Campaign type is one of the most important things to keep in mind in your ad testing.  Calls to action, benefits, punctuation and so much more should all get tested in your account in one way or another (Kayla has a great list here), but the results of each of these tests will vary wildly even within the same account based off of what type of targeting you’re using.  I’ve been more obsessed with ad testing than usual in the recent months, and here are some common trends that I’ve seen emerge.


Stick to the basics here.  If people are looking for your brand, make sure that they know that you’re the real deal.  Your brand name should absolutely be contained within your headline.  I’m sure it’s been said elsewhere and it’s probably been borne out in your own testing, but no matter how great or well-known your company’s slogan is, it’s probably not going to beat out a brand name.  Google itself runs a straight and to the point branded headline.  I don’t like when they optimize our accounts for us, but I trust them to optimize their own.  If their running a branded headline, it’s the way to go.

Something that I’ve found here, though, is that adding in extra services at the end of a headline can show improvement.  If your name leaves enough room to be a touch more descriptive, test out sticking that added word in there.  An example of this would be Google AdWords Advertising (which is one character too long, but hopefully you get the idea).  It may seem clunky, but it’s won more tests than it’s lost in my experience, the cherry on top of your branded ad sundae.


In competitors campaigns you know that the leads are typically toward the end of the funnel (since they’re looking for someone or something by name).  I’ve traditionally seen a high return on competitors’ terms, but by their nature they have low click through rates.  Now, with Google showing more and more competitor ads on the bottom of the results, it’s even harder to get in front of these late-funnel users.

The main strategy that’s worked for me is being pretty straightforward with my ads.  Branded headlines may see an incremental loss from the CTR of flashier or more benefits-driven ads, but the conversion rate is stronger.  If you imagine the thought process of someone looking for a competitor, they know what industry it’s going to be in.  They may just be on autopilot.  If they click an ad with a strong benefit, they may be ascribing that benefit to the brand that’s already in their head and bounce away once they see your site and not what they were expecting.

It’s sort of like online dating.  There’s no use in lying in your profile; they’re going to see that you aren’t “toned and tall” the second your paunchy frame slumps into view.  When bidding on competitor terms, lead with your own brand.  Give users the choice to go elsewhere.  Your conversion rate will thank you.

Non-Branded Search

A wise man once said that you should stop being clever and just harvest demand.  This lesson was important to me as I was coming up in the glorious world of PPC.  Clever headlines are oh-so-appealing to new PPCers that haven’t A/B tested before. Only one or two creative and clever but failed tests in, you’ll be able to realize that an avoidance of cleverness is a bedrock of paid search.

And never has it applied as strongly as it does to non-branded search headlines.  Questions?  I’ve found them to be losers.  People already know the answer to whatever question you’re positing; that’s why they searched for it in the first place.  The users in non-branded search know what they want. It’s up to you to tell them why your thing is that much better than the other similar thing that’s competing against you.

Whenever I’m writing ads for the search network, I always picture Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans describing the offense of the T.C. Williams Titans’ offense: “I run six plays. Like Novocain, works every time.”  Search traffic is your bread and butter, and it’s a place where the fundamentals apply most of all.  Sure, it’s boring.  But it also gives you the best chance of getting the most valuable clicks.  Say what you do, say why you do it better than your competitors, try to use a verb.  I’ve found this in account after account – sacrifice some of your keyword relevance for an action driven headline, especially in search.

Display Network

Here’s a place where you can go against the common and prevailing wisdom against cleverness.  They’re not always going to win in testing, but creativity has a better shot on display.  Display ads capture people in a different mindset.  Your snappy or unusual headlines have a much better shot at working here than they do in search.  Questions have a lot better shot at succeeding, as you’re working against a lot more noise.  A headline considered off-putting in search might just grab someone’s attention when they weren’t expecting it.  You still want to qualify your ads to make sure that you are getting the right types of clicks, but verb-heavy headlines aren’t a guaranteed success like they are for non-branded search.  In display, you aren’t always going to be harvesting demand.  At times you’ll be teasing out a latent demand that doesn’t even know it’s ready for harvesting.  A little creativity (don’t get too excited, it still just is a little) can go a long way on display.


I hope the creative side of your brain shut down due to over excitement after reading about display ads.  I’ve found time and again that a branded headline is the ticket to success in remarketing.  It makes sense that remarketing ads would have a similar behavior to branded ads.  The user already knows your brand.  You may worry that your brand name isn’t exciting enough on its own and that you need to entice them by being creative.  That just isn’t the case.

I look at it like this: remarketing is just finishing up a job that your site already started.  It can’t restart a job that your site already failed.  A user that came to your site and didn’t like what was offered the first time isn’t going to magically like your site this time just because your headline was a bit snappier.  And no matter what, you can’t change the domain of your display URL on your ad.  Your site is how it was the last time they visited (in almost every case, and even if you’ve done an overhaul, it’s still the same company), so work to recapture people who liked you last time by evoking the positive associations they already have with you.

And it sounds like this is all centered around increasing conversion rate, but I’ve seen higher CTRs with branded headlines as well.  Remind those who want to be reminded that they still have some work to do (i.e. some money to give you {and also get products and/or services that they need}).

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it contains the trends that I’ve seen across my accounts.  As you go forward in your own accounts, it’s imperative to break performance out by campaign type. You can get more granular that this if need be, but I like these five categories because they’re segmented enough to account for differences in user behavior while not segmenting data to the point where you have to wait weeks and weeks to move forward.

Have you seen similar performance in your accounts?  Any surprising results?