When managing PPC campaigns (or any marketing campaigns for that matter), analyzing, testing and adjusting given information about your competitors can be extremely helpful and necessary. Knowing what they may be doing better and/or what you may be doing better, when they're spending their money, what's working and not working for them, etc. can give you strategic advantages that can help you make profitable adjustments.

Here are two metrics trended over the last 6 months for the top 5 advertisers (for Impression Share) on a keyword. These were found in the Auction Insights report in an AdWords account. Following these charts, I break down my flow of thoughts about each advertiser from looking at these two simple metrics. I know I'm not catching everything, but my guess is you'll be surprised at the amount of information you can gain (and the bunny trails they can send you down) from these two simple charts.

The specific keyword used for this analysis is the top keyword used by the businesses in this particular market. It is an industry that has a bit of seasonality in that business picks up in the holiday season, but is not ultra-seasonal in that business is steady the rest of the year. It is a B2B industry that operates mostly in the U.S., so the profitability of advertising is higher during business hours.

Here are the metric definitions just to be clear:

  • Impressions Share - Impression share is the percentage of impressions you received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive.
  • Average Position - The average position for the participant's ads when they received an impression (all successful auctions).


Impression Share.pngAverage Position.png

The Insights

Advertiser 1

  • Average Impression Share - 100%. Trend over time - This has stayed at 100% for the last 6 months straight.
  • Avg. Position - 1.16. Trend over time - This has stayed right around 1 for the duration of the 6-month period.


The ad and bid combination is so strong that this competitor dominates the #1 position. But the question is, is the ad super strong or is the bid super high, or is it both? It could be that their ad is so good that they are bidding the same amount as the other competitors, but gaining the #1 position all the time. Or it could be that their ad performs close to the same as the other competitors (relative to position) and their bid is super high.

Whatever the case may be, if I was competing against this advertiser, you might want to test some of the content in their ads to see if that works better than what you have. If it doesn't, you can be fairly confident in the conclusion that they have a love affair with the #1 position, and you would likely enter a bidding war if you tried to overtake them. Also, if they are bidding so high for the #1 position, why are they able to do it? Are they making a mistake and losing money or is the conversion rate on their site so good that they can afford to pay more for visitors?

With that said, you could take some ideas from their site and test them to find out. If I didn't find either their ad or conversion process to be anything spectacular, I would be content to nestle myself underneath them in a sweet spot that gets me the best ROI.

If I was this advertiser, I would run tests of walking my bid down over the coming weeks and months to find the sweet spot at which I'm comfortable with the amount of traffic I get compared to the price I pay. I can see that I'm overpaying for clicks, and I may be able to save significantly in costs without losing much in position, clicks, conversions and ultimately ROI.

Advertiser 2

  • Average Impression Share - 77%. Trend over time - Stayed in the 70-80% range with a bump in December. They've been declining since December with a low of 72% in March.
  • Avg. Position - 2.27. Trend over time - They've stayed right between 2 and 3 for the duration of the 6-month period.


This competitor stays near the top, nestling itself under competitor A (which is likely a good strategy given what we learned about A). This signifies some kind of combination of a strong ad and/or aggressive bid. Theirs is another ad and site I would attempt to glean from for testing if I was competing against them. They are in top spots consistently and I want to find out why.

They are also showing that they may be a bit more savvy than the average advertiser in that they had a bump in Impression Share in December. This keyword is one whose popularity and sales increases during the holiday season, so this shows that they've likely paid a decent amount of attention to their account and adjusted their aggressiveness during this peak time (unlike other competitors in the market).

If I'm competing against this advertiser, their savviness tells me I will want to keep an eye on them and everything they do so I can react accordingly. Like advertiser 1, I'll keep my eyes on their activity and what sticks to gain insights about what is working best for them and test accordingly.

If I am this advertiser, I'm not going to raise my bid right now. I'm assuming competitor 1 has a love affair with position #1, and I don't want a bidding war. I'm going to test my current bid with something a little lower to see if I can keep my performance the same while paying a little less. At the same time, I'll test my ads with competitor 1's content to see if that's what causing them to dominate the #1 position. If I don't see a better click-through rate, I've confirmed their love affair, and I will watch their romance from below while being content with my position. I might also test ideas in their conversion process to see if that's what enabled competitor 1 to pay a higher price for clicks.

Advertiser 3

  • Average Impression Share - 76%. Trend over time - Were above 80% until February when they dropped to 65% and then a low of 59% in March.
  • Avg. Position - 5.76. Trend over time - They went from a high of 4.1 in Oct consistently down to a 7.3 low in March.


This advertiser is dropping their aggressiveness considerably out of this market. It looks like they've lowered their bids, and possibly combined that with more filtered day-parting. If they were only limiting their ad serving more, their Impression Share would decrease, but their Avg. Position would not go down. If they only wrote new ads that weren't as good, we'd see less of a dramatic drop from January to February (80% to 65%).

It could be that they are allocating their budget to the fall and holiday season because of the busy time of year. So, I went back and looked at the summer months of 2012 and found that they were up in the 90% impression share range at high average positions during that time. That tells me that they simply bid high on this keyword and then realized they were losing money. That makes me wonder what their ad says and what it offers. Maybe I can learn something from it about what not to do.

Upon further review of the Ad Preview Tool, I came to find that they were offering something that didn't match the query. Knowingly or unknowingly (looks like they found out now though), they were attempting to cross-promote an item in this market. Looks like they've learned they're either paying too much or the market isn't good for their offer.

If I'm competing against this advertiser, I don't worry about them at all. In fact, I probably send a thank you note for taking a position away from a relevant advertiser for so long.

If I am this advertiser, I'm glad I found out this was happening, and I realize I should have hired a professional to manage these campaigns. But, I haven't hired a professional yet because I still have an irrelevant ad showing. So, I take the next step and hire a professional who will likely cost much less than all the money I've wasted up to this point.

Advertiser 4

  • Average Impression Share - 64%. Trend over time - Pretty steady in the mid 60% range with a high of 69% in November.
  • Avg. Position - 5.52. Trend over time - Has stuck right around 5 to 6 through the 6 months.


This advertiser has been content to hang out on the sidebar with their ads. They have some combination of day-parting and/or a lower bid. It could be just a low bid and they therefore only win a spot in 64% of auctions, or they day-part with a lower bid and consistently win the sidebar at specific times of the day/week. They likely don't get a great deal of traffic in this position, which tells me they probably have a lower budget that keeps them from being really aggressive on any one keyword. You may be thinking it could be because they have a great performing ad that gets lots of clicks in low positions, but I checked out their ad and I know it's nothing special.

This motivates me to look at their site to see why. What I saw was that, unlike the more aggressive advertisers in this space, this service is not this business' main focus. This is a larger company that is likely spending the majority of their PPC budget on their main products. Since this is the case, their conversion rates are likely pretty low, which makes them unable to bid as high as others.

This is likely a "set-it-and-forget-it" type of advertiser on this keyword. Their Avg. Position was pushed down by other advertisers who decided to get more aggressive during the holiday season. Since it's a larger company, they may be taking a hit in this area and just not paying attention. But, since they're larger, they may be able to afford to do that. I would likely cross-reference this info with some budget estimations from other competitive intelligence tools out there to get a sense of what they may be spending on PPC relative to other advertisers we see here.

If I'm competing against this advertiser for this keyword, I'm not real concerned about their threat because I can see they're not paying much attention. I can see they don't optimize much and their ad was just thrown together by an amateur (missing punctuation). It's likely an in-house person that only has enough time to give minimal effort to this space.

If I am this advertiser, why am I committing a PPC budget to a market and then doing a shoddy job of managing it? Maybe I should seriously consider hiring in-house (if my suspicions are correct that they are larger and have a large budget).

Advertiser 5

  • Average Impression Share - 59%. Trend over time -They have an upward trend ever since October when they were 36%. They have risen to 66% in March.
  • Avg. Position - 5.92. Trend over time - Has stuck around 5 or 6 for the last 6 months, but had a low of 7 in November when there was likely increased competition.


This is another advertiser where I had to go back a few more months in the trend to see if October was a normal thing or an aberration. Pre-October hung around 50%, so we can definitely see that this advertiser is making a move here. They've had some big swings in Avg. Position in these 6 months, but are mostly hanging out in the sidebar and are not fighting for top positions (the Top of Page % metric would be great to look at here, but I promised to include only 2 metrics or else this post would be even longer).

In looking at their site, this keyword is their main service, and it looks to me like they're getting more serious about their campaign.

If I'm competing against this advertiser, I'm keeping my eyes on them. They look like they're making a move, and I don't want them taking my real estate. I'll want to take notes on if they're testing ads and landing pages, what they are, and which ones win over time so that I can gain insights into what is working for them. It won't necessarily work best for me, but at least I can test.

If I am this advertiser, I'd be testing my ads and bids to see how breaking into Top of Page positions more often will affect my results. Will I profit more if I gain more clicks and conversions at a higher cost? Can I gain more clicks for the same cost by providing a more relevant ad? What can I learn from other advertisers that seem to be outperforming me to help improve my results?

The Value

Think about the value you've just gained if you're running a campaign in this market from 2 simple metrics! And this is only 2 of the 5 metrics they give you in the Auction Insights for each keyword!

You now have a sense of who the real players are, who's most likely doing well, ads that could be out-performing or under-performing yours, where you could have room to save money or make more money on your bidding, ideas you can test for performance, and more. If you haven't, spend some time on your top keywords and you'll start to learn a lot about your competitions' strategy, and maybe more importantly, where you might be able to improve.

May 28, 2013

Mike Fleming specializes in Analytics and Paid Search for Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music along with playing basketball to get his workout in. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

Mike and the team at Pole Position are available to help clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Contact them via their site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Fleming > 2,000 Words of Insight from Only 2 PPC Competitive Metrics