Creative Testing For the Advanced Search Marketer, Part 1

In a search landscape where millions of keywords define intent, generating the most compelling creative can prove to be a daunting task. Understanding your audience and formulating a message might be easy, but packaging up that message within the narrow limits of a 130 character creative can be a challenge.

For paid search programs both big and small, creative optimization remains one of the single most impactful strategies for increasing traffic, lowering costs and acquiring more revenue.

To optimize creative, search marketers rely on testing. Continuously generating, analyzing and iterating on new creative delivers incremental improvements in keyword-to-creative relevancy. Furthermore, testing helps marketers discover more compelling creative messaging to increase visitor engagement with the conversion funnel after the click. Increasing relevancy results in higher click-through-rates (CTR) and Quality Score, and as a result, lower costs.

But more importantly, compelling creative promotes higher conversion rates and more revenue. Today, in part one of a three part series, we’ll review three best practices for conducting a successful creative test.

Select An Appropriate Test

All creative tests begin with a choice, and marketers are subject to a plethora of test elements to choose from. Even at a basic level, creative can be characterized by and tested with functional, emotional or promotional qualities. Functional creative focus on the product or service and provides information such as pricing or features. Emotional creative pull at metaphoric heart strings and attempt to form a connection between the customer and the product or service. Promotional creative highlights discounts and evoke a sense of urgency.

The table below lists common elements that helps define how a creative is characterized. Before engaging in creative testing, it’s important to identify these elements and understand the benefits each one provides.

Creative Testing Elements

Limit Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of forgoing the next best alternative. To better understand this, let’s assume that a fictional sporting-goods retailer, PowPow Sports, has decided to generate and test three creative: A, B and C.

The table below compares the performance of each creative, at statistical significance.

Creative Test Opportunity Cost Performance

Let’s assume PowPow Sports decides to pause creative B, and continue testing creative A and C. Assuming that performance remains consistent, the opportunity cost of this activity, as well as testing creative B against creative C, is highlighted in the table below.

Creative Test Opportunity Cost

In continuing to test creative A, even after achieving statistical significance, PowPow Sports has lost out on 100 clicks, five conversions and $375 in revenue. This is because half the available impressions were allocated to the under-performing creative A, rather than all the available impressions being allocated to just creative C.

When testing creative, the adverse effects of opportunity cost are twofold. One, if you don’t test at all, you obviously forgo the benefits of running on better performing creative. But marketers also make a common mistake when testing – continuing to test after statistical significance has been reached.  This results in the missed opportunity to simply run on the better performing creative.

In our example, PowPow Sports should have paused creative A and B, leaving 100% of the impression share to creative C.

Test Keyword Tokens

Keyword tokens within a creative will appear in bold whenever they match or closely match a user’s search query. Tokens are the individual terms that make up a keyword. For example, the keyword “mens hiking backpacks” contains three tokens: “mens”, “hiking” and “backpacks”. Improve the relevancy of your creative to your keywords by testing tokens. Discovering the most relevant tokens promotes higher Quality Scores by increasing CTR.

A highly granular group might only contain keyword variations using the three tokens “mens”, “hiking” and “backpacks”. Generating creative that includes these tokens is rather trivial. Conversely, a very general group might support more tokens and additional keyword variations.

Consider the search results below, where each creative utilizes a different set of the search query’s tokens. A group might contain keyword variations of “mens hiking backpacks”, “mens rucksacks” and “mens bags”.

Though all three keywords share similarities, generating a relevant creative for this group proves to be a difficult task. Opting to include “rucksacks” rather than “backpacks” makes the creative less relevant to consumers searching for backpacks. Not including “mens” makes the creative less relevant to male consumers. Without splitting these keyword variations out into individual groups, deciding which tokens to include will require thorough testing.

Testing Tokens SERP

To prioritize your test variables, pay close attention to the impression share of each token within the group.

For instance, assume keywords that contain the token “backpacks” account for 90% of the total group impressions and keywords that contain the token “packs” account for 20% of the total group impressions. Because searchers are more likely to include “backpacks” in their query, generating a creative that includes “backpacks” will likely results in a greater overall CTR than a creative that includes “packs”.

To Be Continued

Search marketers are constantly exploring ways to find and engage their target audience. No optimization strategy is more central to accomplishing this goal than creative testing. Continuously testing to find more relevant and more compelling creative serves to not only increase CTR and Quality Score, but decrease costs and drive more revenue.

Adhering to best practices and avoiding common pitfalls will help ensure that new iterations of creative will incrementally improve account performance. Though search marketers cannot guarantee that all creative tests will be successful, they can guarantee that all creative tests have been set up for success. In part two of this three part series, we’ll review three additional best practices for conducting a successful creative test.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Enterprise SEM


About The Author: was the Vice-President of Marketing at Marin Software, a leading platform for digital advertising management, and held a variety of executive roles at Coremetrics, one of the early innovators in web analytics.

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  • Bart van Duinkerken

    Great post, really useful. Especially the table with elements to test.

    Awaiting the next part.


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