Growing up, I was a sucker for spy toys.
Anything that might make me feel like a secret agent also made me beg my mom to buy it.
From password-protected journals to rearview sunglasses, I couldn’t be stopped.
And just like invisible ink that slowly fades away, so have my Nickelodeon-style spy toys.
But one thing has never changed over the years. I’m still fascinated with being sneaky and smart.
And while I may no longer be roaming the aisles of Toys “R” Us (just kidding, I’m there once a week), I still find major value in knowing what my secret spy enemies PPC competitors are up to.
Because if I can learn from them, I won’t waste a ton of time, money, and effort catching up to what they’re already doing.
My spying fascination reduces the learning curve of our own pay-per-click agency and numerous clients as well.
These 28 tools will up your spy game. And playing that game is worth it for three reasons:
- Paid advertising returns $2 for every $1 spent – a 200% ROI rate.
- Traffic from PPC ads yields 50% more conversions than organic content.
- It’s fun.
Squinch your eyes, sly spies.
It’s spy time.
Know Your Spying Goals
You may think you know who your top competitors are just from looking at the Google search results. But what about the ones who are making a killing on the Display network or Facebook advertising?
Maybe you’re spending $50,000/mo on Google Search, and they’re spending $100,000/mo on Google Display alone.
If that was the case, then you’d be more curious to know how they do that vs. your search competitor who’s bidding on the same keywords, right?
I hope so.
Because what you’ll find in this article is that it isn’t cool to target more keywords, spend more money, and get more search volume that way.
What’s really cool is finding brand new channels, offers, and other gold mines that you’d never considered.
It’s also vital to know what you’re going to do with your competitive data.
Changing your entire strategy because you find a competitor doing something different doesn’t make much sense—like, wear your own pants.
What if their traffic and landing pages look attractive to you, but their backend funnel and sales cycle are as deep and intricate as the ocean?
Don’t be the Titanic. Respect what’s beneath the surface.
So, in addition to the Google Search network, let’s find those other pockets of competitor gold that will amplify your PPC strategy.
Find Your PPC Competitors
The biggest PPC management platform out there is Google Ads.
You’re likely much more versed on the Search Network than on the Display Network, so let’s start there.
Inside your company Google Ads account, there’s a report called Auction Insights. You’ll want to run that report.
On your main account tab, click Auction Insights. This will show you all your competitors from the account level.
You’ll see a list of current domains bidding on the same keywords you are.
It looks like this:
You can then drill further down by only selecting campaigns, ad groups, or keywords.
Keep this in mind: the report only shows the competitors that you’re going against. If you’re not advertising nationally, then there are a lot more competitors out there outside of the Auction Insights report.
You can find those sneaky suckers too.
Competitor Keyword Discovery
You can find extensive lists of old, current, and new advertisers that have keyword overlap with your domain.
The example above shows more than 300 competitors. Focus on the ones with additional keywords that don’t overlap with yours.
SpyFu has the most beautiful user interface (UI) of all three keyword tools. One of my favorite SpyFu features is the competitor Kombat Venn diagram.
Click on any part of the Venn diagram to uncover keywords a competitor is bidding on that you’re not.
SEMrush has built-in functionality for tracking competitor keywords. See which keywords your competitors are bidding on and uncover Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and YouTube intel too.
Paid And Organic Competitor Reach Analysis
Another helpful competitor analysis tool that combines both paid and organic research is Serpstat. It’s useful for PPC advertisers because it provides keyword information and highly valuable competitive data.
With Serpstat, view the CPC of each of your keywords. Then view any related keywords that Google’s top-ranked domains are also bidding on. This is a great place to identify winning keyword opportunities (even if they come with high competition).
Track the performance of your competitors’ domains and their progress over time. Serpstat generates keyword maps of competitor websites.
Marketing teams and PPC agencies use Ahrefs to track ranking positions and see the number of backlinks pointing to their competitors.
See which phrases are getting bids, how competitors’ ads look, what landing pages they use, and more.
In Ahrefs Organic Search Report, look at the exact keywords for which your competitors rank in organic search and the amount of traffic each of them drives. Ahrefs has data for 150 million keywords in the U.S. alone, so their reporting is pretty comprehensive.
The Top Pages report shows which pages send the most traffic to competitor sites. Ahrefs also has a Content Gap feature to uncover the keywords your competitors rank for, but you don’t.
Using these tools, you capture a ton of competitor information.
But what are your competitors doing on other PPC channels? And how do you effectively use that intel? More on that later.
Google Ads Display
The Google Ads Display network is one of my favorite places to pan for gold.
Unlike the Search network, competitors on the Display Network get super creative with their offers and funnels.
Visitors are spread out between the different stages of the conversion cycle, so advertisers must think smart to get feet walking through their door.
Use third-party tools like those listed above to see on what websites your competitors place their Display ads.
Tools like WhatRunsWhere ask for a domain to find this intel:
- Individually-targeted placements
- What media channels (beyond Google Ads) provide their traffic
- Their best performing image and text ads
WhatRunsWhere has, by far, the most in-depth view of where display traffic comes from.
And not just through Google Ads, but through other media channels like Media Buy, AppNexus, and other channels that Google doesn’t access.
Drill down and look at traffic sources.
Export direct placements to a spreadsheet and upload them to your own Display campaign.
Take it one step further.
Click on one of the Publisher sites. This shows what advertisers run ads on those Publisher sites. From there, you can see if they have other placements that make sense for you to target.
Inside WhatRunsWhere, you can also look at your competitors’ banner ads and sort by something called AdStrength.
AdStrength shows what banner (image) ads have been seen most often, through multiple placements and for the longest period of time.
More PPC Spy Tools For The Display Network
Outside of WhatRunsWhere (WRW), AdBeat shows spending levels and trends on individual media buying platforms. Worth noting: it has a nicer interface than WRW. acceptable
If you’re an app marketer, check out MixRank.
Tap into the app directory and separate data by device and operating systems, such as iOS and Android.
Find leads and contact information on key decision-makers that your competitors could already be targeting.
Want to see what other competitor sites are out there based on the domain you’re looking for? Well then hello, SimilarWeb. Similarweb shows organic referral traffic, as well as social metrics.
This tool isn’t as strong as the other PPC spy tools for general PPC intel. But it is awesome for building a list of competitors that we’ll use later.
Free Display Network Spying Tool
If spending money isn’t your thing, use a free Display ad spy tool called MOAT.
MOAT has a deep collection of image ads from bigger advertisers.
Though it isn’t as thorough as WhatRunsWhere, MOAT shows you where a specific ad was last seen (placement).
Social Media PPC Spy Tools
You know that PPC traffic doesn’t only come from Google.
Facebook ads, Twitter ads, and LinkedIn ads are hefty PPC traffic drivers. Don’t ignore any competitors that are using those channels to their advantage.
Sponsored content is on a huge PPC rise (promoting your blog posts, for example), and many companies wonder what new tactics their competitors use to drive traffic and conversions.
11. Sprout Social (previously SimplyMeasured)
For example, one of the biggest social PPC networks is Facebook. (Ever heard of it? 😉 ) Sprout Social can analyze paid and organic reach for Facebook pages and break engagement down to regular ads, mobile-specific ads, and sponsored stories.
Your competitors can choose from options that include the desktop newsfeed, mobile newsfeed, sidebar, affinity networks, and more. It’s crucial to see where they’re focusing their Facebook PPC dollars.
What a clever way to turn the word “spy” into something more positive: a mention. Mention puts audience, brand, and competitor insights in one spot. Mention lets you monitor the web, listen to your audience, and analyze unlimited profiles. You can listen in on (spy on!) the important conversations, monitor over 1 billion sources across the web every day (press, reviews, forums, and blogs) and uncover trends—aka spying. You gotta love the wordplay on this site.
13. Fanpage Karma
Fanpage Karma touts itself as the No. 1 social media manager out there with 600,000 users in 180 countries with more than 10 million profiles. Analyze your social media interactions and your competitors’ social media interactions in real-time (every ten minutes) down to the smallest detail (KPIs: number of fans, weekly growth, posts per day, post interaction, and reach per day).
Something that may catch your attention is the label Fanpage Karma uses to respond to events at lightning speed: the Shitstorm Alert (an immediate high activity alert when a competitor posts something).
This is an all-in-one social solution. Find out what your competitors are doing on social media by tracking their content. See how well their paid ads are doing with continuous listening. You can also see what your community thinks about your competitors.
But at $200 per month, it’s pricey.
Hootsuite has been around for years, and it’s widely used to publish and schedule social media posts. Why? Because it’s done a great job of integrating with dozens of social media networks.
But it’s more than a scheduler.
You can also use it to generate social media analytics. These analytics show you would content is your best and what’s pooping out so you can make adjustments. You can also see what your competitors are doing.
Simply plug in a key player in your niche as a social media stream and follow their activity from your dashboard. You can do the same with specific keywords and hashtags.
If you’re looking for a free option, you won’t find anything better than the Facebook Ad Library. On the Facebook Ad Library’s main page, you can browse any active ads that are currently running on Facebook across different categories and countries.
And if you have a specific competitor in mind, you can even go to their Facebook page, scroll down to the Page Transparency section, click see all then go to Ad Library.
PPC Landing Page Spy Tools
Maybe you’ve already got the competitive PPC side on lockdown.
Maybe you want something that isn’t exactly PPC-related but has a significant impact on PPC performance.
If you haven’t already guessed it by the headline above, then it’s time we talked about the importance of spying on your competitors’ landing pages.
Landing page testing is one of the fastest ways to improve PPC performance. We won’t go into the trillion things you can do to improve your conversion rates here, but you should care about it. Deeply.
Because if you can improve your conversion rates by just 20% overnight, you can effectively reduce your PPC ad spend and get the same results.
Even better: use that improved performance to be more aggressive with your traffic acquisition efforts.
Okay, let’s look at two of my favorite PPC spy tools for landing pages: iSpionage.
Feed iSpionage the PPC keywords and competitor domains you want to track, and this tool will alert you any time it sees your competitor’s landing page change.
Maybe your competitor is testing a new headline or a brand new design. Or, better yet, a new offer?
Could you imagine checking each of your 29 competitors manually once a week?
Sometimes the changes your competitors make are pretty minor. This tool will still catch it. It’s an excellent resource for testing inspiration and continued improvement.
What if you’re working with a tight budget and you want to start small?
Been there. And I’ve got you, comrade.
Check out Stillio’s automatic screenshot tool.
This one’s cool. Start tracking specific competitor URLs. That could be a mix of homepages and landing pages too. You can even decide what time of day you want the screenshots to be taken.
What does that matter, you ask? Great question.
I haven’t figured that out yet, but it’s cool.
One Tool To (Almost) Rule Them All
We’ve covered a lot of tools so far, and they all do different things.
But what if I told you there was one tool that did almost everything we’ve covered so far?
Because there is.
It’s called Follow, and it uses the APIs from different tools to give you a holistic snapshot on a lot of different PPC fronts.
Use Follow’s Chrome or Firefox extension and get competitive insight when you’re on a competitor’s page. Their value proposition entices: Perform research that used to take forever, now, in just seconds.
That I like.
I also like that Follow offers a “highly addictive, one-click competitive intelligence toolbar.” And that you can get 40% off annual plan pricing.
Which leads me to the best advice I can give you…
If a tool you want to try has a free trial, then take advantage of it. Play around with it. See if that particular tool makes sense for you to pay for.
If not, consider using Follow to get the best of all worlds.
Click To Close Tracking
No matter what idea you uncover by using these PPC spy tools, you’ll want to make sure you double down on your click-to-close tracking.
What do I mean by that?
If you’re in the lead generation space, then a lot of your conversions will never turn into sales.
Let’s say that one more time (because it hurts): A lot of your conversions will never turn into sales.
But… what if a specific keyword, ad, and landing page combo yield a 30% higher closing rate compared to all other leads you’re getting? Wouldn’t you want to know about that?
Then look at PPC spy tool #20.
Make sure you’re appending Google’s GCLID parameters to your Final URLs and other PPC channels.
When you get data back, you’ll match the lead data with raw PPC data and learn what PPC campaigns bring the highest quality conversions.
Add more budget to those.
And it’s not just for lead generation.
You can do the same for SaaS and eCommerce, and see which combos bring the higher average order values too.
Now take it one step further with the PPC spy tool Woopra.
Run a cohort analysis or a sales funnel picture at the keyword level.
In your PPC account, you may only be tracking first-step conversions (like an opt-in).
But what you really need to know is how far those keywords travel through your sales funnel before they turn into money.
When you have this data, you’ll be able to quickly pause keywords and channels that look good in your PPC account—but horrible in your bank account.
These back-end tracking tools make you extremely smart with your money. You also stand a chance to eventually outperform your competitors at their own game.
Additional PPC Spy Tools
Everything the visible eye can see has now been tracked. Keywords, display placements, and landing pages… what else could there possibly be?
How about all the backend tracking and testing tools your competitors could be using to their advantage?
If you use Google Chrome, you’re in luck.
Datanyze offers some more advanced tools for lead collection and sales prospecting, which we don’t need today. Instead, I’ll focus this section on the free tool, Wappalyzer.
Here’s a quick look at our website:
If you’re the curious type (like me), you can immediately search those company names to find out what they offer and how they might be useful.
Conversion rate optimization applications like Picreel and Visual Website Optimizer aren’t PPC spy tools, but they’re a huge deal to your competitors to get more out of their PPC advertising.
Install Wappalyzer to Chrome and start looking at your competitors’ sites and landing pages. What secret tools do they use to get an unfair advantage on you?
Well, HA! Now they’re not so secret anymore.
You’re Sherlock effing Holmes.
BuiltWith lets you see what websites are built with. From your competitor’s hosting provider to their CMS to their shopping cards and analytics. Whether they use Google Analytics, Facebook Pixels, social media tracking, a CDN, an SSL certificate, chatbots… you name it.
BuiltWith gets in there and rips apart your competitors’ site. It even shows you how much your competitor spends on internet technology (all those things it tracks) per year.
But so what?
Well, what if your competitors are making bigger PPC strides than you because they use better tools?
Maybe it’s time to upgrade some of your PPC tools.
Perhaps you should copy what PPC tools your competition uses. And you know what PPC tools they use because you just spied on them using BuiltWith.
BuiltWith isn’t specifically a PPC spy tool. But if you can spy on your competitors’ PPC tools, that’s too valuable to leave off this list.
These guys have been mining SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing aka PPC ads) competitive Intelligence since 2007. Their shtick is monitoring online ads for competitive performance, crawling 1.7 million ads every hour. Those crawls come with automatic alerts so the competitive activity ships right to your door. The Search Monitor also hands over data on your competitors’ market share, ad rank, ad copy, and PPC clicks/spend.
So that’s awesome if you want to see what’s going on with your competitors’ most popular display banner ads and where they run—segmented by network (and by country). And, like, you do.
25. Pro Rank Tracker
Enter your competitor’s URL along with some of your top keywords. Pro Rank Tracker provides a list or a graph (your pick) of your competitors and how they rank according to the group of keywords you entered.
Buzzsumo’s whole gig is monitoring what works out there for content so you can make the same sort of content (but better).
Buzzsumo identifies your industry’s influencers.
This is a lovey-huggie way of saying that Buzzsumo spies on your competitors for you. Enter a competitor’s domain and watch the magic appear. Social network metrics spread out before you in columns. Signing up for the free trial is worth it because then you can also see the backlink data and who shared it.
Anstrex gets its name from three words (analyze, strategize, execute). Anstrex’s value proposition is clear: Build Winning Campaigns Today by Spying on Your Competition.
You know what appeals about Anstrex?
Their claim to fame is unmatched data: More ad networks than any other PPC spy tool in more countries worldwide with more data (millions of ads from hundreds of thousands of advertisers and publishers), in an easy-to-understand format (with multiple filters and sort options).
According to Anstrex:
- Get More For My Advertising Spend
- Save Countless Hours On Research
- Rapidly Build Awesome Landing Pages
They are newbies on the PPC spy tool scene but they do a good job of addressing objections. Worth checking out—for two days (they offer a short trial!)
Drilling Down and Using Competitor Data
Don’t be. You’ve done some serious competitor research and have a ton of data.
Now comes the fun part. Use that data to improve your PPC performance.
If you’ve used any of the PPC keyword spying tools, then put those keywords in a spreadsheet (like Excel).
If you’ve used any of the Display spying tools, make sure you have those placements in a spreadsheet.
Now, go into your PPC accounts and export your keywords and placements (if you have any) to Excel.
You should now have at least two Excel files, one with keywords and/or placements from your competitors and one with your own data. Now take those columns and add them together in one Excel sheet.
Next, use the “Remove Duplicates” feature inside Excel (this varies depending on what type of Excel software you have).
This leaves you with the non-overlapping keywords and placements and only gives you one of each.
Preventing Your PPC Competitors From Spying On You
You spend time spying on competitors, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they’re spying on you too.
So limit their ability to do that by setting two things within your Google Ads account.
1) Exclude Competitor Office Locations
Do this with cautious fingertips.
Let’s say you know the location of your competitors’ offices, but you also know that you’re getting legitimate business from those areas.
So instead of excluding a city entirely, make sure you know for a fact that your competitors are clicking and spying on your ads.
If your suspicions do warrant a city-specific geographic exclusion, then add that to your campaigns so your competitors won’t be able to see your ads while in that city.
But how do you know if competitors are clicking your ads?
2) Exclude Competitor IP Addresses
There are tons of IP logging tools out there on the market. They show you which IP addresses are visiting your site and/or landing pages.
Unfortunately, Google Analytics doesn’t provide this insight.
If you’re serious about knowing how often people visit you and the exact company name behind the visit, then I suggest you try Snitcher.
Snitcher shows you
- what companies visited your site,
- how many times
- for how long
- which pages they were on
You can see what competitors are coming back again and again, but it also helps you see what legitimate leads might be taking their time to decide whether or not they want to work with you.
So it doubles as a lead generation tool as well.
What To Do With Your New Spy Intel
Many people will tell you not to copy your competitors. This advice comes from the fear that it may not work for you. While that may be true, here’s what I do:
- emulate first
- figure things out after
Try the same offers, designs, and ads your competitors are using. Steal their ideas and make them better.
And there’s one thing you must make sure you don’t do: stagnate.
Because while it’s fun to track things and feel on top of the world, it’s even better to be actionable with that data.
What You Should Do Next
Some things to keep in mind:
- Learn with caution: What works for your competitors may not work for you.
- But don’t be afraid to look at everything your competitors are doing. Try to figure out why they might be onto something, and you aren’t.
- If you find that you’re not expanding into new and profitable traffic sources or improving your conversion and sales rates, then the tools above mean nothing.
Keep that in mind as you pursue your growth.
Have fun spying, Sherlocks. 😉