Writing Ad Variants

Testing variations of your ad copy is important. Each of your ad groups should have at least two ads within it at all times, preferably three or four. In this way you are always testing and optimizing your ad copy, ensuring you are always on top of what works (and eliminating what doesn’t)

The problem with writing ad variations

It’s a hassle. It’s just difficult and time consuming. So much so, in fact, and most Google Ads accounts don’t use variations at all. Which is a shame, because testing different ad copy is a easy way to improve your relevance, your CTR, and your ROI.

The solution: writing-prompt checklists

That’s a lot less exciting than an automatic ad copy generator, isn’t it? I know. The silver lining is that these checklists make banging out quality ad copy a LOT less painful that trying to do it off the top of your head.

Checklists are great. They are the unsung hero helping people manage the complexity of everyday life. There’s a great book about the effectiveness of checklists in all sorts of contexts. From building and flying airplanes to surgery, checklists work. One hospital that instituted a pre-surgery checklist reduced complications and deaths by 35 percent. The humble checklist can make your ad writing chore easier too!

A quick review of the ad format

Many of you already know this, but it’s worth going over quickly.  Here’s what we have to work with: text ad

  • Three headlines, 30 characters each
  • Two description, 90 characters each
  • Two optional URL paths,  15 characters each. These should contain your keywords and are easy to create. We’ll not worry about these for the purposes of this article. -

Step 1: Compose a headline 1

Before going into ad variations, I’d like to mention keywords. Always include a ad variation that includes the keyword in either headline 1 or 2 (or both, depending on the keyword).  Then build out your variations using one or more of the following cues.

Headline variation one: Name the activity

The search query might be “night schools miami,” but just reflecting the keyword won’t perfectly match what the user is actually doing. Sometimes a good option is to do that. - For example, you might want to use Looking for night schools? as headline one.

google text ad variation

Headline variation two: Mirror the problem

Think about why the user is engaged in their activity, and mirror that. Why is the searcher looking for night schools? - One potential reason is that they are Stuck in the same job? which is a great variation for headline one. If there are multiple potential problems to be solved, you can create all your headline one varieties by mirroring different needs, and testing which works best.

google text ad variation

Headline variation three: Make a promise

An ad is fundamentally a promise. It is a promise to the searcher that the answer to the search is on the other side of the link.  One variation could make an explicit promise about what that link will deliver. - For example,  your school might help people Retrain for a better career which is a great variation.

google text ad variation

Headline variation four: Offer information

People search to find more information about a topic. Offer them that information. You could include a variation that asks Is night school right for you? For this variation, be sure and follow up in headline two and in the landing page, otherwise your performance will suffer.

google text ad variation -

Step 2: Compose a complementary headline two

You can mix and match the headline variations to some degree, but be careful when you do. By and large, you want to either put a CTA or your strongest benefit in headline 2.

(Headline three is a special case because it isn’t always shown. See below)

If you are using a keyword in headline 1, match it with a headline 2 that makes sense, considering examples below. Often the call to action is a good choice for keyword headlines.

For a “Name the activity” headline one, use a call to action in headline two

The call to action is also a useful headline two for using a keyword variation in headline one. You simply match headline one with a call to action in headline two - For example, you might want to use Looking for night schools? – Sign up for a free tour as your complete headline.

google text ad variation

For a “Mirror the problem” headline one, address the problem in headline two

If you mirror the problem in headline one, an effective headline two will confidently express that the problem can be resolved. - In this way, your complementary headline two looks like this Stuck in the same job? – You can have a better future

google text ad variation

When you make a promise in headline one – tout benefits in headline two

Whatever you promise in headline one, use headline two to highlight the benefits of making that choice. - For example,  a full headline variation might read Retrain for a better career – more salary, better balance

When you offer information in headline one – expand the information in headline two

Whatever information you offer in headline one, expand on the specific type of information you are offering. This is a great option to use when you have a strong blog post or infographic (or both) you can point to. You could include a variation that asks **Is night school right for you? – Five things to consider **

google text ad variation

Step 3: Consider headline three

Headline three isn’t always shown. In fact, in some campaigns it’s shown less than 1% of the time.

With that in mind, you can skip headline three altogether, or use it to tout a less important benefit. Because it may never (or rarely) appear, you definately don’t want to use it for your CTA or most important benefit.

Step 4: Compose a description

After your write your headlines, you need to write the description section of your ad. You have 90 characters to work with. Your job is to be compelling and relevant in the space of a half-tweet. It can be done! A checklist can really help:

Include the keyword in your descriptions

Just as with the headline, it’s always a good idea to include the keyword in at least one variation of your ad description. Especially if you are building out hyper-specific ad groups using Alpha/Beta or SKAG techniques, including a keyword can improve the relevance of your ad - For example a keyword description might begin Flexible night education program for working adults. Hyper specific. Gets right to the search query.

google text ad description

Use an if … then construction

If then is a nice complement to a headline that mirrors the problem. It emphasizes the message by telling the searcher that if they want to solve the problem, the answer is available. - For example, a description might begin If you want more career opportunity, night school is a great option.

google text ad description

Use a “Who else wants?” construction

This variation provides implied social proof that lots of other people have made the decision to click on the ad, and have been rewarded for it. It sounds silly, but data show it can work. - For example,  a description might begin Who else wants more career opportunities?

google text ad description

Use an “imagine yourself…” construction

This takes the searcher beyond the immediate problem, over the solution, and into the reward they can find by implementing the solution. The problem? Lousy career. The solution? Retraining. The reward? A better career. - For example, a description might begin Imagine yourself in a high paying career.

google text ad description

Step 4: Double check that you are following ad writing guidelines

Google has rules about what may and may not be included in an ad. They are worth reviewing, and include guidelines about grammar, punctuation, the use of various parts of the ad, among other topics. Read up on ‘em here.