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How to Do an SEO Competitor Analysis



How to Do an SEO Competitor Analysis

Your competitors are a goldmine of information you can use to improve your SEO strategy.

In this post, you’ll learn how to find that information with an SEO competitor analysis.

What is an SEO competitor analysis?

An SEO competitor analysis is where you dig into the SEO strategies of your competitors. The aim is to find their strengths and weaknesses so you can outrank them.

Why should you perform an SEO competitor analysis?

Performing an SEO competitor analysis allows you to:

  • Learn what works and what doesn’t in your industry and avoid mistakes.
  • Capitalize on your competitors’ weaknesses.
  • Replicate your competitors’ strengths.
  • Understand what SEO tasks to prioritize going forward.
  • Understand how difficult outperforming competitors is likely to be.

When should you perform an SEO competitor analysis?

You should perform an SEO competitor analysis when:

  • You have a new website.
  • You’re planning your SEO strategy.
  • Competitors are outranking you or when your rankings have dropped.

How to perform an SEO competitor analysis

For this process, let’s pretend we’re a new infographic design tool. This is how your hypothetical SEO competitor analysis will look like:

1. Identify your SEO competitors

Your SEO competitors are the websites competing for your desired keywords in organic search. These may not be the same as your direct business competitors.

For example, HubSpot ranks for “how to make infographics” even though it’s not a direct business competitor of any infographic design tool:

HubSpot ranks for "how to make infographics"

Here’s how you can identify SEO competitors fast:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your domain
  3. Go to the Organic competitors report
See SEO competitors fast with Ahrefs' Organic competitors report

This report shows you competing websites that rank in the top 10 for the same keywords as your website. 

These are likely your SEO competitors.

If your site is new, this may not give you great results. So here’s what you can do instead:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter some keywords potential customers may use to search for your product or service
  3. Go to Traffic share by domain
Use Ahrefs' Traffic Share by Domain report to see who your organic competitors are

For this example, we can see that our potential top five competitors are sites like Canva, Visme, Venngage, Piktochart, and Adobe.

Pro Tip

Companies like Adobe and Canva are well-known brands that typically have high Domain Rating (DR). This is an Ahrefs metric that you can use to estimate a website’s authority. This gives them a competitive advantage, so you may want to rule them out. 

You can check a site’s DR by plugging each competing domain into Site Explorer individually or pasting all of them into our Batch Analysis tool:

How to check multiple websites' Domain Rating with Ahrefs' Batch Analysis tool

So if you’re a DR 50 site, you probably can compete with sites like Visme, Venngage, and Piktochart, as opposed to Adobe and Canva.

2. Investigate how they’re getting traffic

You can look at your competitor’s website architecture to understand where most of their search traffic is going. 

Here’s how to see your competitor’s website structure:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Site structure report
Ahrefs' Site structure report shows how a website is structured

For example, we can see that Venngage gets 260,000 estimated monthly search visits to its template subfolder, which is 9.9% of its total organic traffic.

If we click one level deeper, we can see the types of templates that send it the most traffic.

Venngage's templates subfolder contains multiple categories for different types of templates

From this, it looks like creating brochure and infographic templates is a perfect SEO opportunity for a competing tool. 

3. Find and cover content gaps

Content gaps are keywords that your competitors rank for, but you don’t. 

Here’s how to find content gaps for your site:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool
  2. Enter your domain in the Target section
  3. Enter your competitors’ domains in the Competitors section
  4. Hit “Compare”
  5. Click the Content Gap report
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool

Hit the Main positions only toggle to exclude your competitors’ rankings in SERP features like “Top stories” and “Image packs.”

Toggling the "Main positions only" feature

Look through the report and identify keywords that are relevant for your site.

More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report

For example, “infographic examples” looks like a good keyword to target:

The keyword "infographic examples"

Pro Tip

If there are too many keywords to look through or they look mostly irrelevant, click the Competitors’ positions dropdown and check all competitors. This will show you the keywords that all your competitors are ranking for in the top 10.

Check all your competitors in Content Gap to see the most relevant keywords

4. Spy on your competitors’ featured snippets

Featured snippets are quick answers in search results that Google pulls from a page ranking in the top 10. 

Example of a featured snippet

If you can find featured snippets your competitors own where you rank in the top 10, you can potentially “steal” these featured snippets. 

Here’s how you can see these opportunities:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool
  2. Enter a competitor’s domain in the Target section
  3. Enter your domain in the Competitors section
  4. Hit “Compare”
  5. Click the Content Gap report
  6. Set the SERP features filter to “Where target ranks” and check “Featured snippet”
  7. Set Target’s position from “No” to “Any”
How to find featured snippet opportunities to "steal" with Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool

Look through the report to see if there are any keywords where you could optimize an existing page to grab the featured snippet.

For example, Venngage owns the featured snippet for “how to make posters,” which is a list of steps:

Featured snippet for "how to make posters"

If you’re targeting this keyword, you’ll want to re-optimize your page and add clear steps in H3s.

5. See where your competitors’ traffic is coming from

Knowing which countries your competitors get the bulk of their organic traffic from helps you understand whether you can get more traffic by translating or creating your content in other languages.

Here’s how to see this:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Look at the Traffic by country section
Traffic by country breakdown for Venngage

We can see that the U.S. is where Venngage gets the bulk of its traffic. So as a competitor, you’ll naturally want to focus on English-language content. 

However, there are opportunities for countries like Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, and India too. You could potentially translate your homepage and landing pages into Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Hindi. You could even launch a multilingual blog to maximize traffic from these countries.

In fact, Venngage has done that for a number of languages, like Spanish:

Venngage's homepage in Spanish
Venngage's blog in Spanish

6. Find backlink gaps

Links are an important Google ranking factor. Generally speaking, the more links you have, the higher you’ll likely rank on Google.

Backlinks help pages rank higher in search results

If you can figure out how your competitors have been acquiring links, you can potentially replicate the same strategies.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your domain
  3. Go to the Link Intersect report
  4. Enter your competitors’ domains in the top section
  5. Enter your domain in the bottom section
  6. Hit “Show link opportunities”
Link Intersect report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This report will show you the websites that are linking to your competitors, but not you. 

Results from Link Intersect report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You’d want to look for easily replicable links that might have value for you. 

For example, clicking on the number for reveals that your competitors are listed as to-try tools:

Venngage is listed on CNET's page
Visme is listed on CNET's page

If you’re competing with these sites, you’ll want to be added to CNET too.

7. Spot link bait opportunities

Links are important if you want to rank higher on Google. But it can be difficult to get people to link to your “money pages,” as they provide no value. 

You can solve this by creating link bait and then redistributing the “authority” your link bait attracts to your most important pages. This can help boost their rankings.

Use smart internal linking to help your boring pages rank

To find great link bait ideas, you can piggyback off what’s working for your competitors. 

Here’s how to find them:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Best by links report
Best by links report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This report shows you the pages that have the most backlinks pointing at them. Eyeball the list to see what kind of formats and topics resonate with your niche.

For example, we can see that statistics posts work well for Venngage:

Venngage's post on content marketing statistics has nearly 4,000 links

8. Find your competitors’ broken pages

If our competitors have broken pages with backlinks, we can:

  • Publish working replacements.
  • Ask everyone linking to the dead pages to link to us instead.

Here’s how to find these broken pages:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Best by links report
  4. Set the HTTP code filter to 404 not found
How to find broken pages with the Best by links report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This will show you all the broken pages with links on your competitor’s site. Go through the report and see if there are any relevant pages you can potentially replicate. 

For example, this post on Gestalt design principles seems decent and has 33 sites linking to it:

Dead blog post on Visme's blog that could potentially be replicated

Click on the caret and click on View on 

"View on" feature

This will open up the page in Wayback Machine so you can check how it looked in the past.

How Visme's blog post looked before it was broken

You can potentially improve it and get people to link to you instead. Follow the guide below to learn how to do this.

9. Check your competitors’ Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are part of Google’s Page Experience signals used to measure user experience. They’re Google ranking factors

So you’d want to see their Core Web Vitals—alongside their overall technical health—and compare them to yours.

You can do this analysis by entering your competitor’s pages one by one into PageSpeed Insights.

Core Web Vitals for Venngage

Doing that can be tiresome. So a better way is to run a crawl of your competitor’s domain using Ahrefs’ Site Audit, connect PageSpeed Insights’ API, and see your competitor’s Core Web Vitals together with other technical SEO issues.

Core Web Vitals in Ahrefs' Site Audit

10. See what keywords your competitors are bidding on in paid search

If your competitors are bidding on certain keywords, then it’s likely those keywords are profitable.

Here’s how to see the keywords they’re bidding on:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
  4. In the Keywords filter, add “Doesn’t include [brand]” to filter out branded keywords
Keywords Venngage is bidding on, with branded keywords excluded

Looking through this report can help unearth low-volume, high-converting keywords that you may have missed during keyword research.

For example, this seems like a good keyword to target:

"Pamphlet maker," which is a potential keyword to target

11. Learn from your competitors’ PPC ads

Google rewards more relevant ads with a lower cost per click (CPC). So it’s in your competitors’ interest to make sure their ads win the click.

Typically, that means better headlines and descriptions. We can use them as inspiration to write title tags and meta descriptions that increase click-throughs.

Here’s how to see your competitors’ ad copy:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
  4. Hover over the magnifying glass icon beside the keyword you wish to target
The ad copy Venngage is using to bid on the keyword "infographic design"

This is the current ad Venngage is using to target the keyword “infographic design.” Looks like it’s using words like “customizable,” “few clicks,” and “design wiz” to attract clicks. 

They could be useful additions to our own title tags or meta descriptions.

Final thoughts

When it comes to competitor analysis for SEO, everything above is merely the tip of the iceberg. There’s more you can do, but it’s good enough for you to get started. 

Our advice is to run through the process above and start applying the insights to your SEO strategy. Execution is important, after all.

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter or Threads.

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Google Dials Back AI Overviews In Search Results, Study Finds




Photo of a mobile device in mans hand with generative google AI Overview on the screen.

According to new research, Google’s AI-generated overviews have undergone significant adjustments since the initial rollout.

The study from SE Ranking analyzed 100,000 keywords and found Google has greatly reduced the frequency of AI overviews.

However, when they appear, they’re more detailed than they were previously.

The study digs into which topics and industries are more likely to get an AI overview. It also looks at how the AI snippets interact with other search features like featured snippets and ads.

Here’s an overview of the findings and what they mean for your SEO efforts.

Declining Frequency Of AI Overviews

In contrast to pre-rollout figures, 8% of the examined searches now trigger an AI Overview.

This represents a 52% drop compared to January levels.

Yevheniia Khromova, the study’s author, believes this means Google is taking a more measured approach, stating:

“The sharp decrease in AI Overview presence likely reflects Google’s efforts to boost the accuracy and trustworthiness of AI-generated answers.”

Longer AI Overviews

Although the frequency of AI overviews has decreased, the ones that do appear provide more detailed information.

The average length of the text has grown by nearly 25% to around 4,342 characters.

In another notable change, AI overviews now link to fewer sources on average – usually just four links after expanding the snippet.

However, 84% still include at least one domain from that query’s top 10 organic search results.

Niche Dynamics & Ranking Factors

The chances of getting an AI overview vary across different industries.

Searches related to relationships, food and beverages, and technology were most likely to trigger AI overviews.

Sensitive areas like healthcare, legal, and news had a low rate of showing AI summaries, less than 1%.

Longer search queries with ten words were more likely to generate an AI overview, with a 19% rate indicating that AI summaries are more useful for complex information needs.

Search terms with lower search volumes and lower cost-per-click were more likely to display AI summaries.

Other Characteristics Of AI Overviews

The research reveals that 45% of AI overviews appear alongside featured snippets, often sourced from the exact domains.

Around 87% of AI overviews now coexist with ads, compared to 73% previously, a statistic that could increase competition for advertising space.

What Does This Mean?

SE Ranking’s research on AI overviews has several implications:

  1. Reduced Risk Of Traffic Losses: Fewer searches trigger AI Overviews that directly answer queries, making organic listings less likely to be demoted or receive less traffic.
  2. Most Impacted Niches: AI overviews appear more in relationships, food, and technology niches. Publishers in these sectors should pay closer attention to Google’s AI overview strategy.
  3. Long-form & In-Depth Content Essential: As AI snippets become longer, companies may need to create more comprehensive content beyond what the overviews cover.

Looking Ahead

While the number of AI overviews has decreased recently, we can’t assume this trend will continue.

AI overviews will undoubtedly continue to transform over time.

It’s crucial to monitor developments closely, try different methods of dealing with them, and adjust game plans as needed.

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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget




10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

Many advertisers have a tight budget for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, making it challenging to maximize results.

One of the first questions that often looms large is, “How much should we spend?” It’s a pivotal question, one that sets the stage for the entire PPC strategy.

Read on for tips to get started or further optimize budgets for your PPC program to maximize every dollar spent.

1. Set Expectations For The Account

With a smaller budget, managing expectations for the size and scope of the account will allow you to keep focus.

A very common question is: How much should our company spend on PPC?

To start, you must balance your company’s PPC budget with the cost, volume, and competition of keyword searches in your industry.

You’ll also want to implement a well-balanced PPC strategy with display and video formats to engage consumers.

First, determine your daily budget. For example, if the monthly budget is $2,000, the daily budget would be set at $66 per day for the entire account.

The daily budget will also determine how many campaigns you can run at the same time in the account because that $66 will be divided up among all campaigns.

Be aware that Google Ads and Microsoft Ads may occasionally exceed the daily budget to maximize results. The overall monthly budget, however, should not exceed the Daily x Number of Days in the Month.

Now that we know our daily budget, we can focus on prioritizing our goals.

2. Prioritize Goals

Advertisers often have multiple goals per account. A limited budget will also limit the number of campaigns – and the number of goals – you should focus on.

Some common goals include:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Leads.
  • Sales.
  • Repeat sales.

In the example below, the advertiser uses a small budget to promote a scholarship program.

They are using a combination of leads (search campaign) and awareness (display campaign) to divide up a daily budget of $82.

Screenshot from author, May 2024

The next several features can help you laser-focus campaigns to allocate your budget to where you need it most.

Remember, these settings will restrict traffic to the campaign. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, loosen up/expand the settings.

3. Location Targeting

Location targeting is a core consideration in reaching the right audience and helps manage a small ad budget.

To maximize a limited budget, you should focus on only the essential target locations where your customers are located.

While that seems obvious, you should also consider how to refine that to direct the limited budget to core locations. For example:

  • You can refine location targeting by states, cities, ZIP codes, or even a radius around your business.
  • Choosing locations to target should be focused on results.
  • The smaller the geographic area, the less traffic you will get, so balance relevance with budget.
  • Consider adding negative locations where you do not do business to prevent irrelevant clicks that use up precious budget.

If the reporting reveals targeted locations where campaigns are ineffective, consider removing targeting to those areas. You can also try a location bid modifier to reduce ad serving in those areas.

managing ppc budget by location interactionScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

4. Ad Scheduling

Ad scheduling also helps to control budget by only running ads on certain days and at certain hours of the day.

With a smaller budget, it can help to limit ads to serve only during hours of business operation. You can choose to expand that a bit to accommodate time zones and for searchers doing research outside of business hours.

If you sell online, you are always open, but review reporting for hourly results over time to determine if there are hours of the day with a negative return on investment (ROI).

Limit running PPC ads if the reporting reveals hours of the day when campaigns are ineffective.

Manage a small ppc budget by hour of dayScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

5. Set Negative Keywords

A well-planned negative keyword list is a golden tactic for controlling budgets.

The purpose is to prevent your ad from showing on keyword searches and websites that are not a good match for your business.

  • Generate negative keywords proactively by brainstorming keyword concepts that may trigger ads erroneously.
  • Review query reports to find irrelevant searches that have already led to clicks.
  • Create lists and apply to the campaign.
  • Repeat on a regular basis because ad trends are always evolving!

6. Smart Bidding

Smart Bidding is a game-changer for efficient ad campaigns. Powered by Google AI, it automatically adjusts bids to serve ads to the right audience within budget.

The AI optimizes the bid for each auction, ideally maximizing conversions while staying within your budget constraints.

Smart bidding strategies available include:

  • Maximize Conversions: Automatically adjust bids to generate as many conversions as possible for the budget.
  • Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): This method predicts the value of potential conversions and adjusts bids in real time to maximize return.
  • Target Cost Per Action (CPA): Advertisers set a target cost-per-action (CPA), and Google optimizes bids to get the most conversions within budget and the desired cost per action.

7. Try Display Only Campaigns

display ads for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

For branding and awareness, a display campaign can expand your reach to a wider audience affordably.

Audience targeting is an art in itself, so review the best options for your budget, including topics, placements, demographics, and more.

Remarketing to your website visitors is a smart targeting strategy to include in your display campaigns to re-engage your audience based on their behavior on your website.

Let your ad performance reporting by placements, audiences, and more guide your optimizations toward the best fit for your business.

audience targeting options for small ppc budgetScreenshot by Lisa Raehsler from Google Ads, May 2024

8. Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max (PMax) campaigns are available in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.

In short, automation is used to maximize conversion results by serving ads across channels and with automated ad formats.

This campaign type can be useful for limited budgets in that it uses AI to create assets, select channels, and audiences in a single campaign rather than you dividing the budget among multiple campaign types.

Since the success of the PMax campaign depends on the use of conversion data, that data will need to be available and reliable.

9. Target Less Competitive Keywords

Some keywords can have very high cost-per-click (CPC) in a competitive market. Research keywords to compete effectively on a smaller budget.

Use your analytics account to discover organic searches leading to your website, Google autocomplete, and tools like Google Keyword Planner in the Google Ads account to compare and get estimates.

In this example, a keyword such as “business accounting software” potentially has a lower CPC but also lower volume.

Ideally, you would test both keywords to see how they perform in a live campaign scenario.

comparing keywords for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

10. Manage Costly Keywords

High volume and competitive keywords can get expensive and put a real dent in the budget.

In addition to the tip above, if the keyword is a high volume/high cost, consider restructuring these keywords into their own campaign to monitor and possibly set more restrictive targeting and budget.

Levers that can impact costs on this include experimenting with match types and any of the tips in this article. Explore the opportunity to write more relevant ad copy to these costly keywords to improve quality.

Every Click Counts

As you navigate these strategies, you will see that managing a PPC account with a limited budget isn’t just about monetary constraints.

Rocking your small PPC budgets involves strategic campaign management, data-driven decisions, and ongoing optimizations.

In the dynamic landscape of paid search advertising, every click counts, and with the right approach, every click can translate into meaningful results.

More resources: 

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What Are They Really Costing You?




What Are They Really Costing You?

This post was sponsored by Adpulse. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

As managers of paid media, one question drives us all: “How do I improve paid ad performance?”. 

Given that our study found close variant search terms perform poorly, yet more than half of the average budget on Google & Microsoft Ads is being spent on them, managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in ROI. 

“Close variants help you connect with people who are looking for your business, despite slight variations in the way they search.”

Promising idea…but what about the execution?

We analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to answer this question: With the rise in close variants (intent matching) search terms, what impact are they having on budgets and account performance? Spoiler alert, the impact is substantial. 

True Match Vs. Close Variants: How Do They Perform?

To understand close variant (CV) performance, we must first define the difference between a true match and a close variant. 


What Is a True Match? 

We still remember the good-old-days where keyword match types gave you control over the search terms they triggered, so for this study we used the literal match types to define ‘close variant’ vs ‘true match’. 

  • Exact match keyword => search term matches the keyword exactly. 
  • Phrase match keyword => search term must contain the keyword (same word order).
  • Broad match keyword => search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, but the word order does not matter (the way modified broad match keywords used to work).   


What Is a Close Variant? 

If you’re not familiar with close variants (intent matching) search terms, think of them as search terms that are ‘fuzzy matched’ to the keywords you are actually bidding on. 

Some of these close variants are highly relevant and represent a real opportunity to expand your keywords in a positive way. 

Some are close-ish, but the conversions are expensive. 

And (no shocks here) some are truly wasteful. 

….Both Google and Microsoft Ads do this, and you can’t opt-out.

To give an example: if you were a music therapist, you might bid on the phrase match keyword “music therapist”. An example of a true match search term would be ‘music therapist near me’ because it contains the keyword in its true form (phrase match in this case) and a CV might be ‘music and art therapy’.

How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match?

Short answer… poorly, on both Google and Microsoft Ads. Interestingly however, Google showed the worst performance on both metrics assessed, CPA and ROAS. 

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Want to see the data – jump to it here…

CVs have been embraced by both platforms with (as earlier stated), on average more than half of your budget being spent on CV variant matches. That’s a lot of expansion to reach searches you’re not directly bidding for, so it’s clearly a major driver of performance in your account and, therefore, deserving of your attention. 

We anticipated a difference in metrics between CVs and true match search terms, since the true match search terms directly align with the keywords you’re bidding on, derived from your intimate knowledge of the business offering. 

True match conversions should therefore be the low-hanging fruit, leaving the rest for the platforms to find via CVs. Depending on the cost and ROI, this isn’t inherently bad, but logically we would assume CVs would perform worse than true matches, which is exactly what we observed. 

How Can You Limit Wastage on Close Variants?

You can’t opt out of them, however, if your goal is to manage their impact on performance, you can use these three steps to move the needle in the right direction. And of course, if you’re relying on CVs to boost volume, you’ll need to take more of a ‘quality-screening’ rather than a hard-line ‘everything-must-go’ approach to your CV clean out!


Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem 

We’re a helpful bunch at Adpulse so while we were scoping our in-app solution, we built a simple spreadsheet that you can use to diagnose how healthy your CVs are. Just make a copy, paste in your keyword and search term data then run the analysis for yourself. Then you can start to clean up any wayward CVs identified. Of course, by virtue of technology, it’s both faster and more advanced in the Adpulse Close Variant Manager 😉.


Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management  

Brand Campaigns

If you don’t want competitors or general searches being matched to your brand keywords, this strategy will solve for that. 

Set up one ad group with your exact brand keyword/s, and another ad group with phrase brand keyword/s, then employ the negative keyword strategies in Step 3 below. You might be surprised at how many CVs have nothing to do with your brand, and identifying variants (and adding negative keywords) becomes easy with this structure.

Don’t forget to add your phrase match brand negatives to non-brand campaigns (we love negative lists for this).

Non-Brand Campaigns with Larger Budgets

We suggest a campaign structure with one ad group per match type:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers – Exact
    • General Plumbers – Phrase
    • General Plumbers – Broad
    • Emergency Plumbers – Exact
    • Emergency Plumbers – Phrase
    • Emergency Plumbers – Broad

This allows you to more easily identify variants so you can eliminate them quickly. This also allows you to find new keyword themes based on good quality CVs, and add them easily to the campaign. 

Non-Brand Campaigns with Smaller Budgets

Smaller budgets mean the upside of having more data per ad group outweighs the upside of making it easier to trim unwanted CVs, so go for a simpler theme-based ad group structure:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers
    • Emergency Plumbers


Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Adding great CVs as keywords and poor CVs as negatives on a regular basis is the only way to control their impact.

For exact match ad groups we suggest adding mainly root negative keywords. For example, if you were bidding on [buy mens walking shoes] and a CV appeared for ‘mens joggers’, you could add the single word “joggers” as a phrase/broad match negative keyword, which would prevent all future searches that contain joggers. If you added mens joggers as a negative keyword, other searches that contain the word joggers would still be eligible to trigger. 

In ad groups that contain phrase or broad match keywords you shouldn’t use root negatives unless you’re REALLY sure that the root negative should never appear in any search term. You’ll probably find that you use the whole search term added as an exact match negative much more often than using root negs.

The Proof: What (and Why) We Analyzed

We know CVs are part of the conversations marketers frequently have, and by virtue of the number of conversations we have with agencies each week, we’ve witnessed the increase of CV driven frustration amongst marketers. 

Internally we reached a tipping point and decided to data dive to see if it just felt like a large problem, or if it actually IS a large enough problem that we should devote resources to solving it in-app. First stop…data. 

Our study of CV performance started with thousands of Google and Microsoft Ads accounts, using last 30-day data to May 2024, filtered to exclude:

  • Shopping or DSA campaigns/Ad Groups.
  • Accounts with less than 10 conversions.
  • Accounts with a conversion rate above 50%.
  • For ROAS comparisons, any accounts with a ROAS below 200% or above 2500%.

Search terms in the study are therefore from keyword-based search campaigns where those accounts appear to have a reliable conversion tracking setup and have enough conversion data to be individually meaningful.

The cleaned data set comprised over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions (over 30 days) across Google and Microsoft Ads; a large enough data set to answer questions about CV performance with confidence.

Interestingly, each platform appears to have a different driver for their lower CV performance. 

CPA Results:

Google Ads was able to maintain its conversion rate, but it chased more expensive clicks to achieve it…in fact, clicks at almost double the average CPC of true match! Result: their CPA of CVs worked out roughly double the CPA of true match.                 

Microsoft Ads only saw slightly poorer CPA performance within CVs; their conversion rate was much lower compared to true match, but their saving grace was that they had significantly lower CPCs, and you can afford to have a lower conversion rate if your click costs are also lower. End outcome? Microsoft Ads CPA on CVs was only slightly more expensive when compared to their CPA on true matches; a pleasant surprise 🙂.

What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

ROAS Results:

Both platforms showed a similar story; CVs delivered roughly half the ROAS of their true match cousins, with Microsoft Ads again being stronger overall. 


1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Underlying Data:

For the data nerds amongst us (at Adpulse we self-identify here !) 

1718772963 88 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024


Close variant search terms consume, on average, more than half an advertiser’s budget whilst in most cases, performing significantly worse than search terms that actually match the keywords. How much worse? Read above for details ^. Enough that managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in account ROI. 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Adpulse. Used with permission.

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