The long wait is over. After months in closed beta, last week AdWords announced that they would be rolling out their new ad format: expanded text ads (ETAs).
In its initial announcement about expanded text ads back in May, the AdWords team revealed that one reason they had decided to get rid of right-hand side ads was to pave the way for expanded text ads. Since then, they’ve called last week’s ETA rollout “the biggest update to our ad creative since we introduced AdWords 15 years ago.”
And with almost 50% more space available for text, it’s easy to see why expanded text ads are being hailed as such a big deal. Here is Google’s summary of the changes:
You’ll notice that by far the biggest change taking place is the addition of another 30 character headline – more than doubling the space available for headline text.
Here’s what the new ad format looks like:
Old standard text ad without extended headline
New expanded text ad
As you can see, the amount of additional room for ad copy is pretty drastic considering how long the 25-35-35 character format has been around, and search marketers will have to significantly alter their approach to copywriting to stay competitive in the post-ETA world.
While it might be painful to have to rethink copywriting fundamentals (and to rewrite ad copy for existing accounts accordingly), there will be a lot of opportunity to get ahead for marketers that are well prepared for the change and are ready to implement expanded text ads right from the get-go.
More importantly, time is running out. As of October 26, 2016, standard ads will be an extinct format: advertisers won’t be able to create or upload standard ads to AdWords after that point.
Expanded Text Ads vs. The Traditional Format
We’ve been testing expanded text ads for several clients during the past few months and we’ve uncovered some interesting insights around performance.
Here’s what we’ve seen so far, across a diverse sample of verticals, on how ETAs perform relative to the old format:
As you can see, CTRs and CPCs have both shown improvement in the majority of accounts. Since other beta users have been reporting higher CTRs with ETAs, this wasn’t too surprising.
The more interesting thing to note is that the conversions per impression were higher with ETAs across the board. Conversions per impression is a metric that combines both CTR and conversion rate to give a true look at the efficiency of an ad.
If you look at CTR alone, you end up missing out on what happens down funnel. If you only look at conversion rate, you end up missing out on what happened at the top of the funnel.
Many people expected ETAs to show a rise in CTRs, but an improvement in conversions per impression means that conversion rates didn’t suffer as a result (in fact they increased in most cases), indicating that ETAs might have bigger implications than first imagined.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind that might change how your own data looks moving forward.
Firstly, the data shown above is from when ETAs were in closed beta. During this period, AdWords was limiting the impression share allowed for ETAs and standard ads were still getting the lion’s share of traffic. But now that expanded text ads are live for everyone, it will level the playing field. It’s also possible that the public will become accustomed to the new format over time, and that the initial increase in efficacy of the new ad format will wear off.
Next, the data we’ve been able to gather has been over unequal impression share (we had far more impressions for the traditional ad format in beta). It’s unclear if the same performance lift we are seeing in general with ETAs will increase, decrease, or remain equal as impression share grows.
And finally, search marketers have had years to practice and optimize copy for the old ad format. But expanded text ads represent uncharted waters. A larger number of characters means more room to be creative and to experiment with new messaging tactics, but also more room to make mistakes.
Opportunities with the New Format
So far the emphasis has been to make use of the new character limits by simply modifying standard ads, not rewriting them from scratch. This makes sense as an initial strategy since it’s safer to bet on what’s already working, and time is a big factor.
And while rewriting old ads for the new format might seem like an annoyance, it’s a good opportunity for search marketers to revisit and audit their old ads in order to optimize them.
This is especially true when it comes to headlines, which are the biggest change with the new format and represents a big opportunity for ad testing.
Search terms that didn’t fit into the old 25 character headline had to be awkwardly rewritten so they could be crammed in. With the 5 character increase in ETA headlines, search terms have more room to be written in full, which is likely to drive better performance.
One of the biggest opportunities presented by the new format, however, is that it allows marketers to test out brand new strategies for ad copywriting.
Suggested Testing Strategies for ETAs
ETAs give marketers the opportunity to completely rethink how they write their ads. It’s now possible to make ads sound more natural and conversational, and even to include full sentences in the description. With that in mind, here are some suggested experiments for making the most of the opportunity presented by ETAs.
Test 1: Experiment with Call to Action Placement
With ETAs, there are more options for where to place CTAs. Best practice right now is to place CTAs either in headline 2, or at the end of the description line, or both. The efficacy of CTA placement is likely to vary by account, so it’s important to see whether including a CTA in these places or somewhere else (or at all) works for you.
Test 2: Including a Question
With two headlines, experimenting with questions in the second headline while keeping the first headline as the search term is much safer to do. Questions can make ad copy seem more colloquial and less artificial. Since making ad copy more natural was part of the reason why expanded text ads were created in the first place, testing ads that have been rewritten to look conversational is probably a good idea.
Test 3: New Branded Ad Strategies
Standard ads sometimes forced marketers to choose between including the search term in an ad and including the brand name. With two headlines, that’s no longer the case. The first headline can include the brand name and the second can explain search term relevance. Another thing to test with branded ads would be a second headline with the company mission statement or a product/service description as opposed to a traditional unique selling point or call to action.
For example, if the search term is “best performance marketing agency”, the ad could look like this:
Test 4: Headline Length Testing
In some cases, ETAs 60 character headlines are being truncated to 33 characters. According to Google:
“Google sometimes truncates headlines when serving text ads for certain devices in order to optimize the search experience for users”
However, you should be able to see whether or not your headlines will truncate in the Ad Preview tool.
“The ad preview you see when creating an expanded text ad in AdWords provides a visual of what will likely show in search results. If your headline doesn’t truncate in the preview, it generally won’t truncate when served.”
Google is urging advertisers to make full use of both 30 character headlines. But it’s up to search marketers to test this out themselves for their accounts, and make sure that 60 character headlines are outperforming 33 character headlines.
Test 5: Standard Ads vs. ETAs
Google recommends that advertisers keep standard ads running until ETAs begin to outperform them to make the most out of the new format. As the data we’ve shared indicates, it’s more than likely that you will see some lift from your ETAs, but this will not always immediately be true. Until an expanded text ad performs better, it makes sense to run standard ads and to keep track of their relative performance (although, again, this will only be possible until late October this year).
As ETAs are still so new, it’s hard to say definitively what will work and what won’t. Since that’s the case, the best thing to do is to stick with best practices from standard ads and systematically test new strategies (as outlined above). This will limit risk while making sure you continue to push and innovate with the new ad format, ensuring that you’ll capture more of its potential.
The ability to innovate and to rethink copywriting is what makes the ETA rollout such an opportunity, even as it presents new challenges and takes hard work to prepare for. But like it or not, this change is here and will require migration by October 26 of this year, so don’t delay (and good luck!)