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8 min read

Brighton SEO 2018: We need to talk about competitor campaigns

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

PPC’s dirty little secret, the competitor campaign. We’ve all done it and we’re all experienced it. In recent years all industries have become more competitive, and with that the question of how an emerging brand or an established brand can stand out in this saturated landscape.

Two experts in their field Daniel Moore, and Duane Brown tackled this subject at this year’s Brighton SEO conference. Their talks were respectively titled; The Hidden Potential of Brand PPC and Competitor Bidding: The Halo Effect.

Due to the shared nature of these talks I will elaborate on both talks together below.

Firstly, both Daniel and Duane raised the situation of competitor activity. Whereas Daniel discussed the impact a competitor campaign on your cost-per-click, Duane discussed his strategies and methods of launching a successful competitor campaign.

Daniel began by highlighting a common misconception

Users who search for a brand are highly likely to convert

Whilst it is true that brand keywords are naturally going to have a higher click-through-rate, assuming that branded traffic is “low hanging fruit” is overlooking the importance of the funnel.

Daniel very interestingly points out that branded traffic can be at the very top of the funnel, where users are still in an awareness stage, rather than a converting stage. Most importantly he mentions that these users will need to be converted to become advocates of the brand.

Moving onto competitor activity, Daniel shared an experience he’d had with a brand campaign for a client, which I’ve personally been affected by, and I’m sure many other PPC marketers have occurred. The problem of your brand cpc increasing overtime, and under inspection it appears that this higher cpc is not increasing your average position, and thus your visibility.

To diagnosis this cpc increase Daniel suggested looking at historic data, and from this it became apparent that the cpc was increasing due to the emergence of competitor activity on the client’s brand name. Daniel found this by looking into the auction insights report where a spike of competitor activity correlated with the increases in cpc.

“Don’t aim for good, aim for great!”

The main areas of Daniel’s talk discussed 3 options to deal with this and take action against the competitor activity:

Option #1

Contact the competitors

In an ideal world this would be best action to take, however this option depends heavily on your client’s situation. Whilst it would be easy to contact competitors and discuss strategies that could work for both of you, Daniel points out that regardless of your relationship (if any) with competitors this option could make you appear weak, and fuel the competitors on!

Option #2

Bid back!

In classic Frankie Goes to Hollywood fashion, you could bid back and enter into a bidding war. This option is sometimes the favourite of the PPC marketer, as it is assumed that increasing the bids will eventually lead to a position where the competitors back off due to the negative effect of this strategy for both parties (or tribes).

Daniel suggests that this option is the opposite of option #1 and shows you’re not afraid to fight back and protect your brand position. Ultimately it is not the smartest option and can lead to poor performance for all involved and can even make you lose track of actually campaign strategies.

Option #3

Focus on You

This is proclaimed by Daniel to be the best option, and I would have to agree. This option focuses on your abilities as PPC marketer, and takes things back to basics. In essence you can beat you competitors by not increasing bids but by showing of your PPC prowess and making simple adjustments to campaigns to take back the edge.

Daniel lists 4 factors that can have a big impact with this strategy.

–       Campaign structure

–       Visibility

–       Ad Creative

–       Ad Extensions

Of these points Daniel suggests, Campaign structure and Ad Extensions seem to be the most important.

Having a quality campaign structure can allow you to make better decisions in terms of competitor activity, and provides you with more granular data infer your strategies to counter them.

My favourite take away from Daniel’s points here is the inclusion of super relevant site links. Analysing Search Query Reports can bring up the specific areas your users are looking for in your site, for example a login page. By including these in your site links this can give you the edge over your competitor’s ads as it makes your ad more accessible and relevant to the users.

This talk was extremely informative, and Daniel did suggest utilising all 3 options together is measures appropriate to your situation. The third option of taking things back to basic really stood out for myself, as it puts the control back in your hand and instills confidence in your PPC abilities, as Daniel said “don’t aim for good, aim for great!”

Looking from the other perspective now, Duane’s talk dealt with everything Daniel was trying to counter, how to launch a really successful competitor campaign. Duane laid out some interesting methods to create a winning campaign and take the edge away from your competitor, he began by explaining why you would want to do this in the first place.

Interestingly he pointed out that competitor campaigns are a great low cost method to build awareness for your brand. In saturated markets it is a lot cheaper to bid for your competitor’s brand name rather than creating generic search campaigns where your product or services keywords are likely to cost a lot more.

“People cannot pick you as an option if they don’t know you’re an option”

Duane also suggested that this can have a better impact in positioning yourself in a market, particularly if you are establishing yourself as a brand. This is a good way to easily get into the minds of potential users by placing your brand next to their known brands. As Duane says, “People cannot pick you as an option if they don’t know you’re an option.”

The methods Duane discussed to create a successful competitor campaign were extensive, and looked at most aspects you’d apply to create any great PPC campaign. To condense his talk, I have selected the four main takeaways to discuss: Unique selling points, landing page optimisation, competitor identification, campaign structure.

Unique selling points

Duane highlighted that the go to strategy for competitor tactics, is to compete on price with your competitors. Now this does have its benefits and is a tactic that I use, Duane however suggested that when going for a brand that a user is actively looking for, price alone will not sway the decision of the user.

His example was that a mattress company competing with a household mattress brand using price alone is unlikely to win the over the brand due to mattresses being a long term investment and price isn’t really a factor here, what’s more important is your features and services, or in general your USP’s.

Focusing on price can lead to raises in cpc and you may unknowingly be entering Daniel’s dreaded bidding war! By focusing on your brand and what makes you different to your competitor this is a much more effective strategy and according to Duane you will stand a better chance of converting some users away from their known brand.

Landing page optimisation

If you secure the click and get someone on site where do you want to direct them to? This was an interesting point raised by Duane and raises questions about the users journey. If a user is in shopping mode, and is potentially about to convert from a brand directing them to your homepage may not be the best option. This in effect puts the user back to the awareness stage, and they are likely to bounce and return to their original chosen brand.

The key to landing page optimisation is to highlight your USP’s and the points around you service or products that differentiates you and gives you the edge. Duane showed some examples where companies have created bespoke landing pages comparing two brands. He discussed that this is not a good strategy as it still presents an alternative brand that could still gain the conversion. A better method is to build bespoke landing pages featuring USP’s about your product or service and have very relevant content to the users search queries.

Competitor Identification

A fairly basic point that Duane raised, but admittedly has been overlooked by myself in the past; is to understand who your real competitors are. He explained that this was not exclusively the brands that appear in the SERP, but the competitors that your customers associate with your brand.

Understanding who your competitors are in the eyes of your customers is a great strategy to correctly targeting your audience. Duane listed blogs, forums, reddit and other social media channels as a great way to understand who your real competitors are.

Campaign Structure

Lastly Duane discussed the importance of granular campaign structures for competitor campaigns. Again this is something that is second nature with generic search campaign builds but can be overlooked with competitor campaigns.

The key here is to build extensive competitor campaigns that go beyond simple exact and phrase match bidding on the actual brand phrase. Duane suggests ad groups focused on combinations of keywords that appear in search query reports from the initial brand mining campaign.

By having a larger competitor campaign structure serving multiple queries around your targeted brand, you are able to allocate budget in proportion to performance of your campaign.

This can also serve as a method to provide insights into your ad copy, increasing relevancy as well as aiding the landing page optimisation point above.

In summary both Daniel and Duane’s talks were really insightful. Having two experts discuss the phenomenon of competitor bidding from both sides was very interesting, and both raised good points to aid either the defense or attack stance.