See Your Competitor’s AdWords Ad Groups with SpyFu Ad History

We created SpyFu Ad History to make it easy for search marketers to write winning ad copy from day one, and this tool makes it even easier. But we didn’t stop there. Learn how Ad History also makes it possible to quickly set up your ad groups by seeing how your competitors structure theirs.

Let’s pretend that you are a graphic designer by trade. You’re a salaried designer at a large advertising firm but you do some free-lance work as well. Lately, things have been going very well and your side work is keeping you busy enough to support you full-time.

It’s obvious, though, that once you quit your job you’ll lose one of your largest sources of new leads and existing network so you’ll have to find a way to advertise. Since you work out of your home and take clients nation-wide advertising online makes perfect sense.

You have an existing website but it isn’t even close to ranking on any meaningful terms organically. You don’t mind putting in the extra time to improve your on- and off-page SEO, but you don’t want to put your career plans on hold until your site starts to rank (and what happens if you can’t manage to get it ranked?)

AdWords is your best bet. At least for now until your site gets some traction organically. You can choose which keywords you want to target and appear more or less right away.

You head over to SpyFu and pull up the data for graphic designer.

SpyFu search data for graphic designer keyword

Yikes! The term gets a lot of traffic alright, but that traffic doesn’t come cheap. At an estimated cost of $7.35 per click and around $190 per day for that one term alone there’s no way you can afford to advertise in that space. And since you’re just getting started with AdWords the learning curve for a term like this can be very steep and very expensive.

Hmmm. Well what about if instead of targeting graphic designer directly you take a different route. Since you use Photoshop in a professional capacity every day, you’re highly skilled with the software. So what if you put together a few basic Photoshop tutorial videos and target your ads that way?

This type of content will most likely make it much easier to rank organically, plus you could use the traffic for lead generation for your services or even sell some ad space on your site for extra revenue.

Back to SpyFu for another search, this time Photoshop training. The traffic is much lower, but so is the PPC, a whopping 30% less than graphic designer. This is the perfect way for you to grow your site, your brand, and get your feet wet with AdWords.

Great! But now you’ve got to conduct keyword research and write a bunch of ad variations. And you can’t just use one or two ad variations for all those keywords, you need to tie them together in a meaningful way so you’re showing ads to people that are relevant to their search. Bleh…

This is where ad history comes in.

Just below the main stats for photoshop training you see the Keyword Ad History overview which lists the most successful advertisers on this term.

 Most successful advertisers and their best keywords for


At a glance, you can tell that the new and/or inconsistent advertising history from domains,, and on Photoshop-related terms probably won’t give you enough information to be useful.

So you click on the first domain with a consistent history, The filter is still set to photoshop training and you want to see everything the site advertises on that has to do with PS, so you change the filter to just photoshop.

You’re on the right track but there are a few issues. has 38 pages of results for the filter photoshop and none of the ads are used in more than 5% of the time.

SpyFu ad history filter for the word Photoshop might be a good site to look at further down the road when you’re taking a much more hands-on approach to your AdWords campaign, but for now it would take a lot of work and further filtering to get any immediately-actionable ad group suggestions from the data. You hit the back button and click on the next domain in the list,

This is more like it. They still have 6 pages of results just for photoshop results but their top 3 ads are served 24, 16 and 12% of the time instead of 5%.


Detailed view of SpyFu ad history with the filter photoshop

You click on the first top ad and all of the ads this copy appears in highlight for you.


Highlighted view for SpyFu ad history for the keyword photoshop training

There are some gaps from month to month — photoshop training courses for example — so you hover of one the blank months and many of the other tiles light up as well. They are linked to the fifth top ad, so you highlight those tiles as well. Now you’ve got a clear picture emerging of how this domain is grouping their most valuable keywords.


Color coated view for ad history with the keyword filter photoshop

Since they’re all sharing two specific ad copy variations, it’s a safe bet that keywords like training photoshop cs4, photoshop training, and photoshop cs5 course are in the same ad group. What’s even cooler, though, is that you know the two different ad variations they are testing for these keywords.


SpyFu Ad history for two ad examples for photoshop training

It’s almost like you have direct access to their AdWords account! Let’s keep going and see their other groups.


Color coated ad history for the keyword photoshop


Highlighting the 3rd and 4th top ads reveals another large ad group they are using. Terms in this grouping include adobe photoshop cs5 training, total training for adobe photoshop cs2, and training for adobe photoshop. And again we’re able to see the two different ad variations being used for this group.

You can also tell that this copy was originally being used on some other keywords like adobe photoshop training courses but was stopped in favor of other copy in July. With this knowledge you could infer that any keyword you target that has the brand name Adobe in it should be targeted separately as should keywords that contain training.

Let’s look at one more. Highlighting top ads 1 and 5 on the first page of results gives us some of the most useful information yet.


Color coated ad history for the keyword photoshop expanded

Again, we can clearly see how they group certain keywords together in their campaign and the two different versions of ad copy they were testing. But look what happens starting in January: all the tiles change to one version of the ad copy.

The ‘maroon’ ad copy must be the superior version. So much so that they stopped testing the ‘yellow’ variation altogether. What’s more, they stopped testing any other variation on these keywords completely! The maroon copy must be their secret formula, which is now your secret formula.

Now you’re ready to go. You’ve side-stepped countless hours of monotonous research and skipped many of the tasks you’d have to trudge through with the AdWords dashboard alone. In a fraction of the time it would normally take you, SpyFu Main and Ad History provided the tools to:

  • discover a profitable niche
  • find competitors in that niche
  • get a list of profitable keywords
  • see how to group those keywords
  • short-cut the ad writing process.

In the comments let us know what you think of the new Ad History and share any time-saving tips you’ve discovered.