Mar 172011

Google's Longer Ad Headlines

Google has made some fairly significant changes to the landscape of their search engine results page recently, making sponsored ads look more like organic results, as Joy Barberio pointed out in a post last month. One of the biggest changes of this type is the merging of line 1 text with the headline.

Note: Merging only happens on ads where line 1 is a distinct sentence that ends in proper punctuation, such as a period, question mark or exclamation point and only when the search is high-traffic enough to have PPC ads in the promoted listing section (the shaded portion above the organic links).

(The top two ads above, highlighted in green, are the new format, while the third shows the old format)

In addition to making the ad appear more like the organic listings, moving your line 1 up to the headline also makes that message more likely to be noticed and, if you have strong copy, this change should be beneficial. So, is this improving CTRs for our clients?

We looked at data from a few clients that were testing the new merged headline format versus forcing line 1 and line 2 to remain on a separate line by removing punctuation from the end of line 1.

For brand terms, we are seeing CTR improvements of anywhere from 3% to 25% for the merged headline and line 1. On average, we are also seeing conversion rate improvements, but the data is noisier at that level. As with any copy test, conversion is important to consider as well because we want to be cautious about driving additional clicks if they aren’t going to convert well.

For non-brand terms, the results were more mixed across the adgroups we tested, but the median CTR improvement was 7% when line 1 moved up to the headline.

With line 1 copy being more prominent when merged with the headline, a follow-up question is what is the best placement of promo copy: bumped up to the headline or in line 2, where it stands by itself in between the merged headline and the display URL?

For brand terms featuring promo copy (either a dollar/percentage off or free shipping message), putting the promo offer in line 2 was more effective from a CTR perspective.

For non-brand, this effect seemed to be reversed, with promo copy in the merged line 1 producing a better CTR on average. The difference between the performance of brand and non-brand promo copy placement could be because the promo is more effective at catching the user’s eye in the more competitive non-brand space, while less promotional copy for brand terms allows those ads to blend better with the organic listings.

Since this new format is making ads look more like organic, users could actually be less likely to click on a PPC ad with promo copy since that makes it more obvious that it is an ad instead of a natural result. If someone is looking for your brand name, where your ad is likely the only sponsored listing in the top promoted section, users are perhaps less swayed by a promo than if they are performing a non-brand search and have many promoted ads to choose from.

For each of these tests, there were some copy versions where the results did not favor the new format; however, it seems to be having a net positive effect for most, which is in keeping with Google’s claims. Do some testing to find out what works best for your program and, as always, your results may differ due to the unique competitive landscapes for each query.


9 Responses to "Google's Longer Ad Headlines"
Andrew says:
Great article Rachel, thanks. Recently I've been seeing Google serve the longer headlines even without line 1 ending in proper punctuation. Has anyone else seen this?
Andrew, thanks for commenting, and good eye! A few of us have been seeing that as well and we have just received notice from Google that they are in fact moving line 1 up into the headline if they are "highly confident" that it is a complete phrase. This is now even more of an incentive to double check your ad copy and make sure it's presented in the way that you intended, whether all together or with line 1 moved up.
Carrie says:
Great post, Rachel! These are interesting conclusions and I'm curious about other text within the new longer line 1. Like, when a keyword is in bold in the standard headline & the wrapped line 1, then is the messaging that would have been seen first, reading L to R, get lost in the middle of the longer Headline? Is it better to move value prop messaging to the end of line 1 in cases where the ad text wraps to the headline?
Thanks, Carrie. Good question! I've been looking at some additional data and the results still come up a bit mixed as to where the value prop is best situated, so it is difficult to say. I think there is probably some variation depending on the user as to which area of the text stands out the most. It could also depend on the type of value prop (e.g. free shipping v. a percentage off sale). If you moved the message to the end of line 1 you'd want to make sure that the entire top line still reads well and doesn't look too redundant with the headline portion. Since there are mixed results, testing a couple of different versions per adgroup is key. If you have your campaigns on the "optimize for clicks" setting, Google will serve the better performing ads more often, allowing you to show the most effective ad for each unique situation.
Andrea says:
Hi Rachel A really helpful article that answered a lot of questions! Thanks
Thanks for stopping by, Andrea! Glad you found it helpful!
Nicole says:
Great post Rachel! I have been seen it for a time now but I never really now what that means... Thanks for sharing the post! It really explains some points...


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