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Paid Search Ad Copy: Five Things Newbies Don't Know

  |  March 26, 2010   |  Comments

Experienced search marketers even forget to test ads properly. Consider these factors.

Maybe it's the unassuming nature of short text ads or the endless potential for distraction in an industry long on chatter. But even seasoned marketers sometimes forget to test ads properly. Think about it: when was the last time you heard someone tweet: "Just discovered in ad copy test - '30 Day Free Trial' has 8% higher conversion rate than 'Download Now!'"? Exotic long-tail dreams and Quality Score myths are always sexier than genuine response testing, to say nothing of swapping stories about the latest TED conference or scaling Machu Picchu.

I sometimes use a scorecard to assess 10 key drivers in paid search accounts. Your own mental checklist might include five or 20. Nearly everyone agrees that ad testing is in the top three.

What's interesting: why testing ad copy is important. Most people think they know, but it's even more exciting than it seems.

Multiple Ads Can be Rotated Against a Group of Keywords

Google AdWords and its main rivals allow you to rotate multiple ads against a group of keywords. This rotation, which is done evenly, generates a statistically valid, rapid feedback loop that helps you gauge response on key metrics such as CTR (define) and conversion rate. Yes, you already know that. Much to my surprise, though, I've gotten into my ad testing routine in seminars and panels, only to realize that 20 percent of the attendees - typically those sporting a "know it already, you can't teach me anything" attitude, had no idea this rotation is a feature at all!

CTR Isn't the Only Response Metric Worth Measuring

It's an approximate tie between CTR and CPA (define). And as I mentioned in this column, letting the "Optimize" setting select the ad with the highest Quality Score (which maps closely to CTR) takes testing out of your hands. Why go through the trouble to create multiple ads unless you give them time to breathe and speak to you? That being said, CTR is vital to the overall health of your account from a Quality Score standpoint, so don't sell it short.

Tests Must Run Longer Than You Think

Another hallmark of a good paid search campaign - granularity - means that the numbers aren't rolled up in nice aggregate piles. An ad group that generates only 50 sales conversions in a month across four ads might show conversions of 15 for one ad, 13 each for two other ads, and nine for the fourth one. At this point, it might be safe to drop the worst performing ad. But have we gained much understanding of which of the remaining three ads is the best, let alone which elements of the ads are influential response drivers, or whether there might be undiscovered response triggers lurking in the great unknown? No. To get a sense of the math of statistical significance, try this handy tool on Vertster. It's solely geared to CTR, but it's helpful nonetheless. Statistics 101 math on statistical confidence levels won't help you break through to better ads but it can remind you to let well-designed tests run long enough.

Quality Scores Drive Accounts

Google loves relevance and loves CTR. There are certainly principles like relevance to users and Google's profitability involved, but these are machine algorithms at the end of the day. The way to make a machine happy is to feed it what it's looking for. To feed higher CTRs to the machine, up the CTR on your high-impression keywords.

To be clear: Quality Scores are expressed by keyword and govern your account's ad position, ad delivery, and CPCs (define) at the keyword level. But the overall system may be holistic in that weak CTR on your biggest volume keywords can spill over and lead to lower Quality Scores for the campaign or entire account wide. Minor episodes of poor CTR on small volume keywords don't matter as much, because the calculations should be proportional to total impression volume. Google's most recent explanation of Quality Score buries some details in the opaque "other relevancy factors," but does specifically refer to "the historical CTR of the keyword and the matched ad on Google." From all of this, let's wildly assume that your highest-impression keywords are therefore very important, but in conjunction with high-CTR ads tied to those keywords. At the end of the day, the CTR burden falls on the ads (unless you're just planning to delete all of your higher-volume keywords to focus only on the pristine super-targeted ones like [buy green flannel pajamas]). So we must focus some of our ad response testing CTR, keeping the return on investment constant wherever possible. Your competitors are working at it too, so what looks like a solid CTR to you isn't necessarily high in relative terms. Keep at it.

If You Succeed, Your Profitable Volume Increases - Twice

More clicks don't just line Google's pockets; they can do great things for your profits as well. A rewarding dynamic kicks in if you discover a higher-CTR ad variation; it's particularly exciting if it happens in a mature account. First, let's say you find a winning ad with a 30 percent higher CTR. That gives you 30 percent more clicks per month in that ad group. Holding conversion rates constant (no easy feat), that's 30 percent more conversions. On top of that, your keyword Quality Scores now drift up over time due to Google's love of CTR. Your ads might rise from an average ad position of, say, 2.0, to around 1.5. That could lead to an additional 30 percent bump in click volume. All told, that constitutes a 69 percent increase in clicks and conversions on a core keyword.

Those unassuming ads do more heavy lifting in your paid search account than you may have realized. Keep working at unlocking their secrets.

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Andrew Goodman

Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.

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