November 6, 2008:
I was recently contacted by Leon Krishnayana, CEO & Founder of iSpionage.com. Leon asked if I would be willing to review the company’s PPC analytics tool. I had heard of iSpionage before, and had tested their beta version, so I was very interested in peeking under the hood of the full breadth of the tool’s capabilities.
I did make sure that Leon understood that the review would be completely objective, and that is (obviously) how he wanted it.
So, how does iSpionage pan out as a PPC tool?
Why Use It?
Here is the basic value proposition put forth on the iSpionage homepage:
Imagine how much time you will save if you have personal assistant to research and track all of your competitors’ SEM activities and have it delivered to your desk every morning?
You can read all of the benefit statements that iSpionage makes right on their homepage. Here are a few that stick out to me:
- See all of your competitors’ ads in one place
- Learn from your strongest competitors
- Examine competitors’ A/B split tests
- Impress your boss or clients with fact-based recommendations
- Receive alerts when others start to advertise in your space
- Monitor affiliate programs partners for compliance
- Discover (profitable) keywords your competitors are bidding on
- iSpionage monitors all 3 major search engines, and if you see that advertisers are buying keywords in all 3, that’s a tip that they are likely getting good results from those words (assuming your competitors are rational)
How It Works
1) Start by creating a “Project” (you can have multiple projects)
2) Add some keywords to start the process (your subscription level will determine how many keywords you can monitor)
3) It may take some time to get your first look at data. The tool starts processing the keywords immediately, but it may take a full day to get results (although I have had some keywords show data almost immediately)
4) You can attempt to “force a fetch” immediately, but that will only get you a view of the ads that are out there, and not the full analysis that the tool provides)
5) Once all of that is in place, now the fun starts!
The tool allows you (through an easy tabbing interface) to:
a) Add to specific advertisers to a watch list
b) Compare advertisers in one screen
c) Find related keywords
d) Set action items
e) Drill into each individual keyword to see the advertiser landscape
f) Drill into each individual advertiser to see:
i) How they compare for the keywords you have identified
ii) Which keywords they are advertising for in addition to your inputs
iii) A quick view & a detailed view of their ad creative
iv) How they are tagging their destination URLs
v) View a snapshot of each landing page associated with an ad
Example – KoMarketing Associates
For this example I am tracking 7 keywords (b2b marketing, b2b pay per click, b2b online marketing, b2b internet marketing, b2b search engine optimization, b2b seo, & b2b ppc).
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First, in my opinion, you have to ignore the Avg. CPC and Avg. Clicks/Day data provided here. At the moment, iSpionage is using the Google AdWords API to pull in Google’s estimates for these two metrics. We almost always find that the reality on the ground is that Avg. CPC’s can be managed lower through solid PPC tactics (think Ad Quality), and that the Average Search Volume (estimated Clicks/Day) is different than what Google displays (typically there is more actual search volume than what is provided in Google’s estimates).
To iSpionage’s credit, they have made a note to this effect and you can see their “disclaimer” by hovering over the question mark help icons at the top of the two columns in question.
Second, this Keyword Tracking Summary page is a decent page by itself in terms of getting a feel for the competition via the “Ad Counts” data. But, the real information comes from clicking into each individual keyword and by clicking on “Latest Ads” next to an individual keyword to get a quick snapshot of the ads for the specific keyword. The latter, makes a great screen shot to capture to show to others in your organization or to clients to give them a feel for the ad creative being used.
Here is a screen shot of the Latest Ads for “b2b seo”:
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The following is a snapshot of some of the advertisers competing for “b2b seo”:
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iSpionage is showing that there are 56 advertisers for the term “b2b seo“. Of course, many of these “advertisers” are not true players in this space (eBay, Hoovers, etc.), others are lead generation portals or directories (vendorseek.com, business.com, etc.), and many of the other advertisers likely are being brought into this screen because they are bidding for broad match terms that contain “seo”, but not necessarily “b2b” (you can get a feel for this by looking at the Latest Ads for a given advertiser and see that the ad copy has not been customized at all for “b2b”).
But, there is plenty of meat to dig into in terms of true competitors.
The column for “Competitive Score” is interesting data. I used this information during a client presentation a couple of weeks ago, and it was helpful for the audience to see how one of their competitors was dominating the search landscape (hit them in the face even though they already saw anecdotal evidence themselves by searching on the engines from time to time).
Here is iSpionage’s description of Competitive Score:
Indicator for Advertiser’s domination of the keyword. It’s calculated based on three important aspects of pay per click:
Ad Coverage, Ad Rank,and Ad Frequency:
- Coverage looks at the number of engines being utlized (Google, Yahoo, and MSN)
- Rank looks at the average rank over monitoring period
- Frequency looks at the number of times the ad is served relative to the monitoring period
Keyword Specific Detail
The following is a snapshot of KoMarketing’s ad presence for “b2b seo”:
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Note: We do not typically advertise on MSN, but we were supplied with an ad credit and we are using that to test out MSN’s potential to drive traffic. There is no traffic for our keywords.
In the image above, you can see our ad variations for this Keyword, and you can see the destination URL.
What’s interesting here is that the destination URLs are not associated with the ad versions, but with individual keywords. It appears as if iSpionage scrapes the destination URL for specific queries that it uses to hit the Google AdWords API (although I believe the intent of the tool is to capture the ads’ destination URLs – based on an answer I received from my contact at iSpionage). Of course, the keyword destination URLs are more valuable than the ad version destinations because if you are using a web analytics package that requires individual URL tags for each keyword, then the destination of the “ad” is not necessarily what the advertiser put into their ad creative behind the scenes.
With some other keyword/advertiser combinations there is also an icon of a camera that you can click on to view the destination/landing page right there.
So, What Are the Pros and Cons of iSpionage?
Ease of Use – After some initial exploration of the tool to find how to get the most out of it, the tool is very easy to use on an on-going basis. In other words, it did take some digging at first to figure out where to get the information I was looking for, but now I feel like the tool has a certain simlicity to it that makes it very easy to manage.
Organization – You can set up multiple Projects in the system. This is great for grouping keyword concepts, separating out business lines, and organizing for multiple clients.
Keyword Flexibility – Keywords are not set in stone. It is very easy to delete out keywords, which gives you instant freedom to add more keywords if you have been close to your subscription limit.
Quick Views – There are many different ways to get to the same data quickly and easily. For example, there are multiple ways to get to views of the ad copy versions out there for a given keyword. I like the ease of clicking on “Latest Ads” and seeing all of the current ads displayed in a compact block.
Competitive Comparisons – The ability to compare advertisers is possibly one of the most valuable features of the tool. There is both a summary view of all the advertisers in one screen, and the ability to check off specific competitors and move to a screen with more detail comparing each one.
Related Keyword Suggestions – While you likely already have a good Keyword Research tool that you use, the iSpionage “Related Keyword Suggestions” function is a nice supplement to that. I would not use this feature to look at keyword volumes, or to do a comprehensive keyword analysis, but the fact that there are related keyword suggestions right there in front of allows you to quickly add words to your tracking portfolio. And, you may actually see keywords that you had not thought of before (less likely, but possible).
Landing Page Views – The tool provides a quick way to get to the landing page.
Pushing Out Alerts – You can sign up multiple recipients (e-mail addresses) to receive alerts when there is a change in the competitive landscape. Alerts can be set at two levels – “Project” and “Advertiser”. This ability to choose either Project or Advertiser is a nice way to either monitor the entire keyword space you have chosen for new advertisers & changes by advertisers, or target specific advertisers to see their changes only.
Data Export – Everything can be downloaded to Excel (or a text file) for you to analyze and present in your own custom way.
CPC & Search Volume Data From Google AdWords – While I can see why iSpionage has to incorporate this information into their tool in order to fill out the feeling of having a comprehensive tool, the data is next to useless for anyone who is a serious PPC manager. The data probably also confuses people who are new to the PPC game, because they may not know that the information is there only as a basic “temperature gauge”. As mentioned previously in this review, iSpionage has put in a “disclaimer” about the data that is accessible by hovering over the help icons.
Lack of “Real” Click Volume Data – OK, I have to be fair here. With my limited, but dangerous, knowledge of how clickstream data can be obtained on the Internet, this would either be impossible (with any reliability) or would be so expensive that an option for this would make an otherwise very-affordable tool too expensive for most to take advantage of it. On the other hand, if iSpionage can do it, and make the data as reliable as possible, it would be a huge advantage for them (and for users).
Landing Page Freshness/Accuracy – In looking at the landing pages that iSpionage has identified for sites that we manage, I have seen one or two cases where the landing page was not really where we were pointing people. In one case, iSpionage “reported” that a page was broken, when in reality all of the ads and keywords were taking people to the exact page we had set up (and it was not broken – but I did have a moment of panic!). I believe that any potential inaccuracies are caused by either the use of keyword-specific destination URLs or session/cookie handling by the site where the landing page is located. Likely it is the former.
In all, I would say that the tool is valuable enough to pay for a subscription (at least to see if it is a fit for you). I’d stay away from the $49/month entry level, and either choose the $59/month middle level or the $79/month level (the latter option if you want the landing page intelligence and related keywords information).
Based on my interactions with the founder of iSpionage, I’d say that they are also highly proactive and are likely to be constantly improving on what they have.
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