• Nikki Gordon

Why AdWords is one of the most underrated (and cheapest!) message testing tools

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

Illustration by Nikki Gordon

Marketers spend weeks tweaking messaging, and for good reason—choosing the right message can make or break your campaign. But once you’ve written a few different versions of copy, how do you know which one to choose? If you are stuck between different options, the best solution is often to do some message testing.

There a many ways to do message testing, from hiring focus groups to paying for user testing. One of the most underrated and cheapest methods is through Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords). It’s fast, easy, based in actual data, and chances are you’re already using it. If you’re not familiar with Google Ads—it’s essentially a platform for running ads for your site via Google’s search engine or on other websites or apps.

At Worthwhile Digital, we used this method when a client got stuck in the message guessing game. Essentially, they wanted to decide if they should use old messaging or new messaging before revamping their homepage. The old messaging was something along the lines of "our widget is the best, shiniest widget" and the new messaging was "our widget is the only one designed for widget users, by widget users." We wanted to see if the new messaging—focused on the needs of a specific group of end users—would generate more interest. So we popped the two messages into Google Ads and within a week, the new messaging started outperforming the old with more clicks and a higher click-through-rate (CTR).

Using this data-backed testing helped the client make an informed decision before spending a lot of money building the new homepage around the new messaging. In addition, they started using Google Ads to test other things like product names, keywords, and features.

How do you set up Google Ads for message testing? It’s pretty simple. Essentially, you’ll want to use Google Ads to A/B test different ad copy. The ads can take many formats, but for simplicity let’s just focus on search ads, which are the text-based ads that appear next to search results on Google.

Search ads are great for testing because they focus on written copy (unlike display or video ads, which incorporate design). You can be confident the data you collect will be from your target audience because only people searching for something like your product or service will get shown the ad. Finally, search ads are cheap to test because you only pay when people click to visit your website. You can check out this article from Google’s helpdesk for an in depth guide on creating search ads. Here are the general steps to follow:

Step 1: Create your campaign.

  • Choose search network ads only.

  • Based on your funds, set a decent daily budget, but don’t go overboard. Usually a budget of a $100/day is a good place to start. This will ensure that you don’t blow through all your money, but your ads will still get served.

  • Tip: If you’ve been using Google Ads for awhile, use the best practices you’ve learned from your company. If setting the budget to something else has worked better in the past, do that instead.

Step 2: Create your ad groups.

  • An ad group contains one or more ads that share similar targets. Ideally, you’ll have one ad group for each message you want to test.

  • Ad groups should be unique and the keywords should be closely tied to the messaging you use in your ads. For instance, if you are testing “sustainable clothing” vs “eco-friendly clothing,” your first ad group should be “sustainable” and your second ad group should be “eco-friendly." For your first ad group, you’ll want to use keywords like “sustainable clothing,” “sustainable clothes,” and “sustainable clothing company.” For your second ad group, you would use keywords centered around “eco-friendly.”

  • Tip: Make sure you don’t run two campaigns or two ad groups on the same set of keywords or you’ll just end up competing against yourself and paying more. Each ad group and campaign should use unique keywords. However, if you want to test the same keywords, simply set up two campaigns and run them at different times.

  • Tip: If you need help choosing keywords, check out this article from Google’s helpdesk for some basic tips.

Step 3: Create your ads.

  • Use your A/B messaging in your different ads and mix up the headlines and description copy.

  • Tip: Try to use everything Google Ads offers. Don’t send an ad live with only one headline and one description if Google is offering you three headlines and two descriptions. Instead, try to use all of them. The more you use what Google offers, the more your ad will be served and the higher rank it will receive.

Step 4: Monitor your impressions.

  • Try to get to a minimum of around 1,000 impressions for each ad group before pausing the campaign and analyzing your results. Usually it takes less than a week.

  • You’ll want to identify which ads have 1) the most clicks and 2) the highest CTR (click-through-rate). For message testing, the number of clicks is the most important factor. If an ad has the most clicks, it likely means people thought that messaging was compelling and useful. However, CTR is also important to track. CTR is the number of clicks that your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown: clicks ÷ impressions = CTR. For example, if you had 5 clicks and 100 impressions, then your CTR would be 5%. A high CTR is a good indication that users find your ads relevant. If the ad is getting clicked on, but the CTR is really low, it likely means that when people landed on your site they didn’t find what they were looking for.

  • Note: Google Ads is constantly evolving to make message testing even simpler. Recently they released a beta test for responsive search ads. These ads allow you to enter multiple headlines and descriptions and then Google Ads will automatically test different combinations and learn which perform best. This can be another great way to test messaging. Check it out!

In summary, if you’re trapped in the message guessing game, get scientific and start doing some testing. Backing up your messaging with data can give you more confidence about your strategy and it’s proven to be more effective.

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