Chris Bibey

Contributing Writer |

5 min read

The Simple and Effective Guide to Competitor Ad Analysis

Have you come to find that online advertising is one of the best ways to drive targeted traffic to your website? Are you concerned about keeping the pace with your competition? Are you seeking ways to one-up your competitors on the way to the top?

It doesn’t matter what type of advertising and marketing strategy you’re using, there’s no way to avoid your competition.

According to Recode, online advertisers are now outspending television advertisers by tens of billions of dollars.

While there are many forms of online advertising – with video and social media picking up steam – it’s search and display ads that remain top dog. Check out this passage from the same Recode article:

At 42 percent of total spending, search ads like those on Google remain the biggest form of online advertising, expected to reach $95 billion this year. Online search and classified spending is expected to grow less than 10 percent.

You’re reading that right. It’s $95 billion with a “B.” It’s these types of numbers that show just how fierce the online advertising world has become.

All this leads to an important question: what steps can you take to better understand what your competition is doing?

This is where a competitor ad analysis comes into play. Your goal is simple: to gain a better understanding of everything your competitors are doing, from keywords to budget to platform (and everything in between).

Here are five simple, yet effective, steps you can take as you conduct a competitor ad analysis. Focusing on these details will give you a better idea of what you’re up against.

1. Know Your Primary Competitors

Get this: just because a brand is bidding on the same keywords or advertising on the same websites doesn’t necessarily mean they’re your direct competition.

Answer these questions to help you define your market and offerings:

  • What does your company do?
  • What type of product or service does your company offer?
  • Who are your customers and where do they live?
  • Are you targeting customers in a particular industry or location?

As you answer these questions, among others, you may come to find that companies you previously considered competitors pose no threat to your business.

You can then compile an accurate list of your top competitors, which puts you in position to run an analysis that you can actually use to your advantage.

2. Focus on the Keywords

When it comes to search ads, such as those that you see on Google, there’s one thing you can’t afford to overlook: keywords.

What keywords are your competitors bidding on? Are they sticking closely to one primary keyword and a couple variations, or branching out with a broader approach?

Here’s an example of the top three ads on Google for the keyword phrase “cheap car insurance.”

While you expect to see companies like Liberty Mutual and Geico in this slot, Rate Kick is a lesser known brand. It’s safe to assume the company has not only analyzed its top competitors, but realizes that the keyword phrase “cheap car insurance” puts it in front of the right audience.

But these brands don’t stop there. They’re also advertising for related keywords, such as “affordable car insurance.”

Even if your budget prohibits you from keeping up with your competition, knowing their keywords can help you formulate a plan for getting the most bang for your buck.

3. Touch on All Types of Advertising

Some brands focus solely on one form of advertising, such as search ads or video ads. Others understand the importance of spreading themselves around, giving them the opportunity to reach their audience in many different ways.

A competitor ad analysis is not complete until you understand what your competition is doing across the board.

Sticking with the example above, it’s easy to see that the top car insurance companies are spending big money on search advertising.

But are they doing the same on display advertising? How about social media?

Some are, some are not. Check out this screenshot of the top display advertisers on the Google Network for the keyword phrase “cheap car insurance.”

This is an entirely different ballgame. If you focused solely on search ads, you’d miss out on the many brands (and potential competitors) using display advertising to drive targeted traffic.

You need to know what your competitors are doing with every form of online advertising. This is the only way to feel confident in your ability to outperform them.

For Geico, here’s a breakdown of where the brand is spending its advertising dollars:

4. The Ad Creative Strategy Matters

You could have the biggest budget in your industry, a thorough understanding of your target market, and a list of high converting keywords, but if you don’t have the right ad creative strategy you can’t expect to beat the competition.

For example, when it comes to display advertising, there are three things to think about:

  • The type of ad
  • The size of the ad
  • The ad design

Let’s start with a breakdown of the type of ad (once again using Geico as an example):

Geico is focused primarily on image and HTML5 ads, with video in a distant third.

Now, let’s take a look at the size breakdown:

It’s bread and butter is the 300×250 ad, but there are some others sprinkled in here and there.

And now, here’s the fun stuff – a detailed look at the ad design. This is what separates the contenders from the pretenders:

Not only does this show that Geico uses a variety of different ad designs, but also that they’re running more than one at the same time.

As an outsider looking in, there’s nothing better than access to this type of information. It doesn’t give you insight as to why your competitors are doing certain things, but it absolutely shows you the type of strategy they’re relying on.

5. Campaigns: One Step Deeper than Strategy

In point #4 above, you learned the importance of understanding the ad creative strategy you’re competitors are using.

It’s a good start, but you can go deeper by examining individual campaigns.

Here’s a look at three of the newest campaigns rolled out by Geico:

This is helpful in many ways:

  • You can see the target audience
  • You can see how much money was spent on the ad
  • You can see how long the ad was active (possibly giving you a better idea of its success/failure)

In the example above, if you’re an insurance agent in Asheville, NC and Geico is a top competitor, you’ll want to dig through this campaign to better understand its strategy.

Don’t Ever Stop

At first, it’s exciting and insightful to learn more about your competitors. The information can validate all the work you’ve been putting in. It can also give you insight into changes you can make to achieve greater success.

But then something happens: you think you’ve uncovered everything you need, so you stop paying attention to the competition.

When it comes to online advertising, you can’t do this. Things are always changing. For example, social media advertising increased by 36 percent to more than $22 billion in 2017. It goes without saying that companies that weren’t using social advertising in 2016 jumped on board in 2017.

You don’t have to run an ad analysis for every competitor every day of the week, but you should get into the habit of regularly doing so.

Final Thoughts

Now what do you think? Are you more confident than ever in your ability to understand how your competitors are using online advertising to their advantage?

From how your competition spends their advertising budget to display creatives, every nugget of information you unearth will lead you toward a more effective strategy for your brand.

You now have what you need to conduct a thorough competitor ad analysis, all with the idea of making more informed and confident advertising related decisions in the future.


Chris Bibey

Contributing Writer |