This is the second in a series of interviews with PPC pros that aims to get in-depth information on how people managing PPC campaigns every day approach ad writing and testing. If you’re interested in Michael’s interview you’ll also want to check out the excellent interview series over on the Click Equations blog promoting their new text ad zoom feature
Michael Wiegand is a PPC Specialist & Google Analytics Consultant at Portent Interactive, an internet marketing company located in Seattle, WA. When Michael’s not helping clients build successful paid search campaigns, he writes for the Portent blog.
The subject of statistical significance in ad testing is a really interesting one for me because I perceive PPC ad copywriting to be a great example of traditional marketing meeting a more Web and data centric means of reaching customers. In other words: its ad copy, its ad creative, but tests and refinements tend to be data driven.
So my question is this: if I give you two PPC account managers who are going to focus on nothing but ad text: one is very creative and great at creating copy that resonates with searchers, but very weak on data analysis. The other is a data wonk and religious tester but not much of a copywriter. If we leave them both to their own devices and come back in 12 months, whose ad text would you bet on to be more effective?
The easy answer is to say the former – the creative type.
But the reality is, neither.
Effective ad testing is a balancing act between creative and analytical disciplines.
The most creative writer in the world will fail without knowing which elements of the ad are hindering their performance. Likewise, the religious tester won’t see any meaningful change in data without some writing chops.
What advice would you have for the first persona to help them create a process for optimization that would be manageable for them given their weakness in data analysis?
I’d say optimize one element of the ad at a time looking for big performance differences.
For example: Test 2 identical ads with 1 major difference: wildly different headlines for example.
When a headline emerges as a clear winner – twice the CTR, as a rule of thumb – usethat winning headline as the cornerstone for next test: identical headlines, but 3 different calls-to-action.
What advice would you have for the second persona given that they aren’t a strong copywriter (besides signing up for Boost and letting us do the writing for them)?
Simple: Take a Creative Writing class.
Most of what I know about writing good ads, I learned from a single college class I took a decade ago.
With a good baseline of creativity, analytical folks become infinitely better ad testers.
All right now I think it would be really helpful for our audience to learn more about your process for optimizing ads for multiple clients. First off: how often are you jumping into the account and tweaking ad text, setting up new ad tests, etc. (this could either be on a per-client basis or generally “I write every day, week, etc.”)?
In an agency environment, we have different clients with different needs.
Some clients offer the same products year-round and lengthier ad tests can be run. For these clients, setting up a new ad test once a month and tweaking that test once a week will suffice.
Other clients offer a new set of products or promotions every month and the window of time for optimizing ad tests becomes very small. For these clients, setting up a new ad test every week and tweaking that test every day or every other day becomes critical.
When you do dig in and start to optimize ads, how do you decide where to go first? Is it a function of other diagnoses (you see that a group’s CTR has dropped and start to drill down) or do you have a process for identifying which ads need help (do you look for ads that have high volume and low CTR?)
Most of the clients I work with are very ROI-driven,not pure traffic-generation or branding.
As such, I’ll generally look for a dip in conversions or revenue first.
Once I find the culprit ad group, I’ll assess whether it’s a quality problem (low Conv. Rate) or a quantity problem (low CTR).
If the ROI account-wide is well-off, I just sort all the ad groups in a given account by CTR (lowest to highest) and work my way down.
Once you decide where to work on optimizing ads, how do you decide what to test? Do you have a standard formula or is it entirely variable based on the Ad Group, keywords, landing page, etc.?
If I’m optimizing for CTR, I’ll usually start with major things like the headline and work my way down to more minor things like Display URL, etc.
If I’m pleased with the CTR and I’m optimizing for Conversion Rate, I’ll start with pointing identical ads at two disparate landing pages. If I plateau there, then I’ll look at landing page optimization.
In choosing ads to optimize and thinking about what to change, how do you decide to “qualify” more in an ad? Is there a statistical threshold? (By qualify I just mean re-write the ad to better weed out irrelevant traffic that may be clicking but not converting.) If you do make this decision, is it something you’re faced with frequently?
Usually when I get to granular changes and I’m still not seeing any lift in performance, I’ll step back to the keyword level of the ad group and look for outliers.
It may be that only one or two keywords are driving all the results in a given ad group.
In that case, I’ll scrap my ads and start over with a focus on writing for just the best performing keywords. It doesn’t happen too often, but I’m not too proud to scrap my past ideas – as amazing as they might’ve been – andgo back to square one. Heh!
Being agency-side you’re working on multiple campaigns: are you making use of ad text templates either within a campaign or cross-campaigns? If so, can you share your basic approach to creating an ad text template (we don’t need specific templates obviously but maybe just your approach to creating a template)? Also do you have any best practices around implementation (don’t use templates on your highest volume groups, use templates liberally as you launch a campaign but then go back and test, etc.)?
Part of the quality score world we live in is keeping your ads relevant to your ad text, and I find that’s hard to do with a template.
But I do find templates really useful for things like Branded campaigns, regardless of the client.
Specifically, presenting the Brand name in the headline as part of a call-to-action:
Then, directing them immediately to your hottest promotion or newest feature in the 1st line of ad text:
Shop Our 20% Off Sale in May!
Lastly, since you’ve already established strong calls-to-action in both the headline and 1st line of ad text, use the 2nd line to elaborate on the new promo or product:
Shop Our 20% Off Sale in May!
Sandals, Sneakers, Boots & More.
In the case of a Branded ad campaign, templates work so well because you’re almost always going to have high quality scores no matter what ad you write.
Also, people seeking you out by name and clicking on a PPC ad most likely aren’t new to your product. They probably don’t need to know who you are, but they do need to know what your freshest offer is.
How much of a priority is ad text optimization for you? If you could quantify it as a percentage of your optimization efforts roughly what do you think that would look like (5% of your time? 10%?) and how does that compare to activities like managing bids, testing different landing pages, etc.?
Assuming I have a good account structure and keyword base, my priorities are generally like this:
Bid management is vital for several reasons, but I lean very heavily on ad text optimization to affect change in my accounts. Adding long tail keywords is a little less important if you have a great account structure and are utilizing broad match with proper negative keywords. Testing landing pages in an agency environment is tricky. Unless you have complete control of the client’s website or CMS, there are more obstacles involved.
How does your process for ads on the Content Network (particularly display ads) differ from that of the search network, if at all?
Content Network ads cater to more attention-grabbing methods. It’s hard enough to get attention in a crowded search results page let alone when folks are out surfing the internet.
In that regard, using words like “Free” and using humorous calls-to-action go over very well for grabbing more clicks in a Content Network setting.
Also, I’ve found asking a question in your headline and answering it in your ad text is also a great approach to use on the Content Network.
Can you think of one ad text tweak that was just way more successful than you thought it would be?
Surprisingly, using an exclamation point at the end of a call-to-action instead of a period works wonders for me. I’ve seen an exclamation point improve CTRs by up to 50% compared to its more conservative period counterpart.
It doesn’t seem like something that revolutionary, but I’ve seen such broad success with it that I almost don’t even bother using a call-to-action with a period anymore.
Can you give us an ad text “secret” that you find works for you? Maybe it’s not an actual secret, but something that’s not a commonly discussed best-practice that you find consistently improves results?
My secret weapon is capitalizing the first letter in every word in my ads except for prepositions (of, and, with, for, etc.). While using lowercase in the context of a sentence is correct, it has never driven great CTRs for me.
Many thanks for Michael for the great PPC insight!