atom thought

23rd January 2017
By Jamie

Ever since Google introduced Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) back in July, advertisers and agencies have been testing the new ad format against regular text ads, to see how performance varies.

On paper Expanded Text Ads sound perfect. Around 50% more ad text available to highlight key messages and USPs, making it easier to entice people to click. Great! As digital marketers however we live and die by the data, so we’ve analysed ETAs across our client base to see how they’re stacking up against regular text ads.

Straight to the point…do they work?

Alas, this isn’t as easy to answer as a simple yes or no. As you might expect, performance of ETAs varies by type of business advertised, the relative quality of ads written compared to the old ones, how many other advertisers are also using ETAs, and many other factors including device, network (search vs search partners), brand vs non-brand…do not despair though – we’ve summarised some of our findings below, and can say that ETAs can work, with testing and optimisation.

Taking a simplified view across our accounts, we can say that on aggregate, we’ve seen on average a 17% uplift in CTR using ETAs compared to regular text ads, on Google Search. However, take this stat with a pinch of salt, as this aggregates a number of factors (listed above) which can all have varying impacts. When looking solely at non-brand Google Search traffic for instance, CTR was actually 1% lower for ETA ads. When layering device in as well, only mobile showed an uplift in CTR for non-brand traffic. CTR for standard text ads was slightly higher for non-branded queries on desktop and tablet.

How much has performance varied?

Across our client base, we’ve seen a wide variety of CTR changes comparing ETAs against regular text ads. These have ranged from an 21% improvement, right down to a 55% decrease. Again this aggregates data for each client by device, and brand vs non-brand, on Google Search only.

When looking solely at branded Google Search traffic across all devices, CTR variance of ETAs vs regular text ads has ranged from 21% to -40%, and 27% to -26% for non-brand.

Across different devices for Google Search, CTR change has varied from as high as a 74% uplift on desktop, down to -40% on the same device.

In terms of CPCs, these have generally risen when comparing ETAs to regular text ads, but did fall slightly for one client. CPCs tended to fall more on branded queries, but rose on non-brand queries.

Our Account Director Ben said of ETAs: “Across all of our clients we’ve really appreciated the extra room ETAs have provided to include more information in our search ads. Especially when we have sales – we can include a countdown ad customiser, as well as vital information about the product, sale and promo code, which leads to a higher CTR. However more generally we’ve seen in some cases regular texts ads have outperformed the ETA, especially on mobile.

A similar sentiment is echoed by Online Marketing Specialist Rich, who said: “When these launched they felt like a really good thing. CTR was up on average and it was fun playing with the new ad format. However, as more people adopted the longer ads they became less potent. Perhaps it won’t be the increased characters that make the impact, but a complete refresh of all our competitors ads that changes game. We watch our CTR with an eagle eye.

What should I test?

The key to expanded text ad success is maintaining relevancy, and not overwhelming the searcher. Use standard best practices, such as carefully matching keyword intent to the ad text offering, and use the extra space to highlight USPs of your business vs competitors. Make sure you’re not repeating what you’re saying in your ad extensions however, such as in your callout or structured snippet extensions. Your two headlines are the most important aspects of your ads, so try to put something attention-grabbing in there, along with a USP and a call-to-action.

For branded ads, try using a shorter ad overall. The searcher generally knows what they’re looking for, and so try not to confuse them by writing a long ad just to fit the character count.

The bottom line…test, test, test them for yourself!

This sounds like a cop-out, but as you can see from above performance really has varied massively across different clients for us. After January 31st 2017 you won’t be able to create or edit regular text ads, so it’s crucial to find out now what works well with ETAs for you. If you’ve not started at all – the first step is to test some new ETA creative across one or two ad groups with significant spend, to get enough data in time to find out what works for you. They can work, but a blanket approach of replacing all regular text ads with ETAs is risky.

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