Creative Testing For The Advanced Search Marketer – Part 2

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, for enterprise (as well as smaller) accounts, 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.

Last month, we looked at selecting an appropriate creative test, limiting opportunity cost and testing keyword tokens. Today, in part two of a three part series, we’ll review three additional best practices for conducting a successful creative test.

Leverage Dynamic Keyword Insertion

One of the easiest ways to incorporate keyword tokens within creative is through the use of dynamic keyword insertion. Inserting {keyword:default text} into the headline, description line or display URL dynamically populates the creative to include the keyword that triggered the creative.

In Google, modifying the keyword insertion parameter controls which tokens in the keyword are capitalized. For both publishers, if the inserted keyword causes the creative to exceed the character limitations, the default text is used instead.


Dynamic Keyword Insertion - Creative

Inside Character Limit: Keyword: [red hiking boots]

Dynamic Keyword Insertion - Inside

Outside Character Limit: Keyword: [mountain hiking boots]

Dynamic Keyword Insertion - Outside

Using dynamic keyword insertion multiple times in a single creative is a quick and effective way to increase relevancy. However, keep in mind that not all keywords make grammatical sense when inserted into a creative. Take the headline “Shop {KeyWord: Hiking Boots}” for example.

If the keyword triggering the creative was “hiking boot”, the headline would read “Shop Hiking Boot”. Even a simple keyword variation such as this can result in an awkward-sounding creative.

Granular and organized groups with well-written creative will benefit most from dynamic keyword insertion—resulting in increasing CTRs and Quality Scores.

Prioritize Tests Based On Return

As paid search programs grow, it becomes increasingly challenging to implement and manage creative tests across all groups within an account.

To optimize creative at scale, prioritize tests to focus on groups with the most potential to shift overall account performance. These groups are characterized by a high share impressions, clicks or conversions within an account.

Due to limited resources, our fictional retailer, PowPow Sports, decided to only test creative in two of the groups within their account. Group A received 10,000 impressions per week, while group B received 1,000. Each test resulted in equal improvements in performance within its respective group.

The table below highlights the improvements in group performance after creative testing and highlights the potential performance of another, untested, Other group.

Prioritize Tests Based on Return


This example simplifies a common challenge where groups with little to no volume are prioritized over Other, higher volume, groups. Though both groups benefited from a creative test, group A experienced a greater increase in clicks and conversions. Each test took the same amount of time to implement, but one resulted in a greater revenue return on time investment.

Prioritizing creative tests for high volume groups has the greatest potential for incremental improvements in overall account performance.

Limit Test Elements

A new creative might be subject to one or many test elements. It can be triggered by a single set or multiple sets of keyword tokens. And it might share impressions with another or many other creative within the group.

Without controlling these variables, it becomes difficult to reach statistical significance and to determine what factors contributed towards a successful or unsuccessful creative test.

Limiting the number of elements within a creative test makes it easier to identify why one creative performed better than another.

For example, assume that PowPow Sports tests new creative that includes both a free shipping offer as well as a special product price point.Even with improved performance on the new creative, it would be unclear as to which test element contributed to its success. Testing each element one at a time will better determine its individual impact on creative performance.

To promote an optimal creative testing environment, keep keyword lists concise when building out new campaigns and groups. Groups that contain a small set of highly granular keywords allow the creative within that group to focus on a small set of tokens.

Rather than having to test tokens to improve relevancy, creative within these groups can test compelling offers and calls-to-action that drive greater increases in CTR and conversion rate.

Good (Tests a single element in Description Line 2):

A                                                        B

Shop PowPow Sports Original

Shop PowPow Sports Good





Bad (Tests too many elements across the entire creative):

A                                                        B

Shop PowPow Sports OriginalShop PowPow Sports Bad





The rate at which a creative test reaches statistical significance is associated with the number of creative within the group.

Testing a large number of creative requires a large number of impressions. With smaller, low volume groups, this requirement becomes an issue. For a group that receives only 1,000 total monthly impressions, testing ten creative variations might take several months to reach statistical significance.

For larger, high volume groups, reaching statistical significance is less of a concern. However, the opportunity cost of running on underperforming creative must be monitored much more closely.

Under-performing creative within these groups accrue a high volume of impressions that are better served on top performing creative, and should be paused once statistical significance is reached.

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 three of this three part series, we’ll review our final three 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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