According to panelists at ClickZ Live New York this week, brands must start with keywords first before implementing competitive monitoring. Brands must also figure out who their competition really is, what they care about, how they’re performing, and how they are achieving that performance.
Brands looking for ways to dominate their competition in search heard about spying strategies from Jamie Smith, chief executive (CEO) of Strategy Analyzer, and Nathan Safran, director of research at Conductor, in the "5 Spying Strategies You Can Use Today to Dominate Your Competition" panel on day two of ClickZ Live New York.
According to Smith, all the strategies, tools, and technology in the world won't help a brand that doesn't first do market research and identify its ideal customer.
"That has to happen first, then competitors' data and the data you can seek from tools becomes actionable," Smith says.
Therefore, brands must start with keywords and URLs and look at who is paying and ranking for those keywords.
Then, it's all about "SIM," or Strategy, Implementation, and Measurement, Smith says. However, he notes, everything tends to fall off during implementation, which makes analytics important.
Next, a brand is ready for alerts and competitive monitoring and should look at visibility, creative, continuity, and conversion. Smith lists visibility first because, "You can have the best ad creative in the world, but if no one sees it, it's crap."
Visibility includes who is in a brand's target market, what they are searching for, and whether that brand has visibility. But brands should also look at what sites its customers read and they should try to find out where customers are absorbing content because that's another place they need to have visibility.
Brands can benchmark themselves by comparing their websites to competitors' in terms of factors like the number of keywords bought and the number of keywords ranked for, as well as impression share and social mentions.
Once visibility has been taken care of, investing in good creative can take off hugely down the road, Smith says.
The biggest disconnect often lies in continuity, Smith says. That includes between the keyword and the ad and between the ad and the landing page.
He recommends competitive analysis tools like Compete, Wordtracker, iSpionage, SimilarWeb, MixRank, and WhatRunsWhere. The latter two are purely on the display side and show brands where their competitors are advertising.
In addition, Smith also cautions that SimilarWeb is "not accurate, but it's an awesome source of data."
That includes referral data, which can help a brand determine if there are advertising opportunities on referring sites that might drive traffic.
According to Smith, everything starts with keywords. Using competitive analysis tools, brands can see how many consumers see competitors for a particular word and how many competitors rank for that word.
Brands can also look at the average position of competitors and see if there are any examples where they spike up or down and look into whether there were any drastic changes.
Smith's second strategy is to look at competitors' keyword effectiveness. Brands need to look at how long ago competitors first began advertising for a keyword and whether they have advertised for that same keyword recently. A change could be a sign the keyword is potentially not working for them, which, Smith says, is "not perfect, but it's better than no data."
Smith's third strategy is crowdsourcing for ads. In other words, in a similar move, Smith suggests looking at how long competitors have been running a given ad and whether they've used it recently.
"If it's good, they've used it for a long time or they're just not testing their ads," Smith says. "If it is working, they're probably going to keep running with it."
Smith also advocates what he calls a "reverse engineer campaign structure," using a platform like iSpionage to see what other keywords are associated with an ad.
Finally, Smith suggests using competitor and keyword alerts. iSpionage allows brands to insert their competitors' URLs to be notified when they change ad creative. That way, if a competitor runs a 20 percent off sale for an upcoming holiday, a brand can bump up their sale prices in response.
iSpionage also allows brands to find out if competitors have added new keywords or if they are expanding their reach or have opened up new products.
Finally, Smith advocates what he calls "Operation Camouflage" in which brands geotarget their competitors and serve up poor performing ads or go dark if they can get their hands on a competitor's IP address.
For his part, Safran has his own tips about how a brand should approach the competitive search landscape.
Noting consumers still turn to organic search to find websites, Safran says his first tip is to know who a brand's competition really is. That also means knowing what they care about, how they're performing, and how they are achieving that performance, Safran says.
Knowing about competitor performance is valuable because a brand can see when that company stumbles or, alternately, is doing really well and they can analyze what they are doing to see what brought about the result, Safran says.
Safran also notes a brand's competition may not always be who it thinks it is - Google is a huge competitor that is often overlooked.
Google's recent changes to the way it displays pay-per-click (PPC) ads mean brands are not just competing with their competitors, but also with Google to appear above the fold in organic search results.
"Your competition isn't who you think it is, it's who Google says it is," Safran adds.
Brands can also claim real estate in Google by strategically creating content. Google search results for a phrase like "buy tablesaw" yield a lot of retailers. Google search results for questions about tablesaw pricing and product information, however, lead Google to think the user is doing research and so the search engine instead serves up more informational content, which is part of the reason brands are becoming publishers, Safran says.
"A brand is not just publishing pricing and product information, but valuable information to help in the buying process," he adds. "The key is knowing what Google is actually looking for."
Brands can also use a tool like Ubersuggest to see how people are searching, what keywords result, who is ranking, and how to answer the question of what Google is looking for.
Brands should also see how competitors successfully rank for their keywords so that they understand what they're doing, Safran says.
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In addition to ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, Lisa's work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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