Review: Competitive Intelligence Tools for Display Ads

by Ratko Vidakovic on February 7, 2012 · 10 comments

“I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.”
-David Ogilvy (1955)

Ogilvy understood the importance of good research. I think digital advertisers ought to take the same approach for online ad campaigns.

To do this manually is extremely tedious and inefficient. Larger trends and insights cannot be seen. But most importantly, it wastes far too much human time on something that can be done better by machines. With the right tools, research can be done in a fraction of the time.

Many of our advertisers ask us for information on what kinds of campaigns people are running, where they are running them, and what seems to be working (in terms of profitability) for direct response advertisers. Of course, we can only answer in generalities to avoid conflict of interest with our existing advertisers. However, we often recommend that they conduct some competitive intelligence in order to gather this data from public sources.

I’ve been following many research tools for over a year now, and have narrowed down the top two service providers — MixRank and WhatRunsWhere. Even though they operate in a similar space, they provide somewhat complimentary services, and are both actively developed. Each have a unique research philosophy and appeal to different levels of media buyers or planners.

I’ve included two videos below where I walk through each interface to conduct some hypothetical research for the auto insurance niche. These videos should also shed some light on the competitive intelligence process and how it fits into the larger media planning process.

It’s easy to actually create campaigns. The hard part is always the planning prior to creating your campaigns. But it can be made easier.

During the campaign planning phase, there are two fundamental things that need to be decided:

  • What banners to use
  • What websites to place them on

This is where intelligence tools enter the process. Good competitive intelligence tools are able to provide the following inspiration for media planners:

  • Where other advertisers are placing their ads
  • What banners other advertisers are using
  • What landing pages other advertisers are using
  • How long other advertisers have been running specific banners
  • How long other advertisers have been running on specific placements
  • and so on…

Given this data, an advertiser can figure out where other advertisers seem to be running the longest, and either mimic those placements, procure similar placements, or avoid placements adjacent to undesirable advertisers (e.g., I might not want my BMW ads to be on pages where Audi, for example, is placing their ads – or maybe I do.)

From a creative angle, seeing the duration of specific banners can provide you with an idea of how well it’s performing, along with an idea of what the audience has been exposed to – in order to avoid banner blindness. It can also serve as a “creative baseline” for designing more innovative creatives to challenge what’s currently out there.

Now let’s begin, alphabetically, with MixRank…

(best viewed in full-screen HD mode)


  • Traffic Sources — Google/Doubleclick
  • Country Support — United States
  • Historical Data — 330+ days
  • Data Points — Advertiser profiles (text ad count, banner ad count, first seen, last seen, days seen, top ads with publisher count and frequency, ad reach, etc.), Publisher profiles (top ads, Compete uniques, Quantcast rank), Creative profiles (text, image, flash, first seen, last seen, days seen, ad position, publisher list, destination URL list) and more.
  • User Experience — Very intuitive and easy to use. Quick insights.
  • Price — $67 /month (free trial account available) [Update: Coupon link for 1 month free.]
  • Website —

Actionable data in very few clicks. Data is limited to the Google/Doubleclick display network within the United States. Due to focusing on a single network, they are able to deliver rich tailored data. It may actually be to their advantage that they focus, simply because they have less fragmentation to deal with and organize. The MixRank team employs machine learning to discover, for example, the best performing ads or placements for any given advertiser. The same applies to the top advertisers/ads for any given website placement. Another interesting feature worth mentioning is their Top 10000 Advertisers List, which is sorted by number of ads found in the wild.

Q & A

One of the founders of MixRank is Ilya Lichtenstein – an expert online marketer and technologist. I had a chance to ask Ilya a few questions about his platform:

Q: Who is the target audience for your product?

A: Our 4,500 users range from individual affiliates to larger lead gen companies to big national advertisers. In general, our product is most useful for performance advertisers who are actively optimizing for conversions or specific metrics rather than brand advertisers that might only be looking for impressions.

Q: How long has your platform been collecting data?

A: We’ve been collecting data since March 2011 from about 100,000 publishers.

Q: What makes your tool unique? What sets your product apart?

A: We’ve built technology for our enterprise clients that goes beyond simply displaying all of the data and uses machine learning algorithms to automatically identify the highest performing ads and traffic sources. Some of the data points we use in this process are available in our self-serve interface so that advertisers can make their own decisions about which ads and traffic sources are the best. For example, our users can look at average position of an AdSense text ad and monitor trends in its changes over time to find the most relevant and high CTR ad copy.

Q: Are there any future plans for 2012 that you want to share?

A: We’ll be focusing on making our data even more actionable and valuable, and making it easier for advertisers to turn our insights into campaigns and conversions.


Now let’s take a look at WhatRunsWhere…

(best viewed in full-screen HD mode)


  • Traffic Sources — Google/Doubleclick, 247 Media, Pulsepoint, ValueClick, Tribal Fusion, Blue Lithium, BuySellAds, Rubicon, AdBrite, Technorati, Burst,, Interclick, Zedo, Xtend Media, Undertone Ads, Specific Media, Harren Media
  • Country Support — United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Spain
  • Historical Data — 760+ days
  • Data Points — Domain profiles (traffic sources by %, top placements by %, top placements by duration, ad server occurrences, etc.), Placement profiles (top advertisers, top banner ads, top text/hybrid ads, etc.), Creatives (text, image, and flash), and more.
  • User Experience — Advanced interface. Overwhelming amount of data available.
  • Price — $229 /month (7-day trial available for $1) [Update: Coupon link for 2 weeks free.]
  • Website —

Tremendous amount of data with instant insights. Dozens of ad networks. Support for five countries. Almost three years worth of data collection. It’s clear that WhatRunsWhere was designed with the hardcore researcher in mind. Somewhat advanced interface for a novice. With the vast amount of data provided, there are no lack of insights, but the interface could use some improvement in terms of organization. Nonetheless, still extremely useful for almost any level of advertiser. There is also a handy “Track Domains” feature that allows you to track a number of specific landing page URLs, in case you have an interest in certain campaigns or advertisers.

Q & A

One of the founders of WhatRunsWhere is Max Teitelbaum – an entrepreneur and veteran online marketer. I had a chance to ask Max the same questions about his platform:

Q: Who is the target audience for your product?

A: Our target audience is any person that buys online media anywhere! Since we cover the web, anyone buying text or banner ads online should definitely check us out.

Q: How long has your platform been collecting data?

A: We’ve been around and collecting data for almost 2.5 years in the USA and every other country ranges from a year to a few months depending on when they were added.

Q: What makes your tool unique? What sets your product apart?

A: My favorite feature is our quick advertiser search, it allows you to find any domain and how they’re advertising (where and what ads) in literally seconds. Combine this with advertiser tracking to find when new ads are launched for an advertiser, and it makes looking at your competition a breeze. Keyword search is also useful as it allows you to do research into verticals when you may not know a ton about the players and need a place to start.

Q: Are there any future plans for 2012 that you want to share?

A: For 2012, we’re adding in some cool demographic-related features, more countries (a lot more) and more filtering and sorting options. In addition, we’ll be increasing the amount of data we collect daily and striving to help our users advertise better every day.

Final Thoughts

There is a new breed of competitive intelligence tools available for media buyers of online display advertising. If you want the maximum amount of data for your research, or you require more than just US data, and if budget is not an issue, I would recommend WhatRunsWhere. If you’re a startup, or focus solely on Google Adwords (US only), or if you’re newer to media buying, MixRank might be a better choice.

Competitive intelligence tools are excellent leverage for media buyers that are in the planning stages of their campaigns. With these new tools, media buyers can figure out where other companies are buying ad space, what creatives are being used, what landing pages are being used, the durations of their campaigns, and much more. This data can provide tremendous insight to the savvy media buyer.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Manu February 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Great blog post, may I ask you why you didn’t consider AdBeat into the mix?


Dr. SiteScout February 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

They were definitely considered. Unfortunately, I never heard back from them, so I couldn’t perform an in-depth review.


Mike Colella February 8, 2012 at 5:04 am

Hello, I’m the founder of Adbeat. I apologize if somehow I missed it, but I never received an email from anyone at SiteScout requesting info or a trial account. We do things differently than either of the tools listed here, and I’d be happy to talk with you about Adbeat anytime. You can reach me at the email entered for this post or through the support link on


Dr. SiteScout February 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Thanks Mike. I’ll follow up by email.


equte February 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm

What Runs Where ftw.


Gregory February 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thanks for the interesting blog post.
I am a mobile direct response marketer.
What about mobile display ads (eg 300 x 50, 320×48) on mobile web sites? Are these also considered by the mentioned competitive tools or are they just covering the traditional web?


Dr. SiteScout February 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Good question. From what I’ve seen, they appear to only cover standard web sizes. Maybe they can chime in and elaborate.


Wendy March 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hi, I’m the Marketing Manager for WRW! We certainly cover 300×50 ads and about half a dozen other sizes.


Vish February 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Nice post on WRW (which is untapped by many people yet). If you could recommend me something like this for Mobile display ads will be great!


Franco November 13, 2012 at 9:46 am

@Dr. SiteScout, great blog. thank you for sharing

@Mike, thank you for posting. I’d have never discovered your site otherwise. I’ve became a customer immediately.


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