The Right Way to Use Competitor Keywords in Google Ads (Step by Step)

by | Jan 4, 2021

Competitors on Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) have the brand awareness and traffic that you want.  So why not use your brand as bait into that stream of customers swimming upstream?

Think about it.  If a user is searching by name for your competitor it tells you a few things:

  • They want to buy what your competitor (and you) are selling
  • They are deeper-funnel and already looking into specific brands (i.e. not just researching)
  • They are probably qualified

To give a real-world example.  You can see in the screenshot below that bids against “Salesforce”.  Monday’s PPC team knows that anyone looking at Salesforce (a CRM platform) would also be a qualified lead for their CRM platform.

Example: bids against Salesforce with <a class=Google Ads
Example: bids against Salesforce with Google Ads

Nearly every client account that we manage at Upgrow has a robust competitor campaign set running.  It’s highly effective and efficient, but only if set up and managed properly.

Competitive ads can be a complete disaster and a horrible money pit just as easily.  You’ll always be disadvantaged in quality score and CTR compared to the named competitor.  Additionally, you won’t be able to use trademarked branded terms in your competitors’ ad copy.  So how do you overcome this and drink their milkshake?

Read on…

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How to find your competitors

List your known competitors

You probably can name a few competitors off the top of your head.  Open a spreadsheet and start typing them up, the larger the list of brand terms, the better.

Find competitors with Auction Insights

Another method is to see who is bidding against you frequently on Google Ads.  This is available in the “Auction Insights” section of the Google Ads interface under Campaigns and looks like this:

Use Google Ads Auction Insights to find who bids against you
Use Google Ads Auction Insights to find who bids against you

Check out the different sites and add the most relevant ones to your list.

Check Review Sites

Yet another method is to look at review sites that list and rank providers.  The review site to use would depend on your industry but taking software as an example, you could look at G2.  Just find your specific category and you can see a list of competitors.  Here is what it looks like in the Accounting Software category:

Use review sites to find competitors, like G2
Use review sites like G2 to find competitors

Build your competitor branded keywords list with “uncertainty modifiers”

This is really the secret sauce to success when bidding on competitors’ brand keywords.  But what are “uncertainty modifiers” you may ask?

These are words in the user’s search that indicate they are still considering different brands.

Uncertainty Modifiers include:

  • Alternatives
  • Competitors
  • Pricing
  • Similar to
  • Reviews
  • Cancel
  • Category (i.e. Oracle database, Ikea furniture, IBM consulting)

And so on….

Users searching with these modifiers are either still shopping for a vendor or ready to switch vendors.  What you don’t want are their existing customers or other non-buyers so also be sure to add negative terms

Negative to include:

  • Login
  • Account
  • Logo
  • Phone Number
  • CEO
  • Social Media

And so on…

I also suggest not bidding on the brand name by itself unless the volume on the modifiers is just too small.  If you’re in a very niche industry then you’ll probably need every competitor search you can get, but if your market is large then save some expense and focus on the most likely to buy from you.

Know your differentiators and advantages

Why do customers choose your brand over your competitors?  Make a list of your solution’s advantages.  This messaging is crucial to pull users away from the brand they were researching to switch to looking at your brand instead.

Are you lower cost?  Higher service?  Local?  More specialized?  More flexible?

Think about it from the perspective of a searcher.  What do they want and what’s important in their decision?  Try to highlight how your solution best meets their needs over the named competitor.

Here’s an example of how poaches branded search traffic from Clearbit by highlighting their differentiator: 2B records and 150 fields, which is more than Clearbit.

PeopleDataLabs highlights their competitive advantage against Clearbit
PeopleDataLabs highlights their competitive advantage against Clearbit

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Know competitor weaknesses

Now if you can pair your strength against the competitors’ weaknesses you’ve really got a strong message – meaning a higher click-through rate, more leads, and a lower cost-per-click – all things marketers want.

You need to do some digging on what users don’t like about your competitors (i.e. their weaknesses).  This can be found in a few Google searches and checking their negative reviews.

Is the competition’s solution over-priced, slow, incomplete, poor service, confusing, or something else that customers complain about in reviews?

Here is an example of Microsoft Teams reviews – which generally are pretty good but we filtered to only the 1-star reviews then looked for recurring problems mentioned in multiple reviews. In this case, nearly half of the poor reviews mentioned the confusing interface. So for this case, we may want to include messaging such as “Get a Simple User Interface and Skip the Slow Learning Curve – Try XZY Project Management Free for 14 Days”

Competitor Negative Reviews Example

Write ad copy that will connect

Now simply turn your messaging into Adwords ad copy and you have a highly attractive ad that gives users a reason to consider your brand over their original search.

As an example, a lot of users know Oracle’s database support is very expensive.  So Spinnaker addresses that and highlights their “Low Cost” service.

Spinnaker highlights their lower cost for Oracle support in their competitor ad copy
Spinnaker highlights their lower cost for Oracle support in their competitor ad copy

Use landing pages that will connect

Hey, we didn’t come this far to drop that competitor’s brand traffic on your homepage or general landing page did you?

The landing page should ideally compare your solution to the original brand and further highlight your superiority.  I say “ideally” because you’ll need to have enough search volume to justify the cost and time of building these head-to-head landing pages.  If you cannot justify that expense for each individual competitor then a more general market landscape page can work.

Here’s a good example of a page Panoply uses when bidding against their competitor, Five Tran.  They list each advantage they have and the weaknesses of Fivetran.

Panoply vs Fivetran landing page example
Panoply vs Fivetran landing page example

And here’s an example of a more general “all competitors” landing page that Talend uses.  The Gartner report compares the top competitors and illustrates Talend’s advantages in the marketplace.

Talend - all competitors landing page example
Talend – all competitors landing page example

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Protect your brand

As a final note, I hate to break it to you – but your PPC competitors are probably also bidding on your brand and stealing your best traffic too.  For that reason alone, you need to play defense by bidding on your own brand terms too.  It may rub you the wrong way to have to pay for your own brand traffic but it’s worth it.

Brand traffic is about as deep in the funnel as it gets and because your quality score should be high for brand terms, the CPC will be very low in most cases.

This will allow you to outrank your competitors that do bid on your name and drive up their CPC.

Influxdata uses branded ads to protect their own brand traffic
Influxdata uses branded ads to protect their own brand traffic

In conclusion

Be strategic with your competitive Google Ads campaign and you can tap into a fantastic new source of deep-funnel traffic and leads. Just be sure you follow some basic principles:

  1. Select only competitor keywords that indicate the user is still shopping vendors (use “uncertainty modifiers”)
  2. Ensure your ads set you apart – highlighting your advantages and the competitor’s weaknesses
  3. Be clear that you are NOT the competitor brand. You will confuse users (who will leave immediately), waste ad budget, and appear unethical.
  4. Create landing pages that further highlight your brands advantages over the competition.
  5. Protect your brand with your own branded campaign

What other strategies are you using for competitor campaigns? Tells us in the comments section below – and if you’d like to see how Upgrow can take your SEO content to the next level. Schedule a meeting at the link below!

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Ryder Meehan

Ryder Meehan

Ryder has been on a 16-year journey to master digital marketing from every aspect. His resume includes Razorfish, Slighshot, Fossil, Samsung Mobile and Tatcha before launching Upgrow. Ryder is the acting CEO, heading business development and account services. He has been featured as a digital marketing leader on Forbes, PRNews,, Workamajig, Databox, Fit Small Biz and other outlets.

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