"In fact, sometimes it's easy to forget that there are a whole lot of similar businesses doing the same – your competition."

Collecting intelligence on what your competitors are doing may just give you the upper hand.

Plugging your business on the internet through methods such as paid search marketing (also known as PPC, or pay-per-click) can be an isolating, insular task. In fact, sometimes it's easy to forget that there are a whole lot of similar businesses doing the same – your competition.

While it's important to focus on maintaining your own patch of turf, using data obtained from various sources to scope out your competitors' search marketing activities is also very much recommended by industry pundits.

This could include finding out where and when they're advertising, the keywords they're using and how they rank on different search engines.

“Running PPC competitive intelligence reports as often as possible is essential to develop a well-rounded and profitable PPC strategy,” says blogger and search specialist Soumya Nalam.

“From optimising the testing process, improving bidding and pricing strategies to finding new keywords and placements, this report is a treasure house of data,” she says in a tutorial on the iSpionage website.

“These learnings can have an incredibly tremendous impact on your PPC account; it’s worth building this into your regular processes and re-running them once every six to eight weeks,” PPC specialist and communications executive Purna Virji writes on the Search Engine Watch site.

She says deciding the “ultimate use” for your report and “what you most hope to gain from it” will help you compile the list of “questions” or areas you want to explore.

According to Virji, questions could include: What are the prevalent themes across competitors' ad copy? What type of content do they have on their landing pages? What keywords are they bidding on? Do they bid on their competitors’ keywords? How do they react to seasonal changes?

Senior digital marketing strategist Julie Batten says there are a number of websites that will help you uncover this invaluable data about your competitors, including, which “provides estimates of paid search spending, including exportable Excel files that enable you to perform some forecasting and analyses,” she writes on  marketing news website ClickZ. 

While gathering data on search marketing is one thing, compiling it into an easy-to-consume chunk of insightful goodness is another.

Soumya Nalam says “converting all the valuable research into a format that makes the data easy to read, understand and digest is another important aspect of reporting, with Excel being the obvious choice.”

“A PPC competitive intelligence report that offers a top-level overview with ad copy, CPC, top keywords, landing pages, offers, etc. as columns and the most important companies in the rows for both branded and non-branded categories of ads is extremely helpful.”

“For a more comprehensive view of the competitive landscape, create additional tabs that cover different keyword sets, related ads, and landing pages of your top three or five competitors. Determine how many different landing pages they use and how often they update them, how good their page construction and SEO is, and what type of calls to action they use or don’t use.”

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