A Beginner’s Guide to Search Ad Testing

By Raka October 13, 2023

One of the reasons that digital advertising spend continues to grow each year is its flexibility. Messaging and targeting can constantly be adjusted and optimized, and it’s simple to test to ensure that brands are getting the most from their ad spend. But that testing can be scary: there are so many variables, and if you’re just getting started with a search advertising campaign, how do you know where to begin?

Here’s a little primer to help you get started.

Test one: messaging (4-6 weeks)

It’s likely that one of the things that you’re most excited about is A/B testing. But it’s important that you first establish some baselines that you can judge future performance against. With that in mind, messaging shouldn’t be an A/B test. Sure, your brand may have a tagline, a jingle, or some other trademarked phrase that your customers know, but remember (and this is important): search advertising shouldn’t be targeted at your current customers.

It’s important to test three to four different messages in your ads to determine what the best message is to use in future (or expanded) campaigns. If you want to A/B test, control for the description in one ad set, and control for the headline in another (these ad sets should target the same keywords and demographics). Winning messaging can be used in display ads, in social creatives, and—if you find success with something that you weren’t expecting—might even find a home in your traditional advertising as well.

So remember: the first test you’ll conduct in search advertising isn’t an A/B test. It’s a brand test.

Test two: keyword match type

Years ago, you could test broad match terms versus exact against phrase match and know exactly what you were testing. But since Google recently decided to redefine exact match, this test isn’t what it used to be. There’s still a value to this test, however, and it exists in the ability for broad and phrase match terms to shine a light on other keywords that may drive traffic.

In general, the shorter the keyword, the more valuable the phrase match is, because it allows your ad to serve on variations of queries containing the keyword. Revisiting what’s above, search advertising shouldn’t be targeting your current customers, because you shouldn’t need search ads to capture their business (of course, this may depend upon your goals for your search campaigns).

What’s important is giving your brand an opportunity to make as many impressions as you can on the correct audience; if done right, this test will help you to determine whether broad match or phrase match (or the “new-and-improved” exact match) is the most efficient and effective way to do just that.

Control for everything; create three separate ad groups with the same keywords, ad copy, targeting and budget and set a different match type for each ad group.

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Test three: URL in headline

If you were paying attention in 2016 but just weren’t ready to dive into search marketing, you’re probably familiar with the idea of the Expanded Text Ad, an ad format that eschewed the traditional 25-character headline with two 35-character description lines in favor of two 30-character headline lines and one continuous 70-character description line. The promise of this format is enticing, the reality is less so. Those two headline lines are broken up by a dash (“-“), meaning that any continuity intended to exist between the two lines doesn’t translate for users. The 70-character description is great, but the two headlines are lemons that don’t make a great lemonade.

The best way to deal with this weirdly divided real estate? Use the second 30 character headline to showcase your URL. It may not work for you as well as it works for other brands, but that’s why you should test it.

Control for the description and first headline field, and test the URL in the second field against other ad copy in the second headline.

Test four: calls to action

Think there’s no difference between “contact us,” “learn more,” and “shop now”? Try them and see for yourself. Remember: more often than not, you’re advertising to an audience that isn’t used to your brand, your message, or your products, so while they might want to “learn more,” they may not be ready to “contact us,” and offering a cold lead a hot offer is a proven way to achieve a conversion rate of 0.00%.

Conversely, offering a warm or hot lead a cold offer is a proven way to drive high conversion rates. The goals of your campaigns should factor in here; if your aim is to target highly qualified leads, including cold offers in your copy may not be the best approach, but it’s likely to be more successful than the alternative.

Control for headlines, budget, keywords, and the first 55 characters of the description line. Use the last 15 characters to test “learn more,” “contact us,” “shop now,” and/or “buy today.”

Test five: single keyword/ad group/ad copy

If you really want to control for performance, stick only one keyword and only one ad in each ad group, and nothing more. This may seem daunting, but remember that your sparkly new search ad campaign shouldn’t have more than 15-20 keywords in it to begin with, and keep in mind that this can be done pretty simply using Excel/Numbers and Google AdWords Editor.

After just a week or two of testing, you could expand this test by writing another ad for each ad set and comparing them against each other, or you could take the other route, adding another keyword and keeping the same ad in the ad set. Eventually, you’ll get a really good feeling for how your audience responds to different ads, and this will go a long way to ensuring future success as your search and digital advertising campaigns become more robust.

In short:

What’s important to remember is that every brand is different, every marketing team has different goals, and every potential customer will respond differently to advertising. While you may find that some of these tests give you valuable insight that translates to other marketing channels, you may find that others aren’t necessary for your brand or your campaign. Regardless of how you test your search ads, it’s important to continue to run tests to ensure that you’re staying ahead of trends and aren’t mindlessly spending money on outmoded tactics that don’t give you the opportunity to reach your goals.

If you’re interested in getting started in advertising but don’t know where to start, or have some concerns about setting up a testing schedule, contact Raka today so we can help get you off on the right foot!

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