This is the third 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 Steve’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.



steve-hill-headshot-thumbSteve Hill is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing in Bloomington, Indiana. He manages SE0 activity and PPC campaigns for diverse portfolio of clients who have powerful brands in their respective industries. Steve also maintains his own website, which contains illustrative, yet cheeky blog content about Internet marketing and other interesting topics. Follow Steve on Twitter: @epiclysteve.



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?


First of all, I hope that I never have to be either of these account managers and focus exclusively on ad text. That would drive me nuts! However, I would expect the more creative account manager to see more success in a 12-month span. This is because new strategies are always coming out of the woodwork and you have to be adaptable. Clients are coming up with new products and services as well that may force you to shift your focus. Obviously data that is subject to a lot of this kind of variation isn’t always the most reliable. In a perfect world with no variation, I would be more inclined to pick the data junkie, but since that is unrealistic I’d go with the creative person. Besides, truly creative people give their firms a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


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 think it just starts with looking at the data. Raw creative ability should not be excuse for not looking at the data. I think it’s reasonable to have this person run ads side by side for a certain time frame, make sure they receive an equal and adequate number of impressions, and compare the results each ad generates. That’s certainly not an all-encompassing data analysis, but it’s a start. I think that as a minimum you need to be examining the number of clicks or whatever metric you are using to evaluate your ads.


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)?


Look around at what other successful advertisers are doing both online and offline.  I wouldn’t focus too much on companies as big as Coca-Cola, but it will help to focus on successful small businesses that are familiar to you. Chances are they are doing some effective and creative marketing that you can replicate. Aside from that I think it’s important to downshift your mindset from time to time. Instead of being data driven 100% of the time, give some of that up and explore your creativity.


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.”)?


It depends on the scope of their investment in paid search. I find it difficult to make quick decisions on the effectiveness of a particular ad if a client is small and is only able to spend $100 a month on PPC. At that size, you just have to go with your gut. For larger clients, I like to do regular ad reviews once or twice a month. I evaluate the performance of ads on a group-by-group basis. I’ll typically pause ads that received a comfortable number of impressions, but did not generate results that were similar to those of other ads in a given group. If I need to make pauses I’ll either replace them with another ad or I’ll focus on directing more advertising dollars to higher performing ads.


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 begin by looking at month-to-month data for particular ads. I try to look for red flags like drop offs in clicks. If a particular ad has really tanked in the last month, I know I need to spend some time evaluating the keywords associated with it to see if I need to change bids or whatever else may be to blame.


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.?


I typically test performance as a whole for an ad. I don’t real spend time testing specific elements of an ad. This is because I generally run thousands of ads for a given client. Tweaking one ad on a detail like a headline is nice in principle but it doesn’t always make sense in terms of cost and time. Consequently, I’d say I don’t follow a formula; I just look to make arbitrary improvements when they are warranted.


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?


I consider the audience who I’m trying to reach. It is very possible that they have some specific lingo that they use that no one else does. In a sense, you can exclude irrelevant traffic just by including the lingo your audience uses.


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.)?


I think templates are good for getting an account up and running, but I also feel that at some point you need to break free of them and write specific messages to your audiences.  Good PPC marketers know that you can’t write the same message to people on SERPs that you do on display networks. Following a template is good at first but inevitably you have to deviate from them. I would, however, be remiss to acknowledge the fact that some industries are heavily regulated and templates are the only way to get new ads implemented quickly.


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.?


It is increasing in importance for me. Right now I would say that I spend 10-15% of my time on ad text and I’d like to spend more. As competition continues to increase, relying solely on managing bids becomes less effective in generating results. This is because competition forces differentiation. Aside from spending more on bids for keywords, ad text is really the only way to differentiate at the point of impression.  Landing page testing certainly helps generate results, but it doesn’t get new visitors in the door.


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


My process for ad text itself stays pretty consistent across both networks, but I do take full advantage of the settings afforded by the Display/Content Network. I’ll review the automatic placements Google generates and exclude websites where I don’t want my ads to show. I’ll also target specific topics using campaign and audience settings as well.


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


Last month I began using a trademark symbol behind the brand name of one of my clients. I used existing ads as a control set, copied them and added the symbol to the copy as a variable ad set. After these ads received equal impressions for a few weeks I evaluated the results. I was shocked to find that in many cases ad click-through rates increased dramatically. In some cases, CTR even doubled. I believe that adding symbols of credibility is an easy, yet overlooked tactic for improving results.


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 discussedbest-practice that you find consistently improves results?


Tying into what I said above, adding symbols of credibility have worked well for me. I recommend getting clearance from a client before using these symbols particularly if you will be running ads globally.  Rarely do I see discussion of credibility outside of the context of landing pages. Occasionally you’ll see someone talk about including a recognized brand name in your ad, but that’s about it.  If I were to summarize that into one tip or secret, it would be to ask yourself: “Does this look and sound credible?” If it does, great! Enjoy the positive results it generates. If not, then brainstorm ways you can improve your ad’s credibility.