The Ultimate Guide to Ad Copy Variant Testing

Byron Tassoni-Resch, the Article Author - WeDiscover - Paid Search Marketing Agency London
Byron Tassoni-Resch
25 August 2021 - 15 min read
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The importance of Ad Copy cannot be understated.

A searcher doesn’t see your keywords, your audience options, your bidding strategies.

All they know is what they are looking for and the choices in front of them. These are: your ad, your competitor’s ads, Google’s own properties, and the organic results.

All of which are trying to get their attention.

Decisions are made in a fraction of a second.

Who stands out? What grabs their attention? What is the most relevant answer to their search?

Getting that piece of attention is done through your Ad Copy.

This is why Ad Copy is so important. And this is why Ad Variant testing should be a priority.

What is Ad Variant Testing?

Ad Copy is one of the easiest things to change in a Search account that can make a big difference to performance.

The ideal Campaign and Ad Group structure has changed from a highly segmented model to become more condensed in recent years.

What we are looking to do is test messaging themes across a wide range of Ad Groups in order to find the messages that best resonate with customers whilst still giving enough data for them to make informed decisions.

The number of variations you run depends on the volume of traffic you see through your account and the length of time you want to run the test for.

For example, in a small account where you want fast results, it may be better to run Ad Copy testing with two variants only. This is because the more data you have on each variant, the faster you will reach statistical significance and be able to conclude the test.

Generally, however, our preferred number of variants to test concurrently at any given time is three.

The great thing about Ad Variant testing is that it can be done across multiple Ad Formats (i.e. RSAs or ETAs).

And even though we are testing messaging themes, we still need to ensure that our ads are highly relevant to the query.

Running continuous tests

How often do you test Ad Copy in your account? If the answer is anything less than always, you’re missing out on performance improvement.

In a twist to other testing (for example: bidding), with Ad Variant testing we’re not looking for the best performing variant. In fact, we care about the worst-performing variant.

Which messaging theme is not resonating with users? When we’ve identified it, we remove it and replace it with another variant we believe will perform better.

This constant removal of the worst-performing variant improves the overall performance of an account over time.

Calling a test

When is the right time to conclude a test?

In our opinion, there are two conditions that have to be satisfied:

  1. It is statistically significant at a confidence level that makes sense (our preference is >95%).

  2. It has reached statistical power at a level we are satisfied with (we aim for >90%).

Because we run so many Ad Variant tests we’ve built an internal tool to help us report on them quicker (our test Evaluation Studio):

Which metrics should you use when calling a test?

We typically don’t look at a single metric, but at a range.

The three we most often use are:

  1. CTR (Click Through Rate)

  2. CVR (Conversion Rate)

  3. CPI (Conversions Per Impression)

But, you would also want to review your CPA, and ROAS.

Basing your decision on one metric could mislead you. What if you used CTR as your only metric and saw large decreases in Conversions because your ad was potentially misleading? Using a range of metrics protects you from potential performance risk.

The admin of testing

Adopting a continuous testing strategy when it comes to Ad Copy means that you will need to be organised.

Both from the point of view of understanding what has happened (test results of the past) and what is coming up (tests that haven’t occurred yet).

You’ll also need a way to ensure that the tests you do plan on running have the highest likelihood of improving the overall performance of the account, and therefore you will need a way to take subjectivity out of the equation.

We’ve built a series of Google Sheets to help with all of this.

Ad Variant Test Log

If you get into the rhythm of continuous Ad Variant testing, you will undoubtedly end up running a lot of tests.

In order to understand what has happened, you will need a report to keep track of past tests.

We have built a simple but effective Ad Variant Test Log to support you with this.

Keeping the test log up to date is not only a great tool to help guide future testing ideas, but also provides an interesting set of insights to share with anyone associated with the account.

It can be particularly helpful to provide an overview to new joiners to the team; enabling them to quickly review past tests that have occurred, their results, and your notes on the test/ its outcome, so they are able to understand why every new variant was selected.

Ad Variant Test Prioritisation Framework

When you start brainstorming ideas for your next tests you’ll probably end up with quite a large number of potential variants.

Some of them will be good, some of them potentially not so good. As we can’t test every idea at once, we need a format for ordering the tests and ensuring we prioritise new Ad Variants that have the best possible chance of improving the overall account.

So, how do we do that?

We have built an Ad Variant Test Prioritisation Framework.

With this framework, we aim to remove as much subjectivity as we can from the Ad Variant selection process.

Instead of guessing which variant should be run next, we can score each potential test based on a list of predefined questions and rank them accordingly.

Within the framework we ask some of the following questions:

  1. Is the test addressing an issue or using an insight we have uncovered during customer research?

  2. Does the Ad Copy use a format we know to drive higher engagement (i.e. does it use a CTA, does it include the search query in the Headline, is the average reading age low, does it include a number in the Headline etc?)

  3. Does the landing page message align with the content within the Ad Copy?

  4. Does the Ad Copy address something unique when compared to the competitors on the SERP (both paid and organic)?

Once you have entered your hypothesis, you will be able to either tick or not tick various questions about your Ad Variant.

A total score will be the output (note that some questions are double-weighted to highlight their importance).

You will then have a list of Ad Variant tests that you can rank based on their likelihood of positive impact.

In order to make test planning a little simpler, we have also included an Ad Copy Template, ETA Ad Copy Preview and RSA Ad Copy Preview to make the process more visual.

What should you test?

The range of testing options is potentially limitless, so getting started can be tricky. What is important is to get back to basics and understand your main goals:

  1. Be relevant to the searcher's query.

  2. Get their attention by being interesting (and different).

  3. Ensure that you can live up to your promises on your landing page.

If you want to write great Ad Copy, pick and choose combinations of the elements below to best fit your brand and testing strategy.

#1 Ensure the search query is in your Headline.

Regardless of the testing theme, the most important element of your Ad Copy should be that it is relevant to the search query.

So, even with Ad Variant testing, we need to allow for some Ad Copy flexibility to tailor each ad to the queries it is targeting.

#2 Understand your customer

The biggest Ad Copy testing breakthroughs typically happen when you truly understand the needs of your ideal customer and include this in your copy. You can gain this insight through:

  1. Listening to sales calls

  2. Speaking to the customer support team

  3. Reading customer reviews (the good and the bad)

  4. Collecting on-site surveys and reviewing them

  5. If possible, becoming an actual customer yourself and experiencing the user journey

  6. Experiencing the customer journeys for your competitors, understand the messaging they use in their Ad Copy and Landing Pages

Distil all of this information into key themes as they will be the solutions that your customers are looking for.

If you understand these and tailor your Ad Copy to address them, you will have a head start on your competitors. Because research is time-intensive and can be hard work, most of your competitors won’t invest the effort. Make sure that you do.

#3 Ensure you have a Call to Action in your Ad

Pretty standard, but worth mentioning. Make sure that the user knows what they should/can do next.

Here are some action words/phrases to inspire you:

#4 Include trust-based themes

Popular brands become more popular. The first study into social proof occurred in 1935, and since then it has been established that trust-based messages (social proof) are an incredibly powerful technique to influence potential customers.

Use Headlines or descriptions to state how popular your service is. For example:

  1. The volume of customers who have already signed up for your service/product

  2. Your customer reviews

  3. Scale of service

  4. How long the company has been operating

  5. ETC

#5 Repeating yourself can work

As users typically only glance at ads, simplifying your message and repeating your product/service can work in your favour to highlight your offering.

#6 Keep your reading age low

As above, remembering that the majority of searchers will only glance at your ad for a split second, keeping your Ad Copy simple and your reading age low will help them understand your service faster.

You can copy and paste your ad into the Hemingway Editor to understand your Readability grade.

#7 Headlines are read more than descriptions

Searchers typically focus initially on Headlines, then work their way down to descriptions. In your initial tests, prioritise testing Headlines first as they will have a larger impact on your performance.

This is especially true on mobile.

#8 If Location matters, include it

Localisation = relevancy.

If there is a local element to your service, think about including the location in your ad. This can be done easily by including ad customisers.

#9 Make it stand out, use interesting dynamic elements

What can you do that your competitors are not? Adding in custom dynamic elements could give you the edge on the SERP.

These can include:

  1. The current date (example below)

  2. The user's location

  3. Dynamic pricing

  4. The day the delivery will arrive

  5. The weather

  6. The list could go on….

#10 DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion)

Using DKIs can be a quick way to add relevancy to your ads. Use with caution (depending on the terms you are targeting), and ensure you have a relevant backup Headline.

#11 Include your price

This is all about understanding your audience. Are they price-sensitive? Can you beat your competitors on price? If yes, then test adding your price into the Headline to stand out on the SERP.

#12 Numbers help to cut through

Including numbers in your Headline/description helps to catch the attention of the searcher. This can be your price, a % saved, your customer numbers, the number of reviews you have etc.

#13 Add urgency (with countdown timers or ending dates)

Adding a deadline to a potential deal does get people to act.

Incorporating a countdown timer into your Ad Copy is a great way to both add a sense of urgency to your ad and also keep it highly dynamic, as the copy will update by the minute.

This is a great tactic to improve short term performance at special periods.

Applications for the use of countdown timers may include marking the beginning/end of a sale, or a limited time only offer.

This article on the WeDiscover blog details setting up ad countdown customisers.

#14 Solve a single problem

Understanding what the searcher is trying to solve is vital when it comes to creating the most relevant Ad Copy. Keep your Ad Copy themes based around solving their challenges and you can’t go too far wrong.

#15 Lead with solutions

Truly understanding what your customers are looking to solve is like a superpower. If you know that you can lead with exactly what they are looking for.

Leading with real solutions to their queries will help you stand out from all of the competitors who don’t understand those needs.

However, this can only be achieved if you have done the research into understanding their journey and where they are on that journey.

#16 Qualify your traffic

Understand your position in the market. Are you luxurious or affordable? Are your products always in-stock or custom made? Are you for professionals or beginners?

Understanding your audience will allow you to tailor your Ad Copy to ensure you are speaking directly to them. Including this in your Ad Copy will pre-qualify the right potential customers to your site.

Ad Copy testing isn’t just great news for your Paid Search account though. Identifying strong Ad Copy in your Paid Search ads can be translated across other channels too. If you’re seeing a great performance from a Paid Search Headline, why not try that on Facebook too?

Brands that have a consistent tone of voice across all their channels and websites stand out from the crowd and are much more memorable to customers, so it’s great to capitalise on cross channel sharing of data insights where you can.

If you have any questions about Ad Variant testing, please message the team on the Contact Us page.

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