3 Sneaky Ways To Bid On Competitor Keywords

In the advertising world, most businesses have to deal with competitors. In traditional media, many publishers offer competitive separation, where your ads will be separated by physical space (in print) or time (in broadcast) from your competition.

In search, though, your ads appear alongside your competitors. A search for books will yield ads from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and possibly local retailers. They’re all competing with one another, on the same web page, for the click.

Many PPC advertisers are interested in bidding on their competitor’s brand names. Why not try to take visitors away from the other guys? It seems easy to do – but quality score creates a challenge.

Anyone who’s ever tried to bid on competitor brands has probably gotten hit with poor quality scores. It makes sense – after all, if I searched for “Target stores,” why would I want to see ads from Walmart? The search engines know this, so they slap anyone who’s not Target with a quality score of 1 or 2.

Still, there may be good reasons to bid on your competitor’s brands. Maybe you’re new to the market and need awareness. Maybe there’s confusion between your brand and a competitor, and you’re hoping to capitalize on that. Whatever the reason, it is possible to bid on competitor brands and get decent quality scores and traffic. Her are 3 sneaky ways to bid on competitor keywords.

Bid on misspellings.

Does your competitor have a hard-to-spell or easily misspelled brand? Gather up all the possible misspellings and bid on them. Misspellings, to the search engines, are vague – do you mean the brand, or do you mean something else? When it’s not clear, your ad has a better chance of appearing.

Here’s an example:

misspellings
I meant to search for “esurance” – the auto insurance company. But I typed “ensurance” instead. Esurance still showed up as the top ad.

But look at the second ad. It reads awkwardly – they’re probably using dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) – but the query I typed is in the ad twice, and therefore it’s bolded and stands out. They also have 6 sitelinks showing – more than the other advertisers in the top ads. And they’re promoting “Low Rates.” I had to read the ad carefully to realize it wasn’t for the company I meant to search for. Most users wouldn’t read carefully – they’d just click.

Clever use of DKI, along with features like sitelinks, can help your ad stand out on misspellings of your competitor’s brands.

Bid on “cancel” keywords.

I saw this tip on Twitter, and it’s revolutionized my competitor keyword campaigns:

tweet for cancel
What better way to reach disgruntled customers of competitors and woo them your way than by bidding on keywords used by those who want to cancel?

Not only is this tactic smart, it’s effective in counteracting the poor quality score usually seen on competitor terms. Here’s an example:

non cancel kws

Nearly every competitor brand name has a quality score of 2 and is rarely shown due to low quality score.

But look at the “cancel” keywords:

cancel QS

Quality score jumped from 2 to 4-5, and even 10 in one case! And the “cancel” keywords are getting click-through rates that are well above average. Better yet, they’re driving leads.

If you’re in a service or contractual business, adding “cancel” terms to your keyword list can dramatically improve results in your competitor campaigns.

Use all the weapons available to you.

It almost goes without saying that successful competitor campaigns need great ad copy. A killer offer and reasons to choose you usually perform well. I’ve seen competitors use exclusive, super-deal offers for competitor campaigns that aren’t promoted anywhere else, just to grab those conquest clicks.

Getting creative in your ad copy doesn’t hurt either. Look at the Olive Garden ad on the search for Applebee’s:

better ad copy

Not only is the Olive Garden ad clever, it’s also earned ad annotations from Bing Ads, showing they have 205,900 followers on Twitter and have been visited by 100K users in the past month.

While advertisers can’t control ad annotations, they can control ad extensions. Use them to make your ad stand out on the page. You’ll need to earn a spot on the top of the page for most extensions to show, but ad extensions can be a real differentiator.

Consider this search result for, ironically, search competitor intelligence tools:

competitor serp
Adgooroo isn’t bidding on their brand, and SpyFu is taking advantage. They’re using callout extensions and Google+ extensions to make their ad stand out on the page. I’ve also seen call extensions and location extensions used successfully on competitor ads – imagine if you discover that the business you were searching for is further away than a competitor offering the same thing!

Give the searcher every possible reason to contact you instead of the competition, and your competitor campaigns can be a good source of quality traffic and sales or leads.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at Search Engine Watch on December 16, 2014.

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How Not To Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion

As you know, I work from home most of the time. I love it – I’m able to minimize interruptions, focus, and get tons done, and still greet my kids when they get home from school. I’m saving the environment and my gasoline bills, too.

There are down sides, though. Our next-door neighbors have 2 young German Shepherds. These dogs BARK AT EVERYTHING. I mean EVERYTHING. They bark at me even though they see me every damn day. They bark at the mailman. They bark at the other neighbor’s dog that’s in its own yard EVERY DAMN DAY. As you can probably tell, it’s beyond annoying. And they bark at my son when he goes out to shoot hoops, which is not only annoying, it kind of scares me.

I heard someplace (radio? newspaper? I honestly can’t remember) that there are devices that generate high-frequency sound that humans can’t hear, but dogs can – and it makes the dogs stop barking. So, I turned to my good friend Google to try to find this miracle product, thinking we could try it at least when the kids are outside attempting to play basketball without listening to barking dogs the whole time.

I found tons of options in both the paid ads and the organic results, as you can see below. But I also found a gross misuse of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI).


See the third ad at the top of the page? “Stop Dogs Barking Neighbors”? Seriously? Folks, remember: DKI does NOT insert the keyphrase that was typed into the search box – it inserts the keyphrase you’re bidding on. While “stop dogs barking neighbors” is a perfectly fine keyword to bid on, it looks kinda silly in the ad title.

The moral of the story? Use DKI with discretion. Be careful which keywords you include in your ad groups that use DKI. Actually read through each possible title, out loud if necessary. Eliminate the ones that don’t sound right, and move them to an ad group where you’re not using DKI.

Oh, and please teach your dogs not to bark at every moving thing. Please.

Oh, and by the way – I didn’t buy a “stop dogs barking neighbors” device yet. Any recommendations?

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Joe The Plumber Does PPC

I know I’m not the only one writing about this, but it’s too much fun to pass up: All the buzz over Joe the Plumber from Wednesday’s presidential debate has spilled over online in a very interesting way. Since lots of writers are covering the Google Trends aspect, I wanted to comment on the PPC side.

Before I get into that, let me say that, as most of you know, this thing is evolving and will continue to evolve. I’m reporting on what I’m seeing in my office in Michigan on Friday, October 17 – not to be confused with what I may see tomorrow, or what any of you might be seeing right now! Isn’t search great that way?!?

Anyway… here is a screen capture of my search on “joe the plumber”:
The ads are all brilliant (even if I don’t agree with all of them, wink wink). At the top is the GOP. Good for them – they’re promoting their online poll and the ad copy really encourages people to join in the conversation. Great social media angle – points for that. Too bad whoever is doing their PPC doesn’t know how to use keyword insertion properly! Sorry, gotta give you a point deduction for an ad title without a single capital letter.

Then there is John McCain’s site. Whoever Senator McCain is using for his SEM has been doing a great job throughout the campaign of getting relevant ads onto a wide variety of searches. Big points to you, McCain’s SEM! Interestingly, despite all the hype about McCain conceding Michigan to Obama and stopping ads here, they’ve obviously got a geo-targeted PPC campaign still running. Not a bad strategy – if indeed it is a strategy, and not just an oversight.

Oh, and McCain’s SEM? You lose points for not using keyword insertion correctly either.

Following the McCain ad is an ad for Network Solutions that appears, at first glance, to be totally irrelevant. That is, until you read in the news that the guy who owns the joetheplumber.com domain has been offered up to $800,000 for his domain. Pretty sneaky, Network Solutions! Bonus points for creativity.

Of course, Barack Obama’s SEM can’t let McCain get all the attention, so next you’ll find a brilliantly worded ad for Obama’s campaign. Well done! Bonus points for correct usage of keyword insertion.

Finally, no liquid-hot search would be complete without the totally irrelevant PPC ad. Today’s contestant is Holiday Autos, with a non-sequiter ad for international getaway cars. Huh?? How did that get there? Points to them for getting visibility on “joe the plumber;” major point deduction to Google for actually allowing this ad to appear.

So there you have it. I’d like to thank today’s contestants for playing. Come back in an hour, when a new cast of PPC ads will undoubtedly be running…

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Yahoo Keyword Insertion Nonsense

We’ve all heard about the eBay ads on Google that use keyword insertion for everything – you know, “buy used fish on eBay,” etc. It’s become a big SEM joke.

I was searching for the name of this blog on Yahoo just now, just to make sure I’m ranking for it (I am). I found this lovely specimen. Look at the second sponsored ad:

(To see for yourself, just go to Yahoo and search for “beyond the paid” without the quotes.)

Huh? As far as I can tell, this is an ad for a service selling “Top 25″ lists, and the ad is supposed to be say “legitimate {keyword} for serious {keyword}.” Which is still terrible ad copy. What if I searched for, say, “stock certificates”?

2007 Top 25 Stock Certificates
Legitimate Stock Certificates for Serious Stock Certificates

It still doesn’t make sense! Even if I searched for something like “investments,” it wouldn’t make sense. “Legitimate investments for serious investments”??

Clearly this advertiser has no idea how keyword insertion works. Either that, or they chose that option by mistake when they created their ad group. Either way, this is one reason why keyword insertion should be used with caution, and only when you fully understand how it works!

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