In our monthly Roundtable posts, we strive to gather a variety of opinions about a single, debate-worthy topic. With that in mind, it’s hard to think of a better topic for such a venue than competitor research. Everyone has their own way of researching the competition, particularly when it comes to bids and keywords. And it’s not always clear what works.

For some, it’s a secret they think no one else knows. For others, it’s simply doing what everyone already does, only better. Here are four opinions from top PPC Hero writers describing what their process entails.

Question: What’s something you do for competitor research that you feel is often overlooked in PPC?

Don’t Skip the Basics

I think the basics get overlooked too often in marketing overall. For example, if you’re noticing a dip in CTR for a particular keyword in your account, logout of your account (or just open another browser) and do a search yourself! See who is coming up in the space.

It’s easy to find those competitors who are truly offering the same products or services as you, but what about those advertisers who are bidding on not-quite-right terms to pull traffic out of your vertical’s funnel? Those are the competitors who are the sneakiest, and this is the easiest way to find them.

Kayla Kurtz, Senior Digital Advisor

Know What (And Who) You’re Looking For

Part of the challenge in PPC is knowing who’s in the game. In addition to 3rd party tools, I tend to go back to basics to find out who else is serving ads. I perform searches on my top keywords and look for who else pops up. Then I take those individual company names and search for them. Who else is targeting them as competition? And who of this growing list falls into my same size/cost/content bracket? While my client may have an idea who they feel are the greatest competition for them in their industry, this approach lets us know who’s competing on the same level of paid search, which is sometimes a very different question.

Carrie Albright, Account Manager

Use Common Tools to Investigate Uncommon Problems

Google’s auction insights tool is one that we frequently forget, which is easy to do, because it’s hidden away behind the “Details” button. It can be an invaluable resource when you find your metrics have gone haywire: Conversion volume goes down, average CPCs increase, and average position changes. Why? Pinpoint the dates when those changes occur, and take a look at the auction insights report. You mght just notice that one of your largest competitors is now being incredibly aggressive on your brand terms.

Eric Couch, Senior Account Manager

Find Out Where Your Competition is Spending (Literally)

I like to use the location options in Google’s Ad Preview tool to see if my competitors are using different strategies in different parts of the country. I’ll look to see if their ads are different in New York than they are in San Diego. This is particularly useful for clients in the travel industry like hotels. I’m also intrigued to learn where they are and are not advertising by tallying if their ads show or not and to see what positions they lie in – “Competitor X is top for a search from NY, but sixth for a San Diego search, why is that?” You learn a lot about your own strategies by doing this as well.

Sam Owen, Associate Director of Paid Search