Elizabeth MarstenElizabeth Marsten is the Director of Search at Portent Interactive, a full service internet marketing agency in Seattle, WA. She started in and specializes in PPC, but also works with and oversees the copy, link building, SEO and social media teams. She is a co-author on the All in One Web Marketing for Dummies book from Wiley Publishing, specifically Book 4 on PPC and the author of the ebook series: PPC for Your Small Business, Books 1 & 2.


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: it’s ad copy, it’s 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. 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?


Make a schedule and stick to it- so that the ads get a long enough time to gather enough statistically significant data. That could be once a week, every 1,000 impressions, 500 clicks, whatever keeps them on track.


Then start with simple tests, changing one thing at a time, headlines, body copy, URL or adding features like Sitelinks or dynamic text.


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)?


“Google” it. See what competitors are writing in their ads.


Or, they can view one of my two SMX Advanced presentations on Writing Killer Ad Copy or Test that Ad! for really off the wall ideas. And of course, the best (worst) ad ideas at PPC Villain.


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.”)?


Ad text review/writing is at minimum, once a week, depending on how fast the client’s data populates. New tests are typically conducted over a month in order to gather enough data to make the determination on what was successful vs. what was not.


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 (ie 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 (ie do you look for ads that have high volume and low CTR?)


I always say “follow the money.” Starting with the ad group/campaign that generates the revenue (you know which ones those are) I like to make sure we’re doing everything we can first so that those continue to generate revenue/leads and then go back to the bottom of the stack (which ads are spending and not converting) and start digging in.


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.?


It’s different per client. If something new rolls out, I’ll pick a few campaigns or ad groups to test with- like sitelinks for example. I choose a campaign with enough volume to gather data for a good test and watch and tweak for the week.  When it comes to every week (no new toys to play with) I’ll pick a theme to test for the month- could be headlines, using the keyword 3 times in the ad, adding keywords to the display URL, dynamic insertion and so on.


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?


Statistically speaking this is where I compare CTRs- if there’s more than 1% separating them, the lower ad gets the boot. If the separation is less than 1%, I “qualify” the lower ad a little more to see if that will get it to rise above the top ad.


I am also trying to take the more recently talked about metric PPI (profit per impression) when determining an ad’s true potential for a re-write or start over.


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 (ie don’t use templates on your highest volume groups, use templates liberally as you launch a campaign but then go back and test, etc.)?


We do have some templates for the larger accounts, for those campaigns where the keywords are truly interchangeable- you know what formula works and the volume is enough to target but not enough to pour hours into trying to test a different thing in each campaign.


However, templates don’t touch the top campaigns. That is often where the elements for the template come from, but those top campaigns see a different (higher) level of optimization.


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.?


For a new account, it would be closer to 50%- trying to quickly nail down the messaging and text that works, but on older and continued accounts, closer to 25%. At that point you know what either really doesn’t work and what does work and you can build off of that.


How does your process for ads on the Content Network (particularly display ads) differ from that of the search network, if at all?


They’re a lot more action/attention grabb-y. When I write I think more aggressively and try and envision what would pull someone away from what they are currently looking at and get them to click on that ad. They tend to be a lot more simple in language as well – less about benefits or features and more about sales, free and buying now.


Can you think of one ad text tweak that was just way more successful than you thought it would be?


Using the website URL as the headline: www.BoostCTR.com does amazing things for CTR and conversion rates.


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?


Ad set optimization. Matt Van Wagner at Find Me Faster brought this up last year and it makes a lot of sense to me- it’s not that you’re constantly striving to find the best ONE ad- you need a set of performers, 2-3 that bring in the clicks and conversions. Searchers often search more than once or change their query during that research phase and maybe that first ad didn’t have the magic words in it to get them to click, but the 2nd and 3rd do.