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PPC Copy Changes Can Hurt You

Success or failure in PPC advertising depends on a number of factors: the keyword list, the bidding strategy, the landing page choice, the selection and price of the offerings, the ease of shopping the site, the reputation of the company, market forces in the economy at large and more. As I've mentioned before, the ad copy is a smaller factor than any of the above, yet often receives disproportionate attention because it's visible and relatively easy to manipulate. However, tinkering with copy too much can cost you. Here's how:
  • Quality Score Erosion: The three biggest components of quality score are Click-Through Rate (CTR), bid, and historical performance (CTR) for the account. Landing pages are not a factor for legitimate retailers. The CTR measured is based on historical data for that combination of keyword and copy. Interestingly, the data is not retailer specific; if Google knows that the combination of a keyword and copy block have not performed well for one retailer, they expect it not to work well for others, either. Every time a retailer changes their copy, they lose the Quality Score they've built up on the old combination. If the old combination was doing better than average, the change will immediately either increase CPCs or lower position on the page, or both. If the new combination turns out to be better, great, but if not you'll never recoup this loss. It's very difficult to materially improve copy after the first few tests, so the odds of doing harm are pretty good.
  • Hanging Offer Copy: You can minimize the Quality Score damage by running the new copy as an additional version, rather than a replacement, but that can result in two other problems. First, the new copy is randomly interchanged with the old copy, so if the copy change was dictated by the "corner office" this won't satisfy the boss. Second, it's compelling to constantly roll out new versions on the theory that the best version will win out, the problem is if offer copy is in the mix it is all too easy to leave those offer text blocks running after the offer has expired. That can really get you in hot water.
  • Opportunity Costs: This is often the most costly piece. Many firms get so wrapped up in frenetic copy changes that they stop paying attention to those other factors that have far more impact on the campaign's performance. Careful analysis of the data may not be as easy to demonstrate to the corner office, but the benefits that flow into smart, subtle adjustments to bid strategy, scrutiny of search strings and match types, and extra attention to the performance changes going into and coming out of a holiday generate much greater return on the investment of time.
When does it make sense to change and test copy?
  • We advocate testing copy blocks early to find the most compelling message for each category of product. Remember that you're not trying to sell the products here, you're trying to sell your website as the place to shop for the product. Periodically you might try to "beat the control", but pretty quickly you should find that that becomes very difficult. at that point your analysts time is better spent on other projects.
  • Test the merits of changing copy to reflect offers against running the standard copy while offers are happening. Note: you have to run the same keywords in different campaigns to make this work, using Google or Yahoo's copy testing system won't work. You'll find that the offer copy generates higher CTR and that will either lower CPC or raise position on the page, but you'll also find that conversion rate and sales per click drop. The quality of the traffic will be lower because offer copy attracts "bottom feeders". Whether the additional, cheaper CPCs plus lower quality traffic pays off will depend on the retailer and the promotion, but it should be tested. Don't assume that because the CTR is higher offer copy is better, we've found it's often a wash.
  • If testing reveals that offer copy does help performance during offers, then roll out several different versions to find the best one. More importantly, make sure the offer is sufficiently wide-spread to justify the time spent and avoid the opportunity costs referenced above.
Some bad reasons to change copy?
  • Because the overall performance of the program is heading south. If the big numbers are moving in the wrong direction the problem is not the ad copy, it's bigger than that. Look to your bidding, keyword lists, match types and landing pages to find the real problem.
  • Because you're "tired" of the old copy. Remember most of the folks who search for your products have never seen the copy before. They're not tired of it, and they're the ones that matter.
  • Because you don't know what else to do. Here are some higher value PPC projects for you to work on.
  • Because it's important to look busy. We think it's more important to generate results, and you're more likely to make progress by analyzing data and adjusting the big levers as the analyses suggest.
Your time is valuable, use it wisely!!! George
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