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How to Achieve Paid Search Creative Excellence

Developing the right ad copy creative is pivotal to success in the world of paid search. Your ad copy is the first touch point with your customer – the initial opportunity to deliver value in response to a user’s search query. And, although usually only consisting of a text ad, the quality of this creative ultimately determines whether a user clicks on your search ad or someone else’s. Testing a spectrum of ad copy messaging variations is critical to accurately identifying the right message for each individual. In addition to finding the ‘best’ message for each brand, keyword, device, and audience, there are also some broader best practices that can help you achieve “creative excellence” through process and general rules.

What is Creative Excellence?

Overall, there are three fundamental ways to improve the performance of your existing paid search activity. When advertisers follow these three golden rules of creative excellence, their paid search campaign results consistently improve. This means that, outside of improvements to the actual messaging, strategic changes to the set up and processes can also enhance performance.

1. Optimize Ad Rotation

What: Setting your campaigns up with the right ad rotation setting allows the engine to test different ads and optimize toward an end goal. By choosing the setting Optimize to Clicks or Optimize to Conversions, you are instructing Google to use powerful algorithms to serve the right ad to the right user at the right time.

Why: This is important because manually calculating the “best” ad copy based on past performance data does not take into account several factors that the engine can analyze. In fact, Google is able to evaluate many contextual signals – including time of day, location, device, etc. – in each individual auction, which in turn drives real-time performance based on every search.

How: It’s simple. In each campaign’s Settings, look in Advanced Settings for “Ad delivery: Ad rotation, frequency capping.” Select either Optimize To Clicks or Optimize To Conversions. (Make sure you have conversions set up in Adwords or Google Analytics for the latter option).

Impact: It’s become harder than ever to analyze traditional A/B ad copy testing due to the existence of many different Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and ad formats. When you set up activity for the engine to evaluate and serve, you take into account more than just the messaging. Which ad is the “best” will differ greatly from person to person based on different demographics, search locations, devices, and even different times of day. Rather than trying to analyze results at a macro level, optimizing to ad rotation is a way to use machine learning at a micro level to automate optimization and improve performance.

Even for CPG brands and advertisers who may not have clearly defined conversion goals set up, this setting can help improve engagement by optimizing toward goals like Google Analytics metrics (e.g. time on site, pages viewed), all of which drive more valuable traffic.

Results: For a leading global CPG brand, implementing this small change across their Google paid search campaigns had a huge and very positive affect. We helped this advertiser change this setting and saw substantially improved CTR (Click-through Rate) on their search ads up 23% as compared to before the change. Costs were also streamlined, with the cost per click (CPC), a key efficiency indicator, improved 25%. With one simple change, the brand earned higher engagement rates at a lower cost. 

2. Multiple Ads Per Ad Group

What: It’s no surprise that increasing the number of ads in the mix can help boost performance. While it’s generally recommended that advertisers try out three ads with different messaging, it may now be more beneficial to add even more variations. Creating different ad copy variations p per group and allowing the engine to choose which ad should appear using the Optimize to Clicks/Conversions setting mentioned above, gives you more chances to optimize.

Why: Setting up ad variations with a variety of different messages, calls to action, sizes, etc. gives the search engine more opportunities to successfully serve the right ad to the right user. For example, a shorter ad copy variation may work best on mobile devices, while another ad copy variation may perform better at a particular time of day. By providing several options for the machine learning algorithm to choose from, you’re able to maximize improvements to CTR/conversion and engagement.

How: Create 3 to 7 ad copy variations per ad group, and add to the account.

Impact: Traditionally, iProspect has always recommended at least three ad copy variations per group as a best practice. Now, however, having 5 to 7 messaging options gives the machine even more ads to serve and learn from. Again, contextual signals and other factors will likely impact the ad performance. With so many variables at play influencing the user’s decision to click on an ad, a greater number of variations allows the search engine to deliver the optimal ad for that particular user in that particular moment.

Analyzing the ad copy performance effectively may be tricky, but a clear winner or loser will often emerge over time. From that point, continuously adding new variations to replace poor performing and low serving ads will help you find the best messaging mix for each group.  

Results: We helped a similar CPG brand add more ad copy messaging variations to the mix with the goal of giving Google’s machine learning algorithm a better chance to determine the right ad copy to serve for each search. After an initial testing period, several valuable ad copy insights were drawn from the test. Interestingly, CPCs did not see a notable change in costs, but there was a brilliant improvement across both brand and non-brand Paid Search campaigns. Engagement rates (CTR) improved 6.4% for brand search ads, and a more impressive 20.1% for non-brand campaigns. Clearly, giving Google more creative options – particularly across broader or more upper funnel keywords – helps ensure that the right ad is served for each user.

3. Multiple Ad Extensions

What: Adding more ad extensions will also help boost performance. Adding at least three different types is key to success: sitelinks, callouts, structured snippets, location extensions, and others should be set up whenever possible. Generally, the more ad extensions added, the better.

Why: Ad extensions help maximize SERP real estate, improve relevancy and convenience for each user, and provide more information on products and services. They are also known to positively impact ad rank and may therefore help lower costs and improve efficiencies.

How: Most ad extensions can be found in the “Ad Extensions” section of each account. Apply them at the account, campaign, or ad group level depending on the level of granularity needed. Some ad extensions are simply not the right fit for some brands. For example, app extensions cannot be added if the brand does not have an app. Similarly, location extensions are generally not a good fit for B2B companies. Just make sure you have considered all options from the below list:

  • Sitelinks

  • Visual Sitelinks

  • Callout Extensions

  • Structure Snippets

  • App Extensions

  • Location Extensions

  • Affiliate Location Extensions

  • Review Extensions

  • Price Extensions

  • Promotion Extensions

  • Message Extensions

Impact: Use as many ad extensions as possible. Providing more information through ad extensions will likely improve engagement for a number of reasons. It is also another way to give the search engine a greater number options to pull from, which will help it more accurately determine the optimal ad format and user experience for each search.

Perhaps, for example, showing the store location after the store is closed drives poor engagement, so Google will no longer show the location extensions after hours. Similarly, if a sitelink with messaging that you thought would perform best actually performs poorly, Google will limit that ad’s impressions and serve another sitelink in its place. All of these incremental adjustments based on a wide range of ad extension options help improve performance over time.        

Results: By auditing ad extensions for another familiar CPG brand, we were able to see show how extensions drive positive results. After isolating and implementing additional ad extensions, CPCs dropped a considerable 36%. In particular, extended sitelinks had a notable affect – not only streamlining efficiencies, but also enhancing engagement (CTR improved 25% after the extended sitelinks were implemented). Often now available at the account level, adding more details in the form of ad extensions is a quick but effective way of driving cost-effective, qualified traffic to site.

Overall, while determining the exact right text messaging for a paid search ad will always be an art, there are many simple steps you can take to improve performance while you’re working toward that ultimate goal of perfect copy. Providing a greater number of ad variations, implementing more ad extensions, and setting campaigns up to optimize ad copy toward an end goal will set up the search engines’ powerful machine learning to mathematically determine the most effective paid search listing based on the different factors of each search.

With so many elements at play, even the most savvy paid search specialist will never be able to fully analyze and understand why some ads perform better than others. These three strategies will help you automate creative excellence, embrace enhanced machine learning functions, and achieve the best performance possible.