In PPC, competition is everything. The sheer number of advertisers battling it out for top position on the results page at any given time is a little mind-boggling -- especially when you consider the number of bids, bid modifiers, geographic targets, and devices in play. With so many variables, it can be hard to keep track of the competition and just how they impact your campaigns. Luckily, there’s a tool that can assist you with figuring out their bidding strategy: Auction Insights.
What is Auction Insights, you ask? It’s a report that can be generated at the Campaign, Ad Group, and Keyword level that can tell you exactly who your competitors are and how their impressions are faring compared to your own. It generates a list of Display URL domains of the other advertisers competing against you and gives you several key metrics you can use to gauge what kind of impact they’re having on your campaigns\ via metrics like Impression Share, Overlap Rate, and Position Above rate.
As a snapshot, the report can be helpful in immediately identifying your biggest competitors… and how your own advertising efforts compare to theirs. What’s compelling about this particular report though, is that the data shown is relative to the time range you use for it. It’s historical, meaning that you can identify competitor trends & seasonality, chart their performance in comparison to your own, and diagnose account issues brought about by increased competition.
So what does that look like in practice?
Case #1: An Unexpected CPA Spike
In addition to providing a glimpse into the previously mentioned competitive metrics, the Auction Insights report can be a valuable tool in troubleshooting the occasional CPA spike at the Keyword, Ad Group, or even Campaign level (I tend to prefer the Keyword level, in case you were wondering). This is best done by identifying inflection points in your account performance, i.e. points where your CPA takes a noticeable turn for the worse, in this case.
In this particular account, we’ve identified that CPA performance for this keyword has taken a jump starting on January 16th. We see a brief relapse back to our normal CPA for this keyword, but as of the last seven days, it went haywire. There are no bid, budget, or targeting changes on our end to account for this, so what happened?
Here’s the Auction Insights report from before the CPA increase, looking at January 12th – January 18th.
And after, looking at January 19th – 25th…
And we see an immediate difference in our competitive landscape. While we see Competitor #4 dropping out of the marketplace, we have five new competitors entering the space to replace them.
In addition, several of our existing competitors have become more aggressive -- Competitors #1, #2, and #5 all see an increase in both Overlap Rate and Position Above Rate -- meaning that we’re competing against them more often, and they’re now showing above us more often too.
Case #2: Analyzing Competitor Trends over Time
While the above example is a great way to look at immediate competitor metrics, to get the full benefit of this tool, you should do some historical digging to see how these competitive metrics have changed over time. While these numbers are always relative to your own (and subject to bid, budget, and targeting changes), it can help you understand your industry’s seasonality and how the entrance/exit of competitors influence the marketplace.
Using everyone’s favorite PPC tool, we can create a pivot table out of this data and graph our competitor trends over time. This is done by downloading an Auction Insights report for each month you’re measuring, pasting it all in to Excel, and creating a table & graph out of it. Here’s what that looks like for another sample account, this one focusing on wedding dresses:
Using Overlap Rate as our current metric, we can see how the competition has changed since July. Since wedding season has ended, we’ve seen one competitor (Company #3) greatly reduce their Overlap Rate (due to any number of factors, e.g. bidding down on keywords, reducing budget, etc.) ceding ground to others in the process -- some related, some more generic (like Company #1). No matter what the cause, the result is that we’re competing with them less often, and others have picked up the slack.
If we do the same analysis looking at Position Above rate, we can examine how their position changes relative to our own over time:
For the most part, each competitor has remained steady, save for two: 1) Company #2 has dropped off (possibly due to bids) leading to a decrease in Position Above rate and 2) Company #1 has either increased their bids, or are possibly benefitting from Company #2’s drop in Average Position.
Note: These are all educated guesses; you won’t get any specific insights in to competitor keywords, bids, or targeting strategies. All you can do is look at these high-level trends, compare it to your own actions, and guess at the cause.
These are but a few competitors included in our Auction Insights report, and we’ve only looked at a few metrics, but we’ve already gained some valuable tips. Examining average position, top of page, and impression share can lead to even more actionable insights, so be sure to make use of this valuable knowledge, because I can guarantee that your competitors will.
So there you have it. Do you have any valuable intelligence gleaned from the Auction Insights report? Questions about how the above report is created? If so, feel free to leave them below in the comments or ping us on Twitter.