Do some research using the search engines for obvious keywords that you intend to bid on. Search for the merchant's name, their brand names, domain names and product category.
It's ok if there's competition in the product category. Some competition is good. It means that someone has figured out how to monetize it.
If there is competition for the exact same offer, it just means that you'll need a better quality metric, or higher bid, to bump the contenders out of the top ad slots. Just make sure the context of your ad and landing page match, then bid high for a day or two, scaling back after you get a top spot.
Sometimes the competition is the merchant doing paid ads on their own offer. They are being unfair, competing with their own affiliates. If you're ok with that, you can just outbid them and hide your activity from them, which we'll talk about in the Campaign Setup section.
No competition could be one of several things. It could mean that no one has figured out how to convert that traffic into sales. You could be first bidder on the offer. It could be a brand new product. Or your IP address isn't showing the ads. Let's look at each possibility.
The product category could be a dud. Things like recipes are a good example. People want to search, get it and get off. They might save the recipe to their computer, but often just leave the recipe open on their phone or tablet while cooking. Maybe if you're lucky they'll bookmark the page, but more often than not, they just search again next time they need a recipe.
You could be the first to bid. For example, in the affiliate network I searched for new offers. I found one for farm sinks and there were no ads. The search volume was there, so I ran ads and started selling farm sinks, lots of sinks. Sinks of every size, shape and material. No one else thought to even try.
It could be a brand new product. For example, there was an offer in a CPA network for a UK credit card. There was zero competition and zero in search volume. That combo often means a brand new product. I bid fast and high to snag top spot in search results. They started a nationwide advertising campaign and I benefitted from that rocket fuel for months.
It could be that your IP address isn't showing the ads. For example, when I search Bing or Google, it knows from my IP address that I'm in Canada. Ads running offers in the USA or UK are blocked and won't display in this geographical area.
To get around this limitation, you must search for competition using a VPN service. Check the offer page on the affiliate network, it will state where the offer can run. Use the VPN service to select an IP address within the allowed area.
With financial offers like personal loans, the offer might run in the USA, but not certain states like North Dakota or Wisconsin. So make sure that the IP address you choose from the VPN service is within the USA, but not in one of the disallowed states, otherwise the competitor's ads won't show up.
Check the Hops
Use the free Redirect Detective website to discover the all the hops between any ad and the final destination. Paste each hop into your browser and look for tracking servers. These are often the other affiliates you'll be competing against.
Make note of Tracking 202 links, affiliate network identifiers, unique ID's, etc. If you find them, do a search on them and they will often reveal valuable intel about the competition, like all the campaigns currently running with that unique affiliate ID number.
Look for Dayparting
Finally keep in mind that it's a world wide web. Affiliates often use a feature call dayparting to display their ads at certain times of day. For example, they might run ads from 6-9 am, pause, then run again from 6-11 pm. While this helps target shoppers instead of people bored at work, it can also explain why you don't see their ads at certain times of day.
Non stop advertising ideas and rock solid business advice, that's why Michael W. Campbell is my most trusted advisor.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.