PPC Competitors – Should You Feed Them Head Fakes?

Do you check out your competition’s PPC ads and placements? Well, you can probably assume that they are checking out your PPC program. This leads to the question of whether the benefits of using geographical targeting to disguise your ads and placements from competitors is worth the effort required.

Hiding your PPC ads from your competitors is typically most useful if you are including an offer in you ad, such as a reduced price or free shipping, that you do not want a competitor to become aware of. Disguising the content or placement of your PPC ad reduces the potential for a competitor to quickly become aware of your offer and under cut or match it .

There are three tactics for disguising a PPC campaign from competitors via geographic targeting:

1) simply turn off all PPC advertising in their home town market

2) utilize ads that are unlikely to lead to a completive response

3) change your bidding strategy in competitors home town markets

Of course, you can only hide ads from competitors if you know the location of their headquarters. Also, if your competitor is  using an out of town agency for PPC management, it does not do much good to only disguise the ads showing in their home town market. The ads also need to be disguised in the agency’s home town market. If your competitor or their agency  is utilizing and tracking tool, such as Ad Gooroo, they will still have access to the content in your ads, but will only become aware of a new promotional PPC ad within days of it being launched if they are somewhat obsessive about monitoring the competition.

Not featuring the optimum PPC program in your competitors’ home markets may slightly reduce the effectiveness of your campaign, however, the benefits may justify the effort, particularly since winning orders in your competitor’s home town market my be challenging due to their advantages in shipping costs and delivery time.

Turning Off Advertising In Competitors Home Town Market

The simplest tactic for disguising the content of your PPC ads is to only select geographies for the campaign that do not include key competitors’ headquarters and agency location. If you are running an ad with content promoting a special offer or free shipping, keeping a competitor from finding out about the offer via seeing it when they conduct a search can keep them from matching it.  (BTW – we can build a custom tool that monitors competitors sites price changes – contact me for details). This is certainly not a foolproof method, however, simply not allowing a competitor to discover your ad via web searches can often lead to additional days of time before they match your offer.

Here is an example of a situation in which I did not want a competitor to view my PPC ad content. An arch competitor recently took a large price increase. After I matched it, the competitor rescinded a portion of their  price increase and undercut my price. I then came back and under cut their revised price and included my new price in PPC ads. So far, they have not responded to my new price. They certainly can find my new ads by utilizing  an ad tracking tools or by checking my website, but will not stumble across it simply based on the easy step of inputting a keyword term on which we compete into a search engine; The time I put into excluding their state from my campaign seems to have more than paid off with a nice bump in orders over the last few days. Time will tell whether they will find and match my price, but I am glad to have had a few days of being the low price leader.

Utilize Ads Unlikely to Lead to a Competitive Response

If you wish to compete for business in a competitors home town market via PPC advertising, but don’t want them to be able to easily come across the content of your text ads simply during a routine search, it may be appropriate to run a non-competitive ad in their home town market. While this is no guarantee that you will avoid a price war (or competing offers of free shipping), at least it reduces the likelihood of their quickly finding and matching your offers. As an example, Vibrant Marking Paint publishes text ads that are focused on their price in most  U.S. markets, as shown in the top PPC ad below. In order to reduce the potential for a price war, they run the more generic service oriented text ad, shown in the 2nd ad below, in competitors’ home town market.

Theoretically, it would also be feasible to feature ad content with a goal of freaking out a competitor. However, in most cases it is probably more effective to stay below the radar and not attract a competitors attention to your campaign.

Change Bidding Strategy in Competitors’ Home Town Markets

It may be appropriate to lower your bids in a competitors home town market to reduce the profile of the ads via lower placements to minimize a competitor’s likelihood of viewing you as a threat If your ad is juxtaposed right above or below their ad, it could set off their competitive juices. A lower on the page placement is less likely to set of a response when a competitor is conducting searches from their headquarters location.

If you are competing against an unsophisticated PPC advertiser that primarily evaluates their campaigns by viewing their screen after conducting a search, it may be possible to trick them into over or under spending. If you raise your bid in their home town market and they notice that your ad is in a higher position than their ad, the may raise all the bids nationally in order to regain a spot above you. On the other hand, under bidding in their home town market may seduce the competitor into thinking that their ads are being displayed above yours in all markets, not just their home town market.

Frankly, I am not a big fan of disguising my bids in a competitors home town market in at attempt to lead them into over or under spending.. It is not likely to succeed due to the bid reporting provided by the search engines. Hiding the content of ads is much more likely to succeed.


Hiding the content of PPC ads from a competitor via geographic targeting may be warranted in some highly competitive categories. If doing so can avoid setting off a price war or setting off a matching offer  of free shipping, the effort and ongoing maintenance required may be justified. Further, all PPC advertisers should probably check to ensure that they are not being tricked by a competitor that is hiding ads from them.

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