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Spy On Your Competitors With Google's New Ads Transparency Tool

July 6, 2023
Mary Kilmartin


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Google Launches Ads Transparency Center After Blocking Billions Of Ads

After revealing in its 2022 Ads Safety Report that it blocked over five billion ads last year, restricted over four billion and suspended over 6.7 million advertiser accounts, Google has launched its Ads Transparency Center, a searchable hub of all ads served from verified advertisers. Google’s new transparency tool offers a comprehensive platform where you can get insights into ad placements, spending and performance across Search, YouTube and Display. 

This latest development is part of Google’s commitment to “creating a safer, more trustworthy and accountable ad experience” and builds on previous enhancements such as the 2018 introduction of verification measures for election ads in the US, as well the launch of a global advertiser verification programme in 2020. Initial uptake has been strong, with over 70 million visits to the transparency tool globally in the first three months after launch, with users adjusting their ad preferences on more than 20% of those visits. 

Consumers will benefit from the Ads Transparency Center, with the ability to customize the ads they see by topic or brand - and this benefits advertisers too. More consumers using the transparency tool to tailor their ad experience means that the ads you’re running should perform better because they’re getting in front of the people interested in that topic or brand. Not exactly edge of your seat stuff though right? No - for marketers, the real reason to use the transparency tool is to spy on your competition.

Find Out What Your Competitors Are Up To

While tools like SEMRush already allow marketers to get data on Google Ads, the new Ad Center tool should make this even easier.

You can search for brands by name or website URL, with filtering options including time period, format and location. The tool lets you view data as far back as May 2018 and you can set a custom date range or select from pre-set periods such as the last 30 days. 

You’ll be shown the most recent ads which the advertiser has run, with an option to “see all ads”.

There are some additional transparency features for political advertising, with spending totals by advertiser, the ability to search by candidate, and spend over time.

You can use the tool to get a good picture of your competitors’ ad activity and look for gaps in their strategies that you can fill. Once you know what they are doing, you’ll be able to adjust your own ads accordingly to gain an edge over your competition. 

You can also use the transparency tool to get your creative juices flowing. Looking at the ads your competitors are running should help you create more engaging ads of your own, but you can also look at brands and agencies outside of your space for additional inspiration on wording, imagery and format. Anthony Fulford at Incendium shares his thoughts...

“Google’s new transparency tool is a great resource to gain ideas and inspiration for your ads and quickly judge if what you have created is (subjectively) better than competitors' ads, but there's a downside too; if you're great at creating ads then competitors can quickly see your creative and use it to improve theirs. This levels the playing field somewhat and could make it harder for brands to get an edge. It will help inform creators so in theory they can produce better ads, which may produce higher conversion rates, but it will also more than likely create increases in budgets as competitors try to pull more market share - battling each other is likely to happen more frequently when you can see each other’s plays. Really the true winner in all this, is Google."

Next, let’s look at how Google’s transparency tool stacks up against Meta’s Ad Library.

Ad Transparency Center Vs. Meta Ad Library

Since 2019, Meta has allowed scanning competitors on Facebook and Instagram via its Ad Library and it’s popular among marketers. Meta provides marketers with more options than Google’s tool to analyze their competitors’ ads - ads can be filtered by country, impressions, platforms or keywords. You can also run a broader search for all ads that match your search criteria.

Facebook ads about social issues, elections or politics are also archived in the Ad Library for up to 7 years - longer than the May 31st 2018 cut-off data for marketers using Google’s Ad Center. There’s also a publicly accessible Ad Library Report which allows you to explore, filter and download data on ads on these topics - it includes spending totals by specific advertisers and by geographical location.

Meta’s Ad Library is a more in-depth research tool than the Ad Transparency Center, but using both will give you a solid base for understanding what your competitors are doing, and planning your next campaign. To compete, you need to cut through against your competitors, so we recommend making competitor ad scanning a weekly activity in tough markets.

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