You want to be a Facebook ads spy. But before you start, know that there are better and worse ways to find out what your competition is up to.
Most people think the best way to get information on their competition by using third-party tools that rely on thousands of fake accounts generating equally fake clicks—it’s not. No matter what tool you’re using, sooner or later Facebook is going to shut it down.
A good Facebook ads spy doesn’t rely on third-party tools because they know that Facebook and other social media platforms give you more than enough ways to learn about what your competitors are doing. These secret tools are hidden in plain sight, available to anyone, with some even built into the platform. You just need to use what’s already out there to your advantage.
Here are 3 tips for how to spy on your competitors ads and get valuable insights to make your ads even better.
1. Get Facebook to Tell You About Your Competition
The best spies don’t make people give up information, they get people to give them information. It turns out, you can get Facebook (and your competition) to give you valuable information about their targeting strategy. A great Facebook ads spy doesn’t need to charm Facebook to get it to reveal important information about their competition: these tools are available to anyone.
How to Spy Facebook Ads
Facebook Ads allow users to give feedback with a little X mark in the upper right corner of each right column ad, and through the V in the upper right corner of every Newsfeed ad. Users can tell Facebook to show them different ads, let Facebook know they found an ad useful, or pose the question “Why am I seeing this?” It’s this last option that gives you a clear path to spy on your competitors ads.
You’ll get at least one key insight, and possibly more, on how they’re targeting people, whether it’s based on geography, demographics, or interests—and these can get pretty specific.
In this case, you can see who Verizon thinks would be interested in a new tablet—people from 18 to 49 in the “Technology early adopters” audience. That can help you refine your targeting so you have a better shot at stealing consumers right out from under their nose, or it will help you set a different plan of attack and avoid advertising your product against Verizon altogether.
Here’s another example for a totally different market, an online delivery service targeting bouquets of roses to men with the relationship status “Unspecified” on Facebook.
If you’re also in the market of delivering fresh flowers to customers, and it’s approaching Valentine’s day, you can see this as a way to gain an advantage over the competition by drilling down your targeting to more effective demographics. You could swoop in and reach more customers by targeting your ad for Valentine’s day roses to people in a specific place, a narrower age range and, who are, in Facebook speak, “in a relationship.”
If your competition is trying to cast a broad net, Facebook will tell you. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to drill down like a real Facebook ads spy and smartly target the narrower subset of people who are really interested in your product or service.
2. Find What’s Already Out There
Spying doesn’t always feel good. After all, your mother probably didn’t raise you to steal secrets. But even if you have misgivings about being a Facebook ads spy, what if you just happen to find valuable information where anyone can see it? Is it even spying when it’s all there in plain sight?
Don’t go looking for new and creative ways to tap into your competitor’s ad strategies until you do the simplest work and see what’s already out there. Maybe they’ve referenced successful ads in a blog post, or someone’s put together a list of ads in your field. Regardless of how you do it, use what’s already out there to start getting inspiration and tracking trends in how your competition is designing ads.
How to Spy
Facebook used to have an Adboard that could list out dozens of ads based on your particular profile. Perhaps because it made it too easy for marketers to spy on the competition, they took it down.
But there’s another way. If you’re looking for tons of Facebook ad examples, AdEspresso’s Ads Gallery has over 15,000 ads searchable by keyword, placement, industry, goal, or attributes, all submitted and categorized by AdEspresso users around the world.
Let’s say you’re company makes custom sunglasses, and you want to advertise a big sale to kick off the summer. You want to show off your product, but you know how effective it is to feature people in your ad. So you want to see if the competition is doing the same thing.
In this case, you can see the big names like Zappos and Warby Parker encouraging people to buy sunglasses with images of people having a great time or living an adventurous, active lifestyle.
You could go down that route, and build an ad around people having a great time while wearing your shades. Or you can treat this as an opportunity to really stand out by promoting your sunglasses with a close up headshot that really shows off their distinctive style. Once you know what everyone else is doing, you can see opportunities for something new and different, and build ads that can appeal to your audience’s desire for something unique.
The more ads you can find and compare, the better. If 15,000 Facebook ads isn’t enough, the newAdEspresso University, a comprehensive site for all things social marketing, has over 10x more ads to inspire and inform your campaigns and keep you up to date on what competitors are doing.
3. Act Like Your Competitor’s Biggest Fan
When you think of spies, you’re not imagining them doing their job from their dining room table. They assume a fake name, grab their foreign passport, and act like they’re someone else to fool the competition. You might be able to do your job from your dining room table (or at least a desk) but to be a great Facebook ads spy you will need to assume a role.
If you want to find out how your competition is reaching out to an audience, go undercover. Pretend to be an interested potential user, and your competitors are going to give up a lot more useful information than you’d expect.
How to Spy
Subscribe to your competitors newsletters and visit their sites on a regular basis. If you’re a regular subscriber or interested visitor, you’ll make it on to one of your competitor’s lists. If you’re a newsletter subscriber you’ll be added to a Custom Audience list, and if you’re a regular visitor to their website you’ll get retargeted and end up on a Website Custom Audience list. You can see this in action when you click “Why am I seeing this ad?”
Once you’re a part of these audiences, you’ll start to see more and more bottom of the funnel ads from your competitors on your newsfeed. Instead of waiting around for information, they’ll be sending their latest ads right to you. You’ll get more information about targeting campaigns (see #1) and see what kinds of different visuals, ad copy, and calls-to-action they’re using on a regular basis. This can get extremely specific, so that if you’re browsing a competitor’s website for a particular product, say a specific style of glasses, you’ll start seeing ads geared to that specific product.
You can take this even further by imitating interest in your competitor’s product or service. If they are a B2C company, buying an inexpensive product could reveal how they move customers through funnels or try to upsell. And if you sign up for a free trial of a SaaS service, you’ll get more ads directed your way built around their premium or paid services.
You can also show interest on Facebook. Clicking on the “This ad is useful” button indicates that you want to see more ads from a particular company, or ads of a similar type.
Tell Facebook that you’re interested, and it will automatically start sending more of your competitors ads your way on a regular basis. Every time you log in, you’ll be doing research on your competition’s latest efforts and continually becoming a better Facebook ads spy. Keep it up, and soon your Newsfeed will turn into your #1 source of incredible information about your competitors.
Bonus Tip: Go Beyond Facebook
With these tips, you’re going to learn valuable new insights about how your competition runs their Facebook ads. But Facebook is just one part of a larger marketing strategy. Look at the rest of your competitor’s strategy to get a deeper understanding of what makes them tick, to learn who they think are key audiences, how they frame their value proposition, and where they think it’s important to reach out to new people beyond Facebook.
How to Spy
There are two key places you should be thinking about spying to build on your Facebook ad insights. First, spy on their content strategy. There’s nothing wrong with trying to learn what sort of content your competition is putting out, and what people find engaging (or not!).
Use a service like Buzzsumo to search based on your competitor’s websites and find out how engaged users are with specific blogs or other content. Seeing what interests people will help you refine ideas for great calls-to-action and engaging language on your ads. If you’re running a personal finance service, you can see what stories on a site like Mint.com are generating the most user interest across different platforms.
You can also spy on ads beyond Facebook. Look at what they’re doing on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn to see what kind of strategies they’re using across different social media platforms. For instance, on Twitter you can use Twitter lists of your competitors so you can see a single feed of only their messages. Set your list to private so only you know who’s on the list of companies you’re watching.
Let’s say you’re trying to break into athletic apparel and want to find out what the big names in the business are doing on twitter, you can put it all in one place.
Once you have your list, you can turn your Twitter feed into a convenient place to see what how your competition is trying to inspire people to really nail their fitness goals and look great while doing it.
Looking at the competition’s larger social media campaigns can spark ideas that will add value to your Facebook ads. And if you want to go even further, AdEspresso University has already thousands of examples of landing pages and Twitter ads to give deeper insights into how companies are advertising off Facebook and guiding users into the next stage of the funnel.
What Do You Do With All That Information?
With just a little extra legwork, you can use existing services, to spy on your competitors ads. You’ll understand what your competitor thinks are their strong points, and learn the value proposition & features they pitch to users. You’ll also be able to find weak points in their ad strategies that you can exploit with better targeting or a stronger pitch.
Being a Facebook ads spy will give you inspiration and insight, but it’s just a start. You need to take the information you’ve gleaned from your competition and use it to build on all the hard work you’re already doing. Even if you could just imitate your competition, you shouldn’t. There’s no guarantee that what works for them will also work for you.
You’re not your competition. You want to separate yourself and prove that your product or service is best, and you need to know what they’re doing so you can either do it better or exploit the opportunities they’re not taking. But at the end of the day, it’s the time and effort that you put into your own campaigns that are really going to make you stand out.
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