The Chinese General Sun Tzu wrote “Know your enemy and know yourself..”.

Every once in a while I receive an email or phone call regarding websites like KeywordSpy, KeyCompete, & SpyFu, that allegedly provide your competitor’s keywords list, bids, traffic volume, daily spend, and ROI. As you can imagine, I receive these contacts from clients who are appalled that their account information might be availPPC Managementable to their competitors, as well as website owners who are thinking of using this information in their own Adwords accounts.

It’s important to know that Google does not allow any 3rd parties to have access into any Google AdWords accounts. These “keyword spy” services do not have the ability to look into you or your competitors AdWords accounts and deliver the actual data. Instead, they most likely use an automated system that continuously searches on a massive list of common keywords and scrapes the results provided. Google now provides volume and CPC estimates, and these website’s can correlate that data with the scraped results.

Considering the inaccuracies that I have found with the Google Keyword Tool’s traffic and CPC estimates, as well as the ability to see incorrect ad positioning from repetitive searches unless the Google AdPreview Tool is used, I was very skeptical when it came to the accuracy of this competitor data.

Fortunately, JumpFly manages hundreds of Google AdWords accounts for clients of all sizes and I was able to check the results from these services to actual data.

Unfortunately, the results were not surprising. I found huge amounts of incorrect data. Everything from the amount of keywords found, the position of keywords, to the price per click, were often completely incorrect. The price per click, clicks per day, and daily spend estimates were so far off in most cases that I was actually amazed. The ROI estimates were a joke. Trying to see data on any account that is regionally targeted is worthless.

To be fair, the versions of ad copy used were very accurate. Some of the competitors listed were also correct. Often, a small portion of the most general and obvious keywords were correct, although their position, spend, and cost per click were almost always incorrect.

Of course, novices at keyword research might find “keyword spy” tools somewhat useful to at least point them in the right direction. Certainly, it could just as easily point them in the wrong direction as well without experience. Especially if they take the budgeting and bidding data into consideration when making decisions and estimates. They might even provide keyword ideas that a novice might not normally think of, possibly even some good negative keywords. No doubt, it would be a fast process to simply download this competitor data and upload it to your AdWords account. Personally, I highly recommend not using this approach.

The bottom line here is that none of the information provided by these “keyword spy” services could ever replace proper keyword research. Even if the information they provided was accurate, you’ll never know if that keyword was actually working for your competitor, and there is no guarantee that your account would perform the same. In fact, it’s safe to say that you would not receive the same performance, since I have yet to see two accounts perform exactly the same, even on the same keywords.

There are always people looking for the “magic pill” that will side step all of the usual processes and miraculously put them on the fast track to success. Marketing tools like KeywordSpy, KeyCompete, and SpyFu definitely appeal to these people, however many legitimate hard working e-business owners would also enjoy the ability to “know” their competitors AdWords account data. Unfortunately, these tools will not help.

My advice is to have an experienced PPC Management team perform the keyword research and monitor the progress of your campaigns. Base your strategy on actual data and actual results. Let your competitors subscribe to these “magic pill” services, and you can watch them run around in circles chasing shadows and wasting money.

Rest assured your Google AdWords accounts are not getting hacked.  For more information, meet Google’s Click Quaility Team.