Hidden, Game-Changing AdWords Features Part 3: Auction Insights

Randy Antin

Sep 08, 20163 min read
Hidden, Game-Changing AdWords Features

Sometimes, you can do everything right in your AdWords campaign – using all the right keywords and making all the right adjustments based on current trends – and still experience mysterious shifts in performance. What you might not realize is that your competitors’ campaigns actually impact your own campaign. While it’s important to analyze your own actions, it also pays to know those of your opponents.

The  Auction Insights feature on AdWords provides a list of the display URL domains of advertisers in direct competition with you. It allows you to not only identify your biggest competitors, but also to see how your own advertising efforts compare to theirs.

This data can be displayed at the campaign, ad group and keyword levels; because it’s historical, you can identify competitor trends and seasonality, chart their performance in comparison to your own, and diagnose account issues brought about by increased competition. 

Gaining a Competitive Advantage in AdWords

When looking to gain the upper hand with a campaign, it’s important to know what others in your industry are doing. If you’re experiencing strange shifts in performance and can’t attribute them to average position increase, seasonality, or the addition of new keywords, pulling two monthly Auction Insights reports can potentially help fill the gaps in your analysis. Perhaps the shift is due to an increase in competition, or maybe you’ll see that your competitors’ budget has grown due to increased impression share. You can also learn if the overlap rate has grown, indicating that your competitors have started bidding on a larger portion of your terms.

Auction Insights can also give you a broader view of the competitive landscape. Knowing who else is bidding on your terms without doing multiple manual searches can be very insightful. You might also be able to spot a new under-the-radar competitor, especially if you’re looking at this data biweekly. I recommend breaking the report down into brand and non-brand and then by month and year.

For both brand and non-brand, you can figure out which competitors are bidding on your terms. Then, you can look at the historical data to see trends in seasonality.

For me, the biggest benefit of using Auction Insights is accurate reporting. It helps answer questions about performance and make informed decisions. Usually, when the cost per click changes for a specific keyword, there is a correlative effect and your average position shifts up or down.

There have been times when I’ve increased bids to increase average position and nothing has changed. After checking the usual culprits, like quality score, that’s when I use Auction Insights to look at what’s going on. Once I have a list of competitors and their impression shares, I can simply connect the dots to see which competitors are affecting my average position. 

How to Implement Auction Insights in AdWords

Accessing the Auction Insights feature is simple. Just go to the “Keywords” tab, then select a campaign or ad group or even display the accountwide keyword list. I’ve found that the most valuable insights come from looking at “Exact” and “Phrase” match keywords.

Under “Keywords,” click on “Details,” and select “All” or “Selected” to populate the report. Then, run the analysis twice for brand and non-brand, and you’re done. Remember that this report isn’t based on all of your competitors’ impressions. Usually, it’s based on about half, so take this data as directional.

Auction Insights is the best way to use AdWords to see what your competition is up to. Once you have that information, it can have a positive effect on your marketing decisions. Here are three ways marketers can benefit from Auction Insights and improve their performance: 

1. More accurate reporting: When you’re aware that your overall bidding strategy hasn’t changed but your CPC and overall cost are still increasing, you can get valuable data to prove that the adjusted competitor landscapes have altered. By using this feature, there’s less guesswork in a constantly evolving ecosystem.

2. Keeping track of the competition: Google takes an annoyingly hands-off approach when competitors use your company name to bid on your trademarked brand. Auction Insights shows your trademark violators and helps you avoid starting a pricing battle by bidding on competitor brand terms – and it does it faster and cheaper than similar tools.

3. Preparation for seasonal competition: When you look at historical trends, you can study competitor strategies around holidays, peak season or shoulder season, depending on your verticals. These strategies will impact your performance and costs, so having this information ahead of time helps you prepare programs and mitigate incremental cost and risk. 

Your campaign doesn’t function in isolation. The competitive landscape affects your performance even if your campaign strategy hasn’t changed. Auction Insights can help you better understand your competitors’ search programs and how they are affecting you, so you are better able to make the right decisions. This is especially effective if you use SEMrush to complement your AdWords research.

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Randy Antin is VP of marketing for Jumpshot, a marketing analytics solution that provides behavioral trend insights of its 100 million-user panel by analyzing their clickstream activity. He has previously held roles at numerous startups and more established companies, including The Gap Inc. and Travelocity. His digital marketing experience includes everything from search to affiliates to structured feeds to retargeting. He has been attracted to big data and behavioral trends ever since he came in seventh place in a fantasy baseball league 15 years ago. Connect with him on LinkedIn.