There are now so many ways to cus­tomize your search ads that opti­miza­tion can seem com­plex. Colum­nist Matt Umbro dis­cuss­es which com­po­nents are like­ly to make the biggest impact on your CTR and con­ver­sion rates.

I’ve been in the paid search indus­try for a near­ly a decade. A lot has changed since I first learned how to write a sim­ple ad with a 25-char­ac­ter head­line and two 35-char­ac­ter descrip­tion lines.

Though the fun­da­men­tals of ad copy­writ­ing and test­ing remain in play, text ads have evolved to the point where you must con­sid­er many dif­fer­ent com­po­nents. Between devices, for­mat­ting, ad exten­sions and audi­ence types, writ­ing effec­tive ad copy is more reliant on mul­ti­ple fac­tors than ever before.

Just last month, AdWords rolled out IF func­tions to add anoth­er lay­er of ad cus­tomiza­tion. This fea­ture allows adver­tis­ers to change the ad mes­sage depend­ing on the user’s device. For exam­ple, a user search­ing on a mobile device could see a mes­sage that says, “Shop from your phone,” while the desk­top mes­sage may say, “Shop our selec­tion.”

This means you can now write mobile-pre­ferred ads with­out ad cus­tomiz­ers or cre­at­ing a mobile-only cam­paign. Instead of writ­ing two ads, you can now write one that changes the mes­sage depend­ing on the device.

This new func­tion is great, but you still must ask the age-old ques­tion: Should you seg­ment your cam­paigns by device? Let’s begin our ad-writ­ing dis­cus­sion by first address­ing this ques­tion.

Device-specific campaigns

When enhanced cam­paigns were launched four years ago, mobile-only cam­paigns became a thing of the past. Instead, we were able to set mobile bid mod­i­fiers and write mobile-pre­ferred ads.

With hind­sight being 20/20, though adver­tis­ers lost some con­trol, it wasn’t the worst change in the world. It did allow adver­tis­ers to stream­line man­age­ment while still show­ing mobile ads to users on mobile devices. It did, how­ev­er, require adver­tis­ers to cre­ate ad groups with mul­ti­ple desk­top and mobile ads to test mes­sag­ing.

Toward the lat­ter half of 2016, Google reversed course and brought back mobile-only cam­paigns by allow­ing ‑100% desk­top bid mod­i­fiers. For exam­ple, if you set up a cam­paign with a ‑100% bid mod­i­fi­er on desk­top and tablet, your ads will only show on mobile devices.

In mak­ing this update, Google removed the abil­i­ty to cre­ate mobile-pre­ferred ads, but now, with IF func­tions and ad cus­tomiz­ers, there is no need for the mobile-pre­ferred option.

The seg­men­ta­tion ques­tion per­sists. Even though you seem­ing­ly now have the best of both worlds, why would you want to cre­ate mobile-only cam­paigns? The answer lies in how par­tic­u­lar you are about your PPC man­age­ment. You must ask your­self:

  • Do you want to view your per­for­mance data by device spe­cif­ic cam­paign or all with­in the same cam­paign?
  • Do you want to write device-spe­cif­ic ads and ad exten­sions in dif­fer­ent cam­paigns or all with­in the same cam­paign?
  • Do you want to set your key­word bids indi­vid­u­al­ly or by a campaign/ad group per­cent­age? For exam­ple, will the bid be set at X amount, or will it be a per­cent­age of your desk­top bid?

My gen­er­al rule of thumb is to cre­ate mobile-only cam­paigns if at least 70 per­cent of impres­sions are com­ing from mobile devices. Since my mobile traf­fic is so high, I want the abil­i­ty to con­trol each indi­vid­ual key­word bid while tai­lor­ing all my ad copy deci­sions to mobile users.

If you are run­ning a cam­paign tar­get­ing all devices, check to see what the break­down is. If you are find­ing a lot of mobile traf­fic (that is hope­ful­ly also con­vert­ing), break out the cam­paign. To pre­serve your Qual­i­ty Scores and cam­paign his­to­ry, make the exist­ing cam­paign mobile-only. This way, you are only turn­ing off desk­top and tablet traf­fic while not upset­ting what has worked so well.

You can either put your mobile bid mod­i­fi­er to zero and update your bids accord­ing­ly, or you can keep the mod­i­fi­er as is and adjust over time. You can then dupli­cate the exist­ing cam­paign and mod­i­fy it to be desktop/tablet only with all the mobile ads removed.

Text ads and ad extensions

Your head­lines are the most impor­tant part of your text ads. Though I’m not mak­ing a ground­break­ing state­ment, your descrip­tion line, dis­play URL, and ad exten­sions only exist to com­ple­ment the head­lines. Where are your eyes drawn to in the ad below?

With the promi­nence giv­en to the dou­ble head­lines, many searchers gloss over the oth­er text. It’s impor­tant to take up the addi­tion­al real estate (as ad exten­sions do help to improve over­all head­line CTR), but the major­i­ty of searchers are going to click your ads based upon your head­line mes­sag­ing.

It’s imper­a­tive to include your tar­get­ed keyword(s) and call to action in the head­lines. It’s also good to include any com­pet­i­tive dif­fer­en­tia­tors, pro­mos or urgency mes­sag­ing if they will fit. Don’t save your most impor­tant mes­sag­ing for non-head­line text.

Though I sound like I’m devalu­ing the descrip­tion and ad exten­sions, it’s impor­tant to ensure they are rel­e­vant. Again, these text com­po­nents exist to com­ple­ment your head­lines. For exam­ple, if I’m bid­ding on “oval cof­fee tables,” I may test two ads with “20% off” mes­sag­ing:

Ad #1: Shop Oval Cof­fee Tables — Take 20% Off Your Order
Ad #2: Oval Cof­fee Tables 20% Off — Shop Our Com­plete Selec­tion

My descrip­tion line could then be: From rus­tic to con­tem­po­rary, you’ll love our line­up of oval cof­fee tables!

The descrip­tion still includes rel­e­vant mes­sag­ing that gives searchers more infor­ma­tion.

My exten­sions will then include more infor­ma­tion that is nice for searchers to see, but not crit­i­cal.

  • Sitelinks — All Cof­fee Tables, Brown Cof­fee Tables, Cof­fee Tables Under $200, Clear­ance Cof­fee Tables
  • Call­outs — Free Ship­ping Over $50, Mon­ey Back Guar­an­tee, We Accept Pay-Pal, Free Returns
  • Struc­tured Snip­pets — Rus­tic, Con­tem­po­rary, Glass, Wood
  • Review — Google Trust­ed Store
  • Price — Prod­uct A: $199, Prod­uct B: $299, Prod­uct C: $399, Prod­uct D: $499

You can see how the com­plete ad may look. All the text is nec­es­sary to have, but it’s clear that the head­lines are lead­ing the charge to get that click.


We’ve dis­cussed why and how you should incor­po­rate mobile mes­sag­ing, and we’ve gone over the anato­my of a good text ad, but we still need to con­sid­er our dif­fer­ent audi­ences.

For the pur­pos­es of this post, I’m only includ­ing audi­ence tar­get­ing on the Search Net­work, since we’re look­ing at tra­di­tion­al text ads. These audi­ences include remar­ket­ing and the recent­ly intro­duced Demo­graph­ics for Search Ads, where we can set bid mod­i­fiers by age and gen­der.

Ide­al­ly, you want to cre­ate a dif­fer­ent mes­sage for each audi­ence. For exam­ple, some­one who has already been to your site sees one mes­sage, and a new searcher sees a dif­fer­ent one. For Remar­ket­ing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA), you can cre­ate a new cam­paign which shows a dif­fer­ent mes­sage, or you can lay­er an audi­ence to an exist­ing cam­paign and bid high­er.

Nor­mal­ly, I would rec­om­mend cre­at­ing the new cam­paign so you are guar­an­teed to show the cor­rect mes­sage and it’s eas­i­er to seg­ment your data, but here come those IF func­tions again.

You are now able to cre­ate one ad that show­cas­es a dif­fer­ent mes­sage for each audi­ence. That user who has already been to your site may be giv­en a “10% off” coupon, while the new searcher views an ad that speaks to the prod­uct vari­ety. There­fore, one of the key rea­sons you would cre­ate an RLSA cam­paign is negat­ed, since the ad is cus­tomized for the spe­cif­ic audi­ence.

You could still argue that an RLSA-only cam­paign allows you to bid on broad­er key­words, since the searcher has already been to the site. Sim­i­lar to mobile-only cam­paigns, the deci­sion depends on the data and per­son­al pref­er­ence. The take­away is that it’s now eas­i­er to cus­tomize your ads per audi­ence.

The oth­er fac­tor you may con­sid­er for campaign/ad group seg­men­ta­tion is demo­graph­ics. You could poten­tial­ly cre­ate unique ad groups per age and/or gen­der. If you only want 18- to 24-year-olds to see a cer­tain mes­sage, you would cre­ate an ad group tar­get­ing this age range and set a bid mod­i­fi­er of ‑100% for the oth­er ranges. Your key­word bids would then be unique for that age range. Sub­se­quent­ly, the 25–34 age ad group would have the oth­er age ranges set at ‑100% and so forth.

There are two issues with this type of seg­men­ta­tion. The first is that you have the poten­tial for many ad groups, to the point where man­age­ment could get out of con­trol. Gran­u­lar seg­men­ta­tion makes sense if you have enough search vol­ume or have a spe­cif­ic rea­son to go deep­er, which comes to the sec­ond issue.

Google still only cap­tures rough­ly 50 per­cent of demo­graph­ic data. Every­thing else is clas­si­fied as unknown. You don’t want to go more gran­u­lar and make con­crete deci­sions with a lim­it­ed amount of data. Nonethe­less, it may be worth test­ing with an ad group that has a sub­stan­tial amount of data.

Final thoughts

Ad-writ­ing isn’t one-size-fits-all. Though dif­fer­ent audi­ences have always been view­ing your ads, the options to craft cus­tom mes­sag­ing haven’t always been avail­able. As these options roll out, we as adver­tis­ers need to make use of them to show our searchers bet­ter, more tar­get­ed ads.

As you are cre­at­ing your cam­paign struc­tures, ensure that you are con­sid­er­ing the com­po­nents that will deter­mine if you see bet­ter CTRs and con­ver­sion rates.