2021 Update: RIP expanded text ads 🙁
Despite the fact that remembering to rinse cans and throw out the little sheet of wax paper covered in coagulated cheese at the bottom of every pizza box is a minor annoyance, I’m a big proponent of recycling.
Unless, that is, we’re talking about stitching old snippets of ad copy together in order to create your new Expanded Text Ads.
You see, recycling standard text ads—carving off a sliver of a description line here, stealing a CTA there, and pulling it all together with a bit of punctuation or a nice conjunction-suture—simply doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, many advertisers are having an inordinately difficult time leaving their old, constrained copy and the formulas that once yielded top-performing ads behind in favor of the comparatively greener pastures of ETA’s.
If you’ve been advertising on the search network for more than a decade, it’s possible you’ve become unreasonably attached to your ads. Even if you’re a diligent split-tester, there’s probably copy active somewhere in your account that’s been producing conversions since before people hated millennials.
This is largely due to the fact that, since Google introduced AdWords (now known as Google Ads) way back in Y2K, the format of text ads has remained unchanged: 25-character headline. Two 35-character description lines. Display URL. This continuity has bred a level of comfortability so profoundly couch-locked that advertisers are struggling to leverage the 47% increase in character count that Expanded Text Ads offer.
Instead, as mentioned above, common practice has been to take pieces from an account’s most historically dominant (or at least relatively successful) ad copy to create what I like to call the Frankenstein ETA.
While it can be argued that these Frankenstein ETA’s are born of pragmatism and not a lack of creativity, their detrimental impact far outweighs any perceived benefit of time saved. Simply put, the “efficiency” of using grafted ETA’s instead of generating fresh copy has the potential to adversely impact your account performance.
The hesitance to leave what’s worked for more than a decade behind makes total sense. You’ve been using short phrases like “sale ends soon” and “learn more” forever. Your copy has leveraged keywords in ways that made perfect sense when text ads were capped at 95 characters. But in a world where the SERP is littered with sprawling ETA’s, sticking to these old methods is like insisting on using dialup.
It’s a square peg / round hole situation, and the only way around it is to begin writing new ad copy: ad copy explicitly created for the higher character count and altered format of Expanded Text Ads.
As such, your first step towards writing exceptional Expanded Text Ads is to kill off your old copy. Yes, standard text ads will be put to pasture on January 31, but I’m talking scorched earth.
It makes complete sense to learn from your historically top-performing ads, but this knowledge should serve as nothing more than a foundation.
Take this screenshot for example. Notice how the first headline in the ETA is the exact same as the old one (forgivable since this clearly belongs in a branded campaign). After that, though, things go awry. The second headline, “The Destination for Music Gear,” makes no emotional appeal. There’s no CTA. And don’t even get me started on the description line, which basically looks like whoever wrote the copy appended some old ad extensions to the exact same line in order to hit the new character count.
This, folks, is not an isolated incident. In fact, our account is guilty of the exact same thing (we’re transitioning towards better ETA’s that make use of the very tactics you’ll find below, but for the time being, we’re as guilty as our pals over at Guitar Center).
The lesson here?
In what follows, I’ve created a list of the 7 deadly ETA sins: things I know you’ve probably already done (or will do in the coming weeks) and, more importantly, how to avoid them entirely and write some seriously kick ass ad copy instead.
The limited space available in standard text ads (95 characters between the headline and pair of description lines) made it advantageous to mention the keywords you were bidding on within the first 25 characters. Doing so afforded you a bolded keyword at the onset of your ad which, in a single 25-character headline, functioned like a much less impressive neon sign.
Now, with Expanded Text Ads, you shouldn’t feel obligated to include the term you’re bidding on within the first 30 characters. Should the keyword make an appearance somewhere within your ad? Of course! But there’s so much real estate available to you that, unless you can find a way to weave a keyword into a coherent phrase, you should leave it out: there’s always the other headline, the description line, and both URL paths.
While your competitors are rehashing the same tired, robotic copy, you’ll win over new prospects with a combination of a compelling offer and discernable personality.
Prioritize saying something compelling, not just beating a prospect over the head with their search query.
Check this out…
While this ETA example uses the keyword (“onboarding software”) within the first headline, it does so in a way that feels far more organic than simply appending “best” to the term. The account manager makes excellent use of the additional space by elaborating on what onboarding software does, offering copy that conveys both features and benefits instead of simply padding the requisite keyword with monosyllabic adjectives.
The results are clear: providing compelling information to prospects instead resulted in a 400% improvement in CTR.
Expanded Text Ads give you so many places to leverage keywords. That swollen description line? Boom. Those shiny new URL pathways? Shazzam. Don’t feel obligated to write spammy, incoherent headlines; instead, offer value.
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen with advertisers’ initial attempts at writing Expanded Text Ads has been the decision to shift old description lines into the new second headline.
Now, formulaically, best practice for writing a standard text ad looked something like this:
Headline: Keyword + whatever else fit (likely a short, non-descriptive adjective)
Desc. Line 1: Value proposition
Desc. Line 2: Value proposition continued + Call to action
Following this scaffold, the second headline in an expanded text ad crafted from salvaged ad copy would be a 30-character value proposition. While having this emboldened might sound valuable, in reality it’s a waste of the biggest advantage ETA’s afford advertisers: the ability to include a typographically eye-catching call to action.
Focus on incorporating an irresistible call to action.
Realistically speaking, the majority of people only read headlines. While this sentiment is widely cited in regards to news (and is credited with the rise of clickbaity headlines), it holds true for PPC ads, too.
This makes a second bolded headline inherently more valuable.
If we’re using the first headline to say something compelling, the second headline should focus on convincing a prospect to click the ad and subsequently convert. By making an emotional appeal in the first headline, you set yourself up to present your offer before the prospect’s eyes descend to your description line. You’re effectively ensuring that more people see your call to action, which, when done well, will improve your CTR.
If you’ve created interest by appealing to the searcher’s intent with your first headline, the second headline should be a call to action: after all, most people only read headlines anyway!
(Note: The best practices here for Responsive Search Ads are a bit different, since you don’t always know what order Google will display your headlines.)
For my money, this one’s the most important thing on the entire list, and it’s at the root of everything else I’ve mentioned to this point.
Every standard text ad best-practice or strategy you’ve deployed or read about was predicated on stingy character constraints. Instead of being able to provide prospects with detailed value propositions and precise calls to action, you’ve been forced to make concessions.
For the same reasons, many advertisers have long avoided including features like countdown timers because, well, the character constraints made it too difficult.
Now, thanks to Expanded Text Ads, you’ve got the opportunity to share a more powerful message with your prospects: please don’t waste it by stitching your old ads together instead of coming up with something new.
Flex your copywriting muscles.
The increased character count means the days of “buy now,” “best,” and “ends soon” are in the rear view mirror. Instead, you can write ads that relate to your actual offering more organically. You can avoid vagueness, you can differentiate from the competition, by simply working your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) into your paid search ads.
And the best way to get started? Use your landing page and website copy in your PPC campaigns.
If your battle-tested landing pages were written by a professional copywriter, now’s the time to include some of that CRO magic in your paid search ads.
Once you’ve rolled out a set of copy written in this fashion— and left your half-baked Frankenstein ETA in the dumpster— you’re ready to star A/B testing your ad copy against countdown timers, emotional appeals, and anything else you can think of!
You’ve got 47% more space: use it!
With the old standard text ads, you had the ability to include a display URL. This was an excellent feature because it gave you the power to alter spammy-looking subdomains and include keywords.
With ETA’s, there is no more display URL. Your final URL is used to dynamically generate a “path,” which features two brand new fields aptly named URL Paths. These are a pair of 15 character blank spaces at the end of your final URL that you can use as you see fit. For those keeping score at home, that’s an additional 30 characters that you can use to your advantage (or completely ignore: don’t do this).
Remember those new, compelling headlines in which we took the onus off of keyword stuffing in favor of crafting a compelling offer? Well, URL Paths are the perfect place to make up some ground. Here, you can load up on the keywords you’re bidding on in an attempt to maximize Quality Score and show the prospects who read past your headlines that your ad is completely relevant to their search query.
But the utility of URL Paths doesn’t stop there.
Use every trick in the book to create hyper-relevant URL paths.
Part of what makes the URL Path fields so potent is that they can include more than just keywords. You can also use dynamic keyword insertion (to match a prospect’s search query perfectly) or—my personal favorite—include a countdown timer.
While it’s unlikely the URL Path is what makes or breaks your ad’s performance, maximizing their value can only help. Think of them as ad extensions that show 100% of the time.
If you’re feeling subversive, you can use the URL paths to include trademarked terms and the names of competitors. While this could be disallowed as Google begins to release updates to ETA’s, right now this is a creative way for advertisers to convey relevance and gain a competitive advantage without having their ads disapproved.
URL Paths are good for more than just looking pretty. Use them to your advantage by including a customizer (dynamic keyword insertion or countdown timer), too.
One feature of ETA’s that’s left some advertisers reeling—particularly those who primarily target mobile users—is the “lack” of mobile specific ads. And I get it. Mobile ads are so useful, and device-specific bid adjustments simply aren’t enough.
“But Allen, why did you put lack in scare-quotes?”
Excellent question, friend. It’s because there is a way to use mobile ETA: it just takes a bit of legwork and navigation.
Mosey on over to the “Business Data” section of the Shared library. From there, you can upload a feed (which is a fancy word for spreadsheet).
To create a feed, you’re going to want to make a spreadsheet that references the necessary fields. To keep things simple, let’s assume we want to alter the headline in one campaign so that it changes on mobile SERPS. To do this, you’re going to name one column “Headline1,” then reference the target campaign and ad group, respectively, followed by the device preference.
In the example above, we’re changing the first headline (“Headline1”) for ads served on mobile devices, so that the copy makes reference to the fact that a prospect can call for a free quote.
To push these customized ads live, simply open a bracket—just like you would if you were using DKI—type “=”, then the name of the feed (in this case “MobileETAs”) and the field that will change (“Headline1”), separating the two with a period.
And voila! Your mobile specific ads are ready to rock.
Mobile specific ads are alive and well: you just have to know where to find them.
Ad extensions have long been a crux of many Google Ads accounts; they give you the opportunity to share a bunch of context-specific supporting information with prospects without having to dip into your ad’s allotted character count.
Now, with ETA’s, extensions will still prove to be exceedingly useful. You’re just going to have to make sure to avoid overlap.
Google punishes advertisers whose ad copy and ad extensions align too closely by completely ignoring that the latter even exist: that’s right, Google will simply not serve extensions if they parrot the information in your ad copy.
If you’re writing Expanded Text Ads by recycling old ad copy, I’m willing to bet that you find yourself dipping into your ad extensions to fill the hit the target character count. Bad call.
**Cough** Write brand new, cohesive ads that aren’t full of 15-character phrases stitched together **Cough**
Seriously, though. If you do find yourself using some of the information that you used to have in your ad extensions, simply rewrite them to convey a different set of complementary information.
Now, there’s a good chance that by straying away from using disjointed phrases in your ad copy you don’t actually overlap with your ad extensions at all. That being said, you should conduct a full audit of your Google Ads account to determine what’s worked and what hasn’t. This’ll allow you to hit the ground running and move right into spit testing ad copy.
Review your ad extensions to make sure they’re still unique (otherwise Google will pretend they don’t exist).
Google isn’t the only platform on the block with Expanded Text Ads, folks. Microsoft Ads got ‘em too, and you’d be a fool to forget about them.
Bing’s ETA’s actually appear to be competing with AdWords quite well; based on our client data, Bing ETA’s average about 7% CTR on search.
…follow the rest of the advice I’ve given you on Bing, too!
The platform has its nuances, but for the most part, writing better Expanded Text Ads is a platform-agnostic activity. Just focus on including an emotional appeal or creating urgency in the headlines, positioning your brand as an authority in the description, and watch the leads pour in.
Remember everything you just did over on Google Ads? Rinse and repeat, my friend.
By avoiding the 7 sins of Expanded Text Ad writing and following the strategies outlined above, you’ll be crafting killer ad copy that converts in no time.
If you still have questions about creating Expanded Text Ads, register for ” The Countdown to ETAs,” a live webinar hosted by WordStream’s resident data scientist Mark Irvine on December 14th!
Allen Finn is the co-founder of Toasted Collective, a cannabis-focused digital agency. Many moons ago, he worked at WordStream, where he reigned as fantasy football champion for some time.
See other posts by Allen Finn
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