What to Consider When Forming a Paid Search Competitor Strategy

Competitor keywords present unique opportunities that regular brand and non-brand keywords do not.  However, they can come with headaches or can wind up being inefficient if not employed correctly. We’ll explore what’s worth considering when determining a competitor spend approach and how to best execute your plan.


The opportunity to acquire a competitor’s customers is the most alluring benefit of targeting competitor terms. Even if users search for a competitor’s brand, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are loyal to that brand; their search behavior could indicate several aspects of the consumer journey, including a desire to learn more about a brand or understanding pricing. While it seems intuitive that the intent behind a brand search means that a “conquesting” campaign could be off-putting to the searcher, there is opportunity to present a compelling differentiator for your brand. It could be an offer that is more aggressive than your competitor’s, or a facet of your product or service that is fundamentally different than the brand searched. Your value proposition must consider that the searcher, in this case, isn’t looking for you.

Tips for getting started:

  • Decide Which Competitor Terms to Bid on You likely already know your biggest competitors, but advertising tools like SEMrush and Hitwise can surface specific data on what those competitors are doing in Paid Search. Additionally, Auction Insights on Google or Bing can pinpoint where competitors are overlapping with you. The easier it is to determine where another brand stacks up in terms of budget and keyword selection, the easier it will be to determine where you can successfully plug your brand into the conversation. You may also uncover a competitor you didn’t know you had, or a group of smaller competitors that collectively spend as much as a primary competitor. Use the tools at your disposal to decide which terms are worth conquesting.
  • Choosing a Campaign or Ad Group Structure If funding competitor spend needs to occur within a specific budget, separate campaigns are optimal so that you have control over spend. If competitor spend will be included in a broader budget, it’s okay to use ad groups but spend should be monitored. Third-party bid platforms often allocate money according to spend and performance goals. Sometimes bidding skews in either direction, especially if the spend target requires a liberal allocation of money. Make sure there’s balance among ad groups and that competitor groups are properly constrained.


Competitor keyword performance should be held to a different standard than regular keywords. They usually perform poorly from most efficiency measures: cost-per-click, quality score, click-through-rate, and conversion rate. If the sole KPI is online sales or return on ad spend, competitor spend isn’t likely to meet expectations. If sales performance isn’t the sole KPI, competitor spend can increase brand awareness, acquisition, and retention of a new set of customers separate from regular non-brand searchers.

How to maximize performance:

  1. Focus on Your Message and Customer Experience. After you’ve decided which competitor terms to bid on, your ad copy and landing page will factor heavily into whether searchers decide to engage with or buy from you.
    1. Ad Copy: Since your ad can’t include a competitor’s trademarked terms, it should highlight something useful your brand offers that stands out. One option is to bid on competitor terms exclusively when you’re running a promotion. That’s a great opportunity to highlight a lower price while people are shopping your competition.
    2. Landing Page: A helpful, fast-loading, and navigable landing page is imperative. Elaborate on the message from your ad and make landing page content as relevant to search intent as possible. Consider creating a landing page solely for competitor campaign traffic. You could include comparison tables (us versus them), unique differentiators, pricing differences, etc. Just be cautious when making claims about other businesses; saying your price is lower may be true at the time, but they may change their price. Find a happy medium between highlighting your brand alongside your competitors and independently from them. In other words, if your content is exclusively “us versus them,” it is more likely to cross legal lines.
  2. Measure Lifetime Value Think beyond the click and into the longer benefit of an acquisition. Analyzing data from loyalty or membership programs can prove value beyond single-session, on-site performance. Just remember that if they weren’t loyal to your competitor after searching for them, they may not remain loyal to you. Remarketing can help retain a customer acquired via competitor terms.
  3. Utilize Remarketing and Advanced Targeting RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) typically performs better than non-RLSA and should be considered as well. There are multiple ways to use remarketing for competitor terms.
    1. Retarget searchers who have been to your site that then search for competitors. Bid higher since you know they’ve already shown interest in your brand.
    2. Using first-party data, target users who search competitor terms and attempt to retain their business if, for example, they’re a past purchaser of your brand. Change your message to mention a loyalty program.
    3. Show promotions to searchers who are “in market” for your products or services as they search for other brands.
    4. There is also value in creating site visitor audience lists from competitor terms. If you’re going to pay the premium to drive people to your site, it’s worthwhile to have this segmentation for potential remarketing or exclusion later.


There’s no shortage of ways to spend on competitor terms and the benefits of doing so are unique to this keyword type. Work with your client to determine what your goals are, how you can navigate around the innate difficulties of competitor term performance, and how you’ll measure success.