PPC Ad Test Settings: The Great Debate

PPC ad testing is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s one of the most fun aspects of managing PPC campaigns: learning what ad copy performs best. It’s always fun to try something wild and crazy and have it perform well, or to prove an insistent client right or wrong with test data.

Lately, there have been several opinions thrown around regarding which PPC ad test settings should be used for best results. It’s been interesting to watch the debate play out in blog posts and on Twitter. And to add confusion to the mix, Google recently announced that they were reducing the options available for ad rotation to two: optimize and rotate indefinitely. Google claims the change was rolling out in September, but I’m still seeing 4 options in my campaigns.

Anyway, there are a few PPC experts who have suggested that it’s better in the long run to use the Optimize settings, rather than Rotate Evenly. PPC Hero recommends running 3 or more ads per ad group, and letting Google choose the winner. This is also Google’s recommendation, incidentally. Their argument is based on a case study showing that clicks increased when they chose the Optimize setting and ran 3 or more ads.

If you’re optimizing for clicks, you probably have bigger problems than choosing ad rotation settings.

At HeroConf London, Marty Röttgerding gave a presentation on ad rotation. I wasn’t at the conference, but his deck is up on Slideshare. I strongly recommend you check it out – while paging through Slideshare isn’t the same as hearing the presentation in person, you can get the drift. He talks about statistical significance and essentially says it’s a red herring. He also points out that the search partner network, and its low CTRs, throws things off. So does ad position and the fact that quality score and other factors are determined at the time of the auction. Marty also advocates letting Google handle ad rotation.

I disagree.

Now before you dismiss me as a Luddite who wants to manually control all aspects of Adwords, let me remind you that I wrote a post not long ago advocating for using bid management tools. I’m a big fan of automation. Just not when it comes to ad copy testing.

I’ve tried using optimize for conversions, more than once. We’ve inherited accounts full of campaigns with that setting. And when we’ve evaluated results, we’ve always come to the same conclusion: Optimize for conversions is flawed.

It’s flawed for the same reason that Facebook ad “rotation” is flawed. Both systems pick winners too soon. (To be clear, I’m not talking about the brand new split testing feature that FB just announced here.)

I’ve seen Adwords choose a winning ad that’s had 10-20 clicks. That’s just not enough clicks to be significant at any level. I’m not looking for 99% confidence, but when an ad could get 5-10 additional clicks and show a totally different result, that’s not a winning ad in my mind. There isn’t enough data to confidently say that the ad Google deems a “loser” won’t actually perform better with more clicks.

I’m not a fan of the “run at least 3 ads” logic either. We inherited a client nearly 2 years ago that was running 5-10 ads in every ad group. Each ad had a handful of clicks. There was no way to see which ad was winning – and no tests would ever come close to statistical significance. Here’s what happened when we took over and started running systematic tests, 2 ads at a time:

Of course, we were doing other optimization here, but ad copy testing was a huge part of it.

Here’s the bottom line. I get that automation is great and helps us focus on strategic PPC management. But why hand all your automation over to Google? We all know Google has Google’s best interest at heart, not ours.

I prefer using third party tools. For bid management, I like Acquisio. For ad copy testing, I’m a huge fan of AdAlysis. AdAlysis tells you when you have statistically significant test results, and can even automate your ad testing. It’ll pause losing ads, based on the KPIs you choose:

You can also set up draft ads that will automatically start running when loser ads are paused:

You can test a whole new ad, or have AdAlysis pick up elements of the previous ad. In the example above, I’m testing descriptions, so I want to keep the headlines the same as before. Just check the box, and the tool will do that.

It takes some time and thought to set up the automation, but the same is true of setting up tests via Google. And Google won’t automatically pause losing ads, unless you run a script telling it do to so. AdAlysis has so many other features besides ad copy testing, but is worth it for the testing tools alone.

When it comes to PPC ad test settings, I like to choose Rotate Indefinitely and make my own decisions on winners and losers.

What do you think? Are you in the automation camp for PPC ad test settings? If so, do you let Google automate, or are you using a tool? Share in the comments!

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