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Aspirational Analysis: Competitive Research for New (or Small) Sites

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Aspirational Analysis: Competitive Research for New (or Small) Sites

Competitive SERP analysis (including our recently launched Competitive Analysis Suite) is — by design — based on understanding the broader ecosystems of your ranking keywords. This is great if you’re an established business, but what if you’ve got a brand new site or are still developing your SEO strategy and aren’t ranking for many keywords?

Consider, for example, the fictional site, Dice-E-Shop.com (shh.. just let me have this one). We plug it into True Competitor, wait for some magic to happen, and voila!

Look at all the time you saved!

Okay, it’s not ideal, but there is a solution, and I call it “Aspirational Analysis”. The basic idea is simple — find a few aspirational but realistic keywords (ones that you can hope to compete for in the mid-term), use those SERPs to find aspirational competitors, and analyze those competitors to chart your competitive course.

1. Aspirational keywords

Let’s assume that you don’t know your competitive SEO landscape very well or that you want a fresh perspective on it. What you do know, hopefully, is the general topic and keyword space you want to compete in.

Let’s take our fictional business, Dice-E-Shop.com, and let’s pretend that it’s an online store specializing in handmade tabletop gaming dice. The key to step one is being aspirational but realistic — no vanity keywords allowed.

I’m not trying to make you feel bad. This is purely pragmatic. For example, let’s plug the keyword “dice” into our Keyword Explorer tool. You should get something like this:

That volume may look nice, but not only is the Keyword Difficulty pretty high, but look at that estimated CTR. Let’s take a quick look at the SERP itself …

The #1 organic position is occupied by a job search brand called Dice.com, which also has expanded sitelinks and other brand-specific rankings (such as their LinkedIn page). That brand is going to soak up most of the clicks on page one. This is neither a realistic nor desirable keyword.

I’m going to simplify this process to keep the workflow reasonable, but the next step is a blend of SERP analysis and intuition. We could go down many descriptive paths (“wooden dice”, “DnD dice”, “artisan dice”, etc.), but let’s try out “handmade dice”:

Don’t get hung up on the volume — our aspirational keyword(s) is all about finding a relevant, realistic competitor. It’s not about building a target keyword list. In this case, just by moving to a two-word phrase, we’re in a more reasonable Keyword Difficulty range with a much more attractive potential for organic clicks. In a more competitive market, we might need to reach deeper into the long tail of search, but “handmade dice” will do nicely for now.

2. Aspirational competitors

Let’s dig into the SERP for “handmade dice” a bit. The #1 result is for Etsy, but while they’re probably a good source of competitive intelligence for our new shop, they’re obviously not a realistic SEO competitor.

Here are the next three organic results. I’ve turned on the MozBar Chrome extension to quickly gain some additional insight:

The #2 site has a pretty low Domain Authority (13), and might not have a lot of ranking data. Honestly, though, as a marketer, I’m stuck on the #4 site because of this:

Love it or hate it, that’s certainly a unique selling proposition. What’s great about this analysis is that you can’t really pick the wrong site. This is an exploration of the competition, and you can always loop back and take another path and journey.

So, let’s go back over to True Competitor and plug in ArtisanDice.com. You’ll get back something like this (edited for size):

Due to a high keyword overlap (at 22%), Etsy scores high on our Rivalry metric, but, as previously discussed, is out of reach. Immediately after, though, we get a number of sites that look pretty viable, and we could easily visit those sites or research them in Keyword Explorer to learn more. Even the site that doesn’t look relevant at first glance (Help-action.com) turns out to be a blog for Dungeon Master resources and might have useful content ideas.

3. Aspirational analysis

I’d argue that we’ve already unearthed some pretty interesting information, but let’s take it a step further. I’m going to plug those top three aspirational competitors (after Etsy) into our new Keyword Gap tool. Here’s a sampling of the competitive keyword gap:

Note that, because we’re using an aspirational competitor (and not our own site), the “Traffic Lift” and “Your Rank” data have to be interpreted differently. This report is from the perspective of our aspirational competitor (ArtisanDice.com).

That said, we’ve got a solid start to finding opportunities in the space and keywords our soon-to-be competitors are targeting. We can easily start to piece together themes, like popular materials, which may even inform our product decisions.

The “Top Competing Content” report gives us a glimpse at some of the most effective content from our aspirational competitors, including a sampling of ranking keywords. I’ve edited this list down to show a few patterns, including pages themed around stone dice and d20s:

Now, we can explore these pages directly for inspiration. We could even put these pages back into our “Explore by Site” tool in Keyword Explorer and get keywords for the exact URL:

This niche page (targeting oversized d20s) ranks for 43 keywords in our data, including:

  • oversized d20

  • giant d20s

  • large 20 sided dice

  • jumbo 20 sided dice

  • oversized d20 dice

  • massive d20

  • huge 20 sided dice

  • giant d20 die

Even a sampling of this list is rich with synonyms and the kind of natural-language terms you should consider when building content around this niche.

4. Aspirational automation

While I’ve written this workflow around Moz tools, there are many ways to go about it, including manually using the SERPs themselves. There are two benefits to automation, though, and why I hope our Competitive Analysis suite can empower you to do better work faster.

First, even knowing very little about this space (other than being an occasional gamer and owning a few d20s in my time), the analysis in this post took less than an hour. If I were building a business in this space, I’d have been able to get at critical insights quickly.

Second, automation allows us to quickly branch and iterate. Let’s say that, after this first analysis, we decided to focus on stone dice or specifically on the DnD market — we could easily repeat this analysis to find niche competitors, keywords, and content. We could even start over with an entirely new aspirational keyword — as many times as it was useful. We could separately analyze product and content competitors, providing future direction for both our shopping pages and blog/marketing pages.

One last thing: aspirational analysis isn’t just for new sites. Sometimes, we all need to escape our own biases, and performing competitive analysis on other, diverse sites in our industry can open up new insights or areas we may be missing entirely.


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The Biggest Ad Fraud Cases and What We Can Learn From Them

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The Biggest Ad Fraud Cases and What We Can Learn From Them

Ad fraud is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the latest data indicates that it will cost businesses a colossal €120 billion by 2023. But even more worrying is that fraudsters’ tactics are becoming so sophisticated that even big-name companies such as Uber, Procter & Gamble, and Verizon have been victims of ad fraud in recent years. 

So what does this mean for the rest of the industry? The answer is simple: every ad company, no matter their size or budget is just as at risk as the big guns – if not more. 

In this article, I summarize some of the biggest and most shocking cases of ad fraud we’ve witnessed over recent years and notably, what vital lessons marketers and advertisers can learn from them to avoid wasting their own budgets. 

The biggest ad fraud cases in recent years 

From fake clicks and click flooding to bad bots and fake ad impressions, fraudsters have and will go to any lengths to siphon critical dollars from your ad budgets.

Let’s take a look at some of the most high-profile and harmful ad fraud cases of recent years that have impacted some of the most well-known brands around the world. 

Methbot: $5 million a day lost through fake video views 

In 2016, Aleksandr Zhukov, the self-proclaimed “King of Fraud”, and his group of fraudsters were discovered to have been making between $3 and $5 million a day by executing fake clicks on video advertisements. 

Oft-cited as the biggest digital ad fraud operation ever uncovered, “Methbot” was a sophisticated botnet scheme that involved defrauding brands by enabling countless bots to watch 300 million video ads per day on over 6000 spoofed websites. 

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Due to the relatively high cost-per-mille (CPM) for video ads, Aleksandr and his group were able to steal millions of dollars a day by targeting high-value marketplaces. Some of the victims of the Methbot fraud ring include The New York Times, The New York Post, Comcast, and Nestle.

In late 2021, Aleksandr Zhukov was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay over $3.8 million in restitution. 

Uber: $100 million wasted in ad spend 

In another high-profile case, transportation giant Uber filed a lawsuit against five ad networks in 2019 – Fetch, BidMotion, Taptica, YouAppi, and AdAction Interactive – and won. 

Uber claimed that its ads were not converting, and ultimately discovered that roughly two-thirds of its ad budget ($100 million) wasn’t needed. This was on account of ad retargeting companies that were abusing the system by creating fraudulent traffic. 

The extent of the ad fraud was discovered when the company cut $100 million in ad spend and saw no change in the number of rider app installs. 

In 2020, Uber also won another lawsuit against Phunware Inc. when they discovered that the majority of Uber app installations that the company claimed to have delivered were produced by the act of click flooding. 

Criteo: Claims sues competitor for allegedly running a damaging counterfeit click fraud scheme 

In 2016, Criteo, a retargeting and display advertising network, claimed that competitor Steelhouse (now known as MNTM) ran a click fraud scheme against Criteo in a bid to damage the company’s reputation and to fraudulently take credit for user visits to retailers’ web pages. 

Criteo filed a lawsuit claiming that due to Steelhouse’s alleged actions — the use of bots and other automated methods to generate fake clicks on shoe retailer TOMS’ ads — Criteo ultimately lost TOMS as a client. Criteo has accused Steelhouse of carrying out this type of ad fraud in a bid to prove that Steelhouse provided a more effective service than its own. 

Twitter: Elon Musk claims that the platform hosts a high number of inauthentic accounts 

In one of the biggest and most tangled tech deals in recent history, the Elon Musk and Twitter saga doesn’t end with Twitter taking Musk to court for backing out of an agreement to buy the social media giant for $44 billion.

In yet another twist, Musk has also claimed that Twitter hid the real number of bots and fake accounts on its platform. He has also accused the company of fraud by alleging that these accounts make up around 10% of Twitter’s daily active users who see ads, essentially meaning that 65 million of Twitter’s 229 million daily active users are not seeing them at all. 

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6 Lessons marketers can learn from these high-profile ad fraud cases 

All of these cases demonstrate that ad fraud is a pervasive and ubiquitous practice that has incredibly damaging and long-lasting effects on even the most well-known brands around the world. 

The bottom line is this: Marketers and advertisers can no longer afford to ignore ad fraud if they’re serious about reaching their goals and objectives. Here are some of the most important lessons and takeaways from these high-profile cases. 

  1. No one is safe from ad fraud 

Everyone — from small businesses to large corporations like Uber — is affected by ad fraud. Plus, fraudsters have no qualms over location: no matter where in the world you operate, you are susceptible to the consequences of ad fraud. 

  1. Ad fraud is incredibly hard to detect using manual methods

Fraudsters use a huge variety of sneaky techniques and channels to scam and defraud advertisers, which means ad fraud is incredibly difficult to detect manually. This is especially true if organizations don’t have the right suggestions and individuals dedicated to tracking and monitoring the presence of ad fraud. 

Even worse, when organizations do have teams in place monitoring ad fraud, they are rarely experts, and cannot properly pore through the sheer amount of data that each campaign produces to accurately pinpoint it.

  1. Ad fraud wastes your budget, distorts your data, and prevents you from reaching your goals

Ad fraud drains your budget significantly, which is a huge burden for any company. However, there are also other ways it impacts your ability to deliver results. 

For example, fake clicks and click bots lead to skewed analytics, which means that when you assess advertising channels and campaigns based on the traffic and engagement they receive, you’re actually relying on flawed data to make future strategic decisions. 

Finally – and as a result of stolen budgets and a reliance on flawed data – your ability to reach your goals is highly compromised. 

  1. You’re likely being affected by ad fraud already, even if you don’t know it yet

As seen in many of these cases, massive amounts of damage were caused because the brands weren’t aware that they were being targeted by fraudsters. Plus, due to the lack of awareness surrounding ad fraud in general, it’s highly likely that you’re being affected by ad fraud already. 

  1. You have options to fight the effects of ad fraud  

Luckily, as demonstrated by these cases, there are some options available to counteract the impact and losses caused by ad fraud, such as requesting a refund or even making a case to sue. In such cases, ad fraud detection solutions are extremely useful to uncover ad fraud and gather evidence. 

  1. But the best option is to prevent ad fraud from the get-go

The best ad fraud protection is ad fraud prevention. The only surefire way to stop fraudsters from employing sophisticated fraud schemes and attacking your campaigns is by implementing equally sophisticated solutions. Anti-ad fraud software solutions that use machine learning and artificial intelligence help you keep fraud at bay, enabling you to focus on what matters: optimizing your campaigns and hitting your goals. 


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