One of the biggest advantages of running a paid search campaign is the ability to bid on keywords that would be difficult (if not impossible) for your website to rank for organically.
The best example of this is bidding on competitors’ brand or product names. For example, if you’re in the athletic shoe/apparel industry, you’d probably want to bid on Nike or UnderArmour branded terms. So, if you’re not running any competitor focused campaigns right now, you are definitely missing out.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five steps to set up and run a successful competitor-focused SEM campaign.
Step one: Do your research
First things first, you’ll want to go through a current list of competitors and perform preliminary keyword research on each of them, one-by-one.
Preliminary research should cover average monthly search volume, the number of relevant keyword variations, estimated keyword bids, and any potential conflicts or double-meanings – a classic example would be “Apple” the company or “apple” the fruit) within the keyword phrases you are considering targeting. This should include not only the competitors’ brand names but also all product name(s) that your company competes with directly. You’ll want to repeat this step for every competitor on the list.
Step two: Choose your competitors wisely
After going through the research portion mentioned in step one you’ll want to narrow down your list and focus on just your top three competitors. Why only three? To ensure your messaging is tightly focused around each competitor and that your key differentiators against each specific product can be clearly communicated in both the ad copy and on a custom landing page (more on landing pages in a minute). So how do you determine which three competitors to focus on?
After completing step one you should have the quantitative data needed to determine if it’s worth targeting certain keywords related to a specific competitor or product. But don’t just go off of the numbers alone. You’ll also want to account for strategic business reasons that could outweigh factors such as monthly search volume or estimated bid numbers. For example, your company is planning to launch a new product in the coming months and wants to hit the ground running.
If everything still looks good at this point then you can continue with your standard keyword research/selection process. But be sure to keep the following in mind:
Use exact match if a brand or product name has an abnormally high average monthly search volume.
Include all relevant brand/product name variations as well as common misspellings.
Pay close attention to the following queries – “alternative to [your competitor]”, “[your company name] competitors”, or “[your competitor #1] vs [your competitor #2]”. You’ll likely want to include these phrases in your campaign.
Step three: Landing pages (the bread and butter)
Let’s face it, landing pages are your workhorse. They can make or break your campaign. Because of this, I always recommend creating a unique landing page for each competitor. You may be thinking, that’s going to take a lot more time, is it really worth it?
The answer is yes and the reasons are simple, relevance and context. Relevance is important because you’re going to be bidding on keywords with the intention of “stealing” traffic away from your competitors. And context is critical because if the prospect’s intention was to find out more about one of your competitors, you are steering them off their original course. This is fine but you need to make it clear how you’re adding value to their research efforts.
With this in mind, let’s go over a few specific recommendations when it comes to creating engaging competitor-focused landing pages.
First, it’s important to immediately convey that the content is all about “You vs. Specific Competitor X”. Since people are going to be actively searching for information on Competitor X, you’ll not only want to show them the info they’re most likely looking for but also how your company stacks up against said info. So, for example, by creating a basic three column table with the first column listing out the features/functions, the second showing how your company performs against that feature/function and the third how your competitor stacks up. It’s an easy, visual way to convey the focus of the page and provide the visitor with the information they were probably searching for in the first place.
Ideally, you want to make sure the content is designed to give the visitor a fair comparison of you and your specific target competitor. This is particularly true for certain queries such as, “alternative to [your competitor]”.
Step four: A/B testing from the get-go
Marketers are constantly told that they need to be doing more A/B testing. But is this overkill? Yes and no. You definitely want to be following the ABT (Always Be Testing) rule when it comes to running any digital campaign. But too much testing can eat up time and resources that could be spent on other campaigns or initiatives.
So, to help mitigate, you’ll want to take steps to streamline testing right off the bat. For example, don’t use your competitor’s name directly in the ad copy itself. Depending on your industry and level of competition this might not be an issue (local “mom & pop shops” probably haven’t trademarked their business name). However, for any decent size company, you’ll have to assume their name will be trademarked, which means your ad will get rejected for using a trademarked term. To save time it’s best to avoid using brand names in your copy.
The testing in your ad copy should focus on testing different key differentiators in relation to a specific competitor. The reason for this is simple, you won’t be able to include every single differentiator in your copy due to character count restrictions. So instead you have to focus on the most compelling ones.
Note: These differentiators should be included on the corresponding landing page as well.
Lastly, when running this kind of A/B test you’ll want to make sure to change only one element at a time. If you’re changing more than one element at a time it can be difficult to determine the true cause of any fluctuation in performance. For example, if you change headline one in an ad, you’ll want to keep description one and the CTA consistent.
Step five: Quality over quantity
Last but definitely not least, let’s talk about leads, you know, the reason we’re all running these campaigns in the first place.
Too many companies focus on the wrong thing when it comes to leads – Raw numbers. What companies really need to focus on is quality. Revolutionary, I know. But how can you assess quality?
First, start by looking at the following information – Was a work email provided? Did the prospect provide their title? If so, does it fall in line with your target audience? Does their company match your target company revenue/size/industry targets?
The answers to these questions will tell you if your campaign is on the right track, or if adjustments need to be made. They will also provide valuable context, something the raw number of new prospects generated won’t be able to.
With that said, there is still value in continuing to track and report on both, the total number of new prospects (which is quantity) as well as the number of designated “ideal fit” prospects (which is quality). Taken together, these metrics will help you to determine how successful your campaign has been.
Running a successful competitor focused paid search campaign can be tough. From the setup to the ongoing optimization and the reporting, it’s non-stop data gathering, analysis, copywriting, and A/B testing. But if you follow these five steps, it should help to streamline the process and make it easier to manage.
Changing SERP features and near-daily Google updates mean that single keyword strategies are no longer viable. Brands have a lot to keep tabs on if they want to stay visible and keep that coveted top spot on the SERP.
That’s why we asked Laura Hampton, Head of Marketing at Impression, to share some of the ways her award-winning team leverages STAT to surface all kinds of insights to make informed decisions.
Snag her expert tips on how to uncover additional value in your keyword data — including how Impression’s web team uses STAT’s API to improve client reporting, how to spot quick wins with dynamic tags, and what new projects they have up their sleeves. Take it away, Laura!
Spotting quick wins
We all remember the traditional CTR chart. It suggests that websites ranking in position one on the SERPs can expect roughly 30 percent of the clicks available, with position two getting around 12 percent, position three seeing six percent, and so on (disclaimer: these may not be the actual numbers but, let’s face it, this formula is way outdated at this point anyway).
Today, the SERP landscape has changed, so we know that the chances of any of the above-suggested numbers being correct are minimal — especially when you consider the influence of elements like featured snippets on click-through rates.
But the practical reality remains that if you can improve your ranking position, it’s highly likely you’ll get at least some uplift in traffic for that term. This is where STAT’s dynamic tags can really help. Dynamic tags are a special kind of tag that automatically populates keywords based on changeable filter criteria.
We like to set up dynamic tags based on ranking position. We use this to flag keywords which are sitting just outside of the top three, top five, or top 10 positions. Layer into this some form of traffic benchmark, and you can easily uncover keywords with decent traffic potential that just need an extra bit of work to tip them into a better position.
Chasing position zero with featured snippets and PAAs
There’s been a lot of chat in our industry about the growing prevalence of SERP features like featured snippets and “People also ask” (PAA) boxes. In fact, STAT has been instrumental in leading much of the research into the influence of these two SERP features on brand visibility and CTRs.
If your strategy includes a hunt for the coveted position zero, you’re in luck. We like to use STAT’s dynamic tagging feature to monitor the keywords that result in featured snippets. This way, we can track keywords where our client owns the snippet and where they don’t. We can also highlight new opportunities to create optimized content and attempt to capture the spot from their competitors.
This also really helps guide our overall content strategy, since STAT is able to provide quick feedback on the type of content (and, therefore, the assumed intent) that will perform best amongst a keyword set.
Making use of data views
Data views are one of the most fundamental elements of STAT. They are tools that allow you to organize your data in ways that are meaningful to you. Holding multiple keyword segments (tags) and producing aggregate metrics, they make it possible for us to dissect keyword information and then implement strategically driven decisions.
For us at Impression, data views are essential. They reflect the tactical aspirations of the client. While you could create a single templated dashboard for all your clients with the same data views, our strategists will often set up data views that mirror the way each client and account work.
Even if we’re not yet actively working on a keyword set, we usually create data views to enable us to quickly spot opportunities and report back on the strategic progression.
Here are just some of the data views we’ve grouped our keyword segments into:
The conversion funnel
Segmenting keywords into the stages of the conversion funnel is a fairly common strategy for search marketers — it makes it possible to focus in on and prioritize higher intent queries and then extrapolate out.
Many of our data views are set up to monitor keywords tagged as “conversion,” “education,” and “awareness.”
Because we believe successful search marketing is only possible when it integrates with wider business goals, we like to spend time getting to know our clients’ audiences, as well as their specific niches and characteristics.
This way, we can split our keywords into those which reflect the segments that our clients wish to target. For example, in some cases, this is based on sectors, such as our telecommunications client who targets audiences in finance, marketing, IT, and general business. In others, it’s based on locations, in which case we’ll leverage STAT’s location capabilities to track the visibility of our clients to different locales.
Services and/or categories
For those clients who sell online — whether it’s products or services — data views are a great way to track their visibility within each service area or product category.
Our own dashboard (for Impression) uses this approach to split out our service-based keywords, so our data view is marked “Services” and the tags we track within are “SEO,” “PPC,” “web,” and so on. For one of our fashion clients, the data view relates to product categories, where the tracked tags include “footwear,” “accessories,” and “dresses.”
At-a-glance health monitoring
A relatively new feature in STAT allows us to see the performance of tags compared to one another: the Tags tab.
Because we use data views and tags a lot, this has been a neat addition for us. The ability to quickly view those tags and how the keywords within are progressing is immensely valuable.
Let’s use an example from above. For Impression’s own keyword set, one data view contains tags that represent different service offerings. When we click on that data view and choose “Tags” in the tabbed options, we can see how well each service area is performing in terms of its visibility online.
This means we can get very quick strategic insights that say our ranking positions for SEO are consistently pretty awesome, while those around CRO (which we are arguably less well known for), tend to fluctuate more. We can also make a quick comparison between them thanks to the layout of the tab.
Identifying keyword cannibalization risk through duplicate landing pages
While we certainly don’t subscribe to any notion of a content cannibalization penalty per se, we do believe that having multiple landing pages for one keyword or keyword set is problematic.
That’s where STAT can help. We simply filter the keywords table to show a given landing page and we’re able to track instances where it’s ranking for multiple keywords.
By exporting that information, we can then compare the best and worst ranking URLs. We can also highlight where the ranking URL for a single keyword has changed, signaling internal conflict and, therefore, an opportunity to streamline and improve.
Monitoring the competitive landscape
No search strategy is complete without an understanding of the wider search landscape. Specifically, this means keeping track of your and/or your client’s rankings when compared to others ranking around them.
We like to use STAT’s Competitive Landscape tab to view this information for a specific data view, or across the whole account. In particular, the Share of Voice: Current Leaders board tells us very quickly who we’re up against for a keyword set.
This leads to insights such as the competitiveness of the keyword set, which makes it easier to set client expectations. It also surfaces relevance of the keywords tracked, where, if the share of voice is going to brands that aren’t your own, it may indicate the keywords you’re targeting are not that relevant to your own audience.
You can also take a look at the Share of Voice: Top 10 Trending to see where competitors are increasing or decreasing their visibility. This can be indicative of changes on the SERPs for that industry, or in the industry as a whole.
Creating a custom connector for GDS
Reporting is a fundamental part of agency life. Our clients appreciate formalized insights into campaign progression (on top of regular communications throughout the month, of course) and one of our main challenges in growing our agency lies in identifying the best way to display reports.
We’ll be honest here: There was a point where we had started to invest in building our own platform, with all sorts of aspirations of bespoke builds and highly branded experiences that could tie into a plethora of other UX considerations for our clients.
But at the same time, we’re also big believers that there’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel if an appropriate solution already exists. So, we decided to use Google Data Studio (GDS) as it was released in Beta and moved onto the platform in 2017.
Of course, ranking data — while we’d all like to reserve it for internal insight to drive bigger goals — is always of interest to clients. At the time, the STAT API was publicly available, but there was no way to pull data into GDS.
That’s why we decided to put some of our own time into creating a GDS connector for STAT. Through this connector, we’re able to pull in live data to our GDS reports, which can be easily shared with our clients. It was a relatively straightforward process and, because GDS caches the data for a short amount of time, it doesn’t hammer the STAT API for every request.
Though our clients do have access to STAT (made possible through their granular user permissions), the GDS integration is a simpler way for them to see top-level stats at a glance.
We’re in the process of building pipelines through BigQuery to feed into this and facilitate date specific tracking in GDS too — keep an eye out for more info and get access to the STAT GDS connector here.
Ready to learn how to get cracking and tracking some more? Reach out to our rad team and request a demo to get your very own tailored walkthrough of STAT.
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Walmart made headlines last week by announcing that it would fold Jet.com into its Walmart ecommerce operations, less than three years after the $3.3 billion acquisition.
But, in fact, a closer look at the performance of both sites’ leads reveals:
This shouldn’t be a surprise, because this has been Walmart’s plan all along, and
Despite what the headlines say, this is primarily a win for Walmart despite the large acquisition price.
We’ll tell this story with two simple charts. Apologies in advance for over-doing the aviation metaphors. I couldn’t help myself. As the kids say, “Sorry. Not sorry.”
1. Jet’s transactions are way down
The number of transactions on Jet.com rose to more than 600,000 a month in early 2017 but has been on a precipitous decline since then, shrinking to less than 100,000 a month. They don’t even exhibit the holiday-shopping spikes nearly every other retailer exhibits.
A drop like this doesn’t happen by accident, not in a world where Walmart reports that its ecommerce sales were up 37 percent in Q1. Or, after the ecommerce marketplace as a whole has grown steadily since, well, the start of ecommerce. Or, where spending power among affluent urbanites (Jet.com’s supposed strength) continues to rise as economic bifurcation enters its fourth decade. There is a long list of contextual reasons why a rising tide (tailwinds?) should be lifting Jet.com. Because of this, its loss of altitude is even more surprising and stark.
2. Jet.com’s ecommerce fuel, paid search, is also way down
Jet.com is one a handful of ecommerce sites, along with Chewy.com and Wayfair.com, to have successfully bought their growth. Largely this means paying for placement on Google’s search engine results pages, and it’s an increasingly effective strategy. Paid click-through rates on Google are up, particularly for companies willing to spend on expensive awareness-building campaigns across media channels. Consumers simply feel more comfortable clicking on those paid links when they recognize the brand.
Paid search kept Jet.com’s internet traffic aloft. And it has tumbled almost in lockstep with Jet.com’s sales. You could argue that Jet.com’s sales may have fallen for any number of reasons. But there’s only one reason why their paid search traffic went from eight million visitors a month to less than one million: Walmart was reallocating its budget elsewhere. Growing sales on Jet.com simply wasn’t a priority for the retail giant.
The Jet brand and the Jet/Walmart fit remain indistinct
Walmart has pulled back on making Jet a public-facing brand in part because of an ill-defined fit between the two brands. Jet was initially created to reach consumers who cared more about value than convenience. It was designed to be sort of an online Costco, offering very low prices to those willing to pay a membership fee. This would seemingly be a good fit for Walmart, whose growth has come via an unwavering commitment to its brand promise (everyday low prices) and core target (value-oriented non-urban consumers). But over time, Jet morphed into a brand with a reputation of reaching younger, more affluent urbanites – not an existing fit with Walmart, but a potentially complementary one that could help Walmart grow beyond its core.
While either strategy can be reasonable, the Walmart/Jet fit seemed to vacillate between the two, and never really settled on either. Jet has upscale ambitions, but its appeal to affluent consumers may be overstated. In Q1 2019, the top three keyword searches on Jet.com were decidedly mainstream “toilet paper”, “paper towels”, and “Frito-Lay”. It’s not until the fourth keyword search term, “mid-century modern furniture”, that the searches take a more upscale vibe.
Walmart has been toning down its positioning of Jet.com as an urban growth engine, and its discussion of Jet’s role has become increasingly circumscribed. As Walmart put it,
“Last year, we repositioned the Jet site itself. Across most of the country, we saw we could get a much higher return on our marketing investments with Walmart.com, so we’ve dialed up our marketing spend there… However, in specific large cities where Walmart has few or no stores, Jet has become hyper-focused on those urban customers…. The focus has largely been on New York so far, and we’re looking at other cities.”
Walmart’s real motivation in buying Jet.com
The fact is that this acquisition was never about adding new customers or reaching complementary markets. Instead, it was part tech-buy, part acqui-hire. Walmart wanted technology innovations like Jet.com’s real-time pricing algorithm, which helps increase revenue per customer. And while Walmart announced that Simon Belsham, Jet.com’s current president, will leave later this summer, it still has the person they really wanted: Jet.com’s founder Marc Lore, who will continue to run Walmart’s ecommerce business. Lore is widely considered to have led Walmart’s recent overall ecommerce growth, including improvements in operations, infrastructure, and supply chain.
The Jet.com acquisition remains a win for Walmart
Ultimately it’s hard to argue with results. Walmart’s ecommerce sales are up significantly. Its extensive network of stores bodes well in the omnichannel future. Amazon has extended beyond its affluent base to build extensive middle-class appeal but hasn’t penetrated strongly into Walmart’s base. And while Walmart is a distant second to Amazon online, Walmart is far ahead of the other retailers behind it.
Many headlines will try to position Jet.com’s incorporation into the Walmart mothership as a failure. But a deeper analysis reveals that the acquisition continues to go as Walmart planned, and is largely a win for the Arkansas-based retailer.
Stephen Kraus is the head of digital insights for Jumpshot. Kraus is an expert in consumer insights and digital trends, the author of three books and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University.