17 Tips for Writing the Highest Performing Expanded Text Ads [Updated]

The expanded text ad format was released in July 2016 as part of an extensive set of updates.

So what are expanded text ads, and how do they differ from the old text ad format that Google was previously offering? 

There were three major changes to the ads, which you can see in the image below.

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Image Source: Inside Google Ads Blog

The headline changed from a single 25-character headline to two 30-character headlines.

The description changed from two 35-character lines to one 80-character line.

Finally, the display URL changed from one 35-character display URL to a two-path system. 

Here, Google takes your website URL and allows you to add up to 30 characters, after splitting it into two 15-character boxes.

Early tests indicated that advertisers saw increases in CTR of around 20% by using the new expanded text ad format in place of the old ad format, so you need to ensure that your PPC agency has upgraded you!

How to write compelling expanded text ads

1. Make your ads highly relevant to the search query

The most important thing to do is make your ads highly relevant to the search terms that the user is entering. To do this, you need to make sure that your advert contains the keywords for which it’s going to appear, as ASDA has done here:

To be able to do this, you need tightly-grouped ad groups, or better still, you can use single-keyword ad groups.

So, if you don’t have tightly-themed ad groups and single-keyword ad groups for your top-performing keyword, do that before you start creating new ads, and it will make your life a lot easier.

To make your expanded text ads highly relevant to what the user is searching for, make sure that you include the keyword that the advert will be appearing for in both the headline of the ad copy and in one or more of the paths.

Not only does it make the advert appear more relevant, because people can see what they’re searching for in the headline of the advert, but the words within the advert that match what the user has typed into Google appear bolded, which helps your adverts stand out.

Here’s an example of an advert that’s highly relevant to the search term “London hotels”.

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You’ll notice that the search term “London hotels” appears in both headline 1 and in the two paths (the green display URL below the headline) of the advert.

Searchers instantly know that this advert is relevant to what they’re looking for, and the words “London” and “hotel” bolded within the advert help it to stand out from the other ads on the first page of Google.

2. Write conversion funnel-based expanded text ads

One of the best PPC articles that I’ve ever read about writing better ad copy comes from Purna Virji of Microsoft, which explains how to apply conversion funnel logic to improving your Google Ads advert copy.

I strongly recommend reading the full article on Search Engine Watch, called ‘How to create winning ad copy using a scientific approach‘ – but I’ll recap some of the key points that she makes here.

MECLABS devised a conversion formula that can also be applied to creating expanded text ads:

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-19-25-43

Image source: Search Engine Watch 

The formula shows that there are five elements that make up a conversion: the motivation of the user, the clarity of the proposition value, the incentive to take action, the friction of the process, and the user’s anxiety about entering information on your website.

By maximising the value of C, you are more likely to generate a conversion from your ad copy. 

Take ASOS, the online clothing retailer – its value proposition is its wide range of low-cost clothes on offer (which it has managed to achieve by not needing to pay for retail outlets) that can be delivered to your door by the next day.

The company also understands that there’s friction and anxiety when it comes to users ordering clothes online – in particular, the hassle of having to return clothes that don’t fit so well, or are no longer wanted for whatever reason. To alleviate this anxiety and improve the customer experience, ASOS offers free returns and exchanges.

Here’s an example of how Purna Virji suggests these factors (value proposition, anxiety, friction and incentive) can be converted into messaging within a Google Ads advert.

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Image source: Search Engine Watch 

Here’s another example that Purna Virji gives, showing the result of applying the conversion formula to a Google Ads advert.

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Image source: Search Engine Watch 

This is a brilliant piece of methodology for improving the performance of your expanded text ads, and will surely help you to move away from writing mundane ads in Excel!

3. Include a strong call to action 

A strong call to action directs users to take action, and helps increase the CTR and conversion rate of your adverts.

Jeff Allen from PPC Hero did a brilliant piece of research on what the best call to action is for your adverts, based on the organisation’s data.

It picked the winning call to action based on a keyword or phrase’s impact on conversion per 100,000 impressions, compared to the account average over the past six months.

Ecommerce account case study 

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Image source: PPC Hero

Here, you can see that, based on conversion rate, the call to action “shop now” has the highest conversion rate of all the calls to action, and that calls to action including the word “holiday” have the highest CTR.

Overall, the best-performing call to action when taking into account conversions per 100,000 impressions was “shop now”. We therefore suggest using this for your ecommerce campaigns.

Lead generation case study 

Here is PPC Hero’s data for the call to action case study in which it examined lead generation accounts.

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Image source: PPC Hero

When it came to ecommerce accounts, PPC Hero found that “learn more” had by far the highest conversion rate; however, when it came to CTR, calls to action that contained the word “apply” were the most successful.

Overall, when looking at conversions per 100,000 impressions and taking into account both CTR and conversion rate, the call to action “learn more” was the best performing.

We therefore suggest using this within your adverts – however, we also suggest testing other calls to action, as these results may vary depending on the vertical they’re in.

Note that this case study did not take into account possible mobile calls to action, which may be more effective at generating call conversions. 

So, when displaying adverts to users on mobile devices, and where your goal is to generate the maximum number of call leads, we suggest that you also test calls to action such as “call now” and “phone now”.

4. Lead with benefits, not product or service features

This is a great point that has been made before by Brad Geddes in his book Advanced Google AdWords, and also by David Greenbaum from Boost Media.

According to David’s case study, if you want to generate more conversions, your adverts should focus on the benefits of your products/services rather than their features.

There are two main reasons why this is the case. Firstly, highlighting the features of a product/service appeals to people who are in the comparison section of the buying cycle, and are comparing features of different products to decide what they’re going to purchase; whereas highlighting the benefits in an expanded text ad tends to appeal to people who are later in the buying cycle.

Secondly, when it comes down to the fundamentals of decision-making, customers only really care about what benefit they’re going to get from your product (versus that of a competitor).

So, if you’re selling golf clubs, for example, customers don’t really care about buying a club with a titanium face – they care about whether your clubs are going to enable them to hit the ball further. 

Therefore, instead of leaving it at “golf club with a titanium face”, turn it into “golf clubs that hit balls further (using titanium faces)”. In other words, think about WHY this feature is a benefit, and work from there.

Further to this point, David’s study also talks about what he calls “feature-focused adjectives”, such as “durable”, “longer” and “classic”.

Although these are all positive things, these feature-based adjectives have little impact on CTR, and may actually deteriorate the conversion rate. Using a word such as “reliable”, however, provides strong lifts in both CTR and CPI.

The key here is to translate the features of your product into the benefits it provides for the end user. (No one’s really interested if you call your golf clubs “durable”, but they will be interested if you call them “reliable”. Sure, they may only be reliable BECAUSE they’re so durable, but semantics is very important here. Trust me.) By doing this, you’re appealing to people later on in the buying cycle, and helping buyers to eliminate the extra mental step that they have to take as they read your search results.

5. Make your expanded text ads localised by including the name of the city you are targeting (service providers only)

Writing location-based adverts that contain the name of the location that they target can be a very effective way to improve the performance of expanded text ads for service-based advertisers.

When we changed our national adverts into location-based ads for one of our clients, we were able to achieve the following results:

  • Decrease in cost per conversion of 19.11%
  • Increase in the number of conversions of 45.91%

Jonathan Dane over at KlientBoost also found that having a national number alongside local ads lowers their performance, so opt for using a local area number instead where possible.

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You’ll see that using local numbers instead of national numbers more than doubled the conversion rate on some of the ads they were running.

To use location-based adverts, you need to segment your national or regional campaigns by city. 

For example, if the headline of your adverts is “discount boilers Edinburgh”, the adverts would have to be contained within a campaign that was targeted at Edinburgh.

We suggest that you include the name of the location once in the headline of your expanded text ad, and once again in one of its paths. Here’s an example of a location-based expanded text ad on Google.

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You can see that they’ve included the location Sheffield in the headline of the advert, and once again in one of the paths within the display URL.

6. Split test your expanded text ads like crazy!

Split testing your adverts is one of the most important tasks in PPC management, because it helps you to determine which ad copy is best aligned with your goals for that account, whether it be an increase in CTR, an increase in conversion rate or another metric, such as revenue per impression.

At a very basic level, split testing is where you create two to four adverts per ad group, split traffic evenly between them, and see which advert performs the best.

You need to choose which metric you want to optimise for, which varies based on the strategy of your account.

What do you want to do?The metric you should use
Increase conversionsConversion Per Impression (CPI)
Increase visitorsClick Through Rate (CTR)
Get the most revenue possibleRevenue Per Impression (RPI)
Improve quality scoresClick Through Rate (CTR)

Table Source: Adalysis 

Advert testing strategies

There are two main strategies that Brad Geddes outlines in his book Advanced Google AdWords for split testing adverts effectively.

First of all, you need to use a method called unique approach ad testing, which involves testing three or four different adverts per ad group with very different copy to see what style of adverts resonate with your audience.

Once you have narrowed this down, you should move into methodical testing, where you test less significant factors, such as altering the headlines, punctuation and calls to action.

One thing to bear in mind when split testing is to ensure that you keep the adverts relevant to the search terms and follow ad creative best practices.

Unique approach

This is where you should always start when split testing and setting up your initial adverts. As mentioned before, it’s best to write three or four different ads per ad group.

Each ad should have different components from the other ads being tested. This is the best way to establish which adverts resonate with your audience most effectively.

A good place to start is by looking at your competitors’ ads for similar searches, then testing both their ad type and completely different ones, which helps you to see how consumers in your industry are responding to different messages.

Methodical approach

Once you’ve selected an advert that resonates with your audience, you can now test less significant factors to fine-tune your ad and maximise its effectiveness. Here is a non-exhaustive list of factors that you should consider testing:

  • Customer benefits
  • Geographic adverts (requires your campaigns to be geographically targeted at that location)
  • Inclusion of numbers
  • Product features
  • Service features
  • Title case versus sentence case
  • Guarantees
  • Symbols
  • Call to action (for example, “call us today”, “buy now”, “shop now”)
  • Reversing the order of the headlines
  • Punctuation
  • Landing pages
  • Display URL/paths
  • Different USPs

Test mobile ads separately

Generally, performance on mobile devices is very different from desktop devices, so it makes sense to test mobile-specific ads separately from ones aimed at desktop devices.

Statistical significance

One thing that you need to ensure you consider when split testing is statistical significance. I can’t tell you how many advertisers get this wrong or don’t fully understand what it means.

At DemandMore, we generally aim for a confidence level of 95%, which means that we make the correct call on an advert at least 19 out of 20 times. This is our compromise between having enough data to split test and making sure that we’re making the right calls.

To calculate statistical significance, you can use a tool such as Optmyzr or Adalysis that has a statistical significance calculator built in, or you can calculate statistical significance using a tool called SplitTester (created by Perry Marshall). 

The tool allows you to enter the number of clicks that each advert has got, along with the respective CTR or conversion rate, and it tells you the probability of making the correct decision if you conclude the split test at that point. 

7. Pre-qualify your visitors

This is particularly useful if you’re selling a high-end product. For example, in this case, you may want to pre-qualify your visitors by including the price of the product within the ad copy.

If you choose to do this, customers who click on your ad aren’t surprised when they visit the landing page and see the high-price item, and hence don’t leave (bounce) as a result.

This reduces the number of non-serious visitors to your landing page, and reduces wasted spend while increasing conversion rates.

Here’s an example of T.M.Lewin using pre-qualification within its ads, as its price is higher than its competitors’.

You’ll notice that the company has displayed its price prominently in both the display headline of the advert and within the ad copy itself.

8. Use countdown timers to increase your conversion rate

Countdown timers are an incredibly effective tool for creating a sense of urgency and hence driving more sales.

Here’s an example of an advertiser using this feature:

This feature is heavily underused, and presents a great opportunity for you to stand out from your competition.

When Search Engine Land conducted research into the effects of using countdown timers, it found that conversion rates significantly increased towards the end of the countdown.

Image source

Its research showed that conversion rate increased from 8.24% at “5 days left” to 10.80% at two days before the end of the sale. This is a fairly impressive increase in conversion rate for simply adding a countdown timer to your extended text ads.

9. Break up with dynamic keyword insertion

Experts have been telling advertisers to use dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) for a long time now, to make their adverts more relevant by dynamically changing the headline of your ads to the most relevant keyword within your ad group. 

However, when looking at the data, the numbers just don’t add up. Single keyword ad groups that use standard ad text seem to outperform ads using DKI, according to data from WordStream.

Its data shows that when looking at the top 5% of adverts running on its platform, ads that don’t use DKI are outperforming ads with DKI, when looking at their relative CTRs.

10. Use emotional triggers within your ad copy 

Journalists have been using emotional triggers to increase CTRs for years. Why not apply this to your extended text ads to increase your CTR as well?

Here are nine emotional triggers that have been proven to increase CTRs:

  • Laughter
  • Amusement
  • Curiosity
  • Awe
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Empathy
  • Sadness

WordStream also ran some tests to see how fear affected CTRs of Google Ads adverts.

It tested two different ad copies, one with a negative connotation and one with a positive connotation, as shown below. 

WordStream considered who its target customer was – and this was likely to be a frightened woman, with kids, a husband and responsibilities.

She was searching something along the lines of “breast cancer symptoms”, so more likely than not, she was thinking there was a chance she might have breast cancer. Therefore, the ad copy was designed specifically to reach out and use fear to motivate this type of woman into booking a screening. 

WordStream found that when it applied a negative twist to its adverts, it generated 125% more appointments. 

You can even apply FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) elements to spice up your expanded text ads and increase CTR. This works particularly well for sales and exclusive offers. 

Here’s an example of Acme using FOMO psychology to incentivise clicks for its 15% Off Black Friday event. 

Its ad copy makes users feel like they’re going to miss out on the 15% Off deal if they don’t act before the end of Black Friday.

11. Use the full range of ad extensions 

A simple and easy way to increase the performance of your expanded text ads is to use the full range of ad extensions. 

These have been proven to increase both CTR and conversion rate by taking up more space on the first page of Google, and instilling trust in searchers.

You’ll want to ensure that you have all nine of the following ad extensions applied to your expanded text ads: 

  1. Sitelink extensions (increase CTR by 10-20%)
  2. Callout extensions (increase CTR by around 10%)
  3. Structured snippet extensions (increase CTR by around 10%)
  4. Location extensions (increase CTR for local searchers by up to 9%)
  5. Seller rating extensions (increase CTR by 17% and conversion rate by 4.9%) 
  6. Review extensions (increase CTR by 15-20%)
  7. Price extensions
  8. Call extensions
  9. Message extensions

12. Use title case within your ads

Capitalising the first letter of every word within your extended text ads is a great way to help make your ad stand out without violating Google Ads policies on capitalisation. 

Periscopix conducted a study into the effects of using title case on CTR, and found that title case outperformed sentence case.

Below is a table that shows the high-level metrics from the six-week test it conducted. 

We can see that on mobile, use of title case results in a slightly higher overall CTR. This may be due to standing out on a smaller screen, or due to being in a slightly higher ad position. 

If you’re struggling to work out how to use title case, I suggest using this converter here

13. Ask questions 

Here, you reflect on what the user has searched for by using a question. For example, if a user searches for “last minute hotel”, they might see the advert below. 

Because you’re reciprocating a question, users assume that the website must be relevant. This technique has been proven to increase CTR. 

Here’s an example of how we included a satisfaction question in AskNicely’s PPC ad copy: 

By asking “Are Your Customers Happy?” in AskNicely’s ad, KlientBoost saw an increase in conversions of 67% and the click-through rate (CTR) increased by 219%. 

14. Put your most important information in headline 1

Mark Kennedy spotted that Google sometimes truncates headline 2, and posted this screenshot of it online:

Although both headlines can technically be up to 30 characters long, there are no guarantees on exactly how (or if) the second headline will show.

It’s therefore very important to ensure that you include your most important features within headline 1 of your ad copy. 

Google has responded with tips to avoid truncation – you should limit your ad character count to 33 characters across headlines 1 and 2, as well as using the ad preview tool to identify truncation issues.

15. Use a strong USP

Having a strong unique selling point (USP) to differentiate you from your competition is key to success. 

You need to ask yourself:

Why should searchers click on my ad over my competitors’? What makes me different?

Perry Marshall has identified six ways that you can be unique within your Google Ads adverts: 

  1. You’re unique because of the buyer you serve.
  2. You’re unique because of what you sell. 
  3. You’re unique because you have an unusual angle.
  4. You’re unique because of what your product or service does not do.
  5. You’re unique because of the time frame around your offer.
  6. You’re unique because of how you guarantee your product.

A good example of a strong USP comes from this over-50s dating website. 

There are hundreds of dating websites, but this advert turns its niche placement of targeting a particular demographic (the over-50s) into its USP. This makes it stand out from generic ads from competitors such as Match.com. 

A second good example of a USP comes from InToroGlass. This advert stands out because of the unique guarantee that comes with the product – there are no other providers of iPhone screen protectors that offer a lifetime guarantee! 

16. Use RLSA

RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) work a lot like Display Network Remarketing, but on the Google Search Network. 

They allow you to show tailored adverts to users who have visited your website before, but did not convert on the first visit. 

A great way to make use of this feature is to offer users a benefit that they weren’t offered on their first visit, to try to entice them to convert. 

Here’s an example of how this might work. Searchers who see your advert for the first time see “summer dresses for $99”, but users who have visited your site before see a discount advert with the headline “summer dresses for $79”. 

Image source

Research by WordStream finds that visitors who have already visited your website are two to three times more likely to click on your advert compared to new visitors. This shows just how effective using RLSA is at improving your CTR. 

17. Scope out your competition

The key to creating a winning offer is to analyse what your competition is doing, then do it better. 

There are a lot of tools available, such as SEMrush or SpyFu, which allow you to analyse your competitors’ ad copy.

With SEMrush, you can either enter the name of your competitor, or you can enter a keyword that you want to see ads for. 

For example, here I’ve entered the keyword “PPC management”.

Once you’ve done this, you can analyse your competitors’ USPs. For example, Colewood offers monthly terms on its contracts, and Periscopix offers in-house bid management software.

Based on this, I could then go away and create a better advert using the USP “custom bid-management technology, tailored to your needs” to make DemandMore stand out from other PPC agencies. 

Conclusion

The expanded text ad format was one of Google’s biggest updates, and it has had a profound effect on the performance of our clients’ Google Ads adverts. 

Although we’ve seen a strong uplift in CTR for our clients, we think that this will become less profound as all advertisers make the move to the format. 

Please feel free to ask any questions below, and if you enjoyed this post, we would appreciate it if you shared it with your followers.


About Wes

Wes is the Managing Director of DemandMore. He is columnist for several leading marketing publications including Campaign Magazine, Econsultancy and Search Engine Land where he shares his expertise in search marketing.