HomeBlogPaid Search Conquesting: How to Squash Competitors Without Starting a War

Paid Search Conquesting: How to Squash Competitors Without Starting a War

Author: Kristina Simonson
Last Updated: November 23, 2021 | Paid Search Marketing

Paid search conquesting has always been a controversial topic in the pay-per-click world. This is because the tactic is notorious for starting bidding wars. During a bidding war, both parties can be negatively impacted as their brand name visibility is threatened and their CPCs increase. However, aside from the controversy, competitive search campaigns can be a new source to capture brand visibility and awareness among a highly relevant audience.

Therefore, in this article I will be discussing ways to mitigate the risks and reap the benefits of a competitive search campaign. Throughout this discussion, I will map out the intent scale of brand search behavior and share strategies on how to apply this scale to optimizing your own competitive search campaigns.

The Intent Scale of a Branded Search

Whether you’re structuring your campaign with keywords of your own brand or a competitor’s brand name, it’s crucial to identify the intent behind each keyword and its potential search terms. In order to do so, I put together an intent scale that classifies four segments ranging from “researcher” to “at-risk customer”:

intent scale brand search behavior

Note: This scale may not be the appropriate organization for every advertiser. However, I am introducing this as a way to classify the strategies discussed throughout the remainder of this post.

To review this methodology and visualize real-life examples, I decided to analyze a highly competitive ad auction: the meal plan delivery industry. Focusing on the SERP for Plated, this section will map out five different search scenarios and identify their place on the intent scale.

Scenario #1: Broad brand search

broad brand search

The broad version of a competitor’s name alone is a difficult query to classify. Due to the limited information, this searcher could be classified as any one of the four segments:

searcher classifications

Scenario #2: Navigational query

Next, I searched for “plated.com”:

navigational query

While the addition of “.com” is a minor tweak of my first search term, the intent is completely different. When I purposely seek out Plated’s website, the likelihood that I would click (expected click-through rate) on a competitor’s ad in this scenario drastically drops.

Although the intent behind the query becomes more targeted, the keyword alone does not allow us to classify the scenario in just one of the four segments:

searcher classifications

Scenario #3: “Consideration” modifier

Now here’s an example of a search query from someone who identifies themselves as a prospect in the consideration stage:

consideration modifier

With the intent to find reviews, we can safely say that this user has narrowed down their consideration set and is looking to gather further information. Therefore, this query allows us to identify the searcher as a prospect:

prospect searcher

Scenario #4: Customer query

Next, I identified myself as an active Plated customer by searching for a login page:

customer query

While there are other factors in the ad auction (such as Quality Score, bid, budget, etc.), it’s safe to assume that Home Chef and Blue Apron have added “sign in” as a negative keyword in their campaign or ad group containing the brand name “Plated.” Since this user has an active account to sign into, we would classify them as a customer in the intent scale:

customer searcher

Scenario #5: At-risk queries

Lastly, I identified as an “at-risk” customer by looking for an alternative option:

at-risk queries

In the first three examples, I am conducting searches to exclusively find Plated. On the other hand, in the example above, I am performing an inclusive search, showing that I am open to exploring other options. Here, it’s evident that Plated’s competitors realize my behavior change, as they quickly take over the top of the SERP. While I chose to identify as an at-risk customer for this search, this query could also be classified as a prospect:

prospect or at-risk searcher

How to Use the Intent Scale for Competitive Campaigns

So, as I just mapped out, there is a wide range of intent and value behind each type of brand search. In this section, I am going to introduce four strategies that you can employ at each level of intent to help improve the ROI of your competitive search strategy.

1. Broad Branded Search

As I introduced with our first search query example, “Plated”, it’s difficult to understand the intent behind this searcher. Was I looking to login? Visit their website? Buy from Plated? Read more information? Consider alternative options?

broad brand search intent

With the extent of unknowns in this scenario, leveraging remarketing lists for search ads is a unique way to maintain position in your prospect’s consideration set while spending your budget on more qualified clicks. Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) is a targeting feature that allows advertisers to target past website visitors on the search network. For this broad query, I would recommend utilizing the “targeting” audience option:

targeting audience option

This will ensure that you only enter the ad auction on broad competitor terms when the searcher has been to your site. While we would use targeting in this scenario, it would be highly recommended to utilize observation audiences across the rest of your competitive segments. This will allow you to understand your website visitor’s interest in your competitors while employing more conservative or aggressive bid strategies when appropriate.

By pairing these broad, brand keywords with your past website visitors, you are in a better position to plead your case and influence the prospect:

boost ad relevancy

Not only will this strategy impact your consumer journey, but it will boost the relevancy of your ads and ultimately improve your expected click-through rate. As we talked about earlier, a stronger expected CTR = higher Quality Score, better ad rank, lower costs, and a healthier search account.

2. Competitive Research Search Intent

A study by Forbes reports: “91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.”

With this in mind, in the paid search world, we should expect that our company’s and competitor’s prospects will be taking to search to read reviews and make their purchase decision. This makes for an opportune intent segment to capture in your conquest campaign. To get you started, here are a few additive keywords that could fall under this segment:

  • Compare
  • Similar to
  • Versus
  • Reviews

3. Competitor’s Customer Search Intent

As mapped out in scenario #4, bidding on common customer-centric searches of your competitors may lead to wasted spend and low ROI. To avoid this scenario, here is a list of negative keywords that you can add to your competitive search campaign:

  • Sign in
  • Login
  • Customer service
  • Contact
  • Support

This will prevent your ads from showing up on very low-intent searches.

4. Competitor Customer Churn Search

Lastly, leveraging the “churn” search behavior of your competitor’s customers and prospects is a powerful way to enter the consideration phase and capture quality leads. Here are a few additive keywords you can leverage for this tactic:

  • Cancel
  • Alternative        
  • Competitor

Quick Review

As we reviewed through this post, competitive search campaigns have their downfalls and benefits. In order to control your wasted spend, it’s important to map out the potential intent segments.

Once you understand which keywords fall under which intent segment, you will be able to execute a conquest campaign that employs the right strategy at the right time while producing ROI. To get started and better understand how your Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) account compares to competitors in your industry, get your free performance grade today.

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Meet The Author

Kristina Simonson

Kristina Simonson is a digital marketing specialist at WordStream and is in charge of managing our own paid search and paid social accounts. When she’s not busy driving leads, she enjoys traveling, running, and adventuring for the best margarita in town.


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