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Expanded Text Ads: A Study

August 4, 2016
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We’ve all been ecstatic about the introduction of expanded text ads (ETA’s), and we’ve been liberally applying them to our paid accounts en mass. And for the most part, we’ve seen marked improvement when applied.

If you don’t know what ETA’s are, aka have been living under a rock since July, they are new ad types that leverage two 30-character headlines and an 80-character description, as opposed to the standard 25-character headline with two 35-character descriptions.

However, as great as ETAs may sound on paper, the question remains exactly how effective these are and in what context. Google has been effectively telling us it’s the year of mobile since 2013. And three years later, it finally feels like it.

Google has been talking about ‘winning the micro-moments’ a lot in 2016. And what they mean by that is putting an ad in front of a user at the exact moment their impressionable mind is researching, viewing, or shopping for a product.

The theory behind this is that an introductory touch on a mobile device can be the difference between a user becoming a customer, or just another missed opportunity. I have reserved thoughts on the potential of mobile advertising, but I will concede that it can be a very viable channel given the right product and audience.

So… Why Text Ads?

Google wanted to help advertisers take advantage of these micro-moments via text ads. And they did so in two ways:

  • Mobile-preferred text ads were introduced a while back to help with mobile traffic. They performed exactly like a standard text ad, however they would only show up on mobile devices. With that in mind, advertisers could customize ad copy to speak to a mobile user (i.e. buy now from your phone! or putting a .com/mobile or m.example.com in the display URL’s, or even addressing mobile usability in the headline).
  • Expanded Text Ads are Google’s way of trying to help us feel more comfortable in the mobile search environment. They designed ETA’s to show up better on mobile devices than traditional search ads.

Upon conducting this study, we made sure to keep both of these ad types in mind as we leverage both options.

The Study

We took a look at 4 high-volume accounts within our MCC (2 lead gen and 2 ecommerce clients) and set a look back of 2 months (September through October) to accrue a generous amount of impression/click data in “Search Only” campaigns.

Related: 6 New Best Practices to Help You Write Expanded Text Ads

These campaigns were set up with the Ad Rotation to “Optimize for Conversions” – this wasn’t ideal as we wanted to deploy rotate indefinitely for a more accurate look, but after consulting with our Google rep, ETA’s are not eligible to serve at all hours of the day and won’t be until they sunset legacy text ads. We also wanted to capitalize on conversion-rich traffic as much as possible for our clients’ sake.

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As one would’ve guessed, ETA’s performed pretty darn well. If we look at a very basic segmentation of ETA’s vs. standard text ads, the results look like this:


The one thing that jumps out immediately is the click through rate: 9.35% vs. 3.31%. That’s a crazy high CTR. CVR’s are also slightly higher while CPAs are much lower –  which is a welcomed sight.

While this is all well and good, we’ll still want to drill down further to see what’s going on in an e-commerce environment compared to a lead gen environment:


Taking a look at e-commerce clients, it’s a no contest. Substantially higher CTR’s, CVR’s, and overall ROAS. This is more or less what we expected to see for e-commerce clients from ETA’s. However, things get a little interesting looking at the Lead Gen clients: A lower CTR! (3.83% vs. 2.83%). But it is definitely worth noting that CVR’s were appreciably higher here as well.

Ok cool, Lead Gen accounts benefitted from ETA’s with higher conversion rates and E-comm clients benefitted in just about every way imaginable right? Time to celebrate!

…Not so fast…. We still need to analyze what’s going on with some mobile segmentation as well as client type… hold on to your seats.

E-commerce Clients


OK, let’s start with Computers & Tablets – another solid win across the board for CTA’s. Higher CTR’s, CVR’s, lower CPA’s, higher ROAS etc.

BUT, let’s take a look at Mobile-preferred standard text ads vs. ETA’s – fairly comparable. CTR is obviously higher with ETA ads, however, CVR’s are actually slightly higher and ROAS is much higher with Mobile preferred ads. Logically, this may make sense because as we’ve discussed, we can speak to the end user with more purpose and assure them that they will have a pleasing mobile experience by engaging with our ads.

Lead Gen Clients


Whoa! Didn’t see this coming did you? Standard ads received higher CTR’s on both computers and tablets and substantially lower CPA’s than their ETA counterparts. Interestingly enough, the ETA’s outperformed mobile-preferred text ads here across the board.

This is almost the exact inverse of what we saw with e-commerce clients, and is unfortunately somewhat unexplainable. We can guess that the mobile ads performed better because ETA’s were created to enhance mobile experience, but as we saw in the e-commerce test, this was nullified with mobile-specific verbiage.

Related: Lead Generation Benchmarking – A Helpful Guide

Transversely, the e-commerce clients’ ETA’s were head and shoulders better with both Tablet and Computer searches. One theory (and really the only one I can think of) is that the intent behind users searching for a B2B service is inherently different than ecommerce. If that is true, then the way they may interact with ads could also be different, and maybe the old adage “less is more” applies. Or maybe I am full of it…?

The Verdict

There is a STRONG argument that ETA’s should be used and tested in ALL search ad groups. Regardless of the segmentations we’ve looked at, there is overwhelming evidence that supports the use of ETA’s in these AdWords campaigns, especially with e-commerce clients.

This study should also paint a positive light for mobile preferred ads. They outperformed ETA’s with our e-commerce clients and definitely held their own with Lead Gen accounts. Even with standard ads being retired by Google (at some point), being able to speak to users by device is powerful.

Related: The Benefits of Mobile Advertising

Thankfully, Google has made it possible to bid up or down on all devices (not just mobile & tablet) at the campaign level; so we are able to segment campaigns by device type once again. In this way we can leverage different messaging for different device users with ETA’s, but it will take a little more doing (Study #2!).

Also, this study was by no means bullet-proof. We couldn’t use ‘Rotate Indefinitely’ in the campaign settings as previously stated, there were only 4 clients total whereas 10-15 clients with similar performance/CPC’s would have been ideal, and the messaging between ETA’s and standard ads in these accounts also varied. We also didn’t split ads between brand/non brand, so additional segmentation could have been applied. So while this isn’t necessarily a true “A|B” test, these findings should at least paint some sort of picture of why we should incorporate ETA’s and prepare to say goodbye to standard text ads… whenever that may be…


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