Every SEM advertiser faces competitive pressure at some point. Sometimes, this competition is just worth noting and has a small impact. Other times, it can significantly impact your ability to achieve your goals. So what can you do about it? A lot. Identify the extent of competitive pressure, who those competitors are, and how to beat the competition on your brand keywords. And if you’re not already bidding on your brand terms, start with this blog post first. Competition is one of the biggest reasons you should be bidding on your brand terms — because if you’re not, you can be sure someone else will.

First: Determine the extent of competitive pressure

It’s important to evaluate KPI trends over time to determine how large of an impact competition is having on your performance. Two key indicators of increasing competition are CPCs and impression share. As more and more advertisers bid on a specific keyword, the average CPC will increase, while your impression share will decline as a result of a more crowded competitive space. If you’re starting to see the impression share of a stable keyword set (for example, your branded keywords) decline while CPCs rise, that should be a big red flag that the competitive landscape is changing — and not to your benefit.

It’s also important to look beyond the data into the macro competitive landscape. Have you or a competitor had negative PR lately? Is there a new rival on the block? Has an existing competitor received a new round of funding? Anticipate potential threats so that you can be proactively screening for encroaching competition. Google Trends is a great tool to use to see if there’s new interest in a potential threat.

So, you’re seeing signs of increasing competition — who exactly is coming after you?

Once you suspect increasing competition, it’s time to identify exactly who those new or increasing competitors are. The auction insights report is a very useful tool to determine who is also bidding on your keywords. The report will allow you to see what other domains are bidding on your keywords, at either an account, campaign, ad group, or keyword level. Try segmenting this report by week or month to identify increasing or decreasing impression share trends.

Time to beat the competition

So you know there’s competitive pressure, and you’ve identified who exactly your SEM competitors are — what can you do about it? One way is to punch back and bid on competitor brands! But, direct competitive conquesting can be costly and may not align with your goals. Here are other, more cost-efficient ways of beating competition.

Tailor your messaging and customer journey:

Once you’ve identified who your SEM competitors are, analyze how they’re positioning themselves in their ads. What are their unique selling propositions, and more importantly, compared to you, where do they fall short? By evaluating the messaging they’re using, you can craft copy that addresses competitors’ shortcomings or fills the white space left by what they don’t say, telling your potential customers why you’re the right choice. You can also craft competitor-specific landing pages that explain why you’re better than your competition, though you might want to reserve those for campaigns that involve comparative searches. These strategies don’t require increasing bids and budgets but can still help you win out over the competition. Creating hyper-relevant ads and landing pages also can increase your quality score and result in higher ad placements for cheaper CPCs.

Utilize Target Impression Share for Brand Keywords:

If you’re willing to be more aggressive with spend in order to beat competition, target impression share bidding can be a great strategy to ensure your brand keywords are showing as frequently (and in the highest positions) possible. By utilizing the target impression share bid strategy, you can leverage Google’s smart bidding to maintain the impression share you want. While targeting a high impression share shouldn’t necessarily be a priority for most of your keywords, if you’re seeing increasing competition on your brand terms, ensuring that your brand ad shows above a competitors’ when someone is searching for your brand is a first step to stop them from stealing your potential customers.

Find more qualified traffic:

Another way to offset brand keyword competition is to explore more efficient traffic outside of your brand. Spending a majority of budget on short, broad keywords can be useful for prospecting and growth, but the broader you cast your net, the more competition there’s likely to be. While it may have less volume, by prioritizing spend on more specific keywords or exact match type keywords, you can carve out a niche that will be hyper-relevant to potential customers that will have less competition. Tools like SEMRush (which we use for clients at Metric Theory) can help you find what searches your competitors’ ads are showing on, so that you can fill in gaps.

Going up against aggressive competitors can be daunting, but it’s possible to combat the pressure. Contact us if you’re interested in learning even more strategies for tackling the competition.