Search marketers know that strategic keyword selection is crucial to the performance of their campaigns, and new keywords are an important way to scale performance. Bidding on searches involving competitor brands is a powerful way to gain awareness and mindshare, establish competitive advantages, and even steal traffic directly from your competition, especially when paired with unique strategies for your ad copy and landing pages.

pieces from a game of chess

Why bid on competitor keywords

1) They demonstrate higher intent

A successful search strategy will look to maximize coverage on high intent keywords. Most prospects searching for your top competitors are in the consideration stage of the digital funnel or beyond: they are actively looking for a product or solution similar to yours, and are more likely to fill out a lead form or purchase a product than someone searching generic keywords. They may already have a sense of what solution or product they want, so it’s an opportunity for you to win them over with your unique value propositions. We even have some tips to help you do that.

2) Competitor traffic is higher quality traffic

Your competitors have put in the leg work to convince these searchers that your type of product or solution is worth buying, albeit with a built-in advantage for their brand. But making a final choice is hard and fraught with doubt. It could be the perfect time to introduce your brand, although you will likely have to pay more for a conversion on competitor terms. If you’re a B2B advertiser, assessing down-funnel metrics like CPSQL or Cost Per Opportunity on competitor terms is critical to see if the higher cost is justified. If you’re a B2C advertiser, take into account LTV expectations.

3) Drive mindshare

Apart from driving direct leads or purchases, bidding on your competitor keywords can contribute to brand awareness and mindshare. If someone is searching for a competitor and is still in research mode, they are likely taking note of the other options at the top of the results page. In fact, it’s a common tactic of procurement processes to perform this activity as a way of building an initial list of prospective vendors. Much more than most generic keyword searches, which pick up a higher natural degree of irrelevant searches, competitor campaign impressions have branding value and offer you the chance to acquaint more prospects with your brand name and value propositions.

Optimize your presence on competitor terms

1) Granular keywords with modifiers will make you more competitive

Quality scores will naturally be lower on competitor keywords, so every advantage you can gain will matter. A good way to do this is to focus as much budget as you can on keywords that contain generic modifiers along with the competitor brand (ex: ‘salesforce crm,’ rather than just ‘salesforce’).

One benefit of these keywords is that they’re naturally more likely to be researching prospects rather than current customers of that brand. Another key benefit is higher quality score potential. Whereas you’d be lucky to ever have a quality score above a 2 on the brand name alone, it’s much easier to get higher quality scores and lower CPCs by including generic terms in keyword targets, and then pairing those keyword sets with ads that also include the terms. Those searches have much lower volume, but you can save 50% or more on the cost of traffic, which can make a big difference in the sustainability of those campaigns.

To get the full benefit, separate modified competitor brand searches into their own campaigns. That way, you can maximize spend there versus the much higher volume, but more costly and typically less qualified brand-only searches. You can then also control costs to limit your exposure on brand-only searches. Finally, there are quality score benefits to having the keywords separated. Because a component of quality score is campaign-level, simply housing the highest-volume keyword with the lowest quality score in its own campaign will lead to better quality scores in your modified campaign.

2) Use negative keywords to lower exposure to brand loyalists

Many competitor brand searches will contain telling modifiers like “careers” and “jobs” you likely want to avoid altogether, but also others like “login,” “support,” or “customer,” that you might only want to target with ad copy that’s geared toward brand switching. Very cost-conscious advertisers or those with limited budget to spend on competitor campaigns might want to remove all of these keywords, and most will find they’re very tough to convert on. Negative keyword lists are another key way to lower costs and make competitor campaigns more sustainable.

More adventurous brands will find some opportunities with these keywords and will want to keep a small campaign with these searches in place to test messaging and try to siphon off those who may be open to switching. Campaigns with keywords that include the competitor brand and modifiers like ‘downtime’ or ‘shipping delays’ can run at low-to-no cost most of the time, but be ready to start winning you customers if your competitors experience issues.

3) Leverage strategic ad copy and test, test, test

Strong ad copy is essential when bidding on competitor terms to draw attention away from what your prospect was originally searching for. In many cases, the ad copy with the best engagement in these campaigns will differ widely from what works in other paid search campaigns.

To develop high-performing competitor ad copy, spend some time outlining each of your top competitor’s strengths and market positioning, and tailor your ad copy to include these types of unique selling propositions (USPs). Make sure to call out anywhere you have a unique advantage, whether it be features, pricing, customer base, reviews, or free trial offers, and continually test new iterations. CTR becomes even more important as a performance KPI in competitor campaigns, both because you’re at a natural quality score deficit, and because impression counts are low compared to other campaigns.

If you’re a retail advertiser, research the deals and promotions your competitors are offering and only run promotional copy if you can beat or match them. Consider promotions aimed at getting people to try your brand.

4) Build out relevant landing pages

You can’t direct traffic that was looking for your competitor straight to your homepage and expect them to convert like brand terms do. A side-by-side comparison for you and your top competitors is an ideal way to educate prospects on your product features, highlight your strengths against your competitors, and drive toward conversion. A competitor-specific landing page that mentions your competitor by name will also improve your quality score and reward you with a better ad rank at the same CPCs. You’ll likely get a slight additional quality score bump from adding your competitor’s brand name in display URL text using language like “vs-[competitorbrand]” or “compare-[competitorbrand].”

Competitor campaigns are an important component of a results-driven SEM strategy that are worth testing for any account. When you combine ad presence with rigorous copy testing and dedicated landing pages, you can succeed even at higher traffic costs where others will fail. Contact our team for more information.