You run an eCommerce site, and you obviously want to advertise. You might be looking at what ads come up for whatever keywords you think are important. What’s your endgame here? What do you want to happen when you throw cash at keywords? Obviously, you want conversions. The quicker, the better. You hopefully have a plan and an understanding of the sales process in your industry. You understand the sales funnel, and the steps your customers take between noob-just-lookin’ and entering credit card details.
Identifying the PPC landscape
What do you do to identify the current PPC landscape in your industry? I hope you’re not just typing guesses into Google’s Keyword Tool and Keyword Planner, and clicking “Save all.” Worse yet, I hope you’re not guessing broad, general terms like “shoes” and “boots” and sticking them in that search box. No, you should instead be taking a look at the current advertising landscape in your industry. Who else is advertising the products you sell?
The thing is, sites like Amazon and eBay compete with everybody. They have huge budgets and can afford to throw money at the wall. Think about it – Amazon doesn’t always worry about keywords converting. They don’t always care about a direct correlation between CPC and purchase price. Their ROI can be a much longer game than yours. You’re bidding on keywords to get buyers, but Amazon can bid on keywords simply to drive eBay’s ads down for the same keywords. Sure, they advertise the things you sell. But other people advertise them way better, and that’s who you want to look for.
Where do you start? Do you type random stuff into Google, and see who’s advertising? No, that’s crazy! We can be way more intelligent about gathering our intelligence. Let’s think about a better way to do things.
Let’s take a quick step back in time. In 1899, Charles H. Duell was a guy with an impressive moustache and an even more impressive quote – “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” Of course, we later went on to build rockets to the moon and smartphones with constant access to the sum of human knowledge, which presumably came around a bit after that quote was given. However, this old curmudgeon’s quote makes a very valid point for our modern day PPC marketing.
No matter what industry you’re in, and what you’re selling, you have competitors. There’s someone out there selling what you’re selling, or at least selling something comparable. If you think you have the most unique hats in the world, you might just be right. However, someone else is out there selling hats, and you can use their data to your advantage.
How to identify your real competitors with certainty
We’re going to use a few tools. One of them should be very familiar to you, because it’s your own brain. If you’re in an industry, or your client is, chances are you know one or two of your direct competitors. Let’s take that as a starting point, and pump this info into a really nifty tool that you may not have heard of.
The tool is called SimilarSites, and it fancies itself a “recommendation engine” targeted to end users. Basically, it uses a lot of data from its own toolbar, and other partner tools and services, to find out what traffic websites share. So, if someone checks your site, your competitor’s site, and a third site, SimilarSites will know — the result being that you can identify who the third site is.
You’ll enter your domain or your competitor’s into SimilarSites, and you get a big friendly list sorted by similarity score. This score comprises all of the factors that SimilarSites tracks, but the biggest factor is visitors shared in common. Further down the results page, you can see the actual list sorted only by visitors shared in common.
What’s the theory here? Why is this data so golden? It’s actually really simple. If you have an eCommerce site, and your competitors are eCommerce sites – visitors shared between these sites are obviously shopping around for the best deal, fastest shipping, or some other factor. If you share visitors with another eCommerce site, it’s likely that said site is doing or offering something that draws people away from you.
What can you do with this information?
With this starting point, you can now jump in and immediately start doing smart things that will very likely be immediately beneficial. For example, you can put all of the keywords that your competitors bid on into a big spreadsheet, and track the ones that three or more share in common. Then, subtract your PPC keywords. Better yet, use a tool like SEMrush’s Domain vs. Domain tool and do it automatically.
Take a look at the landing pages your competitors have for things that you both sell. If your visitors are also visiting these sites, it’s these pages that are drawing them away. What do they offer here that you don’t? How do the advertise these landing pages? What can you do to beat them, or keep your customers on your own site?
A nicely wrapped conclusion:
Before you jump into a campaign, you need to know the PPC landscape, and where you fit in. If you don’t have a good picture of your surroundings, starting a new campaign will be more like flying blind into a storm. No matter if you’re starting a brand new campaign, or optimizing an existing one – getting an intimate knowledge of the PPC landscape will show you exactly how and where you can fit it, and how and where you can really win.
Sean Malseed is vice president of strategic development at SEMrush. Malseed will be speaking at a Pubcon Las Vegas 2013 expert spotlight session on “Discovering the Trade Secrets of your Competitors” on Thursday, October 24 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in salon D. Read Sean Malseed’s complete Pubcon speaker biography here.