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Keep Your Enemies Close: What SEM Competitive Analysis Can Teach You About Your Digital Marketing Campaigns

By   ,  Path Interactive  |    

Competitor analysis is a wonderful, insightful and sometimes surprising means of learning more about your business. As a digital marketing agency, for us competitor analysis is not just a value add, it’s a core strategy. Here, I’m going to share how we get meaningful, actionable insights at Path and how you can integrate them into your own marketing.

Research your digital competitors – not just your business competitors

Brief refresh: in digital marketing there are several types of competitors we monitor. In addition to direct, indirect and replacement competitors, we look at business competitors and digital competitors.

You or your client often has an established idea of who your business competitors are. For brick-and-mortar, it is business competitors offering the same service/product nearby geographically.

Your digital competitors are likely completely different from your business competitors. Your digital competitors are likely not your business competitors, but they are bidding on the same keyword terms and inflating the marketing place. Sometimes it’s an unrelated advertiser who did a poor job using keyword targeting.

An example of a business competitor for a NYC cosmetic dentistry practice would be other practices located within 0.5 mile of your location.  Patient behavior indicates that when searching for a dentist, people are more likely to go to a nearby dentist during work hours within walking distance of the workplace rather than a dentist further away or closer to home. This behavior is dictated by practice hours being limited to the work week with limited availability on weekends.

So you’ve identified that these 5 dentists are immediate / direct business competitors, but that’s not even close to the big picture of who you’re competing against.

How do you find out who your digital competitors are?

  • Identify your top clicked or top converting keywords in your paid search campaign. Ideally, you would want to look at brand keywords (these include your business name in the keyword) and generic keywords (these are services, products that your business offers)
  • Start searching!

Take a look at competitor ads showing up for your brand name

  • Who and how many are there? What’s their messaging? Are they digital, business or other competitors?  Are they mentioning your brand name in their ad copy? (If they are, you can take steps to prevent competitors from using your trademark.) What’s their messaging?
  • Do this regularly, competitors may come and go – but it’s good to search monthly to see if the SERP changes.

Now, on to generic service or product queries:

Much of the same questions apply from brand searches; however, it is important to check if there’s any overlap with competitors showing up on branded keywords. What promotions/offers, if any, are used in ad copy? Are there any trends and commonalities with how competitors differentiate themselves on SERP?

Conversion rate optimization opportunities: make it easier for potential customers to buy/call/sign-up/register

You’ve done the work to identify who your digital competitors are, now it’s time to find out what happens after the click. (Click on the ad, I won’t tell.)

Insights from your competitors can help you improve your own conversion rates:

Where does the ad to go to?

Is it the homepage of the site or landing page? Is the content on the page relevant to the ad and the search query? Is the offer in the ad consistent with the messaging on the landing page? Is there a CTA? Is there enough information about the product and service for potential customer to convert?

What’s the conversion process like?

Lead Generation: Is there a form on the site? What information is required to submit a form? Are there any qualifying questions? Is the form too long, too short? Is the submit button clear? What is the primary lead type – to submit a form or call? Is there a soft capture element (newsletter signup)?
E-Commerce: You may want to purchase an inexpensive product to review the entire conversion process. How easy is it to add a product to the shopping cart? How many clicks does it take to check out?
Mobile: Access the sites / landing pages on your mobile device. Is the site optimized for mobile or is it the desktop version? Is there anything on the mobile site that creates additional friction – slow load speed, flash, difficult to navigate? If eCommerce, how many clicks does it take to complete a purchase? A great free tool to mimic a mobile environment across multiple mobile devices (including tablet) is www.mobiletest.me

What’s next?

Identify aspects that work and don’t work on your competitor’s site. Focus on features that streamline the conversion process or create a better user experience then take your findings and develop a testing strategy to put your findings to work. A conversion rate optimization program can be very effective at improving your site’s performance.

Identify gaps / failures in your competitors’ marketing. More importantly, identify opportunities to expand to new channels

In a recent case study, our agency worked with a renowned national legal firm on several large-scale class-action lawsuits bidding on the types of keywords that notoriously wind up on annual most expensive Google keywords lists.  We were tasked with reaching the affected groups to generate leads and eventually get signed retainers. Timing was of the essence since in many legal cases, the first legal firm with to file a case represents all constituents.

In a very short timeframe (2-3 weeks), the marketplace was saturated with numerous new competitors. Avg. CPCs on Google and Bing skyrocketed and it became cost prohibitive to maintain lead volume and efficiency but it was still necessary to maintain our presence on paid search.

After optimizing and conducting competitive research, we found that while paid search was saturated, Facebook was not! The bulk of competitor spend was on paid search, but only a handful were advertising on Facebook. This was a huge opportunity to expand to a new channel that didn’t face the same challenges as paid search and generate clicks at a cost of $1-$4 as opposed to well over $50.

How do you identify these opportunities?

Keep monitoring search for any major shifts in competition. Google’s Auction insights functionality is a great way of reviewing which of your competitors are increasing market share.
Monitor fluctuations in your paid media performance. An increase in avg CPC or reductions in avg. Pos are often good indicators of increasing competition in the marketplace.
Free online competitive research tools! There are a vast amount of free and incredibly useful tools online that will give you more information and estimates on what type of people are getting to your competitor’s sites, how they’re getting there and how much they’re spending online. Take spend estimates with a grain of salt – the only real way to know how much a competitor is spending is to get transparency into their media accounts – and that’s very unlikely).

We use a variety of proprietary tools and pro enterprise versions for research purposes. Our favorites are:

  • SimilarWeb: www.similarweb.com
  • Quantcast: www.quantcast.com
  • Compete: www.compete.com

What’s next?

One you’ve identified opportunities for new platforms or within your current campaigns, build out a strategy to expand or reach out to Path Interactive to setup a strategy and work with you to capitalize on this potential win.

Monitor your competitors – with only a few clicks.

Google Alerts: www.google.com/alerts.
How would you like a daily digest of in your inbox daily or weekly of any news related to your competitors? You can do this with Google Alerts – it takes a minute to setup and you’re on your way to staying up-to-date with what your competitors are doing.

Sign up for competitor online newsletters and mailing lists.
If your competitors offer an online newsletter or have a physical mailing list, sign up! You’ll get a more complete picture of how they communicate with potential customers, how promotions/offers differ from online and more insight into e-mail marketing and direct marketing strategies.

Interested in learning more about smart digital media management and competitive conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies? Contact us today for an evaluation of your current digital media strategies.

Impact of Google AdWords Switching to 4 Ads on Top

By   ,  Path Interactive  |    

On February 19, 2016 Google confirmed they removed text ads from the right side of search result pages and will now place up to 4 ads on top of organic search results for some queries that trigger advertisements.


How does this change affect keywords with low average positions?

While 4 ads on top of search results sounds like a lot, this change actually means fewer ads overall since sidebar ads no longer display. To understand the impact of this layout change on our clients’ paid media performance, we pulled top-line metrics at the campaign and keyword levels from a subset of AdWords accounts we manage.

Of the accounts analyzed, impressions and clicks for keywords we bid on with average positions greater than 3 dropped at the end of February. The trend is more prolific when looking at our small business accounts, which makes sense as our top accounts were already using top of page bids.


CTR for keywords in position 4 skyrocketed the week following the ad layout change. While the data is sparse at the individual account level, the macro trend for position 4 CTR looks to be ~60%+.


Why did Google make this change?

While we can only speculate on the reasons Google made this change, we believe this isn’t just about making more revenue. This update brings desktop SERPs in line with mobile, and keeps the layout of searches consistent between devices.

An interesting insight we discovered while analyzing our clients’ campaign performance is position 3 and 4 top of page ads actually have better CTRs than side ads overall (that’s a weighted average of the entire sidebar, not just top right rail vs those 2 slots). Right rail ads don’t have sitelinks, callouts, reviews, or other rich markup – so they look very different from the top/bottom ads. By only using wide ad formats, all the ads now have a similar feel.

What does this mean for CPCs?

We have not seen any fluctuations in CPC, however, we expect this to change in the near future as there is less inventory to bid on. Advertisers who previously targeted low cost, low position keywords will need to increase their CPCs to rank on page one which may lead to higher bid prices for keywords that show minimal advertising.

To learn more about how this change may affect your AdWords campaigns, or to schedule a consultation with one of our team members, you can contact us here or call us at (212) 661-8969. We look forward to putting our experience to work for your business.


Ruben Quinones Teaching Search Marketing Course at NYU This Winter 2016

By   ,  Path Interactive  |    

Ruben Quinones of New York City Search and Social agency Path Interactive will be teaching Search Marketing at NYU’s School of Continuing Professional Studies for the 2016 Winter semester.

The course will be an online/asynchronous (self-paced) and starts on February 22th 2016 and goes until March 6th 2016. For more information or to sign up for this course click here.

Search marketing is one of the most important marketing skills you can acquire. Develop and implement effective search engine marketing and search engine optimization tactics (including organic/PPC search, paid/sponsored listings, and contextual listing). Learn to optimize site content, develop a strategy, and integrate search into your overall marketing plan.


ruben quinonesRuben Quinones is VP, Client Strategy at Path Interactive where he provides forward thinking leadership for the company’s social media marketing processes and is the lead for client Facebook marketing programs. Ruben leads the action and development of social media marketing and oversees strategic campaigns for major clients. Additional responsibilities include; strategic consulting, and key project management for Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization and Online marketing campaigns, client digital strategy and execution.


The same commitment to excel for our clients prompts us to take a leadership role in our industry. Members of the senior management team serve as instructors at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. There, CEO Michael Coppola and V.P. of Client Strategy Ruben Quinones teach courses on Search Marketing to the next generation of digital specialists as part of NYU’s New Media Marketing program. In addition, Path also develops specialized corporate training programs in SEO and Social Media marketing for its client-partners.

Paid Search vs. Organic: 8 Reasons Why You Should Still Pay For Clicks When You Rank High Organically

By   ,  Path Interactive  |    

Many advertisers aren’t convinced that they should be running paid ads. They often ask, what’s the point of paying for clicks when I have organic links on the first page for free? This is a fair question. That’s why we’ve listed the many reasons to use pay per click advertising when you rank high organically.


Search Marketing that Hits a Moving Target

By   ,  Path Interactive  |    

There is no single customer.

And every single one of them is a moving target.

There is a million-dollar question that that only an intelligent, holistic search marketing program can answer. How do you market to all those customers, in exactly the right way, at every step along the search journey?

Search Marketing has evolved from the days when agencies would rack up impressions, count up clicks and declare victory. Interactive devices have insinuated themselves in remarkably intimate ways into our everyday life, and we rely on like computers, tablets and smartphones to conduct an ever-increasing range of daily activities. Now we can collect an unprecedented amount of intelligence on each consumer’s online experience. And if you know how to analyze and harness that knowledge, you can deliver targeted messaging of tremendous impact.

The Right Message, All Along the Search Funnel

For most firms, that’s easier said than done. You need to serve up focused, transactionally-oriented advertising when consumers have credit card in hand, ready to buy. But you also need to speak to potential customers way upstream, when they are seeking information about your market sector and the decision is many, many clicks away. How do you ensure your brand is capturing a bigger share of online revenue while having the right share of voice in the conversations that matter most to its business? How do you deliver the right message to a consumer at every position on the search funnel?

Pay-Per-Click Advertising and Search Engine Optimization are the two sides of search marketing, but they work best when deployed as part of an intelligent, holistic digital campaign. Not all firms have the experience and credibility to handle both well. And when a firm does have those core competencies, so often SEO and PPC are running independently, locked up in their own silos.

Integrated PPC and SEO Campaigns

At Path, our search intelligence runs deep, and we craft coordinated SEO and PPC campaigns that deliver exceptional reach and precision. We look at your business’ core marketing goals, and we tailor plans that deliver the results that matter most to your business. We’ll bring the clicks, and we’ll deliver the conversions, and we’ll spike your sales, but we’ll also make sure your brand moves to the top of the natural search results and to the front of potential customer’s minds, whenever they start thinking about what it is you do.

Is it time to explore the power of integrated SEO and PPC in holistic digital campaigns? You can find out more about each of our services here. Why not get in touch, and let us sharpen your search marketing’s aim.