2017 SEM growth hacks: Gain monster paid search growth using competitive data

Welcome back to my eight-part series providing marketers with growth hacks for their paid search campaigns. I began the series last month by focusing on how brand protection in paid search has become a quick way for search marketers to drive meaningful campaign revenue.

Today, I will focus on an SEM growth hack that uses competitive data to grow your paid search results in a big way. My focus today will be on text search ads only. Stay tuned for Part 6 for tips on improving shopping ads.

Let’s jump right into how to achieve monster growth in PPC using competitive data. This is basically written like a recipe, so follow each step:

Step 1: Identify your top keywords

In order to use competitive data in the most productive way, you need to identify a keyword sub-set to focus on. Your goal is to ensure that you have a defensible position on your best performers and to take that defensible position to the next level by actually winning on those keywords.

I like to use keywords that fall into these buckets:

  1. Profitable words: Keywords with high traffic, coupled with a profitable ROI
  2. Strategic importance: For example, in The Search Monitor’s industry, we might find a keyword like “affiliate monitoring” to be important, even though the search volume is very low.

Step 2: Monitor your best keywords using a monitoring tool

Next, you need to gather competitive data on these keywords that really can only be pulled together through crawling/scraping the search results and making observations. To do that, you need an ad monitoring tool. While some might try to accomplish this task with free engine tools like Auction Insights, I’ve repeatedly found that the data is not detailed enough to accomplish what we need to do here.

Your ad-monitoring tool needs to crawl multiple times daily to generate sufficient data points. These third-party tools can also provide insights such as when your competitor first and last appeared on each of your keywords — essential for understanding their keyword strategy — and even a list of the engines and marketplaces they advertise on.

When that’s done, you will have essential competitive data points, including rank, frequency/impression share, ad copy, ad variations, ad extension use and a full list of the competitive landscape.

Incorporating multiple sources into market share analysis also provides a check and balance on the engine’s own data. I recommend that digital agencies, in particular, use ad monitoring tools for their clients. They provide a third-party, unbiased perspective on performance and help the agencies justify asking their clients to increase budgets to boost market share.

Step 3: Look at quantitative results

After you identify your priority competitors from this list, your first step to defeating them is to compare your quantitative results against theirs.

The important metric for this growth hack is called search marketing visibility. For each of your profitable keywords, it tells you who is more visible, you or your competitors.

Search marketing visibility is a combination of ad-serving frequency (impression share) and page position (rank). The better the combination of these two data points, the more visible you are.

While many search marketers optimize their ad rank and impression share metrics separately, I advise against it. If you have a high-ranking ad that rarely shows up, or a low-ranking one that appears often, both of these scenarios cause problems for a click-focused marketer. A statistic which combines both impression share and rank into a score is going to give you, directionally, the best information.

With your single visibility score in hand for each keyword, extract the ones with lower visibility than your competitors. Then, apply the following fixes:

  • Improve rank. If rank is the issue, improve your rank either through bidding more aggressively or improving your landing page so that it is as relevant as possible, thus improving your Quality Score (and rank).
  • Increase exposure. If your impression share is too low, improve this by increasing your budget on keywords where the competition is outpacing you.

Step 4: Review qualitative results

With your quantitative benchmarking completed, it’s time to qualitatively assess your competitors’ ads. Start by focusing on their messaging, specifically these elements:

  1. Offers (e.g., “free shipping,” “sale,” “free product”)
  2. Claims (e.g., “best at,” “#1 at,” “guarantee”)
  3. Ad extensions (e.g., reviews, callouts, social; learn more from my post on the most popular site extensions)

This messaging lives on both the SERP and their landing pages, so look at both. The goal here is to learn how your competitors message consumers and incentivize them to click.

Now it’s time to plan your response. For example, you can test similar messages to theirs in new ad variations in your campaigns. You can also test their offers in the callout section of your ad extensions, or even improve the messages or offers in your Display URL.

These actions will help you learn which combinations of ad copy and offers produce the most interest from searchers.

Step 5: Embrace the macro campaign view

Taking a broad look at your campaigns can often generate quick insights to boost your market share. Here are the macro-level areas to focus on:

  • Geo-targeting. Look at market share by city/country to make sure that you are winning in all key markets.
  • Day parts/seasonality. Watch how your visibility shifts during certain times of the day, month or year.
  • Your affiliates. Monitor your own affiliates to make sure that they are not driving up your CPCs or cannibalizing your click-through rate. This can cause you to blow through your budget faster, preventing ads from showing and hurting your market share.
  • Competitors’ affiliates. Your competitor’s affiliates might be beating you — not just the competitor they advertise for — harming your market share. ­­

Final thoughts on growth-hacking your PPC market share

Competitive ad monitoring is the new hack for driving monster revenue growth in PPC market share. The five-step plan I shared above helps marketers gather a broader perspective of their own campaigns and make more informed strategic decisions.

When marketers adopt a “forest” instead of a “trees” approach, they can better understand their keywords and competitors, develop appropriate benchmarks for search visibility and borrow best practices from their competitors’ messaging and offers. Optimization will never be complete without competitive intelligence.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in my series on growth hacks for search marketers. That article will discuss how to properly assess your competition and performance in the organic listings and provide tips on how to boost your organic visibility.

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