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Don't Use 'Holiday' in Retail PPC Ad Copy (& Other Surprising Optimization Tips)

  |  October 17, 2013   |  Comments

Research from the Bing Ads team uncovers critical PPC ad optimization insights for retailers this holiday season.

In the past, our team at Bing Ads has applied big data insight to ad copy strategy in the travel and financial services verticals. Today we're talking about retail.

One of the most interesting things about studying copy for search ads in retail is that the scope of words used in this vertical spans the dictionary. In financial services, for example, you're pretty much limited to financial terms like credit, mortgage, bank, and so forth. With retail, the sky's the limit. Pink pony, sledgehammer and hair conditioner are all great words for a retail ad - though it's doubtful you'd be using them in the same ad.


Bing Ads heatmaps, created in Excel, will show you top word combos - and losing word combos.

This doesn't mean there aren't some words that work better than others--there certainly are. The Bing Ads research team has put together some eye-opening stats about ad copy choice in search ads for retail, broken down by device.

Two Critical Ad Copy Insights for Retailers 

  1. What works well for one category may perform poorly for another. This might seem obvious, but it's not; "Cyber Monday" in an ad title or description indexes high for every device in Consumer Electronics, but isn't a strong pull in any other category, including Apparel and Accessories or Toys and Hobbies.
  2. Optimizing your search ads for device is critical because the user's intent changes depending on what device they're using. For example, the word combo of "size" in the title and "brand" in the description ranks high in Apparel and Accessories for PC, but is nowhere on mobile or tablet. Perhaps this is because people searching for a specific size are actually taking measurements at home.

Today's Deep Dive Into Retail

The ad copy word choice performance visualized in heatmaps for the top four retail categories by ad spend: Apparel and Accessories, Consumer Electronics, Department Stores and Toys and Hobbies. The heatmap shows you what works--and what doesn't.

Also posted are top word combos for all seven categories on Slideshare; be sure to investigate that (see embedded below) and share it with your colleagues. It breaks word combinations down by device there, so you can understand how user intent should affect ad copy.


The study was conducted in November, so it makes sense that holiday-type words were part of the sample. But notice that ad quality is less compelling on PCs when phrases including "holiday" are used in the title and description.

On mobile, "% off" in the title and "now" indexes highly, possibly indicating the audience is standing in the store, ready to buy, and is looking for coupons on their phone.


"Cyber Monday", in ad title or description, indexes highly on every device. Using that phrase at the appropriate time is essential--run it close to the actual date.

"In-store pickup" in your description for PC and tablet gets high response, but not for mobile, reflecting the distinctive difference in user intent specific to device.


For the Department Stores category, and with ads running on PCs, "service," "quality," and "free shipping" indexed lower in quality in the ad title, but added value if used in the ad description.

On mobile, the phone number in the ad title offered the greatest clickability, which makes sense intuitively.


Ads running on PCs with the word "now" in the ad title indexed very poorly, but put that same word in the ad description and it drives CTR.

"Official site" in the mobile and tablet ad titles are extremely valuable when paired with brand names.

Get More Great Retail Ad Optimization Insights

We've put together a more comprehensive look at the retail ad copy word choice performance study, including break-down by device, because there's always more data and more insights to draw from it.


Breaking Down the Retail Study

Bing Ads studied 96,000 ads running on the Yahoo Bing Network for the month of November, 2012. These ads generated 254 million impressions. The study broke the retail vertical into seven categories such as Apparel and Accessories, Consumer Electronics and so forth. It also sliced the data according to device: PC, tablet and mobile.

Let us know what you think of the ad copy combos and how they might help your efforts. We'd love to know what your experience is in testing word combos in ads!

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John Gagnon

John Gagnon is a Bing Ads Evangelist (aka “search nerd”) at Microsoft. He has worked for both Bing Ads and Google AdWords, and is a frequent speaker at digital marketing conferences such as SES, SMX, and others. He has advised hundreds of clients ranging from Microsoft teams like Windows and Internet Explorer to small businesses like local garage door repair shops just getting started.

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