The Search Marketers Guide to Creative Testing and Optimization, Part 1

Kye Mou
August 7, 2012

In a search landscape where millions of keywords define intent, generating the most compelling creative can prove to be a daunting task. Understanding your audience and formulating a message might be easy but packaging up that message within the narrow limits of a creative is far from it. For paid search programs, big and small, creative optimization remains the single most impactful strategy for increasing traffic, lowering costs and acquiring more revenue.

From selecting creative elements for testing to reaching statistical significance, this four part blog series will review basic and advanced tips for conducting a successful creative test. Novice and advanced testers will gain a complete understanding of how to generate, analyze and iterate on new creative to maximize performance across paid search programs. Furthermore, they will be equipped with the best practices necessary to make the implementation of a disciplined and statistically significant creative test a reality. Today, in part one of this four part series, we’ll review how to select an appropriate test, maintain keyword relevance and limit opportunity costs.

Select an Appropriate Test

All creative tests begin with a choice, and marketers are subject to a plethora of test elements to choose from. Even at a basic level, creative can be characterized by and tested with functional, emotional or promotional qualities. Functional creative focus on the product or service and provide information such as pricing or features. Emotional creative pull at metaphoric heart strings and attempt to form a connection between the customer and the product or service. Promotional creative highlight discounts and evoke a sense of urgency. The table below lists common elements that helps define how a creative is characterized. Before engaging in creative testing, it is important to identify these elements and understand the benefits each one provides.

Creative Testing Elements

Maintain Keyword Relevance

Testing too many different elements can lead to a sacrifice in relevancy. For instance, removing keywords in favor of testing pricing or unique selling propositions may correspond to drops in Quality Score, resulting in increased cost-per-clicks (CPCs) and decreased CTRs. When testing creative, the objective is to generate and test compelling creative while maintaining keyword-to-creative relevancy.

Let us use PowPow Sports, a fictional sporting goods retailer, as an example. A group containing variations of the keyword “mens hiking backpacks” has been set up to test between functional and promotional creative. Creative A describes various hiking backpacks for men, while creative B highlights a free-shipping offer during Father’s Day weekend.


Hiking Backpacks - A


Hiking Backpacks - B


Hiking Backpacks - C

Because creative B only utilizes the phrase “mens hiking backpacks” once, it has become less relevant to the keywords within the group. Successful creative utilize compelling language, while remaining highly relevant to the user’s search query. A more effective creative C incorporates the free-shipping offer, which influences conversion, without sacrificing occurrences of the phrase “mens hiking backpacks”, which influences click.

Limit Opportunity Costs

Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of forgoing the next best alternative. To better understand this, let us assume that our fictional sporting-goods retailer, PowPow Sports, has decided to generate and test three creative: A, B and C. The table below compares the performance of each creative, at statistical significance.

Opportunity Cost Summary

Let us assume PowPow Sports decides to pause creative B, and continue testing creative A and C. Assuming that performance remains consistent, the opportunity cost of this activity, as well as testing creative B against creative C, is highlighted in the table below.

Opportunity Cost A-C

In continuing to test creative A, even after achieving statistical significance, PowPow Sports has lost out on 100 clicks, five conversions and $375 in revenue. This is because half the available impressions were allocated to the under-performing creative A, rather than all the available impressions being allocated to just creative C.

When testing creative, the adverse effects of opportunity cost are twofold. One, if you do not test at all, you forgo the benefits of running on better performing creative. But marketers also make a common mistake when testing – continuing to test after statistical significance has been reached. This results in the missed opportunity to simply run on the better performing creative. In our example, PowPow Sports should have paused creative A and B, leaving 100% of the impression share to creative C.

To Be Continued

Search marketers are constantly exploring ways to find and engage their target audience. No optimization strategy is more central to accomplishing this goal than creative testing. Continuously testing to find more relevant and more compelling creative serves to not only increase CTR and Quality Score, but decrease costs and drive more revenue.

Adhering to best practices and avoiding common pitfalls will help ensure that new iterations of creative will incrementally improve account performance. Though search marketers cannot guarantee that all creative tests will be successful, they can guarantee that all creative tests have been set up for success. In part two of this series, we’ll review two additional best practices for creative optimization.

Download The Search Marketers Guide to Creative Testing and Optimization for additional best practices and two case studies from BoostCTR on how they successfully test and optimize creative.

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