How and Why to Archive Your Ad Tests

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Susan Waldes
Susan Waldes



ad copyThis article is part 3 of a 3 part series. View Part 1 or Part 2.


We’ve discussed the fundamentals in any PPC (pay-per-click) advertising campaign for creating clean, effective ad tests and reporting on them. This final piece of the series is on archiving your test results.

Here’s the thing: almost NOBODY does this. Sure, we send the result over in Excel docs or screen shots in emails and agendas, or as slides in presentation decks, and then…they float off into the disorganized cloud. As a result, the hard work of test implementation and the learnings that came from them live as vague (often incorrect) memories in various people’s heads or buried in the email boxes of people who eventually will leave the company, transition off the account, or move to a new role.

The account itself ends up going in circles with periodic knowledge losses when account stake-holders change – and your PPC library at Alexandria goes up in smoke. Intrigued?

What will an ad test archive will do for you?

  1. Archiving makes sure the knowledge gets to all the right people and is saved in one place that’s easy to reference when you need a memory jog or to show a new stakeholder what’s already been done.
  2. Ultimately, archiving guarantees that you are making constant and incremental improvements and not losing the progress the account has made at any point. You may move on to another position, or transition the account to somebody else, but “your baby” (the hard work you’ve done on the account) has the laundry list of learnings all documented.
  3. Archiving shows what you’ve done to new contacts – in an agency like ours that works with lots of start-ups, our client stakeholders change frequently as our client organizations change and grow. Invariably, the new guy comes in with a ton of “ideas” and wants to show his or her chops. By showing the tests you’ve performed, and that you are doing so in a methodical, measured way that strives for constant incremental improvement and learning, you can quell much of the “spaghetti on the wall” ideas that tend to flow out of this scenario.
  4. Archiving shows your value – another risk of changing stakeholders is that without full visibility into the previous work you’ve done, they often come in a little suspicious and with a “why are we paying you?” kind-of attitude. After all, firing the agency (or SEM guy) is an immediate cost saving that the foolhardy new guy may be very attracted to. A simple invite to this kind of archive shows a big portion of what you’ve been testing, learning, and executing before their time, and all you have to do is “invite” a new person vs. trying to gathers a mish-mosh of half-lost and inconsistent reports and emails to defend your value.
  5. Archiving keeps you honest – notice your last test ended 30 days ago? Yikes! Time to get cranking on some new testing.
  6. Archiving acts as a repository for future tests and ideas (I like to keep an “ideas” tab in my archive). Inspiration does not always hit when it’s convenient and this makes sure you don’t lose any great ideas. This also shows that you are thinking about these things even when it doesn’t tie to an immediate need (proactive, not reactive). Many tests also may be contingent on the timing of other factors like renewed budgets or landing page changes, and you can keep tabs on all of this within your archive doc.

Convinced of the value? Good.

How to execute on an ad copy archive

Imagine the CEO of a company asks, “What have we learned about paid search messaging over the last year, and what is the incremental performance gain?” This is fairly easy to quantify if you are archiving your test results well.

First, let’s talk format. I suggest using a shared doc format – I typically use a Google Doc spreadsheet. Obviously you invite your boss or client to the doc, but I suggest inviting all the people who work on the account with you: the web dev team, the creative team, your boss’s boss, the aforementioned CEO (if he is a contact) - pretty much anybody with whom you ever collaborate or discuss the account in any way. Aside from really neatly showing all the efforts to all levels of people on the account, it also means that the “living “ document and the progress will likely continue into the future no matter how many stakeholders on the account change. Client details hidden:

ad copy 3 1


So what goes into the archive?

Like good little scientists, we need to keep track of our efforts, and a little tweaking of the scientific method provides an ideal format. You’ll want columns that address your hypothesis, methodology, duration, results (inclusive of your narrative finding and how it relates to your hypothesis), and resultant action. You can call each section what you please, but they should probably all be in there in some fashion.

Hypothesis (yeah, you should have one). Examples might be:

  • Use of “Learn More” vs. “Get Info” will appeal to our research-loving demographic as a call to action
  • An exclamation point in the call to action will increase urgency, and the conversion rate will go up
  • Use of “official site” and trademark symbol in our brand ads will increase CTR by differentiating from competitors and increase CVR by engendering trust

Methodology - What engine/groups/campaigns are you executing this test on? What is the portion of the ad you are testing (value prop, call to action, qualifier etc.)? What exactly is the messaging for panel A and panel B?

Duration – include your start and end dates. This helps pulse that you are testing in an ongoing fashion. It also serves as a note of when tests were ended after an insufficient run due to poor early results or some other account needs that forced an early shutdown. Additionally, for many accounts, latency is a factor, and this helps make sure that you are circling back to the right date range at the right time to update your final numbers inclusive of your latency window. Also, when you need to do higher-level quarterly or yearly reviews, you know just what tests fit into the time period.

Results – The data part is easy. That’s just including the final “report” based on the metrics you are measuring and the resultant deltas. You also will want to include your narrative learning based on that data. How the finding relates to your hypothesis is just as important as the hard numbers. In fact, executive level folks typically want just the narrative and a nice line going up and to the right on whatever metric they care about. Remember, this is also important on a losing test – in fact, the value of the investment on a losing test isn’t in the performance gain but rather in the learning, so depth of narrative should be ever more flushed out. If the results are inconclusive, that’s okay; this is where you note it and why – in some cases, it may make sense to re-run the inconclusive tests again later.

Action – Sometimes it’s as simple as switching everything to the winning messaging. However, perhaps you only want to switch the campaigns or engines where you executed the test and then perform another round of the same test in a different segment of your program. Or, maybe it’s inconclusive but you are go to go with the test ads simply because your CEO likes them. In any case, here is where you document the resulting action and why.

ad copy 3 2

Once you’ve got all that, you’re ready to move on to the next test; keep iterating, keep learning, keep documenting.

Oh, and by the way, this kind of archived test record works really well for landing pages as well. In fact, anything you test can be archived in this manner: new kinds of keywords, new match types, new GDN targets, new betas, etc. If you go this route, it may make sense to have tabs that address each type of testing as your headers or metrics may differ. If you are building a really comprehensive archive inclusive of landing page or banner visuals, results data and lots of narrative, a Google wiki (shared closed “website”) is a great format to pull all that together cleanly and share with a group.

You are now armed to create clean and meaningful tests, report on them with ease and confidence, then track and share the ongoing effort. You have no excuses for procrastinating anymore! Go forth and ad test!

Topics: SEO

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