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Monitoring Your Affiliates and Competitors

What are THEY up to? It is human nature to be somewhat obsessed about "the Joneses" activities. Indeed, folks can go overboard worrying about what other companies are doing, when they would be better served focusing on improving their own businesses. That said, some degree of attention is certainly warranted. Comparing prices, selection, shopping experience and promotions of your competitors to your own is crucial. Protecting your trademarks is also important, particularly now that Google isn't helping in this arena. Identifying theft by your affiliates is also valuable. RKG built a system for monitoring our clients' marks long ago. It isn't graphically beautiful, just spits out a spreadsheet with the ad text, the landing page and the domain name of the people running ads on whatever phrases we want. Some particularly devious affiliate partners ("partners" in the sense that tape worms are your partners) not only restrict their brand squatting to off hours, and geo-target away from our client's headquarters, they actually geo-target around us as well. We'll probably build a fix for that in the near future. The Search Monitor has built a remarkably slick tool to do all this and more with the benefit of a fine graphic interface. In addition to trademark monitoring it allows users to monitor other keywords and will pull all copy variations competitors are running. They also run their searches from all different parts of the country to prevent the geo-targeting dirt-bags from playing those games undetected. The pretty GUI isn't really our style, and with a few tweaks our system could have the additional functionality. However, we haven't put tons of love into this because in the great scheme of things we do question the ultimate value of this stuff. We know that watching this kind of thing can be a huge distraction from our core activities, and our analysts have plenty of valuable work to do on their clients' PPC campaigns. Ultimately, neither The Search Monitor, nor RKG will actually fire off the threatening legal letters, or figure out the sales volume associated with affiliate theft and short pay the affiliate invoice accordingly. If they figure out how to do that their service will pay for itself in two days! The affiliate monitoring function has tangible value. I have a harder time understanding the value of monitoring competitor's ad copy. It strikes me as a near perfect example of staring at non-actionable data. I'd love to hear what others think about this. At $99 per month for the first 50 terms monitored, it isn't very expensive. Does it/Would it add value? Does that ROI calculation include the opportunity cost associated with the time spent looking at the reports?
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