This is the 6th post in our ‘Ad Text Optimization With the Pros’ interview series. Be sure to check out the other featured interviews for even more Ad Text insight!


alan-mitchell-headshotAlan Mitchell is a Pay-Per Click Marketing Specialist and owner of Calculate Marketing, offering a calculated, logical, and scientific approach to paid search. Originally from the UK, Alan is Google AdWords certified and has experience managing PPC campaigns in the UK and Australia.



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?


I guess if only have poorly written ads, you can test the life out of them, but you’re not going to improve on your best ad message. On the other hand, if you started with engaging ads, and did not test them, you would never know how good they can be. Over the long run…

  • The tester would get the best out his mediocre ads
  • The creative guru would accept whatever results his engaging ads would deliver

Exactly which strategy would be more effective would depend on whether the tester’s ability to determine performing ad messages outweighs the creative guru’s ability to write engaging ads to begin with.


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?


Use AdWords Editor. It’s easy to download campaign statistics. You can select a time range (such as ‘all time’ or ‘last 30 days’), and see which ad groups are getting the most clicks. Open up those ad groups, and look at the CTR and conversion rate of each of your ads. Try to pick out findings and trends on which ads are working better than others. Pause poor performers, and create new ad messages with variations of successful themes. If you did this regularly for only your top 5 ad groups, I’m sure your campaigns will improve.


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)?


Think logically. You don’t always need to be creative. Include keywords in the ad title, spell out 1 or 2 benefits in description line 1, and add a call to action in description line 2. Notice how ads with a ‘buy’ call to action can outperform ads which do not make it clear what you expect from the searcher. Sometimes a logical approach can outperform a more creative one.


All right now I think it would be really helpful for our audience to learn more about your process for optimizing ads. 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 for an account generally “I write every day, week, etc.”)?


It’s definitely on a per-client basis. I like to use 200 clicks as a good rule of thumb for optimizing and testing ad messages – 200 being the minimum amount of click on any one ad message to be reasonably sure that you’re looking at reliable data. It’s also important to keep track of when you make changes, and only select date ranges after any changes are made,  to avoid optimizing the same data twice.


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 like to sort the ad groups by largest to smallest, then open up the ad group which has received the most clicks, and see if I can spot anything there. Similar to the 10% clicks rule of identifying ad groups which can benefit most from keyword optimization, a similar method can help to identify ad groups which would most benefit from ad text optimizations.


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.?


Although the style of ad message would naturally depend on the individual website, common elements I like to test are prices vs. non-prices, different call to actions (such as ‘buy online’ and ‘call today’), and the use of keywords in display URLs.


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?


This is an excellent question. There needs to be a balance between the amount of qualification in an ad, and the room left for feature and benefit messages. Where possible, I tend to use keyword match types such to qualify visitors, and create different types of ads based on the qualification of searches.


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.)?


Excel can be extremely time-saving for helping to create ad messages which are tailored to individual keywords. The LEN(cell) function can check if the cell is greater than 25 or 35 characters, and combining with the IF function, you can quickly and easily  start to build a template which helps to automate headlines and ad descriptions based on the number of characters.


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.?


Search query analysis takes up the large majority of my optimization efforts, since mining the search query report not only uncovers irrelevant keywords which should be added as negative keywords, but also helps identify new opportunities for further keyword expansion. I would suggest ad text analysis and optimization deserves about 10% of PPC optimization efforts.


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


When people see your ads on the search network, they are actively looking for your products and services. When people see your ads on the content network, they aren’t. When showing content network ads, you are trying to distract the user’s attention from whatever it is they are doing, so your ads need to be different.


Search ads should be more feature and benefit based, whereas content ads need to pack more of a punch. Competitions, giveaways, and free stuff that will entice the punter in. But be careful of conversion rates – although the content network can be extremely profitable if coupled with a clear strategy, it can also be very unprofitable with the wrong offering and wrong ad / landing page messaging.


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


Using plus signs instead of the word ‘and’ to communicate multiple benefits. Doing so can work extremely well when there are 3 key selling points, and listing them on a single line. Add in relevant headlines and clear call to actions, and such a concise and factual listing of key benefits can work extremely well at educating searchers and increasing 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?


Despite longer feature-rich ads performing better than much shorter ads, sometimes less is more. Just because you have 25 or 35 characters to work with, doesn’t mean you have to use all 25 or 35 characters. If you’re up to 6 or 7 words in one line, sometimes removing a few words can make the ads more readable and therefore more engaging.


And think about your credibility on Google. Your PPC ads are often the first chance you have to impress new customers, so take the time to ensure your ads portray the desire image of your business.