Director, Search

How to Approach Competitor Search Term Management

Whether you’re marketing B2B or B2C, to the education or finance industries, or chasing leads or revenue, your non-brand keywords are going to appear for search queries that include your competitors’ names. This is just a reality of Paid Search. It’s having a strategy to manage these search queries that is the fundamental difference in running a successful PPC strategy. To that end, there are three main ways to approach competitor management.

1. Negative Keyword List

The first, and simplest, is to develop a negative keyword list of your competitors’ brand names and apply it to your non-brand campaigns. This restricts your ad from appearing when those terms are searched. Using this approach gives you the most control over your brand appearing alongside competitors, but should only be used in very specific cases. If your brand has historic, actionable data showing there is little user interest in your products when searched alongside a competitor, or the performance of those terms is significantly out of line for your overall goals, this is the strategy you would want to employ.

2. Competitor Management

In contrast to the aforementioned strategy, this approach involves building out explicit Exact- and Phrase-match keywords related to your offerings, taking into account your various competitors. You then set a custom goal for these campaigns based on how a conquesting strategy aligns with your business goals. This strategy will also allow you to manage how much of your spend goes to your competitor terms without completely eliminating them from your search queries. Through keyword-level bids, spend is reduced on these keywords until their performance is efficient in terms of the main KPI. Additionally, this helps build a level of brand awareness to users who might not be familiar with you or your offerings, while prohibiting you from overspending on those terms.

3. Competitor Conquesting

Similar to competitor management, conquesting involves building out keywords to specifically target searches related to your competitors’ offerings. Contrary to management, though, these keywords will be actively bid on to show in the ad position near the targeted competitors, and be paired with ad copy that details advantages of your product over theirs. This more aggressive approach is intended to capture the attention of searchers and divert their business to your brand. It’s important to note that this strategy is not always appropriate for every product, or even for certain brands or verticals entirely. As such, its implementation needs to be carefully considered before investing in creating builds and creative assets. Likely outcomes of this tactic include increased costs and lower KPI efficiency as compared with non-competitor performance, but if implemented and managed correctly, the competitor keywords can perform at a higher level than the non-competitor Phrase match terms that serve for those same queries.

Below is an example from a client in the Higher Education industry of how a properly managed competitor conquesting campaign can be successful.


During the team’s routine checks, Rise noticed a subset of campaigns for our client were underperforming. These campaigns, non-brand and broad in nature, were garnering significant amounts of traffic on search terms relating to our client’s competitors.

The education vertical is very competitive with high CPCs, which require campaigns to have a proper structure, and the same is true when talking about competitor strategy. Within this subset of non-brand, broad campaigns, competitor terms accounted for over 7% of spend which was a problem as it meant almost a tenth of our non-brand, broad spend was going towards terms where bids could not be actively controlled.

Competitor Structure

Understanding the opportunity to improve performance for this subset, our team first built out the competitor search terms on their own within our campaign structure. Next, they executed extensive, manual reviews of various search term reports creating a keyword list to bid on for our competitors. From there, we developed a strategy using our branded campaigns to determine where we wanted to position our competitor ads on the SERP, and how much we were willing to bid on them.


The results from being able to control bids within our non-brand, broad keywords were significant. After building our own competitor campaigns with relevant ad copy, our spend and conversions increased 279% and 485% YoY, respectively.

What started as competitor management resulted in an opportunity to grow lead volume for our client at a higher efficiency level by transitioning to a conquesting strategy. From this transition, YoY competitor terms increased from 7% of our non-brand, broad spend to 20% with a 35% decrease in CPL.

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As can be seen in the above case study, when properly implemented and managed, a competitor conquesting campaign can not only increase KPI efficiency, it can also increase traffic and conversion volume.

Rise has extensive experience in running strategic, highly-tactical paid search campaigns, including the aforementioned competitor strategies. To learn more about handling competitors and how you can best optimize your paid search program, reach out to Rise.

06/08/2021 at 11:45