Let’s face it—you want to know your competition’s Facebook ad strategy.
You’re not going to do anything crazy like break into their offices late at night, rappel down from the ceiling, and log in to their Facebook account. But you might have thought about it.
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.
A good Facebook ads spy knows that Facebook and other social media platforms present great opportunities to learn about what your competitors are doing. There are also some secret tools are hidden in plain sight, available to anyone, with some even built into the platform. You just need to know how to find the very best tools and collect all your competitor’s Facebook ad best practices into your spy suitcase.
Here are 6 tips on how to spy on your competitors’ ads and get valuable insights to make your ads even better:
- Ask Facebook about the ads you’re seeing in the News Feed
- Browse Facebook ads galleries
- Start following your competitors and their ads on Facebook
- Spy on your competitor’s Facebook audience
- Keep your eye on your competitors’ PPC ads
- Go beyond paid advertising
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. This can help you refine your Facebook target audience so you have a better shot at stealing consumers right out from under their nose. Moreover, this insight will help you set a different battle plan 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.
Use the ultimate Facebook ads spy tool: AdEspresso University
From the spy standpoint, AdESpresso University’s ad gallery is a real treasure. You can find over 250,000 ad examples, making it one of the largest Facebook ad collections in the world. You can find examples of Facebook ad design from 95% of your competitors. That’s pretty amazing, right?
But the ultimate ad collection isn’t the only benefit you’ll get out of AdEspresso University. You can look at it as a spy school teaching you all the necessary skills to become a Facebook advertising expert. By subscribing to AdEspresso University, you’ll get full access to case studies, courses, live webinars, and monthly case studies, like this one.
The Facebook Ads Gallery is updated with the latest Facebook and Twitter ads and landing page examples, making it the go-to tool for improving your ads.
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 onto 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.
4. Spy on your competitor’s Facebook audience
There’s more to successful ad campaigns than your ads. You also must choose the right target audience and find the best ways of keeping your ad costs low. Knowing whom your competitors target, who are their biggest fans, and what are these people interested in will give you a huge advantage.
While you can’t kidnap your competitors’ Facebook ad experts and make them speak, there are some great Facebook ads spy tools that will help you out.
How to Spy
Use an online tool such as Fanpage Karma that analyzes your and your competitors’ accounts across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. You’ll be able to see some interesting numbers, including posts per day, post interaction, and post reach per day.
If you’ve collected the data about posts per day and daily reach, you can easily calculate how much of this reach is due to boosted posts. The organic post reach across Facebook is close to 2%, so if you notice a higher post reach than 2% the user’s followers, it’s likely they’ve been boosting their posts.
By using Fanpage Karma, you’ll also see the most popular posting times of a Facebook Page and the types of posts they share. If you’re interested in getting to know your competitor’s audience, check the reports on active users that include data about their gender and interests.
Moreover, look for insights on the size of your competitor’s fan base and their engagement levels. Remember that the biggest audience doesn’t always mean a higher success rate. It’s the engagement that matters.
Use all this spy knowledge to improve your Facebook page posts and create new target audiences to reach your competitors’ fans.
5. Keep your eye on your competitors’ PPC ads
For many marketers, the most difficult part of creating new Facebook ad campaigns is finding the right ad visuals. Should your perfect Facebook ads design include a stock photo? Or maybe it’s best to use an abstract design? Sometimes, all it takes to get new ideas for your Facebook ads is to take a look at your competitors’ PPC ads (the ads that are promoted in Google’s Display Network).
How to Spy
There are tens of PPC spying tools out there. If you’re looking for a free option that would show you all the ads used by other companies, try Moat. Simply enter a name of your competitor and start browsing their PPC ads.
If you’re lucky enough to be working with a team of designers, send them some of the best examples you’ve found and ask if they can create something similar for your Facebook campaigns. Be careful not to copy your competitors 100%, and ensure that your ad visuals align with your branded design guidelines.
If you’ve checked all your competitor ads and need some extra inspiration, search for the PPC ads of popular brands. Companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, BMW, etc. are working with the world’s top agencies, so you can find lots of great ideas from simply browsing their ads.
6. Go beyond paid advertising
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 To Do With All The Facebook Ads Spy 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.