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PPC ads are never finished. They should constantly be tested and refined to increase performance with the ultimate goal of increasing click-through rate (CTR).

An eye-catching and well-optimised ad will attract greater click-through which in turn will lead to a lower cost-per-click. The entire account will benefit from the improvement in these key metrics, so why settle for results that are just OK when you can test your ad copy and achieve PPC greatness?

However, before you drill into the finer points of testing your ad copy, there are a few basics to understand that will ensure your tests are giving you reliable data:


Like a chemistry experiment, every test needs a hypothesis. Planning what you want to test lets you understand why you are testing it and what you hope to prove. There is no point testing if there isn’t a clear goal.

Try and get a range of tests planned in advance so that you can easily switch from one test to another. Ask yourself what features and benefits of your product or service you can include in the tests; for example you might want to test ‘free delivery’ against ‘next day delivery’ to gauge which one your customers value more.

Once you’ve established which of the above makes a better ad, you can move on to your next test, which could be the position of the winning delivery message – does it perform better on the first or second line of the ad?

What else to test

Once you’ve established your best performing sales messages, you can delve into the micro levels of ad testing.

Test punctuation – you’ll be surprised how people react to the most minute features of your ad copy. Even changing numbers for letters (e.g. ‘12 month warranty’ vs ‘twelve month warranty’) can have a substantial impact on your CTR.

Another feature I like to test is the call to action. ‘Buy now’ may be more or less popular than ‘shop now’, while different features are more appealing for different products – durability might be a key feature in mattress sales, but when you only have room for one selling point in your ads you might want to test this against an ad that pushes price or comfort. 

Keep changes small

Make subtle changes to each ad so you can be sure that the differences in performance are down to the one element you changed. Run the change against a control ad for a period of time and then pick the winner.

Again, when you reach this stage you’re not finished. Make another change and test again using the successful ad from the previous test as the control.

Pro tip: It’s vital to check your rotation settings. Set to ‘indefinitely’, as there is no point running a test if you’ve asked Google to prioritise the best performing ad! 

Running multiple ads alongside each other

I always run a test with two adverts, one control and one with the changes. The control should be the 'winner' of the previous test and by running just two ads you guarantee a clear result.

Having more than two ads running concurrently will always make decision making more difficult as you are invariably testing multiple elements.

When is the test over?

This is dependent on the traffic your ads see. You must ensure that you allow the ads to run for a feasible amount of time to ensure you have sufficient data to enable you to draw conclusions.

An account with high traffic can provide conclusive data within a week, but to be safe I suggest a minimum of two weeks to eliminate differences in performance based on day of the week. A less active account may take months to give you the answers you’re looking for.

Remember, remember:

Don’t forget what you’re testing, otherwise all of that hard work invested in the planning and prep will be wasted! Finding a way to log your tests is useful, even if it’s just in the form of a simple spreadsheet.

If you’re struggling for test ideas, I suggest reading PPC Hero’s guide to the top 20 ad copy tests for improved PPC performance.


Published 23 January, 2014 by Matt Fielding

Matt Fielding is SEO manager at Custard Online Marketing and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Google+ or Twitter.

1 more post from this author

Comments (3)

Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank, Digital Marketing Manager at Koozai

Nice post. I find looking at the CTR data on Meta descriptions can help you split test for PPC.

over 2 years ago


Matt Fielding, SEO Manager at Custard

Hi Oliver, thanks for your comment. I completely agree - in fact performing this analysis the other way round can give SEOs great insights into which elements of their value proposition to use in meta descriptions based on the best performing ad text from A/B tests performed in AdWords.

I blogged about how PPC data can influence SEO here, perhaps you'll find it useful: http://www.mattfieldingseo.co.uk/how-to-integrate-seo-ppc/

over 2 years ago

Edwin Hayward

Edwin Hayward, Director at Memorable Domains Ltd

Not enough advice about PPC advertising optimisation takes into account the domain name, perhaps because it's taken for granted that it's immutable.

We did a test a couple of years back that showed that an exact match domain could produce significantly more clicks for searches that related to the keywords within the domain than alternatives that did not match the search keywords.

The background to the test: Adwords ad campaign targeting "electric bikes", using 3 different URLs. Ads featuring a generic domain name with an exact match to the product (ElectricBicycles.co.uk) performed significantly better than identical ads featuring an alternative generic (YourBikes.co.uk) or non-generic (InAHurry.co.uk) domain.

The CTR of ads using the ElectricBicycles.co.uk domain name was 15% and 42% higher than the two alternatives. The ElectricBicycles.co.uk ads produced 45% more clicks than the YourBikes.co.uk ads and 105% more clicks than the InAHurry.co.uk ads.

For PPC marketers with larger budgets and/or in competitive markets where the CPC is very high, this additional boost could warrant the costs incurred in purchasing an appropriate exact match domain name in the aftermarket.

Remember, just like you can test out different sales landers for a PPC campaign, nobody says that you have to put those sales landers on the same website as your "regular" site. You can take a different domain name and build a simplified site just for PPC, one designed to "warm up" the prospect, capture an email address, prompt for first contact, or whatever action you would like in order to begin the sales process.

Here's the report we prepared on the outcome of our test.

Similarly, a car loans company in Australia rebranded from "Beep.com.au" to "CarLoans.com.au" and saw an instant benefit in their PPC campaigns.

The owner of the company said: “We noticed the impact the very next day. The moment we launched CarLoans, we had a 35% drop in our AdWord spend the next day,” he says.

“A lot of our inquiries are driven through AdWords, but we’re now getting the same number of leads for much less. Our click-through rate went up and our conversion rate alone has increased by 30%.”

You can read the full story of CarLoans.com.au here http://www.smartcompany.com.au/technology/online/34431-from-beep-to-carloans-how-a-domain-name-change-resulted-in-a-40-million-turnover-boost.html

Finally, a smaller study carried out in 2009 comparing the use of a generic domain (DivorceLawyer.com) and a branded alternative (VladimirLaw.com) showed that "We found that ads featuring the generic domain name, DivorceLawyer.com performed significantly better than identical ads featuring the firm’s existing domain name VladimirLaw.com. The DivorceLawyer.com domain name increased click-through-rate (CTR) by 298% over the VladimirLaw.com domain name and reduced cost-per-click (CPC) by 21.3%. DivorceLawyer.com also increased Average Position and Average Quality Score."

This study is available for download here http://www.rootorange.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Case-Study-How-Generic-Domain-Names-Impact-a-SEM-Campaign.pdf

Perhaps this optimisation is not more widely discussed because the "gatekeepers" of the budget for most large companies are the ad/marketing agencies, and money spent on acquiring exact match domains for campaign optimisation is money not available for the campaigns themselves. Combine that with a lack of experience of the phenomenon (unless the marketer has in-house access to relevant exact match domains they're not going to have been able to test this before) and it's an extremely under-reported, yet potentially surprisingly effective, optimisation.

over 2 years ago

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