Competitive analysis: Making your auction insights work for you
Columnist Amy Bishop shares tips for identifying actionable takeaways from your AdWords auction insights data.
Oh, the auction insights report. You want to love it because it comes straight from AdWords, while most other competitive data comes with a grain (or maybe a pillar) of salt. Yet, while the information in this report is all nice to know, it might not seem to be immediately useful.
Don’t throw in the towel too soon, though — with auction insights, there’s more than meets the eye. Let’s talk about how to put the data to work.
Who has the majority of the impression share?
This is, of course, the most obvious use of the report. Who seems to be dominating impression share? You can look at this a few ways:
- Who is dominating impression share across all of your campaigns?
- Who is competing for impression share for each campaign? What about your top-performing, or worse-performing, ad groups?
- Who is vying for impression share on your top-performing keywords?
You can garner a few things from this report at a pretty high level. For one, who are you really up against? Along with your competitors, you’ll likely see other businesses competing on your terms for other purposes outside of your organization’s offering. You’ll also note how often you are outranking your competitors and, overall, how your impression share stacks up.
A few potential outcomes from this data could include:
- Your impression share is better, and you outrank your competitors the majority of the time. Hooray, you’re winning! But are you spending more than you have to? It is worth reviewing your highest volume terms and top performers to see how they stack up. Maybe you could afford to pull back a little while still maintaining your market share.
- Your impression share is better, but they typically outrank you. I would still consider this to be mostly a win, but you might consider increasing your bids to see if outranking more of your competitors’ results in a significant gain. I would be more likely to test this on specific target keywords versus an entire campaign.
- Your outranking share is better, but overall your impression share is worse. This could be an opportunity to decrease bids with the goal of gaining impression share by sacrificing rank to get more for your budget. Again, I would dig into the auction share of your top-performing, highest-ranked keywords before making any decisions.
- Your outranking share and your impression share are both worse than your competitors’. If the campaign is doing well, and there’s an opportunity for more budget — this would be a good opportunity to ask. If more budget isn’t an option or if the campaign isn’t performing well enough to justify more budget, then it is time to do an account audit to identify where you can trim the fat to make more impactful use of your bids and budget without breaking the bank.
Identifying the gaps and opportunities
One of the lessons that stuck with me from many, many years ago came from a professor in a college advertising course. He teed up the lecture by explaining that during the Great Depression, many organizations pulled back advertising budgets. Naturally, they did this because they needed to find ways to cut costs. However, those brands that didn’t react by pulling back thrived and established market share. Why? Because not only did they continue advertising — but they were advertising with less competition.
This is a good lesson to keep in mind as you dig further into your auction insights reports to see where your competitors are, and are not, bringing out the big guns.
What days of the week are your competitors’ ads showing up for work?
If you segment your auction insights reports within AdWords, you can get more granular information, such as day of the week. I like to look at this for two reasons:
- It is helpful to know which days competitors are most strongly focusing on because, presumably, those days perform better for them.
- More importantly, it is helpful to know when they are laying off. This could be because they aren’t staffed or because they don’t have the budget, or because they assume people aren’t searching on certain days. (I see ads turned off on the weekend, a lot.)
Typically, I don’t respond to #1 above any further than looking into our own performance to see if the results are replicated — and then making optimizations based upon our own wins and losses. However, I do try to respond to #2, if it makes sense (still validated by our own data), because that’s our opportunity to get out front with even less competition bidding us up and competing for market share.
Who is dominating the different devices?
Likewise, with the analysis of day-of-week bidding, I like to do the same for device performance. Which devices are my competitors relying on? Do our results jibe with theirs? Are there opportunities to exploit their weaknesses by bulking up in areas where they aren’t going as hard?
Again — and I can’t reiterate this enough — I don’t recommend making any account changes that go against your own data. If a certain device doesn’t perform well for you, don’t push it harder just because your competitors aren’t. But if your competitors have low market share on mobile, and mobile performs pretty well for you, it might be worth seeing how you can further maximize your footprint.
Who is making moves?
So many ways to dig into this data. Where to begin? First things first, I like to look at a long date range — say YTD or rolling year — and organize it by month. Take a look at whose market share is fluctuating. Take note.
Then, dig into the reports that you just ran for device and day of the week to see if there have been fluctuations throughout the last six months to a year. Note that within the AdWords UI, you can only look at one segment at a time, but if you download the report, you can add additional segments so that you don’t have to pull multiple segments and mash them up.
These trends could indicate changes in strategy or competitors that are becoming more or less aggressive.
Seeing is believing
Who doesn’t love a great visual? Sometimes putting things into graph form helps to highlight trends and outliers. Throwing any of the above information into a graph is a great way to glance through the information quickly — and it makes for a much better presentation to higher-ups.
Furthermore, I strongly suggest taking a look at Maddie Cary’s auction insights presentation, “Let’s Get Visual,” for additional ways to graph out auction insights data against campaign trends for further (auction) insights. (See what I did there?)
Next steps to amplify your impact
Hopefully, this has given you a good start with some actionable takeaways, but your analysis doesn’t have to end here. You can use this data as a starting point for a deeper review. Here’s where you can go from here:
- For those campaigns where you have a lot of overlap with organizations that you don’t consider to be competitors, review your search terms to see if you may be bidding too broadly.
- For competitors that seem to have a lot of overlap with you, dig into your keywords to see where the overlap seems to be – are you vying for the best keywords, or do you overlap more on keywords that are of lesser importance?
- Check out a competitive research tool to see what your competitors are bidding on that you aren’t — and what their ads look like. I especially like to dig into the competitors that have suspiciously low IS, to see if they are really doing that poorly, or if they are bidding on keywords that we are missing out on.
- If you identified new competitors, consider learning more about their brand and how your positioning stacks up.
- Take a look at your competitors’ landing pages to see how they compare, and if there’s anything that might give you some CRO inspiration.
Check out your online reviews in comparison to your competitors’ to see if there’s any need for damage control, or even just a need to ensure that your advocates’ voices are heard. Reputation can absolutely play a role in the success or failure of other marketing channels.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.