do they organize their keyword grouping and is there a better way to drive up my quality score?

This example shows the top three best performing ads for Sears.com for the keywords “mr coffee coffee grinder”, “pickup snow plows” and “canon rebel t2 35 mm”.

Sears Campaign Stucture

What is more interesting, and quite amazing is seeing the other keywords that trigger that ad. In this example there are 37 other keywords that are grouped with this ad which can shed some light on their AdWords account structure.

Sears Snow Plow keyword

Here is another screenshot of a possible campaign structure using Lowes.com for the keyword “leaf blower”:

Leaf Blower Lowes Campign Structure

So how do you make more profit by knowing your competitor’s AdWords account structure?

The only way to monetize this data is if you can compare to your account structure and find better themed ad groups that drive up the quality score and lower your CPC. Pay less for traffic, keep the same conversion rate, profit goes up.

4. Competitor Alerts to Monitor Search Activity and Changes

It’s impossible to stay on top of each competitor daily or weekly. Maybe you can do it by hand monthly, but that is a lot of work. I recommend setting up competitor alerts to get notified when new keywords used, ads are changed or new SEO rankings appear for any of the URLs you want to monitor.

Competitor Alert Dashboard

The benefit of these alerts is that you can constantly monitor the new ads they run, any new keywords they use and react to any promotions they are running. This is especially important for ecommerce companies as promotions can be a daily activity.

If possible, try to monitor your competitor’s landing pages for changes including price, offers, and promotions to make sure you can match or at least be aware of these campaigns, especially if your customer asks you.

5. Operation Camouflage (Hide Your Best Keywords and Ads From Competitors)

One of the best spying strategies is to not let your competition spy on you! I call this “Operation Camouflage.”

The concept of this strategy is to hide your ads from the competition by blocking their IP address or if you know where they are located geo-target them with your non-performing ads. In AdWords, under Advanced Settings, you can edit “IP Exclusions” so just add your competitor’s IP address.

AdWords IP Exclusion

Need help getting your competitor’s IP address? Contact me.


Try to organize your strategy into three components so you can find threats and opportunities to drive more profit.

  1. Visibility.
  2. Creative.
  3. Continuity.

Spend time optimizing your campaigns and looking at the competition for ideas. Use tools that will help save you time checking your visibility, monitoring your competitor’s PPC keywords, alerts for changes to their ads and any new SEO keywords that they are ranking for.

There is no short-cut to driving more profit, you still have to out-work your competition. Those who are constantly working on gaining a competitive edge with tools and research plus improving continuity for a better user experience usually win the battle. Good luck!

For more information on spying strategies and tools, attend my session next week in New York City at ClickZ Live. If you have any good spying tips that you would like to share, please share in the comments.


The Ultimate Guide to Forum Link Building in 2020

whitepaper | Analytics The Ultimate Guide to Forum Link Building in 2020

Top 5 SEO Mistakes

whitepaper | Analytics Top 5 SEO Mistakes

Improving SEO & Developer Relationships

whitepaper | Development Improving SEO & Developer Relationships

How to Do Online Competitor Analysis

whitepaper | Analytics How to Do Online Competitor Analysis