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Iveta Vistorskyte

Jul 13, 2021 8 min read

Search engines are especially beneficial to businesses. Mainly, companies utilize them for advertising purposes via paid ads or by working with SEO. However, only the number one position in the major search engine gets 31.7% of all clicks. Thus, induced by this statistic, various businesses work heavily to have their web pages ranked in top positions. In this case, accessing search engine ad intelligence is key. 

Businesses that specialize in offering ad intelligence provide platforms where their customers can access large volumes of the required data at a fee. Of course, web scraping is the driving force behind these platforms. This article is intended to offer a 360-degree view of ad intelligence: what it is and how to collect it using proxies alongside in-house web scrapers or ready-to-use tools, thus helping companies navigate the present and future data acquisition landscape. 

What is search engine ad intelligence?

Before we start to delve deeper into the challenges of collecting search engine ad intelligence, let’s take a closer look at what it is and why it’s important. Search engine ad intelligence provides detailed insights into the advertising of any online business in search engines. For example, these insights may include:

  • Competitors in the company’s competitive landscape and their advertising activity;
  • Competitors’ products, prices, reviews, and ratings;
  • The rankings of company’s advertisements and their changes over time.

Simply put, companies that specialize in offering search engine ad intelligence use specific tools that crawl search engines, and provide mentioned insights to their customers via their platforms.

The importance of fuelling businesses with strategic intel

As mentioned, businesses have specialized in acquiring search engine ad intelligence and packaging it in a usable format for their customers. With that being said, the importance of fueling businesses with strategic ad intelligence includes:

  • It shapes digital marketing and SEO strategies;
  • It’s a form of competitor monitoring;
  • It informs ad campaigns.

Shaping digital marketing strategies

Indeed, public data from search engines is extremely valuable. It provides a detailed overview of the successful practices that ensure some websites rank higher on SERP than others. Analyzing search ad intelligence can help businesses decide whether or not to change digital marketing or even SEO strategies.

Competitor monitoring

Thanks to the strategic intel, businesses can establish their competitors’ moves, including digital marketing strategies, as well as the type of ads they have sponsored. If the search advertising intelligence shows that these competitors’ advertising and SEO campaigns are working, it goes without saying that a company would be compelled to adopt a similar model.

Ad campaigns

Extracting ad campaign data from SERPs shows companies the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads their competitors are running. It also provides information regarding the right keywords to use in the event businesses wish to run sponsored ads.

Search engine ad intelligence helps monitor competitors
Search engine ad intelligence helps monitor competitors

Main challenges of collecting search ads intelligence

As mentioned above, the driving force behind businesses that offer search engine ad intelligence is web scraping. However, this process has its challenges in a number of ways.

Security measures

Large websites, as well as search engines, have measures to safeguard the data contained therein and protect their web servers from being overwhelmed by excessive web scraping requests. These measures, packaged in the form of anti-scraping techniques, include CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart), IP blocks and blacklisting, and general pattern monitoring algorithms.

CAPTCHA is one of the most universally used anti-bot techniques, making it a common web scraping challenge for any company. It works by monitoring web activity to identify bot-like browsing behavior upon which it interrupts further browsing until the CAPTCHA puzzle is solved. In-house web scrapers are often unable to solve the puzzle, subsequently impacting their performance.At the same time, IP blocks are equally common. This anti-bot technique entails blocking an IP address responsible for making multiple web requests in a manner that does not mimic human behavior. That said, there are ways to avoid getting blacklisted or blocked, especially when web scraping.

Layout changes

Websites regularly change their layout, including the most popular search engines. It is not uncommon for users to notice the latter’s alterations, which sometimes are in the form of newly introduced features or shapes. In the SEO world, some of these changes foreshadow the future of search engine optimization as they push an insufficient snippet into the direction the search algorithms are taking. 

While the motivation behind the changes is a better user experience for users, the layout changes complicate the process of collecting search ads intelligence. For instance, the alterations mean that data is displayed in different locations, which negatively affects the performance of automated data extraction tools.

Geo-locations

Notably, the same search query can yield different search results when used by searchers from other countries. In fact, some content may not even be available in some geographical locations.

Unstructured data

Scraping SERP results data and ad intelligence is one thing while making sense of it through analysis is another. A company may have a team that knows how to do the former, but this only results in unstructured data, which is impossible to analyze. As such, the web scraper should also convert the unstructured data into a structured format.

Resources

Building an in-house web scraping tool to collect search ad intelligence requires a lot of dedication in the form of time and money. For instance, a company that opts for this route should have a dedicated team of developers for this task. 

This means that such a company will spend a lot of financial funds extracting advertising intelligence from search engines. Even then, the appreciable performance of the scrapers is not guaranteed.

Major search engines personalize search results for all users irrespective of whether they are signed in or not. The platform relies on an anonymous cookie in the user’s browser that relays search activity spanning over 180 days. Although this enhances the user experience, it may be harmful to companies and their quest to develop robust digital marketing strategies.

For instance, a search query may show that the organization’s site is ranked third while, in reality, it is ninth or even on the third page. This means that if care is not taken when collecting ad intelligence, the scraped data could be rendered inaccurate and, therefore, useless.

Collecting search engines ad intelligence has its challenges
Collecting search engine ad intelligence has its challenges

Solutions for efficient search engine scraping

Businesses that offer search engine ad intelligence usually invest in their own in-house solution that collects the required search engine data. In this case, proxies are crucial to ensure a smooth public web scraping process.

Using proxies

Proxies are used alongside in-house built web scrapers to help mimic human behavior, thereby preventing IP blocking, as well as providing access to geo-restricted sites containing ads, keywords, and other SEO-related data. Importantly, by imitating human behavior, proxies effectively prevent CAPTCHAs, meaning that the process of gathering search ad intelligence proceeds smoothly. Selecting the right proxies for the task may require some knowledge of how different types of proxies operate. You can read our article on the differences between datacenter vs residential proxies to find out more.

Using ready-to-use tools

Due to the complexity of the most popular search engines, internal web scraping tools face challenges to deliver quality results. In this case, companies that specialize in offering ad intelligence choose another approach: outsource reliable web scraping tools to facilitate the data gathering process. Usually, reliable data gathering tools ensure that the data collected is structured and, therefore, ready to use. Also, such tools are suitable for large-scale data gathering of information related to ads and search results. For example, Real-Time Crawler is a website crawler tool built to collect public web data from complex e-commerce websites and search engines. It has an in-built proxy rotator feature that rotates IP addresses, preventing detection and promoting anonymity. Notably, Real-Time Crawler’s search engine API is used to extract search engine ad intelligence.

Conclusion

Collecting public data on ads or search results, or any other form of information from websites can be challenging, for one, because of the sheer volume. Factors such as anti-bot techniques and regularly changing structure and layouts compound the challenges.

Businesses choose between building an in-house web scraper or using a ready-to-use tool. The former works best alongside a proxy, while the latter is ideal for companies that want to escape dealing with data collection issues and get ready-to-use data. If you want to dig deeper into the topic, here is another article on how to acquire data directly from search engines. Also, read a case study on how our Datacenter Proxies powered Searchmetrics’ unique web crawler and how utilizing Real-Time Crawler helps them gather public data effortlessly and provide the best service to their clients.

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About Iveta Vistorskyte

Iveta Vistorskyte is a Content Manager at Oxylabs. Growing up as a writer and a challenge seeker, she decided to welcome herself to the tech-side, and instantly became interested in this field. When she is not at work, you'll probably find her just chillin' while listening to her favorite music or playing board games with friends.

All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.

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