See Your Competitor’s Ad Groups — and the best ad copy for them

Everything that’s “better” in AdWords — better quality score, which leads to better price and better position, and thus better CTR — stems from building strong ad groups with the right ad copy.

We’ve already looked at some ways to put together ad groups and organize them, so let’s take it further. You can learn from your competitor’s ad groups and see their most trusted, relied-upon copy that keeps them in the game.

Why good, relevant ad copy matters

Remember, searchers and search engines reward you when your ad copy is as relevant as possible. The more relevant you are, the more versions you’ll need to answer the different searches.

As you have to create more versions, sloppiness can creep in. Things can slip. It’s important to stay focused on creating the best, well-written ad copy for your ad group.

Well-written copy catches the reader’s attention. Better ad copy makes them want to click. If you want to drive your click rate, write copy that tells a reader that they’ve found what they need. Then deliver.

This is where Ad History comes in to help.

How you find it from a single search

When you search a keyword on SpyFu, we’ll include its advertiser history. Look for the separate tab or scroll down to a preview (as Most Successful Advertisers and Their Best Ads).

The history itself tells a big story. In the coming steps, we’ll help you turn those results into insights. You’re going to find:

  • How competitor ad groups are structured
  • The best copy for specific ad groups

First, choose the competitors you want to study

The best competitors to watch aren’t always the most obvious ones

You can always jump ahead if you know which competitor you’d like to review. It’s as easy as typing their name into the search bar and finding the Ad History section of the results.

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If you don’t have a certain competitor in mind and want to look at the niche overall, start with a keyword. For this example, I’m going to try “photoshop training” in the search bar. Advertiser History tells me which domains have run an ad on this keyword over time. Clearly some will dominate where others dabble.

search of the photoshop training keyword in ad history

At a glance, you can tell that businesses lynda.com and ledet.com have strong and consistent history advertising on this term. Consistency is key when you’re looking for the best competitors to review.

I’m clicking through to see all of the ads that lynda.com has run.

clicking the domain name changes the view to ad history for the advertiser

See how their ad groups are structured

We’re going to take a reverse-engineering stab at finding their ad groups. Though term-based groups are easy to find, we want an ad copy focus. As a general rule, advertisers run the same relevant ad copy for a group of related keywords.

Where the ad copy is the same, the keyword group follows. Make sense?

We should be able to find an ad and then backtrack to see which keywords ran that ad at the same time. The results should give us a good idea of how they are structuring their ad groups.

Look for the same ad copy

On the right hand side, there’s a section called “Top Ads.” I’ll explain that section’s role in your research in a bit, but for now follow these two steps:

  1. Select “none” so that no ads are selected.
  2. Click on the first top ad.

 

Every other ad that uses this copy is highlighted in chart.

Review the group. Uncheck when you’re done, and make your way down the list to highlight the next ad in the top ads section. You’ll see their groups by working backwards from the copy they use on the same keywords.

Filter the keywords to find ad groups quickly

Lynda.com actually has more than 34,000 keywords in their AdWords lineup. That basic example I showed you of clicking the top ad is a starting point. For a domain as expansive as lynda.com, there are too many ads to sift through.

The filter can help by limiting the results to similarly-worded keywords. It sits on top of the chart. Type in a keyword (or part of a word), and we’ll limit the results to any matches.

 

So many results for autocad popped up that you could filter even further into “autocad training” or “learn autocad” to find tighter groups.

You’ll notice that even as you get into smaller group sizes, the domain runs different ad copy for each set of keywords. It tells me that their ad groups are still structured even tighter.

Keep filtering to smaller groups. This is where the different ads will help us out.

Let’s reverse engineer their ad copy

Generally, advertisers create one ad for a group of 15-20 keywords. Anything larger, and it’s tough to keep the message specific and relevant to what the searcher was looking for.

With so many advertisers making this a best practice, you can single out an ad group by starting with the ad and working backward. This approach isn’t perfect, but it gets you closer than any other method outside of logging into their AdWords account.

Here’s how to do it for any ad.

Highlight the ad copy versions using “Top Ads”

Along the right side of the Ad History tool, we’ve included a list of ad variations that the advertiser used. They’re sorted so that the most frequently-used ad is on top.

By default, we highlight every ad in the grid with its own color. That’s why you see different colored tiles across the page.

Every time the advertiser updates the ad copy for a keyword, we change the color of the tile.

That is important for a few reasons, but right now its best use is to help you see which keywords triggered the same ad. By grouping them together by ad copy (and a bit of term filtering from earlier), you’re likely looking at a solid ad group.

Highlighting the 1st and 2nd top ads shows us that they are relying on these for a huge portion of the keywords on the page.

The top, most used ad (blue) ran on keywords like autocad training course, basic autocad training, and many of the local-named keywords like autocad training seattle. The second ad (green) ran on keywords like online autocad training and autocad training courses.

With a few exceptions, you can see the patterns and identify the keyword groups.

We’re working on ways to seamlessly save these groups inside of SpyFu. In the meantime, make note of them and study the copy that they use.

There isn’t going to be one good ad for the entire domain. Instead, let’s look at how to find the best ad copy for the specific ad group.

Find the best ad copy for an ad group

Go back to where we started before we turned on the filters. Lynda.com has such a far-reaching, expansive AdWords list that it also has hundreds of ad variations.

Hundreds.

When we look at hundreds of ads on its thousands of keywords, there will be a top ad. However, that happens to sit on top just because there are more keywords in that group that use it. It’s a large keyword group.

Though it might be good copy, it is not the best for every keyword. In fact, for most of the keyword groups they run, they can do better.

Fortunately, we can see that in action.

Back to the filter.

Start with a dominant message…

I’m going to taper all of these keywords down to just those that use “photoshop class.” Once I filter them I can see my new top ad is both relevant and dominant.

When you write ads, you should aim for the best copy that fits your targeted keywords. That’s the beauty of the filter. It tells you the strongest message tested along with the very keywords you want to target.

That kind of specificity is important in AdWords.

  1. More qualified traffic finds you
  2. They are more likely to click and engage with your content
  3. Working with targeted keywords and copy can lead to a higher Google quality score.

…And watch for test winners to emerge

Finding the top ad doesn’t mean we’re done. There’s still some comparison to do. We need to look back and find evidence of ad variation tests and make sure we’re picking up the winners.

We will review the ad copy history for answers.

Top Ads and Why They’re Important Here

First, a word about top ads. These are the ad copy variations that the domain used most often across all of these keywords.  

Let’s talk about that “most often” part. At SpyFu, we see frequency as an important factor. There are two reasons.

The first reason is that it’s a clear sign from the advertiser itself that this copy is worth using.

They rely on this message more than any other message. It takes investment, and the advertiser is shelling out money to keep this ad going. Finally, they trust it. When an ad holds strong in the same version for so long, something is working.  

The second reason is actually outside of the advertiser’s control. Google tends to serve ad copy with the highest click through rate.

We can connect the dots and determine that these Top Ads are loaded with substance. Each one waves a big flag as the domain’s most dominant message for each ad group and it converts.

However…

The Top Ad itself isn’t the final answer—yet. It becomes far more important only when you’ve filtered down to the targeted keywords that matter to you.

And, there’s just one more thing.

We need to find the ad variation that has come out on top after testing.

An example: 1800flowers

Let’s look at another diverse-keyword domain. 1800flowers advertises on holiday keyword groups, flower keyword groups, and locations. For this example, I’m using their flower delivery keywords.

There is something notable about the top ad for this set of filtered keywords.

They stopped using this copy in June. For the 3 months since then, 1800flowers.com has tested new ad copy on these keywords where they once used a dominant, strong ad. Even more notable, they haven’t yet gone back.

It’s not as though they were using a special offer or seasonal copy.

It’s still a bit too early to know for sure if the new version they’re testing will be their updated favorite.

If they return to the blue ad that they ran since September 2017, that will tell us definitively that this is the stronger ad copy. (Why would you take down a winner in favor of one you ran already?)

Notice it reads “stronger” ad copy and not “strongest.” They’re still testing. Watch that space for answers.

If they don’t return to it and stick with the green, it makes sense to look at the replacement as the trusted copy.

Why do we know this is their best ad copy?

There are at least 4 qualities that, once woven together, tell us that some keywords convert better for the domain. You can follow those keywords (and the winning ad copy on them) to see what’s performing better in their AdWords campaign.

They are keywords that the advertiser:

1. Spends the most for each click

Compared to a domain’s other keywords, these push the budget a bit more. The advertiser knows they are worth paying a premium for what they return.

2. Bids on most consistently

Just having a high CPC ad won’t alert us that a domain considers that keyword one of its best. Dabbling is expected.

When we see the advertiser keep a higher-priced keyword in its campaigns month after month, we know that they haven’t found it to be wasteful. That isn’t enough to call it a profitable keyword, but when this quality is connected with other criteria, we can say that the repeated bids are a very good sign.

3. Tested its ad copy frequently

Here’s where we separate habits from strategy. Have enough keywords in your campaigns, and if you’re not careful, you can lose track of every detail.

Maybe a wasteful one costs you a few extra dollars this month without doing anything for conversions. It’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel. We don’t want to misinterpret a long-term, high CPC keyword as a keeper if the advertiser simply kept it in the AdWords lineup from neglect.

That’s why we look for them to test and update their ad copy.

Seeing that a domain tests (and updates) its ad copy does two things:

A. It tells us that they are paying attention to this keyword’s performance. (Not asleep at the wheel)

B. It confirms that they are investing in its improvement. They’re dedicated this keeping this keyword around. If it didn’t perform well after all of this, they’d cut bait.

4. Holds a high ad position repeatedly

It takes more than just money, too. The domain must have a higher quality score to land a high ad spot each month. To get there, they need effective landing pages that are relevant to the keyword.

The domain must show effort and intention to accommodate any searches on that keyword.

If it’s going to rank high consistently, it has to back up the search with a page that shows they welcome this audience.

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To recap:

We rely on an advertiser to tell us (even if they never intended to) which ad copy wins out over other ad variations they’ve tried. When they repeatedly choose one version over a past version, that clues you in to their best copy that you can emulate.

That doesn’t mean that you should copy the ad verbatim. You should see what they changed from one past version to another. Watch for headline changes, offers, and the benefits they lead with.

When you’ve picked up some lessons, try it in your own ad writing.

Advertisers can’t keep their own secrets.

Advertiser loves an ad.

They repeat this ad across their favorite keywords.

Your competitor is giving you everything you need to know.

That’s the general idea of learning how a domain’s best ad copy tends to spring up across its top keywords. The domain spreads it most dominant message in a way that we can’t ignore.

Once you “highlight” where that message ran for every keyword in every month, you have new answers. Turn that into advice for your own AdWords campaign strategy.

We know that Google lends a hand here, too. It tends to show the ad that gets the highest clicks. This makes the best-performing ad copy rise to the top. So now you’ve got your competitor’s favorite keywords and its best ad copy revealed for your research–no matter how they try to hide it.

Now you’ve got clearer answers about writing ad copy for targeted keywords.

  • Fred Pike

    Holy cow – this is a great guide. SpyFu has so many hidden riches – articles like this really help explain the product and help users tap the depth of the resources. Excellent resource – thank you !

    • AgentSidra

      Thanks so much, Fred! We’re trying to build value with helpful tips in general mixed with help on using the features on the site. Glad you liked it!