Google’s New Expanded Text Ads: An Introduction

Topics: Web Marketing

At its 2016 Performance Summit in May, Google announced several major changes to AdWords, to be implemented over the next several months. One of the most significant changes is expanded text ads. These were rolled live for all AdWords users on July 26, after a beta period during which we at Axis41 were able to test them in client accounts.

We’ll describe the new ads here, tell you a few things we’ve learned, and suggest how you can implement them to improve your AdWords performance.

What Are Expanded Text Ads?

AdWords’ new expanded text ads have two headlines instead of the old ads’ one, and each can be 30 characters long instead of 25. In place of two “description” lines after the headline, with a maximum of 35 characters each, expanded ads have one description line with a maximum of 80 characters. There are also some minor changes in display URLs.

These changes are mobile-driven. More than half of Google searches are now on mobile devices, and Google’s own testing shows that mobile ads perform better with longer headlines. The same ad changes apply to all screen sizes, making ad experiences uniform across different devices.

Dramatic as this change may seem, it’s evolution, not revolution. Google experimented with extended headlines for a long time, appending either the first description line, the domain, or some other snippet. At Axis41 we’ve seen that extended headlines using the first description line usually — but not always — outperform similar ads with shorter headlines, even on the desktop.

Once Google announced expanded text ads, we could see that eliminating right-side ads in February was a necessary prelude. Expanded ads fit well enough above and below the organic search results, but there simply isn’t room for them on the side.

How They Look

Here are old and expanded text ads from our in-house AdWords account:

Old:

expanded-text-ads-1 (1)

New (expanded):

expanded-text-ads-2 (1)

Note that on smaller screens the headlines and description text will wrap.

expanded-text-ads-3 (1)

What to Do Now

Here are some recommendations for getting started with expanded text ads:

• Begin as soon as you can. All new ads will eventually have to be in the new format, and someday all old ads will need to be replaced.

• Start with your high-traffic campaigns or ad groups. You’ll accumulate actionable data more quickly, so you can learn and iterate faster.

• Run expanded text ads against existing ads in the same ad groups. Eventually, the expanded ads should do better, but it may take a while to develop solid best practices for the new ads.

• Spend more time on headlines in your expanded text ads. They’re much longer now, so they’re even more important.

• Be sure your two headlines work well together. When displayed, the second will follow the first, separated by a hyphen. The double headline will wrap to fit the screen width.

• Test shorter headlines too. In the past, a widely-accepted best practice was to try to use every available character. Maybe it still is. Maybe it isn’t.

• Longer content is not always a blessing. Be careful to avoid making your expanded text ads confusing or irrelevant. Good writing just became that much more important.

• If expanded text ads make you especially nervous about CPC, CTR, or average position, my senior account strategist at Google recommends duplicating an existing campaign, giving it its own budget, increasing bids slightly over the original, and using it to run expanded text ads for a few days as a test, before making changes across the campaign.

expanded-text-ads-4 (1)

Early Observations

At Axis41 we did enough work with expanded text ads during the beta that we’re comfortable with them now, but we still expect to learn from watching their performance in coming months. Here are some things we noticed:

• Mobile-preferred ads are gone. However, another change will give us much better control and flexibility in tailoring ads to various categories of devices.

• For now, we can create text ads in either the new or the old format. Expect that to change later this year.

• We don’t get to mix and match, in the sense of running a single headline with 80 characters of description. In the expanded ads the second headline is required.

• Character limits for two-byte languages, such as Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, are exactly half the limits for single-byte languages: 15 characters for each headline and 40 for the description.

• Translating ads into other languages just got easier. Character limits pose significant challenges in translation, because saying the same thing in different languages can involve far more or far fewer characters.

• A single 80-character line isn’t just longer than two 35 character lines; it’s also more flexible, largely because there’s no fixed line break in the middle.

• A new version of Google’s AdWords Editor is now available, incorporating expanded text ads and other recent changes.

What to Expect

We are beginning to see higher click-through rates with AdWords’ new expanded text ads, though the full effect may come gradually as we master Google’s new format. No doubt, some of our best ad writing practices will survive, and some won’t. We expect a few surprises — which means that one best practice hasn’t changed: assume as little as possible, and test as much as you can.

The author, David Rodeback, is Axis41’s Enterprise PPC Manager.