3 Clever Ways to Target Your Competitors’ Audiences Without Search Ads

Joe Martinez
Last Updated: June 4, 2022 | Paid Search Marketing
HomeBlog3 Clever Ways to Target Your Competitors’ Audiences Without Search Ads

Using keywords to target other brand names, products, or services is one of the easiest ways to go after competitors in Google Ads. But targeting competitor keywords can get expensive. The good news is, there are more options we have than just the Search Network.

competitive search ad example

While Search will always have the deepest intent, there are some pretty specific targeting options we can use for other campaign types that also have deep intent. In this post, I am going to go over three ways you can reach your competitors’ audience without targeting their keywords.

  1. Build custom audiences with competitor keywords
  2. Build custom audiences with competitor URLs
  3. Target YouTube ads on competitor videos

1. Build custom audiences with competitor keywords

As you may or may not know, custom intent and custom affinity audiences have been combined into one custom audience feature in Google Ads, which helps us to reach audiences more in line with our campaign’s goal type. It also helps us to run competitive ads.

How it works

This strategy sets your Video and Discovery campaigns to appear in front of users who have searched competitor terms.

How to do it

Go to Tools & Settings > Shared Library > Audience Manager to create your custom audience.

Choose the option to target “People who searched for any of these terms on Google.“

google ads custom audience setup- option to choose people who have searched competitor terms

The “on Google” part of this is key, because it means you are essentially targeting people who searched for any in a list of terms on Google properties like YouTube and Google.com. You read that correctly. Here is the exact quote from Google.

“Enter search terms your ideal customer is using on Google. Your ads will reach people who search for those and similar terms only on campaigns running on Google properties.  On other campaigns, the terms will be used as interests or purchase intentions.”

So now take your list of competitor terms and add them to your new Custom Audience. As an example, let’s say you sell laptops and Asus is one of your competitors. Terms you might add include: asus laptop reviews, asus laptop issues, asus i5 laptop, best asus gaming laptop, and so on.

example of google ads custom audience using competitor search terms

If people have searched for these terms on Google and YouTube before, that is a much deeper intent than an awareness audience.

While custom audiences may not be as specific as bidding on competitor brand names on Search, we can still use them to get in front of a very relevant audience and sway their decision-making in your brand’s favor.

Notes on this strategy

What I do want to point out is that last sentence in the quote above.

“On other campaigns, the terms will be used as interests or purchase intentions.”

What this means is, this setting will apply to YouTube and Discovery campaigns because those are Google Properties. While you can use Custom Audiences for Display campaigns, Display placements are not Google properties.

Test them out for your Video and Discovery campaigns (Discovery now includes Gmail placements) to get in front of your competitors’ audience in a different way.

RELATED: How to Do Competitor Keyword Analysis in 5 Steps (+Free Template!)

2. Create custom audiences with competitor URLs

Besides keyword or search term targeting for your Custom Audiences, you can also enter in specific URLs. This was a strategy I loved using in the Custom Affinity days, but it’s still available in Custom Audiences.

How it works

This strategy takes a list of all of your competitors’ URLs and makes an audience off of those domains.

How to do it

So what you’ll do is create a new custom audience and choose the “Include people with the following interests or behaviors” option. Below that box, you’ll then see “Expand audience by also including:” where you can click on “People who browse types of websites.

google ads custom audience creation using interests and purchase intentions

You can then select “People who browse websites similar to” and you’ll be given another area where you can add in as many competitor web pages as you want.

Continuing on with my laptop seller example, some URLs I added to this list include www.dell.com/en-us, www.asus.com/us/, store.acer.com/en-us/laptops, and more.

google ads custom audience creation using competitor URLs

While this is not as exact as historical search term targeting, it does focus on a specific user behavior if your competitors have pretty similar websites. Use this strategy for a more top of funnel approach to make an introduction to users who could be interested in your brand’s products.

Notes on this strategy

It is important to note that this targeting works differently than adding search terms. We are not and cannot target users who actually visited the URLs you entered. You cannot do remarketing without having your tag on those URLs, and this is not placement targeting for the Display Network.

Rather, this setting tells Google to target your ads at users who visit websites similar to the ones you enter.

3. Place YouTube ads on competitor videos

This third strategy (one of my favorites) does involve placement targeting—placement targeting for YouTube.

How it works

This paid media strategy puts you in front of your competitors’ audiences by advertising on their own YouTube videos. One of the best feelings I get in this industry is showing a client the placement report for a particular ad group and showing them what awareness, views, and conversions we’re getting from their competitors’ YouTube videos or YouTube channel.

How to do it

To do this, head to your YouTube ad placement options.

youtube placement targeting choose placements

Continuing on with my laptop example, I typed in hewlett packard.

example of youtube placement search for competitor name

You can then target specific YouTube videos or target an entire channel if your competitor is showing up.

Notes on this strategy

If you do decide to run a managed placement ad group on YouTube, you should be aware of the fine print. If you’re targeting placements solely on YouTube or the Display Network, your ads will now be eligible to run on both. So still monitor where your ads appear in the placement reports to make sure your ads are staying on the competitor placements you wanted.

Target your competitors’ audiences without breaking the bank

Targeting your competitors’ keywords on the Google Ads Search Network can be effective, but it can also be expensive in some cases. These three low-cost options I gave you can be powerful ways to build awareness and attract the right user who may be interested in what you are selling. Test them out, and pair them with creative and landing pages that showcase why your brand is superior.

Want even more competitive targeting strategies? I followed this post up with:

Meet The Author

Joe Martinez

Joe Martinez is the Co-Founder of the Paid Media Pros YouTube channel. He is a regular contributor to WordStream and Social Media Examiner. He has also written for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, PPC Hero, SEMrush, and more. He has hosted webinars for SEMrush, Unbounce, Quora, and Microsoft Ads. He regularly speaks at conferences and organizations such as SMX, HeroConf, Inbound, Pubcon, SMXL, and more. Finally, he was named a Top 25 Influential PPC Expert by PPC Hero in 2017-2021.

See other posts by Joe Martinez

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