17 Tips for Writing The Highest Performing Expanded Text Ads [Updated]

The new expanded text ad format has recently been released on the 26th July 2016 as part of Google’s most extensive set of updates so far.*

They will replace the old advert format by 1st January 2017, with Google moving the date forwards several months to give advertisers additional time to make the transition.

So what are expanded text ads, and how do they differ from the old text ad format that Google has been offering for the last 15 years? There have been three major changes to the ads that you’ll be able to see in the image below.

(*At the time of writing.)

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-21-18-18

Image Source: Inside Adwords Blog

The headline has changed from a single 25-character-long headline to two 30-character-long headlines.

The description has changed from two 35-character-long description lines to one 80-character-long description line.

Finally, the display URL has changed from one 35-character-long display URL to a two-path system. Here Google takes your website URL and then allows you to add up to 30 characters, after splitting into two 15-character boxes.

As far as early tests have indicated, advertisers are seeing increases in CTR of around 20% by using the new expanded text ad format in place of the old ad format, so you need to ensure that your PPC agency has upgraded you!

How to write compelling Expanded Text Ads

1. Make your ads highly relevant to the search query

The most important thing you need to do is to make your ads highly relevant to the search terms that the user is entering. To do this, you need to make sure that your advert contains the keywords for which it’s going to appear, like ASDA have done here:

To be able to do this, you’ll need tightly-grouped ad groups, or better still you can use single-keyword ad groups.

So if you don’t have tightly-themed ad groups and single-keyword ad groups for your top performing keyword, do that first before you start creating new ads, and it will make your life a lot easier.

To make your expanded text ads highly relevant to what the user is searching, make sure that you include the keyword that the advert will be appearing for in both the headline of the ad copy and also in one or more of the paths.

Not only will it make the advert appear more relevant, as people can see what they’re searching for in the headline of the advert, but the words within the advert that match what the user has typed into Google will appear bolded, which will help your adverts stand out.

Here’s an example of an advert that’s highly relevant to the search term “London hotels”.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-22-57-14

You’ll notice that the search term “London hotels” appears in both the headline 1 and in the two paths (the green display URL below the headline) of the advert.

Searchers will instantly know that this advert is relevant to what they’re looking for, and the words “London” and “hotel” bolded within the advert will help it to stand out from the other ads on the first page of Google.

2. Write conversion funnel-based Expanded Text Ads

One of the best PPC articles that I’ve ever read about writing better ad copy comes from  of Microsoft, which explains how to apply conversion funnel logic to improving your Adwords ad copy.

I would strongly recommend reading the full article on Search Engine Watch, called ‘How to create winning ad copy using a scientific approach‘ – but I’ll recap some of the key points that she makes here.

MECLABS devised a conversion formula which can also be applied to creating expanded text ads:

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-19-25-43

Image source: Search Engine Watch 

The formula shows that there are 5 elements which make up a conversion: the motivation of the user, the clarity of the proposition value, the incentive to take action, the friction of the process, and the user’s anxiety about entering information on your website.

By maximising the value of C, you are more likely to generate a conversion from your ad copy. Take ASOS, the online clothing retailer – their value proposition is their wide range of low-cost clothes on offer (which they have managed to achieve by not needing to pay for retail outlets), and that can be delivered to your door by the next day.

They also understand that there’s friction and anxiety when it comes to users ordering clothes online – in particular, the hassle of having to return clothes that don’t fit so well, or are no longer wanted for whatever reason. To alleviate this anxiety and improve the customer experience, ASOS offer free returns and exchanges.

Here’s an example of how  suggests these factors (value proposition, anxiety, friction, and incentive) can be converted into messaging within an Adwords advert.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-19-32-39

Image source: Search Engine Watch 

Here’s another example that  gives, showing the result of applying the conversion formula to an Adwords advert.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-19-33-30

Image source: Search Engine Watch 

This is a brilliant piece of methodology for improving the performance of your expanded text ads, and will surely help you to move away from writing mundane ads in Excel!

3. Include a strong Call-To-Action telling users to take action

A strong call-to-action will direct users to take action, and helps increase the CTR and conversion rate of your adverts.

Jeff Allen from PPC Hero did a brilliant piece of research on what the best call-to-action is for your adverts, based on their data.

They picked the wining call-to-action based on a keyword or phrase’s impact on conversion per 100,000 impressions, compared to the account average over the past 6 months.

eCommerce Account case study 

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-21-55-12

Image source: PPC Hero

Here you can see that, based on conversion rate, the call-to-action “shop now” has the highest conversion rate of all the call-to-actions, and that call-to-actions including the word “holiday” have the highest CTR.

Overall, the best-performing call-to-action when taking into account conversions per 100,000 impressions was “shop now”. We would therefore suggest using the call-to-action “shop now” for your eCommerce campaigns.

Lead Generation case study 

Here is PPC Hero’s data for the call-to-action case study in which they examined lead generation accounts.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-22-03-41

Image source: PPC Hero

When it came to eCommence accounts, PPC Hero found that “learn more” had by far the highest conversion rate, however when it came to CTR, call-to-actions that contained the words “apply” were the most successful.

Overall, when looking at conversions per 100,000 impressions and taking into account both CTR and conversion rate, the call-to-action “learn more” was the best-performing.

We would therefore suggest using this within your adverts – however we’d also suggest testing other call-to-actions, as these results may vary depending on the vertical that they’re in.

Note that this case study did not take into account possible mobile call-to-actions, which may be more effective at generating call conversions. So when displaying adverts to users on mobile devices, and where your goal is to generate the maximum number of call leads, we’d suggest that you also test call-to-actions like “call now” and “phone now”.

4. Segment mobile adverts at campaign level

The mobile-preferred option which used to be available on the old ad text format has now been removed for the expanded text ads, so if you want to change your messaging, you’ll need to segment your adverts at campaign level.

To do this, you’ll need to duplicate your current campaigns and then add bid modifiers of -100% to both tablet and desktop devices. screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-17-13-08

If you are looking to generate calls from your adverts, which is a smart idea (supported by research from WordStream, which shows that leads where somebody calls you are more valuable to your business than leads where a users has filled out a form on your website), then using mobile-friendly call-to-actions is essential.

In this case, we’d changing your “enquire now” or “buy now” call-to-actions on main desktop and tablet adverts to a mobile-friendly alternative, such as “call now” or “phone us now”. 

5. Lead with benefits, not product or service features

This is a great point that has been made before by Brad Geddes in his book ‘Advanced Google Adwords’, and also by David Greenbaum from Boost Media.

According to David’s case study, if you want to generate more conversions, your adverts should be focusing on the benefits of your products/services rather than its features.

There are 2 main reasons why this is the case. Firstly, highlighting the features of a product/service appeals to people who are in the Comparison section of the buying cycle, and are comparing features of different products to decide what they’re going to purchase; whereas highlighting the benefits in an expanded text ad tends to appeal to people who are later in the buying cycle.

Secondly, when it comes down to the fundamentals of decision-making, customers only really care about what benefit they’re going to get from your product (versus that of a competitor).

So if you’re selling golf clubs for example, customers don’t really care about buying a club with a titanium face – they care about whether your clubs are going to let them hit the ball further. So instead of leaving it at “golf club with a titanium face”, turn it into “golf clubs that hit balls further (using titanium faces)”. In other words, think about WHY this feature is a benefit, and work from there.

Further to this point, David’s study also talks about what he calls ‘feature-focused adjectives’, such as ‘durable’, ‘longer’, and ‘classic’.

Although these are all positive things, these feature-based adjectives have little impact on CTR, and may actually deteriorate the conversion rate. Using a word like ‘reliable’, however, provides strong lifts in both CTR and CPI.

The key here is to translate the features of your product into the benefits it provides for the end user. (No one’s really interested if you call your golf clubs ‘durable’, but they will be interested if you call them ‘reliable’. Sure, they may only be reliable BECAUSE they’re so durable, but semantics is very important here. Trust me.) By doing this, you’ll be appealing to people later on in the buying cycle, and helping buyers to eliminate the extra mental step that they have to take as they read your search results.

6. Make your expanded text ads localised by including the name of the city you are targeting (Service Providers only)

Writing location-based adverts that contain the name of the location that they’re targeted to can be a very effective way to improve the performance of expanded text ads for service-based advertisers.

When we changed our national adverts into location-based ads for one of our clients, we were able to achieve the following results:

  • Decrease in cost per conversion by 19.11%
  • Increase in the number of conversions by 45.91%

Jonathan Dane over at KlientBoost also found that having a national number alongside local ads lowers their performance, so instead, opt for using a local area number where possible.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-18-46-30

You’ll see that using local numbers instead of national numbers more than doubled the conversion rate on some of the ads they were running.

To use location-based adverts, you’ll need to segment your national or regional campaigns by city. For example, if the headline of your adverts is “discount boilers Edinburgh”, then the adverts would have to be contained within a campaign that was targeted at Edinburgh.

We suggest that you include the name of the location once in the headline of your expanded text ad, and once again in one of its paths. Here’s an example of a location-based expanded text ad on Google.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-18-53-22

You will see that they’ve included the location Sheffield in the headline of the advert, and once again in one of the paths within the display URL.

7. Split-test your expanded text ads like crazy!

Split-testing your adverts is one of the most important tasks in PPC management, because it helps you to determine which ad copy is best aligned with your goals for that account; whether it be ‘increase in CTR’, ‘increase in conversion rate’, or another metric like ‘revenue per impression’.

At a very basic level, split-testing is where you create 2-4 adverts per ad group, split traffic evenly between them, and see which advert performs the best.

You’ll need to choose which metric you want to optimise for, which will vary based on the strategy of your account.

What do you want to do? The metric you should use
Increase conversions Conversion Per Impression (CPI)
Increase visitors Click Through Rate (CTR)
Get the most revenue possible Revenue Per Impression (RPI)
Improve quality scores Click Through Rate (CTR)

Table Source: Adalysis 

Advert testing strategies

There are two main strategies that Brad Geddes outlines in his book ‘Advanced Google Adwords for split testing adverts effectively.

First of all, you need to use an approach called ‘unique approach‘ ad testing, which involves testing 3-4 different adverts per ad group with very different copies to see what style of adverts resonate with your audience.

Once you have narrowed this down, you should move into ‘methodical testing‘, where you test less significant factors such as alternating the headlines, punctuation, and call-to-actions.

One thing to bear in mind when split-testing is to ensure that you keep the adverts relevant to the search terms and follow ad creative best practices.

Unique Approach

This is where you should always start when split-testing and setting up your initial adverts. As mentioned before, it’s best to write 3-4 different ads per ad group.

Each ad should have different components from the other ads being tested. This is the best way to establish which adverts resonate with your audience most effectively.

A good place to start is by looking at your competitors’ ads for similar searches, and then testing both their ad type and completely different ones, which helps you to see how consumers in your industry are responding to different messages.

Methodical approach

Once you’ve selected an advert that resonates with your audience, you can now test less-significant factors to fine-tune your ad and maximise its effectiveness. Here is a non-exhaustive list of factors that you should consider testing:

  • Customer benefits
  • Geographic adverts (requires your campaigns to be geographically targeted at that location)
  • Inclusion of numbers
  • Product features
  • Service features
  • Title case vs sentence case
  • Guarantees
  • Symbols
  • Call-to-action (for example “call us today”, “buy now”, “shop now”)
  • Reversing the order of the headlines
  • Punctuation
  • Landing pages
  • Display URL / paths
  • Different USPs

Test mobile ads separately

Generally, performance on mobile devices is very different from desktop devices, so it makes sense to test mobile-specific ads separately from desktop devices.

Statistical significance

One thing that you need to ensure you consider when split-testing is statistical significance. I can’t tell you how may advertisers get this wrong or don’t fully understand what it means.

At Clicteq, we generally aim for a confidence level of 95%, which means that we’ll make the correct call on an advert at least 19 out of 20 times. This is our compromise between having enough data to split test and making sure that we’re making the rights calls.

To calculate statistical significance, you can use a tool such as Optmyzr or Adalysis, which has a statistical significance calculation built in, or alternatively you can calculate statistical significance using a tool called Splittester (created by Perry Marshall). 

The tool allows you to enter the number of clicks that each advert has got along with the respective CTR or conversion rate, and it will tell you the probability of making the correct decision if you conclude the split-test at that point. 

8) Pre-qualify your visitors

This is particularly useful if you’re selling a high-end product. For example, in this case, you may want to pre-qualify your visitors by including the price of the product within the ad copy.

If you choose to do this, customers who click on your ad won’t be surprised when they visit the landing page and see the high-price item, and hence won’t leave (bounce) as a result.

This will reduce the number of non-serious visitors to your landing page, and will reduce wasted spend and increase conversion rates.

Here’s an example of T.M.Lewin using pre-qualification within their ads, as their price is higher than their competitors’.

You’ll notice that they’ve displayed their price prominently in both the display headline of the advert and within the ad copy itself.

9) Use countdown timers to increase your conversion rate

Countdown timers are an incredibly effective tool for creating a sense of urgency and hence driving more sales.

Here’s an example of an advertiser using this feature:

This feature is heavily underused, and presents a great opportunity for you to stand out from your competition.

When Search Engine Land conducted research into the effects of using countdown timers, they found that conversion rates significantly increased towards the end of the countdown.

Image source

Their research showed that conversion rate increased from 8.24% at ‘5 days left’ to 10.80% at 2 days before the end of the sale. This is a fairly impressive increase in conversion rate for simply adding a countdown timer to your extended text ads.

10. Break up with Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Experts have been telling advertisers to use ‘dynamic keyword insertion’ (DKI) for a long time now, to make their adverts more relevant by dynamically changing the headline of your ads to the most relevant keyword within your ad group. 

However, when looking at the data, the numbers just don’t add up. Single keyword ad groups that use standard ad text seem to outperform ads using DKI, according to data from WordStream.

Their data shows that when looking at the top 5% of adverts running on their platform, ads that don’t use DKI are outperforming ads with DKI, when looking at their relative CTRs.

11. Use emotional triggers within your ad copy 

Journalists have been using emotional triggers to increase CTRs for years. Why not apply this to your extended text ads to increase your CTR as well?

Here are 9 emotional triggers that have been proven to increase CTRs:

  • Laughter
  • Amusement
  • Curiosity
  • Awe
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Empathy
  • Sadness

WordStream also ran some tests to see how fear affected CTRs of Adwords ads.

They tested two different ad copies, one with a negative connotation and one with a positive connotation, as shown below. 

WordStream considered who their target customer was – and this was likely to be a frightened woman, with kids, a husband, and responsibilities.

She was searching something along the lines of “breast cancer symptoms”, so more likely than not, she was thinking there was a chance she might have breast cancer. Therefore the ad copy was designed specifically to reach out and use ‘fear’ to motivate this type of woman into booking a screening. 

They found that when they applied a negative twist to their adverts, they generated 125% more appointments. 

You can even apply FOMO (‘Fear Of Missing Out’) elements to spice up your Expanded Text Ads and increase CTR. This works particularly well for sales and exclusive offers. 

Here’s an example of Acme using FOMO psychology to incentivise clicks for their 15% Off Black Friday event. 

Their ad copy makes users feel like they’re going to miss out on the 15% Off deal if they don’t act before the end of Black Friday.

12. Use the full range of ad extensions 

A simple and easy way to increase the performance of your Expanded Text Ads is to use the full range of ad extensions. 

These have been proven to increase both CTR and conversion rate by taking up more space on the first page of Google, and instilling trust in searchers.

You’ll want to ensure that you have all 9 of the following ad extensions applied to your expanded text ads: 

  1. Sitelink extensions (increase CTR by 10-20%)
  2. Callout extensions (increase CTR by around 10%)
  3. Structured snippet extensions (increase CTR by around 10%)
  4. Location extensions (increase CTR for local searchers by up to 9%)
  5. Seller rating extensions (increase CTR by 17% and conversion rate by 4.9%) 
  6. Review extensions (increase CTR by 15-20%)
  7. Price extensions
  8. Call extensions
  9. Message extensions

13. Use title case within your ads

Capitalising the first letter of every word within your extended text ads is a great way to help make your ad stand out without violating Adwords policies on capitalisation. 

Periscopix conducted a study into the effects of using title case on CTR, and found that title case outperformed sentence case.

Below is a table that shows the high-level metrics from the 6-week test that they conducted. 

We can seen that on mobile, use of title case results in a slightly higher overall CTR. This may be due to standing out on a smaller screen, or due to being in a slightly higher ad position. 

If you’re struggling to work out how to use title case, I’d suggest using this converter here

14. Ask questions 

Here, you’ll reflect on what the user has searched for by using a question. For example, if a user searches for “last minute hotel”, they might see the advert below. Because you’re reciprocating a question, users assume that the website must be relevant. This technique has been proven to increase CTR. 

Here’s an example of how we included a satisfaction question in AskNicely’s PPC ad copy: 

By asking “Are Your Customers Happy?” in AskNicely’s ad, Klientboost saw an increase in conversions by 67% and the click-through-rate (CTR) by 219%. 

14. Put your most important information in Headline 1

Mark Kennedy spotted that Google will sometimes truncate headline 2, and posted this screenshot of it online.

Although both headlines can technically be up to 30 characters long, there are no guarantees on exactly how (or if) the second headline will show.

It’s therefore very important to ensure that you include your most important features within headline 1 of your ad copy. 

Google has responded with tips to avoid truncation – you should limit your ad character count to 33 characters across headlines 1 & 2, as well as using the ‘ad preview’ tool to identify truncation issues.

15. Use a strong USP

Having a strong unique selling point (USP) to differentiate you from your competition is key to success. 

You need to ask yourself:

Why should searchers click on my ad over my competitors? What makes me different?

Perry Marshall has identified 6 ways that you can be unique within your Adwords ads: 

  1. You’re unique because of the buyer you serve.
  2. You’re unique because of what you sell. 
  3. You’re unique because you have an unusual angle.
  4. You’re unique because of what your product or service does not do.
  5. You’re unique because of the time frame around your offer.
  6. You’re unique because of how you guarantee your product.

A good example of a strong USP comes from this over-50s dating website. 

There are hundreds of dating websites out there, however, this advert turns its niche placement of targeting a particular demographic (the over 50s) into their USP. This makes it stand out from generic ads from competitors like Match.com. 

A second good example of USPs come from InToroGlass. This advert stands out because of the unique guarantee that comes with the product – there are no other providers of iPhone screen protectors that offer a lifetime guarantee! 

16. Use RLSA

RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) work a lot like Display Network Remarketing, but on the Google Search Network. 

They allow you to show tailored adverts to users who have visited your website before, but did not convert on the first visit. 

A great way to make use of this feature is to offer users a benefit that they weren’t offered on their first visit, to try to entice them to convert. 

Here’s an example of how this might work. Searches who see your advert for the first time see “summer dresses for $99”, but users who have visited your site before see a discount advert with the headline “summer dresses for $79”. 

Image source

Research by WordStream finds that visitors who have already visited your website are 2-3 times more likely to click on your advert compared to new visitors. This shows just how effective using RLSA is at improving your CTR. 

17. Scope out your competition

The key to creating a winning offer is to analyse what your competition is doing, and then do it better. 

There are a lot of tools available out there, such as SEMrush or Spyfu, which allow you to analyse your competitors’ ad copies.

With SEMrush, you can either enter the name of your competitor, or you can enter a keyword that you want to see ads for. 

For example, here I’ve entered the keyword “PPC management”.

Once you’ve done this you can analyse your competitors’ USPs. For example, Colewood offer monthly terms on their contacts, and Periscopix offer in-house bid management software.

Based on this, I could then go away and create a better advert using the USP “custom bid-management technology, tailored to your needs” to make Clicteq stand out from other PPC agencies. 

Creating expanded text ads within Adwords editor using Excel

To create new expanded text ads at bulk, we suggest using Excel and Adwords editor if you’re a mid-sized account, and for larger ones, the Adwords API may be a more effective method. 

STEP 1. To create expanded text ads within Adwords editor, you first need to create an Excel template that you can use. Here’s a screenshot of the one that we have created at Cliteq. We suggest that you also create a similar one.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-21-41-35

To do so, you’ll need the following column headers: 

Campaign | Ad group | Headline 1 | Headline 2 | Description | Path 1 | Path 2 | Final URL

We would also suggest adding a ‘count’ column after each one so you can ensure that you’re not over the Adwords character limit for each one. You can use the formula ‘=Len(cell you want the character count of)’, and then use conditional formatting to highlight anywhere that you’ve manage to go over the character limit. 

If you have thousands of new ads that you’re going to create, using freeze planes will help you to see the column headers even as you scroll down. Functions such as ‘concatenate’ and ‘v lookup’ will help you to create bespoke adverts quicker, however I won’t cover this here. If you’re interested, I suggest reading “6 Excel Tricks to save your PPC Life” by Eric Couch over at PPC Hero. 

STEP 2. Enter the campaign, ad group, headlines, description lines, paths, and final URL for your advert into the sheet, with a new advert on each line.

STEP 3. Open up the Adwords Editor interface. To add the new expanded text ad format, you’ll need to be using versions of the Adwords Editor later than V11.5. Make sure that you’re viewing Adwords Editor at Account level, and then select ‘Expanded text ads’ under ‘Ads’ from the ‘Manage’ drop-down menu, as shown in the screenshot below. 

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STEP 4. Click the ‘Make multiple changes’ button at the top of the interface, as shown in the screenshot below. 

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-22-23-50

STEP 5. Make sure that you’ve copied all of the data in your Excel spreadsheet, including the column headers, as Adwords will match these and it will save you time. You should then paste these into Adwords Editor, and you should end up with something that looks like this.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-22-34-45

Once you’ve done this, hit the ‘Process’ button, and your adverts will appear within the Adwords Editor interface.

STEP 6. All of these changes will have been made offline, and at this point, your expanded text ads will only appear within Adwords Editor. You now need to post them into the Adwords Interface by taking the following steps. First, go to ‘Post’ along the grey bar at the top of the window, and then select ‘Post changes’ from the drop-down menu (or on a Mac you can use the shortcut cmd + P).

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-22-37-04

Conclusion

The new Expanded Text ad format is probably the biggest update that Google has released in the past 15 years, and has had a profound effect on the performance of our clients’ Adwords ads. 

Although we’ve seen a strong uplift in CTR for our clients, we think that this will become less profound as all advertisers make the move to the new format. 

When moving to the new format, the Adwords Editor interface and Excel sheets will make your life a lot easier, even if you’re just changing over a few hundred ads, so we’d strongly recommend using these! 

Please feel free to ask any questions below, and if you enjoyed this post, we would appreciate it if you shared it with your followers.

wesley parker
About wesley parker

Wesley is Founder and CEO at Clicteq. He currently manages a £6 Mil Adwords portfolio across a range of different sectors. He regulally features in leading search publications such as Econsultancy, Campaign Magazine and Search Engine Land. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin

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