AB Testing headlines

A Beginner’s Guide to A/B Testing Pay-Per-Click Ads—Part 2: Ad Headlines

In the first part of this series, I went over the basics of A/B testing and discussed the 4 important variables you should test in your pay-per-click ads: the headline, links, body text, and keyword. Now I’d like to break each of those components down and talk about them in a little more detail, starting with ad headlines.

So Why Is the Headline Important?

Think of your ad headline as the hook to catch your audience: it’s in a big, bold font and at the top of your ad, so it’s going to be the first part of your business that people see when scanning through a web page, and if it doesn’t capture their attention, they’re not going to bother reading the text below or clicking through to your site.

Your headline should serve the purpose of telling consumers what you’re offering and why it deserves their attention more than the hundreds of other ads they see on a daily basis. And—like any good initial pitch—it should be short and to the point. If you think it sounds difficult to craft a headline that’s both short and sets your ad apart, that’s because it is. Headlines are tricky. But if you keep in mind the best practices below, you’ll be better prepared to craft a successful ad.

Best Practices: Headlines

Take advantage of your characters. The character limit on PPC ads makes Twitter look like a posting site for epic novels by comparison—you’re only allowed to have 25 characters (at most) in your headline. The good thing about this is that it prevents you from getting carried away and producing a wordy headline that might turn off consumers. It’s the perfect opportunity to practice being concise: think about what you’re trying to sell and who you’re trying to sell to, and distill that into a short headline. For example, if you own a running shoes store and want to highlight a specific sale, you might try something like “Women’s Running Shoes 50% Off,” which is exactly 25 characters. (There’s no rule that you have to use all 25 characters, but you might as well use most of them.)

Make sure that you’re reflecting your product and service. One thing you should try before committing to a headline is Googling similar keywords and seeing what sponsored results show up. Let’s say you searched “Women’s Running Shoes” and you saw lots of results that used that exact phrase. Figure out how to make your headline a little more specific to your brand—maybe you could add something like “Sale on Women’s Running Shoes.” You should also try to anticipate what your target customers will want. For example, if you ship shoes all over the world and think your customers will value this, you can say something like “Running Shoes Ship Worldwide.”

Don’t go over 5 words. Since you’re already limited to 25 characters, don’t go over 4 or 5 words in your headline. Avoid little words like “the,” “at,” and “in”—they just take space away from more important words. Also make sure you’re utilizing a keyword, such as “running shoes.” This keyword or phrase will appear in bold in your ad.

Use title case. Make sure that all the words in your headline are spelled correctly and that you’re using title case—your ad will look sloppy and unprofessional otherwise. If you’re not familiar with the standard rules of title case, you can review them here.

Headline Techniques to Try

Because you’re going to be A/B testing your PPC ad, you can play around with a lot of different headline variations (provided you only change one variable at a time) in order to determine what’s most effective. Here are a few different things you might want to try in various ads.

Highlight a discount or promotion. If web users are scrolling through a list of sponsored results and the first 3 just name a product, but the fourth one offers a discount on that product, chances are that’s the one they’ll click on first. Phrases like “sale” and “free shipping” will catch consumers’ eyes and make them want to learn more.

Use dynamic keywords. Dynamic keyword insertion is a feature offered by Google AdWords that gives you a little more flexibility in your headline. You use certain set words, such as “Save on…” but then use keywords with a certain amount of variation, like “kitchenware, kitchen knives, cooking utensils” that will come up based on what a web user searches for. This allows you to create a more personalized ad experience.

Use questions in your headline. Creating a question in 25 characters can be tough, but if you can manage it, you’ll stand out from the vast majority of other ads and pique your audience’s interest. For example, instead of just saying, “Online Grocery Service,” you could try something like “Need groceries online?” or “Want groceries delivered?”

Brand your headline. Really stand out from the crowd while simultaneously raising awareness of your brand by including the brand name in your headline. If you bid for your brand name on Google, you can ensure that your name will come up when web users do a specific search for your brand. Branding your PPC is cheaper than you might think it would be, too, because there’s less competition for the keyword (more businesses will be competing for generic keywords).

Crafting a good PPC ad headline can take some thought, but it’s worth putting the effort in and A/B testing multiple versions to see what gets the best results. Once you’ve found a headline that you’re happy with, the next thing you’ll want is to test your links, body text, and keyword, all of which I’ll be covering in upcoming posts.

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