Keyword Research: Shall I Spy On My PPC Competitors?

Keyword Spy Tools are supposed to be able to allow you to plugin in the website of your competitors and then they retrieve for you all the keywords they’re bidding on, along with their corresponding ads, and estimated bids. Sounds pretty useful doesn’t it?

Yet I’m gonna go ahead and tell you NOT to use these tools. I think your money is better spent on your PPC ads.

I’ve had more than a few questions about keyword research tools that claim to help you “spy” on your competition. (Don’t get too excited & click just yet) Examples are Spyfu, Keyword Spy, and most recently, PPC Web Spy.

Brad Callens PPC Web Spy
Brad Callen's "PPC Web Spy"

The tools are supposed to be able to allow you to plug in the address of your competitions’ websites to retrieve all the keywords they’re bidding on in sponsored search. Also included, is usually a copy of the corresponding ads and estimated bids. Sounds pretty useful doesn’t it?

Not really.

I’m gonna tell you NOT to research like this. There are better ways to spend your money (like on your PPC ads). And more effective ways to beat competitors to the top of the search page.

Am I saying this because it’s immoral to spy and steal the campaigns of others? No.

It’s because Spy tools don’t deliver on their claims.

To non-technical folks, computer programmers are like magicians. They create magic with their computer code and do amazing nearly miraculous things. But another programmer looking in from the outside can still see the thin string that pulls cards into the magician’s sleeve. They can see that the magic is nothing but an illusion.

Spy tools are an illusion. A marketing gimmick. There is a market for them because people are lazy. I mean, sure it would be nice to just find a successful affiliate promoting the same offer as us and then steal their campaign for ourselves…right?

Except that Spy tools generally return untargeted keywords that no one in their right mind is bidding on. Their bid estimates are WAY off. And they don’t tell you the REAL secrets of why someone else’s ads are working.

For example, they won’t tell you:

  • How the advertiser organises his/her account.
  • Or the negative keywords they include in their keyword lists.
  • Or the way they group their keywords.
  • Or the way they monetize their clicks.

That’s the real stuff worth paying for. And I’m pretty sure if a tool could tell you all of that, it would cost a lot more than $96 a month.

I buy and test just about every PPC tool you’ve ever come across.

Spy tools work by “guessing” keywords, monitoring which ads show up, and then adding them into a database they do lookups on when you use the tool’s search.

They definitely don’t have a way to go into people’s accounts and steal their keywords. There are keywords left out, quite often the money keywords! Also, there are many keywords returned by the spy tool that don’t actually trigger those ads. The bid estimates are wayyyy off. The click estimates are always wrong.

It’s a big collection of unrelated information, gathered from god knows where, and combined in a way to look authoritative. All of it designed to trick you into believing you’ve seen into the inner workings of your competitors’ ad campaigns. When all you’ve done is fallen for an illusion.

Read the small print on keyword spy tools, you’ll find they have disclaimers reflecting their anticipated unreliability.

PPC Bully
PPC Bully

The only real way to beat up your competition and take their spot in the sponsored results, is to monitor them over time, identify the winners, learn from them, and then do it better.

If you insist on spending your money on a Keyword Spy tool, then save your dollars for this next one:

I am at the moment in the process of testing a tool called PPC Bully. This is different because it’s not framed as a “spy” tool–it simply automates studying the competition before you start spending your own money bidding on an expensive keyword.

A couple of years ago, I got bored of manually checking the competition by hand. So I wrote a very simple program to make my job easier:

The way it worked was, I’d give it a bunch of keywords I was considering bidding on. And at a defined interval throughout the day, this little program would go out and simulate searches on all those keywords. It would then retrieve all the sponsored ads that are returned and log them for me to study later.

Here’s the theory:

An advertiser who is losing money with their ad+keyword+landing page combination is going to do one of two things:

  • They’re gonna be savvy enough to take their ad down, modify it, and try a new combination
  • Or, they’re gonna leave it till Google slides it down in position and probably slaps it to hell so it won’t show up in sponsored ads any more

Either way, the end result, is that over time, the ads that don’t work stop showing.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for advertisers that are probably making money, all you need to do is find the ad+keyword+landing page combinations that show up EVERY time the program simulates the search for those keywords over an extended period of time. That could be a day, a week, or even a month depending on how competitive the keyword is.

PPC Bully tests your competitors like this.

It isn’t my program. Some bright marketers hired programmers and turned the idea into a commercial service.

Now, if you’re thinking about bidding on some expensive keywords, it’s easy to avoid risking your own money. Just run PPC Bully with that keyword and monitor the competition for a week or so. Find the winning combination of keyword+ad+landing page, and then try to do something similar without violating copyrights.

All I know is that out of all the spy tools I’ve seen so far, the $49 investment in PPC Bully is the only one worth exploring.


To learn more of Jim’s PPC advertising techniques, check out PPC Domination.