July 6, 2021 · Phil Foriska

Everything You Need To Know About PPC Ad Testing

Welcome to the exciting world of pay per click (PPC) advertising! Whether you are a newbie or a weathered industry expert, you should be at least familiar with the concept of ad testing. In this article we are going to lay out some of the simplest and most effective tests you can run right now to ensure your campaigns are utilizing the best ad copy, extensions and landing pages to convert your site visitors into guests. We also touch on a few more advanced tests that you can try after you’ve mastered the basics. If you would rather listen than read, be sure to check out Episode 193 of the Hotel Marketing Podcast where we cover this topic in depth.

What Is Testing?

Testing, also called “A/B Testing” or “Split Testing”, is the process of isolating a single variable and running different versions of that variable to determine which variation performs better based on a predetermined KPI (key performance indicator). It is important to discuss goals up front, like what KPI you are optimizing for, and what variable you are going to test before you get started.

Why Test?

The process of testing is incredibly valuable to advertisers as it allows one to continually improve campaign metrics and therefore performance metrics. From a PPC perspective, testing allows one to try different ad copy and ad features to ensure the best possible ads are running at all times.

3 PPC Tests You Can Run Right Now

Now that you are familiar with the testing basics it is time to decide on exactly what you want to test when it comes to your ppc ads. The options are essentially limitless, though you will want to be sure to only test one thing at a time.

Testing Ad Copy

  • Target KPI =  CTR
  • When testing ad copy you are truly only focused on CTR because the goal of the test is to see which ad variation gets more people to click through to the website. 
    • It would be nice to see higher CR or ROAS but you can not directly attribute those metrics to the thing that changed
  • Things you should test within your ad copy
    • The Offer – 
      • Example – Test % Off vs $ Off
    • Authoritativeness
      • Example – Test “Official Hotel Website” in headline vs. “Book Securely Online”
    • Sense of Urgency
      • Example – Test “Limited Time Offer” vs “Limited Availability”
    • Call to Action
      • Example – Test “Book Now” vs “Reserve Your Room Now”
    • Pathing
      • Example – test using a secondary and/or tertiary path vs homepage only

Testing Extensions

  • Target KPI = CTR (with some CR exceptions)
  • Ad extensions can be extremely effective at taking up more SERP real estate and increasing CTR, but using the right extensions and testing the content of each extension, is how you maximize performance. 
  • Here are the typical extensions we use for hotels
    • Sitelink Extensions
      • Appears below the ad with clickable links to take users to a particular section of the site. 
        • You will want to use the principles we just discussed for both ad copy and landing page testing within your sitelink extensions. 
        • Test the copy
        • Also test which pages you are using as sitelinks
    • Structured Snippet Extensions
      • Appears below ad descriptions but is not clickable
      • Here you can list your hotel amenities. 
        • Test which amenities you list and the order in which you list them
    • Callout Extensions
      • Appears below the description but is not clickable
      • Here you list awards like TA certificate of excellence or other local awards. 
        • Test these awards against one another to see what increases CTR
    • Image Extensions
      • This is a new offering from Google and has proven to increase CTR
      • Here you will want to test different images
        • Room vs room
        • Interior vs exterior
        • Amenity vs room 
    • Price Extension
      • Show “Rates From” in clickable elements below your ad
      • Test Rates for different room types and test how you list the room type
        • Example: Oceanfront 1 BR vs Oceanfront Rooms
    • Promotion Extension
      • Shows $ Off or % Off Below Your Ad
      • Test $ Off vs % Off
      • Test different % Off
  • There are other extensions available but these are typically what we use for hotel PPC. If your hotel has an App you may want to test using an App Extension and see if it increases downloads. 
  • One thing to pay attention to with Extension tests is understanding the data you are looking at. By default, when you view extension data you will see data for everything when that extension was present. 
    • There are different segments that are important to view to get the real picture of how each extension truly performs and how extensions affect overall CTR of ads. 
    • You should click on Segment > This Extension vs Other so you can actually see if people are clicking on a particular Sitelink, Price/Promotion. 
    • You should also segment by click type and see what element of the ad people were clicking on when that extension was present.


Testing Landing Pages

  • Target KPI = CR
  • We focus on CR for landing page tests because we already got the person to click on the ad, now we want to see whether or not they are more likely to convert whether they land on one page versus another. 
  • There are different types of landing page tests. One is to alter the landing page you are using. The other is to change the landing page to a different page on your site. 
  • We’ll start with altering the landing page you’re currently using. 
    • With this test we want to change something on the page we think would make the user more likely to convert. 
    • We use things like Microsoft Clarity and user testing to identify:
      • items on the page that we want people to click (but they aren’t),  
      • things that people try to click (but they can’t)
      • Excessive Scrolling
    • For example, your site may expect someone to click on a rate to get in the booking engine but adding a large “Book Now” does a better job
    • We may want to make non-clickable images clickable
    • If people are scrolling around looking for the next step, we may want to add a sticky booking widget
    • Sometimes we will even create a dedicated landing page just for users who have clicked on our PPC ads
      • These landing pages sometimes tend to act as mini-sites that contain property info, room type info, amenity info, FAQs, rates and a strong & obvious CTA. 
      • The info is less detailed than you would find on the individual pages dedicated to each of those items
  • Next we’ll discuss changing the landing page to a different page
    • We’ve had instances where we didn’t have access to make changes to a site so the only landing page tests we had at our disposal were changing to a different page on the site. 
    • For example, if you are sending all of your users from your PPC ads to your homepage, you should test that against your rooms page, a specials page or even directly into the booking engine. 
      • We have also seen this work the opposite way you may think. We were sending people as far down the funnel as we could into the booking engine but they wanted more info before making their purchase decision. We changed from the booking engine to the rooms page and CR increased because users didn’t have to take a step back in the process to get the info they needed.

Important Testing Best Practices

  • Test ONE Element at a time
    • White multivariate tests are possible, PPC Testing is pretty simple, so stick to the basics and only test out one element at a time. This means that everything else remains the same, except for the one single element that you are going to test.
  • Test Variations Simultaneously 
    • Though you can run one version of your ads and then follow up with another version of the ad, it is a much better practice to test variations simultaneously to minimize any time-based factors that might throw off the results. Utilize Google’s Drafts & Experiments feature to split test things like ad copy, landing pages, extensions, etc. 
    • Set up a draft which effectively clones a campaign, make your change, run the experiment
  • Document Everything About Your Test
    • Whether you use a PPC platform that automates testing or are running tests the old fashioned way, be sure that you are documenting every change you make and the results or outcome of each test. Having a history will help you make smarter decisions in the future.
  • Adjust & Repeat
    • After your test is complete and your results are documented, make the necessary adjustments to your campaign based on the data you received and then start planning your next round of tests.
    • Just because you ran a successful test and increased performance doesn’t mean you’re now done testing. You must continue to test new elements and strive to find the optimal combination of ad copy, landing pages, extensions & more.

Other Advanced PPC Tests You Can Run

  • Testing Bidding Strategies – 
    • Target ROAS, Max Conversions, Target Impr Share, etc
    • These tests take a long time due to the machine learning process
  • Testing Targeting
    • Test how campaigns perform when you adjust audience, demographic & geographic targeting
  • Testing Device Types
    • Test splitting device types into their own campaigns or setting bid adjustments per device type
  • Day Parting
    • Testing how bid adjustments set for certain days of the week and/or hours of the day can affect performance

Additional Resources

Want to learn even more? Check out some of these helpful resources:
WordStream has compiled a great list of AB Testing success stories.
Familiarize yourself with Google Ads best practices.
PPC Hero also has comprehensive guides for ad testing.

Hotel PPC Made Easy – As hotel marketing experts, TravelBoom can implement a variety of pay per click campaigns to boost your direct bookings. Drop us a line to see how we can help your hotel in the pay per click advertising space.

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