When you are facing 30% year-over-year increases in CPCs and slightly worse position on core non-brand terms, it’s easy to throw your hands up and say, “that’s out of my control.” I’ve been there. And while you can’t reverse competitive pressures as easily as you can change other metrics in a PPC account, no VP of Marketing or CMO is paying you to explain the apocalypse in spiffy PowerPoint slides. You better take action to counteract competitors as best as possible.


When paid search gets real, you better have a plan. Photo via Pexels.

Win the First Impression Battle

PPC account managers truly earn their stripes when they triumph over competitive pressure from Amazon (for ecommerce), or Salesforce (for B2Bs). Your war chest may never compare to the big guys, so you need to distinguish your competitive advantage. This means that your ad copy should beat theirs. Every. Single. Time.

If the competition is showing up higher than you and highlighting the same value props, then you’re a dead duck. Be proactive and understand what your competitors are highlighting in their ads for core terms. Talk to your advertiser’s sales team (for B2Bs) or read customer reviews (for ecommerce), and understand why someone would pick you over the competition. If there’s one competitor in particular that is constantly beating you out, hone in on what advantages you have over that competitor. If they have better pricing, shipping and selection, but you have higher customer reviews, your ad copy needs to point that out.

Obsess Over Conversion Rates

If your CPCs are going up, the only real way to counteract CPA increases is to bolster conversion rates. Start with landing pages. Look at the landing pages your competitors are leveraging for core terms. Can you make it easier for down-funnel users to convert? Does the content of your landing pages reflect the comparative advantages listed above? Your competitor may have aggressively raised bids to gain 20% more clicks, but that doesn’t mean they will capture 20% more conversions.

Next consider your offer itself. Are all your competitors offering a free quote while you’re slinging the same old whitepaper? If so, test a free quote. Consider your comparative advantages over the competitors showing above you. Imagine that all visitors to your landing page have already visited your competitors (odds are, most of them have). Highlight as concisely as possible how and why you have the competition beat.

Provide a Better User Experience

Not every user is ready to convert on her first visit, so make sure you’re meeting consumers where they are in the funnel. This is especially effective if your competitors treat their landing pages as an all or nothing battle for a conversion on the first click.

We have a very innovative client who sells used cars online and ships them directly to your door. Imagine a search for used cars vs. buy used car online. Someone searching for used cars is very likely someone who has never considered the possibility of buying a car online. We needed to meet first-click visitors with content speaking to the advantages of buying a car online, the security and ease of user experience, and our many positive customer reviews.

Once previous visitors return to the site, we are much more aggressive about why they should buy from us (and soon!) with sale language and other value propositions. Many consumers don’t buy on the first click. A more helpful user experience increases the likelihood that they return by bookmarking your page, clicking on an organic link, or searching for your brand. In all of these cases, we’ve erased the competitor’s advantage of higher bids.

Focus on Quality Score

Quality Score is a means to achieving stronger average position and lower CPCs, not an actual goal to strive toward. That said, when facing tough competition, Quality Score is a great way to beat your competitors. Quality Score is Google’s way of rewarding you for doing a better job of providing relevant ad copy and LPs. Increasing your Quality Score from 5 to 7 on a non-brand keyword is going to boost your ad rank 40%! In addition to letting you be more competitive with the same bids, it also pushes up the CPCs that our competitors must pay to show ahead of you. Forcing their CPCs higher cuts into their budget and removes some of their power over the market.

Google shows you exactly what they believe is and isn’t up to snuff. Look, at the keyword level, at what needs to be done to improve QS and make the necessary changes as soon as possible.


Image via AdWords

Fight Back

Competitor campaigns are not always the best way to achieve your advertising goals, but you will probably have an outsized impact on your competitor’s brand CPCs. The more they spend protecting their brand, the less budget they have to gobble up high position and impression share on non-brand terms.

If you are facing budget issues of your own, then be selective about what terms you are bidding on. If your new marketing automation software is competing with Marketo, don’t just bid on “Marketo.” Focus on terms like “Marketo” + compare, vs., reviews, alternatives, and other terms that display to a searcher who is actually evaluating multiple options. Also, bid on terms that highlight feature sets that distinguish your product (eg – Marketo social media automation).

Competition is tough. There’s nothing worse than a PPC account that’s humming along and driving great performance improvements, and then suddenly goes up in smoke when a competitor doubles their bids, budgets and impression share. A basic tenet of Metric Theory’s company culture, one that we highlight in every quarterly all hands meeting, individual review, and recruiting meeting, is to “be solutions oriented.” A solutions-oriented individual defines and acts on a strategy for success. There are two types of PPC account managers: those who spend time eloquently explaining all the ways their competitors have stolen market share, and those who do something about it. Be the second.