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Friday: Researching Your Competitor’s Keywords

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Monitoring your competitor’s PPC efforts is a good way to keep your edge. By conducting competitive research, you can discover new variations of your core keywords, or completely new ones. There are reasons to take on your competitors head-on for the same keywords, and there are other reasons to make flanking maneuvers in order to avoid direct competition. You can think of competitive research as both a defensive and an offensive tactic.

First, let’s cover the defensive aspect of competitive research. There are going to be core keywords that will drive your business. Often there are several competitors who are also bidding on these core keywords. As we said earlier, you want to have bid on many variations of your core keywords, because your target audience is going to be made up of people from varying backgrounds and locations. Your competitors may have thought of terms that you’ve missed. Adding variations that you discover through competitive research can help you maintain a position as the toughest competitor.

Another goal of competitive research is to gain an understanding of your competitors’ messaging. What are your competitors saying in their PPC ads? Here’s what to look for:

Headline: Does their headline speak more clearly to your target audience? If so, why? If not, why not? Make a list of reasons why their headline is better than yours.

Ad copy: Are your competitors utilizing their limited ad copy more efficiently than you? What benefits and features do they highlight? Make a list of benefits you’re not using in your ads.

Call to action: How are your competitors motivating users to click on their PPC ads? Are they offering special deals, free shipping, or free information? Write down reasons why their offers are more compelling than yours.

Some people say the best defense is a good offense. Researching your competitors’ keywords will also help you think of new terms that neither you nor they are targeting. During this process, you’re looking for holes in your competitors’ keyword armor, so to speak. The motivation here isn’t to go head-on against your competition; rather, you are looking for terms that all your competitors are missing.

Now that you understand how competitive research is both a defensive and an offensive tactic, how exactly do you find out which keywords your competitors are targeting? You will never know exactly which terms your competitors are bidding on. None of the search engines will provide you with this information, and there is no reputable third-party tool that will provide precise insight into your competitors’ PPC keywords.

Competitive analysis shouldn’t be the cornerstone of your keyword research. Instead, this process should supplement the construction of your keyword list and make it stronger. There are numerous tools that you could buy to provide good insight into your competitors’ PPC activities, but to get you started, we’ll describe a few ways that you can do such research on the cheap.

The Ad Preview Tool

By now, you should have a grasp on which keywords are mission critical for your campaign. To gauge the level of competition for each term, you should conduct a search query for each of these. This will give you an idea of how competitive your core terms are, and let you create a list of the competitors with the highest visibility.

To conduct these competitive search queries, you should use the Google Ad Preview tool ( By using this tool, you won’t generate false impressions for yourself or your competitors (let’s play fair!). Another reason to use the tool: Each subsequent search query on Google may cause a different set of ads to be displayed. Google does this because if you don’t click any ads during a single search session, it’s assumed you are not interested in the set of ads being displayed, and eventually no ads will be displayed for the queries you are making from your computer and your IP address. The Google Ad Preview tool helps you avoid these issues.

When you conduct a search query by using the Google Ad Preview tool, you are not actually conducting a live search on Google; you are getting a preview of what the SERP may look like for that particular keyword. Figure 4.14 shows the results of a search conducted using the term organic white tea.

The Google Ad Preview tool can give you an idea of how a SERP will appear for your core keywords.

As you can see in the figure, the Ad Preview tool enables you to view ads as if you were searching from a different location. You can select to view ads as they may appear in a different country, state, region, and city, or even a location defined by longitude and latitude coordinates. This way, you can see how search results look in locations other than your own. For example, if you live in Indiana but you want to see what ads are being displayed in California for a certain term, you can do this by using the Ad Preview tool.

Competitors’ Website Review

Believe it or not, your competitors may just simply tell you their core keywords. For SEO purposes, companies will utilize a line of code called the meta keyword tag, which tells the search engines which keywords are most important to this particular page of their website.

Where do you find this information? When viewing your competitor’s website home page, at the top of the browser you should click View and then select Page Source from the drop-down menu that appears. A new window will open that displays the HTML code of this page. The meta keyword tag is usually located at the top of the code, and looks similar to Figure 4.15.

A home page’s meta name, meta description, and meta keywords tags

Third-Party Tools

The tools in this section are not free, but their publishers offer free features. They can give you some insight into your competitors’ keywords, messaging within their PPC ads, and traffic trends for their websites. Here are some of our favorites:

Compete ( As with any of the tools listed in this section, you’ll get much more competitive information with the paid version of this software, but the free version will get you started. For example, we entered a competitor’s website into Compete and received quite a bit of useful information, as you can see in Figure 4.16 and Figure 4.17.

SpyFu ( SpyFu offers two methods of competitive research: by keyword and by URL. When searching by keyword, you are provided with quite a bit of information, including projected CPC, clicks per day, and the average number of advertisers. Also, you can see top PPC domains for this term as well as samples of PPC ads. The information provided by SpyFu is helpful, and Figure 4.18 shows just the top of the results page—additional information is provided on the rest of the page.


In Compete, you can see traffic trends for your competitors, as well as visits and unique visitors.

You can also gain additional insight from Compete, such as site description, top referring websites, and some keyword ideas.

SpyFu can indicate how competitive a keyword may be and show the main advertisers bidding on the term.

You can use SpyFu to conduct competitive research by using a specific URL, and get the projected daily AdWords spending range, average ad position, top 10 paid keywords, and other information. You should not, however, take this information as solid fact, but rather as a point of reference. Figure 4.19 shows a sample URL analysis from SpyFu.

A SpyFu URL analysis

KeywordSpy ( If you went ahead and hopped on the Compete and SpyFu bandwagons, you already have quite a bit of information about your competitors. Like the others, KeywordSpy provides speculative stats, top keywords, main competitors, and PPC ad variations. However, it also provides top organic keywords and competitors.


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