How To Spy On Your Competitor’s Paid SEM Ads

How To Spy On Your Competitors Paid SEM Ads

Online marketing isn’t a zero-sum activity. But with certain marketing endeavours, you lose when your competitors gain.

Try to think of all the big things that occupy a marketer’s mind share. Chief among them is how far their competition is with their marketing campaign and what tactic should they start employing to beat them.

So yes, online marketing is for the most part about steamrolling the competition you have. You want to outrank them in as many keywords as it’s humanly possible. But that’s NOT to say you get to hog everything – if anything, the market share you’re competing in is so big for everyone to enjoy a piece of it.

You however get to enjoy the bigger piece the more you outrank your competitors. PPC Ads are NOT an exception in this.

Granted, we’re all perturbed every time we run a simple Google search, only to find our competitors’ Ads appearing at the top of ours.

That’s where the temptation to snoop around and dig out for more info about the tactics they employ to outrank you creeps in – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong about it, provided it’s what anyone would consider a healthy competition.

The reasons for this can be pretty simple. For instance:

  1. You may just want to find out how your competition is doing. Are they performing poorly or are they doing good enough to imply you should up your game?
  2. You may want to know about the results they’re getting. Are their efforts really paying off?
  3. You want to re-strategise and come up with solid ways to do it better and beat them.

For SEO, it’s almost impossible to predict the outcome. You can set your campaign with the goal of appearing on the first page, but that’s no guarantee that would be the case by the end of it all.

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However, for PPC Ads, it’s easy to come up with theoretical tactics on how to beat your competition to the punch.

But first, here’s a list of things you need to understand:

  • A list of competitors using search Ads

Not every single one of the competitors you have is clued in to the value of search Ads.

So until you have a soundproof that they’re also running a paid Ad campaign, you might want to direct all your focus on the competitors with search advertising.

  • How much web traffic are they driving from the Ads?

Are the results they’re getting impressive enough to lure you in? If NOT, what could be the problem?

  • A list of their most successful keywords

There are tools that could help you come up with a list of all the successful keywords your competitors are using. Make good use of them.

Quick Tips for Improving Your SEM Ad Campaign

Spying on your competitor’s paid SEM ads will help to know exactly what the customers are doing differently to get more customers than you.

You need to continuously improve your SEM ad campaign using the information presented by the spying tools to get ahead of the competition.

Here are quick tips for improving your SEM Ad campaign today.

  • Identify the Best Time to Increase the Bid

Timing is one of the little-known search engine marketing hacks that you can leverage to get more results from your ad campaign. Identifying the time of the day when your campaigns get maximum interactions and increasing bids accordingly is the secret recipe for success in this form of digital marketing.

Adjusting your ad schedule accordingly based will not only enhance visibility of your ads but also enable you connect with quality leads. In addition, it will ensure that potential customers get calls during open hours.

How to do the best time of the day to increase bids?

Simply log in to your account and click on Settings > Create Ad Schedule > Schedule Details > Hour and Day of the Week. Use the information to set your ad campaign to run on a particular time of the day when a majority of your target audience is online.

All you have to do is click the +create a schedule option then specify the campaign then click save. Use the bid adjustment column to apply the new bid to the adjusted campaign timing. 

However, this hack works best for campaigns that have been active for a while. If the campaign is still new, wait for several weeks to capture enough market data. 

  • Ensure the Search Queries and Keywords are Relevant to the Target Audience

When doing search engine marketing, its imperative to make decisions based on accurate market data to move the needle in the right direction. 

Search engines still rely on keywords to rank websites and generate search engine results. When doing SEM, you need to not only focus on the conventional keywords but also search queries used to do voice search. Voice search keywords are usually long-tail, question-based and conversation. 

Leverage tools such as Topic Research and SEMrush Keyword Magic to find relevant secondary and primary keywords four your SEM campaign. There are three types of search queries that you should focus on namely;

    • Navigational queries
    • Transactional queries
    • Informational queries

Google and other search engine decide the type of ads to display based on the type of query used by the searcher. Increase the chances of your ads been displayed to the target audience by considering the searcher’s intent, sales funnel, and customer journey.

A deep understanding of your target audience will also guide you when fine-tuning your SEM paid ad campaigns. Structure it based on their specific needs and interests to engage them with relevant ads. 

One of the mistakes brands make is optimising their SEM campaigns and forgetting to work on the landing pages. The landing pages should be user-friendly, responsive, and packed with compelling content to convince visitors to convert. Do A/B tests to know which sections of the pages should be updated to complement your SEM listing. 

Make sure that the ad link directs prospects to the correct landing page before the campaign goes live. Only launch the campaign after confirming that all settings are on point to get utmost ROI. 

Monitor the results to see keywords that delivers the most results and adjust your bid accordingly. Track the conversions to identify low hanging fruits and friction points in the sales funnel. Knowing the stage most prospects abandon cart and resolve the cause will improve your fortunes.

  • Combine SEM and SEO

It’s not possible to run an SEM campaign without SEO. Search engines continuously change their algorithm to offer the most accurate results to searchers. Therefore, you should stop perceiving SEM and SEO as two rival forces and use them to enhance your paid ad campaigns. 

They complement and work in tandem to increase brand exposure and performance of marketing strategies.

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Applying the best SEO strategies will boost the ranking and visibility of your business. Consequently, it will enhance your brand awareness efforts even before you launch the paid ad campaign.

Once you launch it, your site will be displayed on the 1# of SERP alongside your paid ads. Such a synergy will intensify your business awareness and trustworthiness in the market. 

Note that online customers are more likely to click on ads and buy from a brand that they are familiar with. Research shows websites listed in organic search results record 60% of clicks, whereas brands that appear in both paid and organic search results get 92% of the clicks. 

  • Test Ad Copies with Conditional Long-Tail Keywords

A majority of the mistakes that marketers make occur when creating a Google ad account. Wrong settings results in the ads being displayed to the wrong audiences. There is a host of mistakes that you should avoid, but the most common one is using the wrong keyword match type. As a result, marketers end up spending thousands of dollars and get little results.

Another mistake is poorly crafted written ads and lack of ad extension. Over the years, Google has improved its system to make it easy for marketers to create better ad copy and adjust settings to get maximum return on investment (ROI).

 One of the benefits of ad extensions is that it allows marketers to use links to the website and landing pages as well as direct calls. Location extensions also enhance your ad by ensuring that ads are displayed to prospects in geographic regions that you service.

In the context of long-tail keywords, you cannot expect to get significant results from the campaign if you only focus on the conventional short-tail keywords. As mentioned earlier, voice search is gaining grounding compared to typing keywords on Google search bar. 

Therefore, its imperative to test your ad copies with different conditional long-tail keywords. Go an extra mile and also compile and use negative keywords in the ad copy to increase performance of your ads. These keywords will prevent certain keywords that are not relevant to your brand from triggering Google bot to display an ad. 

Now is the time to stop only focussing on broadly matched keyword as it signals Google to interpret your keywords in different search queries. That is, your ads will be displayed in irrelevant searches and you will pay for clicks that don’t result in sales. Go against the grind to include conditional long-tail keywords in your ads. 

  • Keep a Close Eye on Latest SEM Trends

The digital marketing landscape is dynamic. SEM strategies that worked perfectly a few months ago may be obsolete today. Keeping a close eye on the latest SEM trends will ensure that your campaigns conforms to the market trends. 

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For example, algorithm updates often change the ranking of websites in SERPs. When creating an SEM campaign, you need to keep in mind such changes especially when placing bids and optimising on-site content. 

In the current wake of Covid-19, its super important to make sure that your ad copy is relevant to the target audience. Include phrases that shows your business is still open and working either remotely or virtually to customers who require your services or products. During this pandemic, ads whose headlines and copy contains such phrases recorded a high CTR compared to those that weren’t re-optimised.

Keep your campaign up to date with the happenings across the globe by optimising it as per the online foot traffic data. If you notice a significant decline in conversions or clicks, check the foot traffic data to get a clear perspective of the shift in customers behaviour on the ground. Adjust the campaign accordingly to get the most results. 

  • Include Specifics and Numbers in your SEM Campaign Ad Copy

A generic SEM copy won’t get the job done. The new day online customers need to know how a particular product or service will deliver results.

For example, if you are in the gaming industry, you can change your ad copy from bluntly stating the game improves cognition to something like “our games improve cognition in teens by 46%.

Multiple studies have proven that the use of numbers and specifics in SEM campaign ad copy has the potential of increasing click-through rate (CTR) by more than 17%. Mentioning increase in the number of people using your product or service can also crank up your campaign CTR and conversion rate.

  • Leverage Dynamic Remarketing Ads and Personalisation

Not every prospect who clicks on your SEM ad will purchase your product or service. One of the sure ways of increase conversions from your SEM ads is by personalising the copy. Leverage Google Analytics funnel visualisation feature to know the purchase journey of your target prospects. 

Use the information to segment the customers into groups based on the different stages they are in the purchase or sales funnel. Then, create personalised dynamic remarketing ads for each group of customers get the most results. 

The ad copy should be highly personalised to resonate with the audience and compel them to take the desired action. Use bid modification and frequency capping features offered by Google AdWords to avoid overwhelming customers with the remarketing ads. 

For example, you can modify your bid based on the keywords at the device level (Mobile vs. Desktop). If you notice that prospects who click on your paid ads through mobile devices than desktop, aggressively bid on the keywords used by the mobile device users. 

Remember to also optimise the images and ad size to ensure they are displayed well on different screen sizes. Otherwise, if the images are not clear on some mobile devices, the performance of your campaign will dip.

  • Do Regular Competitive Analysis

Its not possible to establish a success eCommerce store today if you don’t make time to regularly carry out competitive analysis. Most search engine marketing experts are aware of the need to do this process but they limit themselves to Bing and Google search engines. 

They forget Amazon, the largest eCommerce platform where most buyers begin their search. Check the products shown on Amazon search pages for target keywords. Use the identified key phrases to further optimise your landing pages and ads. 

From experience, Amazon product search terms are more effective in generating sales as they are more purchase-intent based. 

A look into all the Relevant Metrics

What’s their cost per acquisition, lifetime value, and Return on Investment?

With that said, here’s a compiled list of all the tools you could use to spy on your competition and gather as much data as possible about them:  

ispionage How To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM Ads


ISpionage is designed to walk you through the details of the kind of Ads your competitors are running. With the tool, you can tell the number of Ads they’re running, as well as the keywords they’ve bid on and for how long.

You’ll also be clued in on how your competitors group their keywords and landing pages. That besides seeing the kind of Ads receiving the highest amount of traffic and how they’re generally ranked on Google, Bing, and Yahoo to name a few.

But what’s even better is the fact that you’ll also be helped to identify the most lucrative search terms together with their corresponding proprietary keywords effectiveness index.

You’re free to check out the platform and find out more about it and how best to use it. They also have a free trial that doesn’t require you to enter your credit card info to use.

But after that, you have the option to choose between their basic plan which goes for $29 per month and their premium plan which goes for $299 per month.

word tracker How To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM Ads


This PPC tool isn’t very much different from the AdWords Keyword planner, but with an added layer of tracking keyword data from Amazon and YouTube. Here, you’re allowed to save keyword lists and filter them up for a perfect combination.

Other than that, you should be able to grab every single detail of your competitor’s data and identify some of the gaps they have to start cashing in on them.

Their basic plan goes for $27 per month, whereas their gold status is priced at $99 per month. The gold package is preferred by agencies as gives them more research data in addition to covering a wider geographical reach.

You’re therefore allowed to try out their free trial with no credit card. One thing though – the tool doesn’t allow any form of CSV export during the trial.

the search monitor How To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM Ads

Search Monitor

A search monitor is designed to crawl your competitor’s ads across different devices and from different locations.

Essentially, the tool offers two primary services – competitive insights and brand protection. With competitive Insights, you’ll be gathering all kinds of data in brand bidding, Product Listing Ads (PLA), PPC Benchmarks, SERPs, and SEO to name a few.

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You can use the tool to track down brand violations, affiliate programs and to confirm price parity for the products and services offered by different sellers. Hotel advertisers are the most obvious beneficiary of the tool. It also tends to work best for brands with an international presence.

similar web How To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM Ads


Similarweb is an all-rounded tool designed to analyze all of your competitors’ data including their website’s audience, marketing mileage, and website demographics. In addition to all that you can also track the top most source of traffic for your competitors and other referral sites, as well.

Designed to work for both mobile and web app analytics, you could use the tool to create custom categories and to benchmark your competition but in a more overarching manner compared to other apps at your disposal.

Their trial is absolutely free and doesn’t require you to enter any of your credit card detail.

sem rush How To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM AdsHow To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM Ads


Every marketer you can think of probably knows about Semrush and what it can do. With the tool, you can easily review top-performing keywords of your competitors and sort them out in terms of search volume and the number of backlinks they have.

Perhaps more interesting about the tool is the number of top features it comes with. From site audits, content analyzers, custom reports, and so much more, using the tool can prove to be more problematic for first timers, but as time goes and you begin understanding the ropes, you’d come to realize what an amazing tool it really is.

Their pricing plan starts from $99.95 per month all the way to 399.95 for enterprise clients.

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spyfu How To Spy On Your Competitor's Paid SEM Ads


Spyfu ought to be one of the simplest Ad spying tools on the list. All you have to do is enter your domain name and the tool will scrap for all the keywords your competitor is buying, together with their organic rank and their ad variations for the past 11 years.

The tool can also recommend the most profitable keywords based on the scoured data.

Their pricing plans go as low as $39 per month to $299 per month for multiple accounts and premium services.

How to Stop Competitors from Clicking On Your Online Ads

Looking for accurate information on how to stop competitors clicking on your online ads? One of the ways brands are trying to outdo each other is by committing click fraud on each other’s online ads.

But what is wrong with this practice? First of all paid online ads are a great way of driving traffic to your website, but there is the possibility of getting fake clicks from your competition. With that said, how will you know if your competition is clicking on your ads?

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They will click on your ads with the aim of exhausting your daily ads budget. What this means is that your ads will stop showing and this will affect the number of visitors to your website from paid advertising.

However, tools such as Google AdWords have a sophisticated way of identifying fake clicks. For example, they will identify a person who clicks on an ad several times in an hour and they will be marked as invalid clicks.

With that said, it is essential that you prevent your competitors from clicking on your online ads.

While this might seem like an impossible task, it is a relatively easy practice if you know what you are doing. In this article, we look at how to stop your competitors from clicking on your online ads.

What Is Click Fraud?

Several studies show that in 2017, one out of every five clicks was fraudulent and the number is expected to be higher. Click fraud is the fraudulent clicking of PPC ads in order to generate fraudulent click charges for the competition.

How to Stop Competitors Clicking On Your Online Ads


The primary goal of a click fraudster is to drive up advertising costs, and it also skews the analytical data which is essential in the formulation of marketing strategies.

It might take a while before you identify click fraud, but when you dig a little deeper, you will notice certain IP addresses that are responsible for the fraudulent clicks.

Some of your competitors will go to the extent of hiring people to click on your ads. You can tell that it is click fraud when you start seeing an influx of clicks from high-risk countries where you also do not do business.

How to Stop Your Competitors from Clicking On Your Ads

You have to do all that you can to prevent click fraud and get the most out of your pay-per-click campaigns. According to the Methbot report by WhiteOps, Russian frauds tricked marketers to spend over $5 million a day on video ads that were not seen. Here are the steps to follow and stop competitors from clicking your online ads.

  • Identify the outliers

New marketers will have a hard time before they wrap their heads around the numbers that define their digital marketing campaigns. However, experienced marketers who understand the numbers will easily find abnormalities in their traffic from paid ads.

The outliers to consider include

    • Abnormal spikes in website traffic
    • Abnormally high CTRs for your AdWords campaigns
    • High concentration of traffic to your sponsored pages only
    • Low scores on engagement metrics such as high bounce rates, low time-on-site, low average session duration among others

No matter the tools you are using to track website metrics, you need to stay on track of any outliers and this helps you identify chances of click fraud.

  • Use Dedicated Anti-Click-Fraud Software

This software automates the process of manually monitoring and analysing the numbers to find click fraud cases. ClickCease is one of the best dedicated anti-click-fraud software there is. Here is how ClickCease works

    • It automatically detects scripts, bots, manual click frauds, and malicious competitors
    • It easily integrates with Google AdWords and Bing Ads accounts by using a tracking template or adding an HTML code to your landing pages
    • It reports details about fraudulent and clean clicks, and this allows you to set up a robust click fraud detection rules

Among other things, ClickCease will capture video records of humans as well as the bots interacting with your ads. This way, you can set up anti-fraud rules that are based on the on-screen behaviour.

  • Exclude Suspicious IPs

Manual click fraud is where hourly wage workers are hired to click on ads manually. Competitors are also using bots to click ads, and you can avoid the problems caused by the bots and manual click frauds by excluding suspicious IPs.

This is how you can identify the IP addresses to avoid and exclude

    • Extract the entire IP log form your website, or you can search for ‘[your web development/host] IP log’, and you will get an add-on or link to give you the list of IPs
    • Extract the data to an Excel spreadsheet
    • Use pivot tables to find out the number of times an IP address clicks on your ads per day
    • Group the data into hourly data chunks and identify where an IP address appears multi-times in an hour
    • You can check the geographical location of the suspicious IP addresses using

After compiling your list of IPs, it is now time to exclude them

    • Log in to your Google AdWords account and go to the Settings tab
    • Select the campaign for which you want to exclude the IPs
    • Got to Advanced settings> IP Exclusions
    • Click on Edit > Manage IP Exclusions

In the next window, you have the chance to add up to 500 IP addresses, and then finally click “Save.”

  • Limit Ad Spending to Verified Websites

For this tip, you need to create a whitelist of genuine websites where you will place your ads. You can build this white list of genuine websites using SMErush. Here is how to go about it

    • If you are looking to make an ad placement in website relating to exotic supercars, and you find that is the largest fan site for The Grand Tour, visit SEMrush and enter in the search bar
    • Click on the Competitors section under the Organic Research menu, and you will get a list of the leading competitors for the website
    • The list of competitors then becomes your whitelist for your ad campaign
    • After finalising the creation of the whitelist process, follow these steps
    • Click on Display Network> Targeting> Placement>Add multiple placements
    • Toggle the ‘Target and Bid’ radio button to ensure that your ads appear on the whitelisted websites
    • Finally, uncheck the ‘Let AdWords automatically find new customers.’ This prevents AdWords from automatically placing your ads in other websites other than those which you have whitelisted
  • Exclude Geographies from Your Ad Campaigns

By analysing your website’s IP logs, you will get an idea of where your competition is doing click fraud against you. If you do not do business in those geographies, you can exclude the locations from your ad campaigns.

Follow these steps to exclude the suspicious geographies

    • In your Google AdWords account, go to Campaign>Settings
    • Edit the ‘locations’ settings then go to Advanced Search>Bulk Locations

At this point, you can add up to 1,000 locations that you want to exclude from your ad campaigns. After this, you can select the country codes for the excluded locations then click Search. Finally, review the list, click Exclude all Matched locations > Done > Save.

  • Identify Ad Spending on Fake websites

Ads placed on fake sites are siphoning hundreds of dollars from your marketing fund every day. You can identify fake websites and maximise your ROI. These are the steps to follow

    • Go to Google Display Network campaigns on your AdWords account
    • Look for and click the ‘Placements’ tab

At this point, you should be on the lookout for abnormalities such as unusually high costs per click, conversion rates, higher clicks and fewer impressions, higher ad positions without clicks and other suspicious metrics.

Next, you should visit the website and ascertain that it is indeed a fake website and these are the signs that it is a fake website

    • Too many ads per page
    • It has a recently registered domain
    • Thin content
    • Few web pages, and pages with similar content

If the fake websites are few, you can exclude these fake websites by manually adding them to your exclusion list.

  • Create a Remarketing Campaign

A remarketing campaign shows your ads to people who have visited your mobile app or websites. It is one of the best ways to prevent your competition from undertaking click fraud schemes because they will not see your ads.

Here is how to go about setting up a remarketing campaign

    • Open your AdWords campaigns and go to ‘Campaigns’ then go to +Campaigns > Display Network Only
    • Check the “Marketing objectives” as well as check the ‘Buy on Your Website.’
    • Choose a campaign name, a strategy, budget, and then click ‘Save.’
    • Type in a group name and bid
    • Choose ‘Interests and Remarketing’ in the ‘Choose how to target your ads’
    • Go to ‘Select Category’ and choose ‘Remarketing Lists’
    • Use ‘Set up remarketing’ to create your remarketing list

AdWords will generate and send you a tracking code that you should add to your site. In the ‘Remarketing Lists’ tab, locate the ‘All Visitors’ tab and then click ‘Save and continue.’

It’s a Wrap

As a PPC marketer, there’s a whole lot you could do to crush your competition and boost your profits by ten folds. This list walks you through all the tools that may come in handy while at it.

However, if you’re still interested in learning more about closed-loop reporting and PPC automation, then why NOT contact MediaOne today for a free ad marketing and SEO consultation?

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About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Social Media




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