Ways to Gain Competitor PPC Insights

During a recent dive into an auction insights report for one of my clients, I noticed that one of our top paid search competitors was declining in impression share. Our Search dominance was prevailing and I proudly looked down on the competitor <10%  stat. I was excited to share the news with my client, but then I got to wondering what the heck the competitor in question was up to and why had they seemingly dropped off the face of paid search? I will share with you my journey and what I learned along the way. Get your trench-coat and pipe ready….

The first question I had was: where are they advertising besides Search? I wanted to look into: Display, Social Platforms & Remarketing.


A great tool to see if your competitors, or any other advertisers are running Display ads, is moat.com. Type in a brand’s name and moat will show you the inventory of display ads for that brand along with the dates the ads were live. Here’s an example from a household name:

This tool is a gold-mine. You can see the creative elements a competitor is using, as well as CTA’s, ad sizes, brand voice and get a feel for who their audiences could be. The downside of moat is that it doesn’t seem to pull in Responsive Display ads, just standards ones. When I did a search for my own Client’s brand I couldn’t’ find any evidence of their display presence, despite knowing for a fact we’re running display. Keep that in your back pocket when using this tool.


Next, I went to Facebook.  I’m not going to rehash Facebook’s major fiascos, but suffice it to say that there was a demand for greater transparency into ads, and Facebook delivered. You can now go to any Facebook page and see what ads they are currently running.  Simply navigate to the “Info & Ads” section of the page. For the sake of consistency, I’ll use Nike again as an example:

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When I did this Search for my client’s competitor, I found that they had greatly increased their social ad presence on Facebook and had expanded into several different ad formats including carousel and video. Suddenly, their sad impression share started to make sense.


The next advertising rock I wanted to overturn was their remarketing strategy. I went to their site and gladly accepted the cookie policy. Next, I went to my favorite spots to get remarketing ads: weather websites. It’s a nearly fail-safe way to see if you’re being remarketed to as it’s neutral internet territory. Quickly, I was hit with an ad from said competitor. Being the stealthy PPC person I am, I clicked the ad so I could see what might be hidden in their UTM parameters:

Jackpot! I could see that they were using programmatic for their remarketing and I could even tell that I was in a remarketing list of folks who had not converted in the last 8-30 days. This investigation tactic is super useful and can provide a lot of insight into competitor strategy. We wear our PPC hearts on our UTM sleeves, which makes a lot us uncomfortably transparent. If you’re feeling super sly, you can always code your UTM so that your competitors can’t see what you’re up to.

I also journeyed to Twitter, LinkedIn, & Quora to see if I would get remarketing ads on those platforms. Spoiler alert, I did get a few.

As useful as it is to see where your competitors are advertising, it is equally as insightful to see where there is no evidence of them advertising. After going undercover, I emerged with a much better story to tell my client: Your main competitor is less competitive in Paid Search but, has branched out into several other platforms. So, just because we’re winning in Search, doesn’t mean we’ve got the market cornered. There is work to do if we want to remain competitive across multiple channels.

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