Case Study: How Spinning Out Mobile Ads Got 19% Higher CTRs

By Sam Owen | @SamOwenPPC | Associate Director of Paid Search at Hanapin Marketing

Last week I was fortunate to get to chat with Brad Geddes about all things ad testing during our #thinkPPC webinar. For those of you familiar with Brad’s work or who have seen him speak, you’ll know he has a tendency to say something incredibly obvious that you somehow had never thought of before. In this case he mentioned a simple approach to dealing with the messy business of Enhanced Campaigns’ mobile preferred ads without having to go to the trouble of writing a whole new set of ads for your account.

Before we dive into that, let’s take a quick refresher course on what exactly changed after Enhanced Campaigns. Back in the day most of us used to separate out our campaigns into something like the following:

  • Campaign 1 – Desktop
  • Campaign 1 – Mobile
  • Campaign 2 – Desktop
  • Campaign 2 – Mobile

On the one hand that kind of layout meant a lot of repetition, however on the other it meant it was relatively straightforward to test ad copy designed for mobile users. Even if your ad copy was exactly the same as your “Desktop” campaign, chances were that Google’s Optimize settings would show the ad that was best suited to that device.

Since the switch over to Enhanced Campaigns, all devices are now rolled into one handy campaign. To get around the potential problem of ad copy being too device generic, AdWords added the ‘mobile preferred’ option to ads, which allow you to specify if you want an ad to be shown on mobile – although technically it is only “preferred” because Google didn’t want to leave a back door open for you to have mobile-only campaigns.

For the sake of clarity if your ad group contains:

  • 1+ “all device” ads
    • “All device” ads show on all devices
  • 1+ “all device” ads and 1+ “mobile preferred” ads
    • “All device” ads show on Desktop and Tablet
    • “Mobile preferred” ads show on Mobile
  • No “all device” ads and 1+ “mobile preferred” ads
    • Mobile preferred ads show on all devices

Creating a mobile ad is very straightforward, all you need to do is tick the “Mobile” button underneath your ad:


A mobile preferred Google AdWords ad for PPC Hero


Alternatively if you prefer creating your ads in the AdWords Editor this looks like:


Mobile preferred ads for PPC Hero in the AdWords Editor


Now we’re all onboard with the hows, whats and wheres of mobile preferred ads, lets get back to the point of this article:


Do mobile preferred ads make a difference?

To look into this I’m first going to segment my ads by device type. You can either do this directly in the AdWords interface using the “Segment” button shown below, or download your data with a device segment and pull your ads into a pivot table (good for if your ads don’t have much data in each ad group but do over a larger selection of data).


Segmenting ads by device in AdWords


Once you have your segmented ads showing you should see something like this:


First ad segmented by device


Notice that my click through rates vary a lot – Computers are getting 1.08% but mobile is getting 1.48%.

When Google judges your best ad to serve using “Optimize for Clicks” or “Optimize for Conversions” it will use the overall data, it won’t show the best mobile ad for mobile users and the best desktop ad for Computer users. That means that you might actually have a very average ad showing most of the time (even though you think it’s the best).

Take a look at this deleted ad from the same ad group. Notice that the Mobile CTR is actually much higher at 2.15% (vs. 1.48% in the live ad).


Second ad segmented by device


When I looked through all of our ads this way, I managed to find a deleted ad with a better Desktop CTR than the currently live one (worse overall due to terrible mobile CTR) and the example directly above with the much improved mobile CTR but worse desktop performance. Surely by rethinking what constitutes a “winning ad” in a post-Enhanced Campaigns worlds I could make some good CTR gains?


How to proceed:

If you aren’t currently using mobile preferred ads, here’s a quick and easy solution courtesy of Brad Geddes that will help improve your overall account CTRs (or Conversion Rates).

  1. Go through each ad, segmenting by device.
  2. Find your best overall ad when combining Tablet & Desktop performance (have to include Tablet as we have no way of separating it yet).
  3. Find your best overall ad for mobile CTR.
  4. If these two ads are the same, great. You don’t need to do much other than pause your other ads that aren’t performing as well as each other.
  5. If these two ads are different, select the ad with the best mobile performance and select “Mobile” to turn it into a mobile preferred ad. Pause all other ads so you should now only have your best Desktop and Tablet ad as an “all device” ad, and your best mobile ad as “mobile preferred”.

The reason your best ad is often different can come from the nature of how people use their phones. For example I found that the call to action “Call Now!” had roughly a 20% increase in ad performance on mobile when compared with my best performing all devices ad.


How much difference does this make?

Admittedly, I only started doing this recently but the change in CTRs have been pretty marked already. Here are the stats from 2 accounts in which I have started spinning out mobile preferred ads:

Two tables showing pre and post mobile preferred ad click through rates

In one account, my CTR is already up 19%! I tried to account for other variables by only taking data where bids and average positions remained constant as sequential PPC data can be a little misleading, but I’m fairly convinced that this method is really helping to improve my account’s performance. In the second account you can see that the jump in mobile CTRs was as high as 39%. Unfortunately Desklet (desktop + tablet’s fun new name) performance didn’t really change, but it’s great to know I can get increases from my mobile advertising.

Of course, in an ideal world, we all have 3 all device and 3 mobile preferred ads set up when we start a new ad group. However, for a quick and dirty fix that can really help spark performance gains, this method seems to generate strong results.

Once you start doing this with ads, you can expand it to Sitelinks too and start to create a mature mobile strategy for your account.

What has your experience been with Mobile preferred ads so far? As always, let us know in the comments below.