5 Lessons from A/B Tests: Improving AdWords CTR with Smarter Copy


We’ve been running guest posts by Ryan Healy, a copywriter for BoostCTR, for quite a while now. Each post focuses on a single A/B test and analyzes the strengths of the winning ad (that is, the ad with the higher click-through rate). There’s so much good ad writing insight in these posts, I thought it was time to dig back through them and pull out some takeaways.

Here are five ad writing lessons gleaned from Ryan’s A/B tests that you can use to improve your AdWords CTR and Quality Score.

Lesson #1: Leave Out the Lingo

Don’t use insider jargon that your audience might not know or understand in the context of your ad. For example, look at the below ads:


PPC Ad #1
MMA - Ad #1
PPC Ad #2
MMA - Ad #2


The second version increased CTR by 70%. The first version uses some confusing terminology: “No XP reqd.” That means “No experience required,” but it’s not obvious – when I see “XP” I think “Windows,” and probably the average person does too.

To make your ads more readable and clickable, use simple, straightforward language. If you’re not sure if your ad is readable or not, run some tests!

Lesson #2: Target Your Real Target

This is related to lesson #1. Just as you should keep your target customer’s vocabulary in mind, you should make sure you’re speaking to their goals and needs. Take a look at the two ads below (“ADA” stands for “Americans with Disabilities Act”):


PPC Ad #1
Ad #1 - ADA Signs
PPC Ad #2
Ad #2 - ADA Signs


The first ad focuses on benefits for people who might read the signs (“Bold & Clear”) – but the ad should be targeting people who might buy the signs. The second ad wins (increasing CTR by a whopping 164%!) in part because it focuses on benefits for the buyer – that is, businesses who need ADA signage for compliance reasons (“Avoid Hefty Fines”).

Lesson #3: Use Verbs

Maybe it sounds obvious, but since you want people to do something when they see your ad, it’s important to use strong verbs that entice them to action. Take a look at this A/B test:


PPC Ad #1
CRM Software - Ad #1
PPC Ad #2
CRM Software - Ad #2


Ad #2 uses no verbs. (Tracking is a gerund here. Fun grammar facts!)  The first ad, which achieved 89% higher CTR, uses a verb to tell people why they should click the ad – “Watch Online CRM Demo Instantly!” People like being told what to do; it allows them to think less. Make sure your ads have a call to action centered around a commanding, descriptive verb.

Lesson #4: Match Your Ad to the Product

Use the exact brand name of the product or service you are selling in the ad. An exact match improves relevance in the eyes of Google (helping your ad rank) as well as the searcher (encouraging them to click). Notice the difference in spelling between these two ads:


PPC Ad #1
Vibram - Ad #1
PPC Ad #2
Vibram - Ad #2


Ad #1, which increased CTR by 65%, spells out “Five” instead of using the number “5.” This more closely  matches the actual name brand of the shoe. (They probably could have increased CTR even further by using the exact brand name, which is “Fivefinger,” one word.)

Lesson #5: Use an Exclamation Point

Did you notice that all of the winning ads above use exclamation points? This visual sign of enthusiasm often improves your CTR. Scan your AdWords ads and see if you could be getting more leverage just by adding this single punctuation mark.


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H Bentz
Mar 20, 2012

Very insightful. This was an excellent article!!!

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 21, 2012

Thanks very much!

Joey D
Mar 26, 2012

Cool article - love seeing these real life examples. Something to keep in mind - when doing A/B testing, it's best to limit the number of variables. Otherwise there's really no telling which message point is/isn't resonating with the user. For example - Lesson #1: it's difficult to pinpoint why ad #2 performed better. It could be the lack of lingo or... it could also be that ad #21) uses DKI2) mentions "Training" vs. "Instruction"3) has a stronger call to action If we really wanted to test the impact of "No XP reqd!", it would be better to setup identical ads with and without that copy to specifically measure the impact on CTR. 

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 26, 2012

Yes, that's true -- if you change more than one element, you'll end up doing a lot of speculation. Most of the above guidelines are actually extrapolated from multiple A/B tests. But thank you for the reminder!

Mar 27, 2012

In the zoho example, ad#1 performed better mainly because of the "free" in the headline.Free always increases the CTR even more than verbs...Interesting article though but in most of the cases feels like comparing apples with oranges..

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 27, 2012

You're right about the word "free" (I wrote about that phenomenon in "What Do Ads with High Click-Through Rates Have in Common?"), but I do think verbs and strong calls to action are key for improving CTR even further. Don't stop with the word "free" or an exclamatoin point when you can make your ad even better. (Also, "free" won't apply to every ad.)

Sanjeev Kumar
Sep 06, 2012

Best Article ever to improve quality score of your ad. Thanks!

Dec 18, 2012

Great Article. Will apply according to your instruction and see there is any considerable improvement in my ads. Thanks

researching Adwords
Jul 29, 2013

@Galia - I agree with that. Just adding "free" to the copy isn't always an option for people making ads.....so then how do we improve the ctr?

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