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Find strong ad copy from past PPC campaigns
Find strong ad copy from past PPC campaigns

Get your competitor's messaging in minutes

Sidra Condron avatar
Written by Sidra Condron
Updated over a week ago

You want to get the most out of your ad dollars, so your keywords have to do some heavy lifting for you. That's why good ad copy is critical. Paired with the right ad copy, keywords don't just catch a visitor’s attention. They connect with their needs. 

This feature in SpyFu lets you see the evolution of an advertiser’s copy (and keyword picks) so you know what worked best and what fell flat.

Anytime during your domain research in SpyFu, click on the Ad History option. (You can also navigate directly to the Ad History tab under PPC research.)

Dive deep into a domain’s messaging

The results that you get when you type a domain include every ad variation that domain has used on every keyword it ever ran.

Here’s what to look for

The most “trusted” keywords are first. You’ll notice that the keywords listed near the top are also the ones that ran more recently. We sort them to include the ones that the domain has run more consistently and that will cost more on average then its other keywords.

By combining these elements, we can consider these to be the domain’s best, most relied-upon keywords.

  • Frequency/Consistency

  • Recently run

  • Competitive

  • Willing to Pay More for These

  • Updated, tested ad copy

We believe that an advertiser might waste money on a keyword for a month or so, but they won’t keep a low-return keyword on the books each month without trying to make it work. A keyword that matches the criteria listed above is one that you can safely assume brings in plenty of clicks. (Whether the visitors convert once they click the landing page is another question.)

Learn from ad copy updates

When the row of boxes changes color from one month to another, it means that we saw a new ad variation from the previous month.

That tells you that they’re testing a new variation OR something wasn’t working.

Let’s say that there was a color change from January to February. If the February ad is one they haven’t run before, then they are trying to improve what they had in January. If the ad from February is something they’ve run before (like from November), then you know that January’s copy was “worse” than this version from November.

(“Worse” is relative. Either way, what ran in November is most likely the stronger option.)

Sometimes you won’t know what’s better until they’ve run it longer.

Ad copy that won is ad copy that they kept in place.

Zero in on the last update that they use, and give plenty of weight to consistency. If they’ve been running the same ad for a 6-month stretch, you’ve got a winner.

Focus on a category or topic

Let’s say that you like seeing what that domain advertised on, but you want to narrow the focus to specific keywords they used (like a product line or a category). That’s where the filter helps. Type a keyword, and we’ll update the chart with that topic’s matching keywords and the ads that ran with them.

See the advertisers on a specific keyword

You can also search by just that keyword itself. If you do, the results in the grid will show every advertiser who has run an ad on that keyword.

Find that magical balance of keyword and ad copy

Advertiser History (for a keyword) opens a roster of domains that have advertised on that word before. You can browse through all the ads that others have run on this particular term. The most consistent and competitive advertisers (for this keyword) will be listed toward the top.

Let that help you take cues from the ad copy that the most dominant advertisers use. This is road-tested ad copy. Just by singling out the ads from a domain, you can tell the difference between campaign filler and the keyword/copy combinations that will bring you conversions.

SpyFu’s Ad History is a way of seeing a domain’s keyword choices as testimonials to what worked for them and what didn’t pass muster.

Put an end to the confusion of determining the most actionable keywords.

Instead of seeing the keywords a domain advertises on today, you get the keywords they have had in their lineup for the past 10+ years.

All of this history highlights keywords and copy combinations that the domain relies upon most in its campaign.

You also spot keywords that lasted just a short while so that you can learn what fell flat and avoid wasting your money on those terms.

Doing this means that you’re able to sort winners and losers from the start.


See it in action

Let’s look at When you get the results, you find their most trusted, effective ads at the top of the chart.

The domain’s most frequently run ads on keywords with the highest costs per click are toward the top. The ranking (of this list) also takes into account activity in the most recent month as well as their rank-to-competitor ratio. (Hitting the top spot over 16 other competitors carries more weight than just ranking 1st out of 3.)

Take a look at “birthday gifts for her” and its pattern in the chart. Red Envelope advertised on this for every month for the last 12 months, and the keyword appears toward the top section of the chart. Red Envelope’s ad position fluctuated for most of the year, but it stayed mostly in the top 10. Plus, Google served this ad every time the domain bid on it (100% coverage)  We can label this one an effective and trusted keyword.

If Red Envelope is going to commit ad dollars to “birthday gifts for her” each month at a high cost per click (relative to the rest of its keywords), then we can connect the dots that “birthday gifts for her” converts well for them. At this point, let’s review revelations about how Red Envelope uses “birthday gifts for her” so far.

  1. “Birthday gifts for her” at approximately $30 per day (and up to $75) isn’t one to keep around “just to see how it works.”

  2. “Red Envelope commits to “birthday gifts for her” more often than most of its other keywords.

  3. We can put #1 and #2 together to determine that “birthday gifts for her” delivers conversions.

So we have a strong-converting keyword. What now?

Having the right keyword is just step one. When you add it to your AdWords lineup, you will need effective ad copy to do justice to your incredible find, otherwise you can just hand your cash over to your dog and ask him to gnaw on it until it’s an unrecognizable mass of pulp.

Fortunately for you, Red Envelope has laid out the answers. The very high-converting keyword you just nabbed from them also points to the successful ad copy trends for you to emulate. We’ll show you why. Go back to the chart and look at “birthday gifts for her” row of boxes. Clicking on any of them opens the ad from that month.

The key is in the color change. When you see the box shape have an arrow pointing from one month to another, this signals an update that Red Envelope did to its “birthday gifts for her” ad copy.

Here’s why ad copy changes will point you to the best-performing ad copy.

When a domain updates its ad copy, it is an attempt to improve conversions from what they had in place. This is either because:

1. Their previous ad copy was not producing the desired outcome. Translation: “weak.” OR

2. Their previous ad copy worked well but they want to test a change and see if it converts even better.Without patterns or trends, you have little to help you know if the copy was worth, well, copying. Ad History makes it clear if this ad variation turned out to be a winner.

Case in Point

Look at how Red Envelope uses the keyword phrase “unusual gifts for men.” This image is just repeated screen shots of the same stretch of time–from May 2012 to May 2013. Each row highlights where the domain ran the same ad copy in other months. The version that ran in June showed up again in September and October, and again in January and February.

The outlined row (July) shows that tried an ad on “unusual gifts for men” that they haven’t tried again since. (December is a similar case, but the changes were minor.) I singled out July’s ad copy and compared it to what ran in other months.

The takeaway from’s test? Any similar advertiser would be wise to avoid calling out seller reviews, no matter how positive. It just falls flat with audiences.

Habits and Practices

If not winning ad copy, then at least you see their habits and trends. Etsy for example, rotates in more than 30 variations of ads for “handcrafted jewelry. ”

Etsy adjusts headlines from the general keyword match of “handmade jewelry” to specific artists like with “Julschristine.” Of course, Etsy-watchers know, this is not a sign of advertising wishy-washiness, but a reflection of their practice to move the spotlight around on their featured items.

Musician’s Friend: This reseller of music gear and equipment has advertised on nearly 51,000 keywords in the past few years.Nearly a quarter of those terms have been a consistent part of its lineup for most months. If I want to build a specific ad group on “guitars,” I can still manage this immense list in a snap.

By typing “guitar” into the filter, I can single out keywords that phrase-match it, and whittle it down even further into ad groups. That alone lets you focus on those trends in ad copy changes and seasonal runs.

Start with the basics, but build with Ad History.

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