How Many AdWords Competitors Are There?

A reader wonders:

Since Google has removed the "More Sponsored Links" button, can you give me a specific explanation on how to find out the number of advertisers for a given keyword?

My response:

There are a couple of ways to get this information. Unfortunately, none of them is accurate. Fortunately, the exact number isn't important. 

First, how to determine the number of advertisers?

1. Use the Google Keyword Tool

You can use the free Keyword Tool within AdWords to see the relative competition for a keyword (relative, that is, to all other keywords in Google's database.

In the example below, I use the keyword Canon battery charger.

As you can see, these keywords are all very competitive. Compare them with keywords related to buying vuvuzelas, the plastic horns that are blaring at the soccer World Cup in South Africa this summer:

Not quite the same supply (or demand, I dare say ;)

2. Free Spyfu lookup

You can go to and enter a keyword and receive a pretty good chunk of information about it.

Here you can see 11 PPC competitors listed, and a month by month analysis of their tactics below.

3. The Paid Keyword Spy Tool

For $140/month, you can get the Rolls Royce of Competitive Analysis tools, Keyword Spy. (Full disclosure: that's my affiliate link, which means I get paid if you click it and subscribe. To keep things clean, you can click this link – – and go there without giving me a penny.)

Here's what Keyword Spy says:

OK, so now we've got 54 advertisers, not the 11 that Spyfu claims. Which one is correct? No idea.

You can also see Keyword Spy's assessment of the trend over time, from the previous 10 months (red arrow).

Why Don't You Need to Know the Exact Number?

Because it isn't actionable information. 

Are you going to choose a different ad or bidding strategy for 11 competitors than for 54? No.

The number of competitors is interesting only when you are assessing the market, seeing if it's robust enough to support advertising. Once the competition has filled up the first page of Google search results, you've got to do enough things right to get into the first page affordably, given what a visitor is worth to you.

What are the Right Things?

  1. Writing an ad that attracts your ideal customer and repels non-buyers
  2. Taking them to a landing page that immediately converts their attraction into interest, so you can harness their desire and turn it into action
  3. Bidding just-right for each conversion, so you're neither underpaying nor overpaying for clicks

Once you've committed to a market, you go in with the intention of being the most successful advertiser on the page. Regardless of whether you have 11 or 54 or 230 competitors. If you aren't in the top 10, you're not in business. If you're not in the top 3, you're not profitable.

(And by "top" I don't mean position, but effectiveness. You might be in position 7, and still cleaning up for that keyword by virtue of a perfectly tuned ad and website.

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