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26 PPC Spy Tools to Outsmart Your Competitors

PPC spy tools are an indispensable ingredient of your competitor analysis and marketing arsenal. That’s a fact, like saying the earth is round or Trump’s hair resembles a small furry animal.

If you don’t use spy tools, your competition will, so our advice is this; don’t be shy, be a spy! It might sound underhand, but all that spy tools really are, are clever research aids that save you time and provide you with key competitor information.

And let’s face it, you won’t be alone in using these awesome tools, so having a secret PPC spy card up your sleeve is not cheating, it’s being smart.

To paraphrase Sherlock, “smart is the new sexy”.

Competitive intelligence might come in handy

The real problem with these tools is the choice. There are so many PPC tools out there that deciding which one to use can be a real headache.

Which is where we come in.

To help you find the perfect PPC spy tool that’ll give you an upper hand over the competition, we’ve listed 26 tools that would leave even Sherlock amazed.

Have a look around and prepare to assemble your toolkit for creating successful paid advertising campaigns.

Or jump right to the section you’re most interested in:

Google Search

Knowing your competitors’ top-performing keywords and average cost-per-click gives you a huge advantage in AdWords auctions. Like blue-whale type huge.

You can uncover tens of new keyword ideas, and snatch them from right under your rival’s nose.

What to look for when spying:

  • Which keywords are your competitors bidding on most heavily?
  • Which keywords seem to work for your competition that you could add to your account?
  • Are there any keywords that you’re bidding on that nobody else uses? (You might want to check this keyword’s past performance, just in case)

1. Your AdWords Account

Surprisingly, the most important AdWords spy tool doesn’t cost a fortune and is freely accessible to anyone with a Google AdWords account.

Did you know that you can view all the top advertisers competing for the same keywords you are targeting?

The tool you’re going to use is called Auction Insights. You can get detailed reports on all three levels:

  • Campaign level
  • Ad group level
  • Keyword level
adwords

The Audience Insights report will show you the list of domains, their impression share, average position, overlap rate, position above rate, top of page rate and outranking share:

adwords dash

Use this tool to set a solid foundation for further keyword research. Make a list of your biggest competitors, and enter their domains to other AdWords spy tools to uncover their top secret and best practices.

2. Follow

“Follow gives you all you need to know about your competitor under one roof. Our easy to navigate browser extension provides valuable competitive intelligence insights that help you make informed decisions in your own business.”

Follow
Waldek at Follow: 2017

Follow combines all competitor spy features under one roof, making it the perfect tool to conduct an informative investigation on each competitor.

Using Follow is super simple as it works as a browser extension. Simply go to a competitor’s landing page and turn on the extension to get competitor insights.

follow

Follow covers everything from website traffic data to PPC keywords to SEO performance.

What you can learn:

  • How many monthly visitors does a web page have?
  • What are the estimated PPC traffic volumes?
  • Which Text ads are bringing traffic to the site?
  • What are the top countries for paid advertising?
  • Which Display ads is the competitor using?
  • What are the best-performing banner ad placements?

And much more…

follow 2

If you’re looking for a do-all PPC spy tool, Follow is the best option.

Pricing: Starting as a free keyword spy tool and then $37/month for 500 monthly lookups, $97/month for 5,000 monthly lookups and access to Premium reports.

3. Serpstat

“Serpstat is an indispensable tool for your daily PPC activity. Find your competitors in paid search and analyze their ads. Conduct a parallel comparison of you and your most successful competitors to find out what important keywords you might be missing in your ads. Count the competitor’s approximate PPC campaign budget to create your own one. And yes, all this will take just a few minutes.”

Serpstat
Eleonora at Serpstat: 2017

Serpstat is a great tool to have at your disposal when it comes to keeping ahead of your competitors. You can look for a list of websites that rank for the same niche keywords as your own company and even keep an eye on their keyword trends.

Serpstat tool

Going a step further you can then use Serpstat’s keyword map to ascertain what position these keywords take on what pages. Even better, you can also use Serpstat to utilise the keywords that your competitors aren’t fully exploiting. This catalogue of data means you can sway your own campaigns to have a distinct advantage. Cool right?

4. SpyFu

“Use your competitor’s advertising history to help you separate their strongest ads from the rest. It helps you gut check the message that works with the same audience you’re trying to connect with.”

SpyFu
SpyFu: 2017

SpyFu is a wonderfully comprehensive PPC research tool that will give you tons of competitive insights.

For example, it will help to discover your competitors’ top keyword groups, see how much they’re spending on AdWords, and even see their campaign history with images of the PPC ads. Neat, right?

spyfu tool

Tip: Click on the ‘paid keywords’ tab to reveal the exact keywords that your competitor is bidding on.

SpyFu also has a cool keyword overlap tool that shows how many of your AdWords keywords match with those of your competitors.

spyfu

You can then click on any part of the diagram to uncover which keywords a competitor is bidding on that you’re missing out on. Focus on the brands that have keywords that you don’t.

Pricing: SpyFu’s monthly plans start from $49/month and the Basic plan is quite sufficient for detailed keyword research.

5. SEMrush

“We have a full workflow for PPC specialists. With the help of the PPC Keyword tool, you can manage keywords, analyse competitors’ ads, including ad copies and ads history dating back to January 2012. What is more important, you can optimise campaigns, and everything you plan out on SEMrush can then be exported and uploaded seamlessly into your AdWords account. Within our Domain Analytics section, we have paid ads research and exclusive Google shopping ads!”

SpyFu
Julia at SEMrush: 2017

SEMrush is fantastic. It was built to help you with multiple tasks including:

  • Keyword research.
  • Competitor research.
  • Site audit.
  • Backlink analysis.
SEMrush

In addition to Google Search Network, you can also uncover your competitors’ Product Listing Ad (PLAs) and YouTube intel.

Another brilliant thing about SEMrush is that it shows you the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) results in real time, so that you’ll always get an up-do-date overview.

SEMrush Dash

Among other insights, you’ll find out:

  • What other websites share your AdWords keywords.
  • What percentage (and raw number) of keywords these other sites have in common with you.
  • The total number of keywords other competitors rank for.

If you want to take SEMrush to a test drive, but are a little unsure where to start, see this article: How to Use SEMrush for Competitive Keyword Research

Pricing: Starting from $99.95/month and going up to $399.95/month.

6. iSpionage

“With iSpionage proprietary Keyword and Ads Effectiveness Index (KEI & AEI), PPC specialists will save hundreds of hours in trial and error to find the most effective keywords and ad copy for their campaign.
Furthermore, iSpionage’s Customer Journey reports and Campaign Watch help marketing executives to get insights on not only keywords and ad copy, but also the landing pages creative, competitors’ offers, all the way to their A/B split test results.
This hard-to-get data helps digital marketing executives to craft an overall digital strategy that stands out in a competitive market.”

iSpionage
Anne at iSpionage: 2017

iSpionage calls itself the #1 AdWords spy tool, and it really is one of the top-dogs when it comes to PPC spying.

When searching for a competing domain, you’ll get thorough reports on their top-performing keywords.

iSpionage

But it gets even better; If you’re unsure how to write winning PPC ad copy, iSpionage will show you what your competitors are doing.

You can even uncover their exact Google ads text in a single click.

iSpionage 2

This spy tool also lets you monitor your competitors’ landing pages, and will notify you when there’s a change.

There are three main reasons to keep your eye on competing landing pages:

  • You’ll get awesome ideas for your own landing pages.
  • You can compare your value offer with that of competitors.
  • You’ll know what’s working/not working for others, and will be able to avoid costly mistakes.

Pricing: The plans start from $29/month and go as high as $299/month.

7. KeywordSpy

KeywordSpy is yet another great PPC spy tool, helping to discover your competitors’ hidden gems: their top-performing AdWords keywords.

keywordspy

Tip: Enter your own domain name in the search box to get an overview of your profitable keywords and know whom you’re competing against.

KeywordSpy 2

If you’re into really intuitive interfaces, this might not be your go-to PPC research tool. However, it has tons of invaluable data accessible during the free trial period.

KeywordSpy 3

Pricing: Starting from $89.95/month.

8. SimilarWeb

“Use SimilarWeb to discover the top keywords driving traffic for any particular app (or site) and then add a competitor for comparison, either selecting from the suggested list or something else entirely!”

SpyFu
SimilarWeb: 2017
similarweb

SimilarWeb is an excellent addition to your armoury and cover many aspects of PPC research, from spying on competitors’ keywords to optimising your landing pages.

similarweb 2

The Keywords section will reveal the keywords that have driven the most traffic to a domain. You can see every keyword’s monthly search columns, CPC, and the traffic generated.

similarweb3

Moreover, SimilarWeb will help you discover the landing pages getting the largest share of PPC traffic, leading you on the trails of competitors’ top lead machines.

You can compare the traffic statistics from two or more competitors. All you have to do is click the ‘Add Competitors’ tab.

Pricing: Free plan for testing out the product, other plans on request.

 

Google Display Ads

Google Display Network is where advertisers can get creative and employ top-notch design to catch people’s attention.

Display ads are also a popular remarketing channel, which means that you might be able to discover a golden remarketing idea.

What to look for when spying:

  • How much are your competitors spending on Display ads?
  • What cool design ideas can you apply to your own campaigns?
  • What are the top publisher sites the competing ads appear on? — Can you target the same publishers?
  • Which display ads have run for the longest time? They’re the best-performing ones.
  • Are your competitors running any split testing campaigns that you could learn from?

9. WhatRunsWhere

“WhatRunsWhere provides scoring for traffic sources, ads and landing pages so that you can quickly identify what is working for your competitors. It’s easy to see top performing creatives and sites so that you can leverage this data to incorporate into your own campaigns and spend your digital media budget more efficiently. 
Don’t know who your competitors are? Use WhatRunsWhere’s Keyword Search to find ads that are related to keywords you’re interested in. This helps to find competitors for specific products or offer types (i.e. diet, fitness, solar, etc). 
WhatRunsWhere also allows you to pull up detailed profiles on publishers, ad networks and categories. These profiles easily let you discover new advertisers, prospect new leads and much more.”

SpyFu
Jordan at WhatRunsWhere: 2017
WhatRunsWhere

In addition to Google Display Network ads, WhatRunsWhere will give you fabulous insight to which media channels beyond AdWords your competitors are using (e.g. Media Buy and AppNexus).

You can click on one of the Publisher sites to see who else is advertising on those Publisher sites, and see if they have other placements that you’d like to target.

WhatRunsWhere 2

What’s more, you can see all the banner ad formats used by the competition, and rank them according to view frequency. (Make sure to send the best ideas over to your design team!)

What Runs Where 3

Pricing: Starting from $299/month

10. Who Is Retargeting Me

whosretargetingme

Here’s a great little tool that can tell you who exactly is retargeting you. Simply go to the website and it will automatically bring up which companies are driving ads your way. How is this helpful? Simple, you can do a little reverse engineering and make some interesting correlations. For example, if you visit a certain page of a competitors’ website, do they retarget you in a specific way or a generic? What is the nature of their ads? What can you take from their strategy?

Don’t forget to hit refresh now and then and see who else comes up!

Pricing: Free

11. Adbeat

When working on your Display ad strategy, Adbeat is an incomparably efficient tool.

Among other things, this tool will help you to:

  • See the specific categories of publishers where competitors spend their ad budgets.
  • Discover unknown competitors and new advertisers.
  • Get publisher recommendations for your ads.
  • See monthly spending patterns and trends among your competitors.
  • See flight dates for any competitors’ creative (a longer flight time means a successful ad).
  • See your competitors’ ads for mobile devices and tablets.
AdBeat

Moreover, you can use Adbeat to spy on the Display ad split tests from your competition.

Adbeat has data on over 90+ ad networks, making it a great tool to spy outside of the borders of Google Display Network.

AdBeat2

Pricing: The Mobile-included plan starts from $399/month. If you only need Adbeat for one-time research, you can export all the data, and only use it for one month.

12. AdClarity for Display ads

Want to discover the best-performing competing Display ads? Discover new traffic sources? Expand your campaign’s reach? AdClarity has the tools to help with all these three aspects of Display advertising.

AdClarity

Pricing: On request

13. BoxOfAds

BoxOfAds is a beautifully designed PPC spy tool that gives you an overview of your competitors’ creatives and landing pages.

Box of Ads

You’ll be able to explore all your competitors’ ad creatives across tens of publisher sites.

In the display ads section, you’ll see all of the banner ads being used by a specific competitor, together with stats on how well this banner has been performing and where.

boxofads

BoxOfAds also has the Text ads spying feature, showcasing all the latest ads by an advertiser.

Pricing: The Basic (includes 3 Months of Historical Data) plan starts from $147/month. If you want to dig deeper back in time (up to 24 months), the Business plan will cost you $599/month.

14. MixRank

MixRank has the most comprehensive database of mobile apps, developers, SDKs, technologies, services, and integrations, making it an amazing Android and iOS spy tool. It really is one of the most impressive kids on the block.

Mix Rank

MixRank crawls the web to bring you the latest data about your competitors’ landing pages, campaigns, and technologies.

If you’re looking to discover new competitors, MixRank’s detailed search tool will help you uncover new players in the marketplace.

Mix Rank 2

Pricing: On request

 

Social Media Ads

Out of paid social media channels, Facebook is by far the most popular one.

Over 65% of digital advertising spend is going to Google and Facebook every year, making these two platforms the Gods of social media.

Before you get started with Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram ads, find your competitors’ secret sauce that makes their ads attractive to potential customers. Go on, we dare you.

What to look for:

  • Which paid social media channels are your competitors using, what’s working for them?
  • What kind of ad placements are working best for your competition, is it Desktop or Mobile ads?
  • What value offers are your competitors using? Are these top-of-funnel or bottom-of-funnel offers?
  • Which of your competitors’ ads and posts get the highest engagement — are some of their ideas worth copying?
  • What makes your competitors’ ads attractive to their target audience?
  • Who are your competitors targeting on social media, can you steal their audience?

Tip: In addition to spying on industry competitors, you can go all Sherlock on aspirational competitors too; brands from related spaces that are operating in a way you’d like to emulate on various social channels.

15. Adicted.io

Adicted.io is the world’s largest database of Facebook ad examples. And it rocks.

You can search and filter your competitors’ ads in countless ways, including:

  • The most viral ads.
  • Ads with 50+ comments.
  • Most liked videos.
  • Ads with 10+ “Haha” reactions.
  • Ads published in the past 24 hours.

And the list goes on and on…

adicted

Use with caution. One weakness to Adicted.io, is that it literally gets you adicted to browsing all the ingenious ad ideas from the world’s top brands. Best get some snacks in before you start down this particular rabbit hole.

Adicted 2

Pricing: You can use most features for free, for Premium search options and access to the full ad database, you’ll have to pay $ 24.97 /month.

16. AdEspresso Ad Gallery

“On top of our free Ads Gallery, AdEspresso customers also get access to our advanced gallery which includes both Twitter and Facebook Ads and as of now has more than 350,000 ads, with thousands new added every single day! And this is on top of getting access the N.1 Facebook Ads Platform in the world!”

adespresso
Max at AdEspresso: 2017

AdEspresso’s ad gallery is very similar to Adicted.io.

The nice thing about this gallery is that you can search ads according to their Facebook placement: Desktop Newsfeed, Mobile Newsfeed, and Right-hand Column.

adespresso

When analysing your competitors’ Facebook ads, don’t forget to look at their ad copy: what is their best-performing unique value offer?

Pricing: Free

17. SE Ranking

If you haven’t invested in SE Ranking’s PPC competitor tool, then you truly are missing out on some hot data. With SE Ranking you can not only see a list of all competitors under a specific keyword, you can also learn how to actively outrank them!

SE Ranking

Still not impressed? Well you can also discover what ads and keywords a URL/domain is being ranked for, for both paid and organic search. You can even get the ranking data segmented into specific periods, neat, right?

Another nifty little addition to this is that you can even look at the most effective historical advertisers which fall under a certain search query, and use the data to build your own ads.

Price: Starts at $7/Month

18. Simply Measured

“We offer insights based on a lot of earned conversations and profile data, so there are retargeting opportunities based on audience segments found using Simply Measured, and optimization direction that can be found by analysing the way people interact with content organically. At the end of the day, how we help is by allowing correlations to be made between how people use social media, and their potential to click through a display ad.”

SpyFu
Simply Measured: 2017

Simply Measured is an ingenious social marketing analytic tool that helps to determine which of your campaigns work best.

Use this tool to benchmark your social media accounts against those of your competitors.

Among other things, you can:

  • Benchmark the last two weeks of activity against other brands on Facebook.
  • Analyse your competitive position, relative performance, and market share.
  • Get detailed analytics about competitors to inform your social media efforts.
  • Compare and analyse up to 10 Facebook Fan Pages with up to 250,000 likes.
Simple Measured

Pricing: On request

 

Native Advertising

Native advertising is the paid placement of content on the platform, other than the brands own website and media channels.

Usually, native content is informative and has a style matching the publication it appears in.

As native advertising deals can be quite expensive, it’s a good idea to spy whether your competitors are benefitting from any native ad campaigns.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Are any competitors using native advertising?
  • Do these seem like successful campaigns?
  • On which platforms do their native ads appear?
  • Would it be worth testing a similar campaign?

19. Ad Spider

Ad Spider crawls 11 native ad networks to discover where brands share their ads.

You can search for your competitors’ native ad campaigns by the date range, country, ad network, ad run duration, and more.

Ad Spider

As a result, you’ll get a detailed list of your competitors’ native ad campaigns across multiple paid channels.

Ad Spider 2

Pricing: Starting from $1/three-day trial, then $150/month. If you want to track all 11 native ad networks, it’s $350/month.

20. Native Ad Buzz

“Turn hours of tiresome research into a single click to quickly launch profitable campaigns.NativeAdBuzz’s simple interface and advanced search enables you to easily research which offers are successful online right now. Use the powerful filters to learn which networks, geos, languages and platforms your offer or content will perform best on before spending a single penny (or dime;) on ads.”

Native Ad Buzz
Peter at Native Ad Buzz: 2017

NativeAdBuzz is a fantastic spy tool for marketers of all budgets with a database of more than 5000,000 ads and powerful search filters.

Use this tool to discover where and when have your competitors run any native advertising campaigns.

Native Ad Buzz

Pricing: To access all ad networks, $7/seven-day trial, then $97/month

21. Advault

Advault comes with powerful filtering options, which help to make your PPC research more efficient.

AdVault

In addition to native ads, Advault will give you insight to competing ads, keywords, and helps to uncover affiliate marketing deals.

Pricing: $1/three-day trial, then $249/month

22. Anstrex

Anstrex is yet another excellent native ad spy tool, covering 20 ad networks and having a database of 4,680,660 ads.

The cool extra feature that you’ll get by using Astrex are the landing page screenshots made by the crawlers. You can see your competitors’ native ad landing pages even after they’ve deleted them.

Anstrex

Pricing: For access to all ad networks, $59.99/month (you can start by taking a $1 three-day trial)

 

Website/Landing Page

Having a compelling ad is only 50% of the victory.

When someone clicks on your ads, they’ll be sent to a landing page where you have to convince them to sign up. Which is where the fun really begins because chances are that before a potential customer decides to purchase from you, they’ll also check up some of your competitors. So, it makes a lot of sense to keep your eye on the competition and be one step ahead of their landing page strategy.

What to look for:

  • Have there been any landing page changes lately?
  • Are competitors running any landing page split tests or recently concluded one: can you learn from it?
  • What are your competition’s strongest value offers?
  • Why would someone prefer a competitors’ product to you, when comparing landing pages?

23. Snitcher

Snitcher

This is a very funky tool. By linking Snitcher to your Google Analytics, you can monitor in real-time who visits your website and the actions they take once they’re there. You can also discover how they found you and what they were searching for before they stumbled across your website. Better still you can even use one of Snitchers 500+ integrations to export them to your CRM.

Pricing: Starting from $24/month.

24. Stillio

You probably wouldn’t like to spend four hours every week on crawling through your competitors’ PPC landing pages, and recording their best practices? Let’s face it, we’ve all got better things to do.

So, how can you get all the sweet insights without spending too much time?

How about having Stillio’s automated landing page capturing tool do the work for you.

Stillio

Here’s how Stillio works: Save any competing URL you want to track, and Stillio will automatically snap a screenshot every day.

Pricing: Starting from $3/month

25. VisualPing

In addition to PPC spying, VisualPing is also used to get notifications when products go on sale or out of stock. You’ll always be the first one to know.

You can either choose to monitor the whole website or just an area of a website. To select the area, just drag a selection on the screenshot shown within the extension.

VisualPing

VisualPing works as a Chrome browser extension, notifying you of all significant website changes via email.

Based on your preferences, VisualPing will send you two images – a before and an after – to show how the site you are tracking has changed.

When using the tool for competitive research, you can choose to be notified of a competitor’s pricing page changes or other specific page element updates.

Pricing: It’s a free tool.

26. Ghostery

Ghostery detects and blocks tracking technologies to speed up page loads, eliminate clutter, and protect the data on your computer.

It will also show you all the plugins and trackers on a specific web page, meaning that you can uncover all the marketing tools used by your competitors.

You’ll be surprised to see how many trackers websites are using. Below is an example of an article page on Fortune.com. It had 26 plugins and trackers recording visitors and their actions.

Ghostery

Pricing: Free

 

Quick Overview

Now that you’ve learned all about the best PPC tools and their exciting features, it’s time to do some spying.

Here are all the tools listed once more, for quick reference:

Google Search Network spy tools:

Your AdWords Account | Follow | Serpstat | SpyFu | SEMrush | iSpionage | KeywordSpy | SimilarWeb |

Google Display Network spy tools:

WhatRunsWhere | Adbeat | AdClarity for Display ads | BoxOfAds | MixRank | Who Is Retargeting Me

Social media ads spy tools:

Adicted.io | AdEspresso Ad Gallery | SE RankingSimplyMeasured

Native advertising spy tools:

Ad Spider | Native Ad Buzz | Advault | Anstrex

Website/Landing page spy tools:

Stillio | VisualPing | Ghostery | Snitcher

ppc competitor analysis

Use the insights gathered to plan your next steps, but don’t just blindly follow what the competition is doing. Think about where they are spending the most money and why?

The game, is well and truly on.

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Karola Karlson

Author: Karola Karlson

Digital Marketing Manager at Scoro by day, freelancer copywriter by night - Karola keeps herself busy. She's also our favourite chai tea drinking Estonian!

  • Steve Brown

    Fabulous article – thank you!

    • Hey Steve, thanks for the kind words – Karola and the team have done a great job here. 🙂

  • Awesome Intel. Thank you!

  • Erika

    Karola, thanks for a great article and a useful list of tools!

    I also use some of them, like Similarweb, which you’ve mentioned here. I would add SE Ranking – a nice SEO-platform that comes with a tool for competitor PPC research. It gives tons of info about your competitors and you can even see the actual ads and the budget your competitor’s are using for their Google PPC campaigns.

    • Thanks for stopping by Erika, and interesting suggestion – we’ll have to check it out, might be 26 instead of 25 tools! 🙂

  • Mark

    Hi! Thanks for a good compilation. But I didn’t find tool I use in your list. Have you heard about SERPstat? It has competitors analysis by keyword, domain, URL, rankings. And it’s super cheap. Want to know you opinion about it and maybe some advice

    • Another one we might have to add. 🙂

  • Erik

    Well researched article! I’ll just cue in one more spy tool K-meta tool my personal favorite

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