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Simple works, but which flavor of simple?

Posted October 14th, 2011 by Andrew Goodman

You can say this a thousand times and it’s never as interesting to people as it should be (until they see the financial result and it affects them directly): changing a single, unassuming word in an ad headline can have major repercussions on response and ROI.

Here’s today’s micro case study.

I’m working on some ads that promote a giveaway for free tickets to a popular local event. This promotion is generally popular, but in the end, the campaign is a marketing cost. So it’s paramount we get favorable CPC’s on the promo.

The events themselves are popular, and they’re on for a short time. This means there isn’t too much competition for clicks. But there is some. And Google as you know has tweaked Quality Score so that relevance affects “both eligibility and position in the auction.” That means if you don’t optimize, you’ll pay a de facto reserve price (higher than you would like) to get significant click volume. In any case, we generally get aggregate CTR’s above 10% for this campaign across our mix of keywords. The question is: how far above 10%?

  • Ad Headline 1: Contains the name of the event and crams in another word (forced abbreviation due to space limitations) that aims to explain the promo a bit better. CTR: the worst of the lot at just under 11%.
  • Ad Headline 2: Contains the name of the event plus the seasonal designation “Fall”. About 13% CTR.
  • Ad Headline 3: Just contains the name of the event. CTR is 15.6%. There are high volumes so this result is statistically significant.

The body copy is optimized, as well. So is the display URL.

This is a bit of an unusual auction (less competitive than some, with our type of promotion gaining an unusual level of interest) in that there are significant rewards in the form of bargain CPC’s if you crack this CTR nut in the first couple of days leading up to the event, and score a significant number of 10/10 Quality Scores in the ad group.

Roughly, the winning-ad’s CTR (the ROI outcomes are generally equal) ultimately leads to a 50% lower cost per action on the promotion as compared with the worst ad, or 25% lower compared with the second-best ad. That’s taking an already-optimized methodology and approach and tweaking it just a bit. Why is this so good? Well, the very best performer is getting us clicks in the range of 5-10 cents on some keywords. That’s the kind of performance you ¬†would often get in 2002, but rarely see today.

For a novice, you can forget it. The CPA’s on this clever campaign would never be economic – they’d be 5X what we’re getting and the campaign would be declared a bust.

Once the research is done, the process is repeatable. Future campaigns build on this data asset and are, in some sense, pre-optimized, needing only a bit of tweaking.

That’s why testing matters. That’s why knowing how and what to test matters.

That’s why Media Buyer 1.0 is obsolete.

And what is the substantive takeaway from this test, in terms of user response? It’s clear. The addition of the word Fall was distracting and puzzling to enough users that it cost us significant response. And what many would never have known or guessed: the addition of a relatively innocuous and seemingly helpful abbreviated word in the headline was pretty much disastrous to response, leading to a 38% worse CTR, and ultimately to higher CPC’s as a result.

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