Facebook ads competitor analysis: a guide

October 20, 2020

So you’ve decided to advertise on Facebook. Great! 

But so have all your competitors.

Over nine million companies actively advertise on Facebook. If you’re diving into Facebook ads, you can bet that every single one of your competitors are either there already or will be joining you soon. 

And you’ll all have to fight for audiences’ attention. Most Facebook ads whizz by unseen as users scroll their feeds. The average Facebook ad CTR is a measly 1.11%.

So, we’ve got a crowded marketplace, a fast-scrolling userbase, and a lot of ROI at stake – how can you make sure it’s your ad which gets the click?

A good place to start is by standing out from the crowd. Which means keeping a close eye on what your competitors are up to.

It’s time to run a Facebook ads competitor analysis.

Why should you analyse your competitors’ Facebook ads?

Some people feel a bit icky running a competitor analysis. It seems kind of mean-spirited to spy on your competitors, right? 

Well, not really. Here’s the thing: it’s not about your competitors. It’s about their (and your!) customers. By learning what your competitors are doing, you can present your customers with something fresh and interesting – and you can avoid annoying them with the kind of stuff they hate.

Competitor research is a lot like audience research. You can be fairly sure that your closest competitors have similar audiences to yours. By studying their Facebook ads you’ll get extra insight into what those audiences like and dislike. You can use those insights to improve your own audiences’ experience.

And hey, if a few of your competitors’ customers decide to jump ship and join your crew…well, your competitors will get over it eventually.

How can you run a Facebook ad competitor analysis?

There are loads of ways, means, and tools for Facebook ads competitor analysis. Let’s dig in:

Spy on their pages The simplest and most obvious way to analyse your competitors’ ads is to spy on their pages. Sure, a brands’ Facebook page and its paid ads are a bit different, but their Facebook page will still give you an idea of the kind of tone, content, and themes they’re going for. Best of all, this is all completely public information. They’ve left it lying about for you to look at. Hell, they want you to look at it. For the morally conflicted marketer, scrolling competitor Facebook pages is a walk in the park. What should you look out for on a competitor’s Facebook page? We suggest the following:

  • Organic reach. You can gauge this pretty accurately by totting up likes, comments and so on. The more of these that a post has, the higher its reach will be. As a general rule, big reach is good. Look at the best performing posts and make notes of the features you think audiences are responding to. Be careful, though – things don’t always get shared for the right reasons. Which is why you should also read…
  • The comments. Facebook comment threads can take you down a ton of rabbit holes, but sometimes there’s treasure buried in them. Comments on competitor posts can tell you a lot about what their audiences are thinking. They also give way more context about why certain posts might have got a wide reach. For example, this post from a bistro went viral – but not for the right reasons…

Meanwhile, these comments from The Little Dog Laughed reveal exactly what users loved about this post – dog owners could easily identify with it, and they adored the cute dog!

Competitor posts may not be adverts per se, but they’re still designed to engage audiences. Spying on their posts, and audience reaction to those posts, is a great way to get a feel for what customers respond well to (spoiler: they tend not to love being called ‘little punks’).

Build a swipe file for Facebook ads

You’ve clicked around on your competitors’ pages, and you’ve probably gathered some insights. Now, how are you going to remember what you’ve learned?

By building a swipe file.

Whoever came up with the name ‘swipe file’ wasn’t beating around the bush. A swipe file is exactly that – a file where you keep ideas and insights you’ve ‘swiped’ from competitors. 

If you’ve been in marketing for a while you‘ll have encountered swipe files a lot. Now, it’s time to create one for Facebook ads.

A swipe file doesn’t have to run to a particular format. A Pinterest board can be a kind of swipe file, and so can a spreadsheet. It can be a document, a note, a Google Sheet, an image board – whatever works for you. The important thing is that it shows you the important information/insights you’ve gained quickly and easily.

Here’s an example of a content-writing swipe file:

And here’s another – also for content writing:

As you can see, the format varies a lot. Pick something that you and your team can easily use to get the right inspiration, insights, and information from your swipes.

Popular tools for creating swipe files include:

  • Evernote
  • Google docs
  • Google drive
  • Google sheets

For sharing with teams, collaboration tools like Asana, Slack, and Monday also have some native ability to create and share swipe files (although they’re also great at integrating files from elsewhere).

Use the Facebook ad library

Since that mess with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has been trying to improve transparency. One of the ways they’re doing this is by introducing a great little tool called the Facebook ads library. This shows you at a glance every ad that a page is currently running. 

Let’s take a look at one of the most (in)famous Facebook advertisers: Wish.

At the top of the search results, Facebook provides as much basic info as it has on the page and its management. It also gives you the option to filter by issues/elections/politics if that kind of thing is relevant for you:

Moving down the page, the ads library lets you filter ads by the country/region they’ve run in, their current status (active/inactive), the platforms they’ve run across, and the number of impressions they’ve gained (by date).

Next, the library shows you all the page’s ads (depending on what filters you’ve selected), and gives you the option to see their details:

If you click ‘See all details’, you’ll be shown a bit more about the ad. Facebook doesn’t give you any deep analytics – but everything is useful when you’re sussing out the competition!

The Facebook ads library provides you with a quick and easy way to check out what your competition is doing, where they’re doing it, and what’s gaining the most traction. All in all, it’s a fantastic place to keep an eye on what your competitors are up to.

Use Facebook’s insights tools

Facebook can give insights for competitor analysis without you having to dig too deep. Under the ellipsis menu, it will give you the option to learn why you’re seeing this ad:

Click through, and Facebook will tell you who the company are targeting:

Understanding the audiences your competitors are targeting can inform your strategy in several ways. For example, if you find that your competitors are driving hard at the Millennial demographic you could either throw resources at your Millennial segment and go head-to-head with your competitor, or you could decide to differentiate by targeting another demographic. Either way, it’s definitely worth knowing who your competitors are trying to get on-side!

Use Facebook competitor analysis tools

There are plenty of Facebook competitor analysis tools out there. Here are some of our favourites:

  • SpyFu. SpyFu is fantastic for understanding your competitors’ SEO. Enter their URL, and SpyFu will show you every keyword they’ve bought, every Google search they’ve appeared in, every ad ranking they’ve gained, and every ad variation they’ve run – going back 14 years if you need a really extensive history! It’s useful for understanding what your competitors are searching and what they’re spending their money on. It’s very handy to know the kinds of keywords and searches that are bringing visitors to their sites. Understanding competitor keywords spend can also help you to spend smarter.  For example, if you learn that they’re bidding on a bunch of expensive keywords, you can find related keywords that are cheaper – giving you way better ROI than your competitors.
  • Buzzsumo. Buzzsumo is all about content and influencer marketing. It was designed as a tool to help content creators by showing them trending topics – but it also works brilliantly for competitor analysis. With a simple keyword search, Buzzsumo will show you the most popular related content over all the key social platforms. It scores each piece of content according to engagement (likes, clicks, comments), the number of times it’s been linked, and how ‘evergreen’ (likely to stay successful over time) it is. If you use it in the right way, Buzzsumo can tell you how your competitors are using content marketing on Facebook, and which pieces are doing well. It will also show you how and where people are sharing your competitors’ content.
  • Mention. Mention tracks mentions across the web. You can set alerts for your competitors to watch the progress of their brand name or content across sites and platforms. It’s really useful for seeing when and where your competitors are getting coverage. If it’s positive coverage, perhaps you could get in on the action. If negative, you’ll know to steer clear!
  • Awario. Awario helps you monitor key terms in your sector, including brand names and keywords. It’s useful for identifying competitors, as it will quickly show you whenever a company is advertising similar products/services to your own. It’s also great for showing you where your competitors post, how often they post, and which posts work best for them.

Don’t forget the wider context

You’ll have noticed that a lot of the tools we recommended above aren’t Facebook-specific. There’s a really good reason for that. 

Facebook ads don’t exist in a vacuum. People flit in and out of Facebook from Google, their email, Twitter, websites…when was the last time you had just one tab open?

It’s a really good idea to look at your competitors’ other digital campaigns. Use the tools we mentioned above to study their keyword spend in Google Ads etc. This will tell you a lot about their overall strategy – and you can use those insights to inform your own strategy.

Using Facebook insights from competitor analysis

Facebook ads competitor analysis will give you a ton of insights about both your competitors and your audience. The next step is to take what you’ve learned and apply it in such a way that you’ll be giving your audience a better experience than your competitors.

Say you’ve found a competitor ad which is really bringing in the leads. It’s got a ton of engagement, and audiences love it. What should you do now?

Well, the obvious thing would be to run a similar advert of your own – but better! However, in order to do this effectively you need to be certain which elements audiences are responding to.

Reading the comments might give you a hint regarding what people like – but, often, people’s response to ad images is subliminal. People may not actually know what caught their eye. 

To work out exactly what it is that audiences are responding to, you need Datasine.

Using Datasine’s AI, you can establish exactly what creative elements audiences are responding to in your competitors’ ad. Is it a blue sky? A smiling face? The copy placement? The overall mood? Our AI can tell you in detail, without the need for lengthy A/B testing.

You can then use what you’ve learned to create your own ad, ramping up the elements people love and cutting out the dross. With a little human ingenuity and the aid of our AI insights, you can easily create a version of this popular ad that’s 100 times better, and guaranteed to catch customer eyes.