Google's 'Long Headline' Ad and its Impact on PPC Ad Text Writing

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With their recent announcement of changes to the qualification criteria for "Long Headline" ads, it seems that the testing begun a month or so ago may become a permanent fixture on the Google PPC landscape.

If that's the case, what does it mean for PPC advertising?

Firstly, if you haven't noticed a Long Headline ad as yet, a word of explanation may be in order.

Simply put, a Long Headline ad is just a standard text ad which, when shown in the shaded area on the left hand side, has had its headline linked to the first description line by a hyphen.

Borrowing Google's example, here's one I found earlier:

GwilLongHeadLine 1

Having been testing this throughout February, Google have noticed that this format doesn't work for all ads. They have therefore developed a qualification criterion:

'This new look requires the ad to show at one of the top placements in addition to having either one of these in description line one: 1) we are highly confident that it is a complete phrase, or 2) contains sentence-ending punctuation'.

Although there does still appear to be a subjective element (isn't there always?!) it seems relatively straightforward to qualify ads for this Long Headline upgrade.

Fair enough, I hear you exclaim, but is it important? Once again, Google enlightens us stating:

'We've found that ads with longer headlines have an average CTR increase of 5.7% versus those that do not'.

Now initially I thought, "an extra 5.7% on my CTR – that'll be incredible!" Eventually, my brain kicked in and helped me to realise it's not quite so dramatic; if an ad in the top three was achieving a 10% CTR then the 5.7% increase for the Long Headline may translate to an extra 0.5% (giving a 10.5% CTR). No need for me to faint then, but still a sizeable increase for not a lot of additional work.

So what do we need to do to bag this increase? Well here's where it gets exciting PPC lovers! Google's explanation above implies that description line one must be self-contained to be promoted. To support this, the example they provide promotes a 34 character line one into the headline.

However, my findings show that Google will promote text which carries into line two:

GwilLongHeadLine 2

The second brand reference is taken from line two as shown by the AdWords interface example below:

Long Headline Google Adwords PPC Advert Format

We all know that it's the headline that captures customer attention so this development allows the shrewd advertiser to achieve some pretty standout copy!

I have to admit, though, I can't tell whether this is deliberate or a glitch. When I've used the preview tool to check other ads to ascertain exactly how much text gets promoted, it seems to be either the first line or nothing.

It may be that Google are using a Long Headline character maximum. I would imagine that to be 60 characters (25 headline + 35 description) but with the flexibility of running into line two if it meets character and punctuation requirements.

As always, testing is likely to be the key to enlightenment.

Even if the mining of line two is a glitch and only line one gets promoted to headline status, there are still several points to consider which may improve ad text impact.

Firstly, let's take a look at a traditional ad text approach:

Sale on Blue Widgets

Massive Sale on all Blue Widgets.

£7.99 inc P&P While Stocks Last!

Widgets.com

In Long Headline format, that would show as:

Sale on Blue Widgets - Massive Sale on all Blue Widgets.

£7.99 inc P&P While Stocks Last!

Widgets.com

In Long Headline format, it can't help but make the ad look a little repetitive. What you gain from the Long Headline CTR boost you may lose for seeming a bit clunky to your audience.

However, the new format encourages us to cast aside aspects of standard ad writing and try something a little more creative.

For example, the practice of seeding the keyword in the (traditional) headline may no longer be quite so relevant in Long Headline ads:

Massive Sale

£7.99 inc P&P for Blue Widgets!

Buy Online While Stocks Last.

Widgets.com

Becomes:

Massive Sale - £7.99 inc P&P for Blue Widgets!

Buy Online While Stocks Last.

Widgets.com

In the example above, the keyword still features in the headline but we've used the 35 character description line to do it, freeing up the 25 character 'headline' for alternative copy.

As an extra bonus, the Long Headline seems to allow the headline to include an exclamation mark.

Exclamation marks in PPC Adverts on Google

It all helps!

The re-adjusted text ad throws up some interesting challenges. In the above example, the first ad format may not be ideal but the Long Headline version appears more attractive. In this instance, you'd want to be pretty sure you're achieving a shaded area place to qualify for Long Headline status. As a result, bidding strategies may need to be reassessed and the argument for top three targeting becomes stronger.

Whatever your approach, there are two tools which are very helpful when it comes to managing the Long Headline.

Firstly, the Ad Preview tool is great as it allows you to check the display of all your ads without incurring unnecessary impressions. You can find this in your account under 'Reporting and Tools'.

Secondly, Google have included a Long Headline example of your ad when writing new text directly on the interface. This is a very helpful addition and it's certainly worth using to check new copy.

Adverts in Position 1-3 vs. Adverts on Right hand side

So to return to the question, what impact will the Long Headline have on PPC? Perhaps the clever answer is whatever you choose it to have.

The Long Headline ad is not a seismic shift and it would be pretty easy to ignore. However, small though it may appear, the Long Headline change does provide an opportunity to do something different and stand out from the crowd a little more.

In a field as regulated and saturated as PPC advertising, that in itself is something worth getting a little excited about!