By Susan Waldes, Sr. Manager of Client Services

The kids are back in school, search volumes are up, and the summer slowdown is officially over! Take a breather and get ready for Q4. Volume in most verticals is super during Q4, but costs often go up as competitive pressure rises. “Competitive pressure” is not a message that clients like to hear, although it is often the simple truth; most of us will have a client experiencing competitive pressure during Q4.

Problem is that without truly knowing the bids and strategy of the competitors, we are left telling this story through assumptions, citing metrics such as rising CPCs, dropping positions, or simply anecdotal observations of competitor activity.

At least, we used to have to make assumptions. Google’s Auction Insights report, released in May, isn’t perfect, but it does shed more light on what your competitors are doing. If you haven’t used Auction Insights yet, it’s easy; just tick the box next to a keyword, and…

Google auction insights

The tool is still a bit rough in my opinion, but it gives us a new way to help clients understand the effects of competitive pressure. Without further ado, a how-to on using Auction Insights:

Step 1: Pull a time-segmented report on a critical head term (preferably an exact match one) where you think you are experiencing competitive pressure. Depending on volume, Week-over-Week may make sense; here I’ve pulled Month-over-Month and calculated the deltas for each metric:

time segmented data

May looked great on this keyword, but CPCs jumped 58% in June even with a small drop in position. They stayed high in July, and conversion rate dropped 33%. It definitely could be competitive pressure, but here is where the Auction Insights report comes in.

 

Step 2: Pull the report for the same periods of time for the same head term. You’ll have to pull an Auctions Insight Report for each time period separately (note to Google: please put time segments on this report!).

- Toss out all but the top results. This type of analysis is really only useful on keywords where top positions are in play.

- A little color coding may help to translate what is going on.

 

Step 3: Now, look at your auction insights and your Month-over-Month keyword data together.

data from Auction Insights

You may need to repeat the process on more than one head term. By studying the two data sets, you see a narrative develop:

- In May and June, JanesWidgets.com was our top competitor.

- In June, BobsWidgets.com began being more aggressive with their bidding and increased their “position above rate” (times their ad showed over ours) from just 5% in May to 35% in June.

- In July, BobsWidgets.com became even more aggressive, showing above us 78% of the time with a 100% overlap rate (every time our ad shows for this keyword, so does theirs).

- All of this happened while we were also being very aggressive with our bids and attempting to garner top spots.

- As you can see, our average position has remained steady (right around 2) as the competition has heated up.

- Impressions, positions, and conversions have held fairly steady

- However, as BobsWidgets.com has become more aggressive, CPCs, costs, and CPLs have skyrocketed.

So, what happened next? For this particular client, we sent extra, lower-cost, GDN conversions to blend down the results to their target range while this was happening. In mid-August, BobsWidgets.com backed off, down to only an 18% position above rate, and the CPA and CPC metrics went back to May levels.

We are never going to have true transparency into what our competitors are doing, but with a couple of tweaks to the Auction Insights report, we can now deliver the competitive-pressure message to clients with a pretty nice set of supportive data that really tells the story. Enjoy the next few weeks before Q4, when things really heat up!

- Susan Waldes

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