Late last year, we ran ads for a children’s cancer research organization through an untested native advertising platform. In our case, the platform we used would place small pictures with a single headline on the sidebars or “other suggested topics” of websites ranging from the local news station to CNN and ESPN. Native is a relatively new form of advertising, so we wanted to know what type of results we should expect from it.
- Is it good for finding new supporters to sign up?
- Or building awareness?
- Maybe it just doesn’t jive with nonprofit messaging?
But before we spent a single cent on the native platform of choice, we looked to our Google Grant Adwords campaigns for guidance.
Investing in paid media is always a risk, especially when every single advertising dollar counts. You never want to pay for advertising, only to find out that your creative is a flop. For that reason, we start all paid campaigns, including this one, by de-risking our investment, using a Google Ad Grant.
At the time, we had three prominent AdWords campaigns running through the client’s Google Grant:
- 1 aimed a lead acquisition
- 1 for increasing organizational awareness by telling of the breakthrough research our client was making towards children’s cancer
- 1 that brought cause awareness and thought leadership through a strong story
Each of these campaigns had a multitude of headlines running with varying results. Instead of publishing all of these headlines on the native advertising platform, and wasting a portion of our budget on headlines that no one clicked on, we were able to choose just the winners.
While we can’t measure how much money we did save, we do know that our budget was better off having tested creative with our free Google Grant Ad spend.
What’s more, this process was INCREDIBLY EASY; we have repeated it multiple time since. In this case, we already had these campaigns running, but you don’t need to.
Imagine that you are about to do a large marketing spend in Facebook ads in order to get more supporters onto your email list. You’ve already got a good idea of what people will click on. So the next step is honing in on the right content for this email conversion.
The Step by Step Playbook:
Every marketing campaign should be data driven, and using this technique, you can do so from beginning to end. This will take multiple tests.
Here is our order of operations for using our Google Grant to gather data and drive all creative decisions BEFORE actually spending money on advertising:
- Determine your CAMPAIGN GOALS: cause awareness, new donor leads, thought leadership awareness for your organization?
- Test CONTENT DIRECTION: Come up with a couple different pieces of content or appeals that match your goal. In the above example, we had tested several different campaigns for each of the goals, and knew that these three performed the best. You don’t even have to finalize the content yet, just create a simple blog post or landing page to be representative of it. Then create and publish ad campaigns for each. Make sure to have a few variations for each content too.
- Sit back and wait for RESULTS: Patience is key, as you do not want to make decisions before gathering enough data. Achieving statistical significance is idea, but if you want to keep it simple, give yourself a couple of weeks. Eventually, you can compare results and look for two trends:
- What subject matter had the highest clickthrough (CTR) rate across the board?
- What headlines performed the best?
CTR is the most objective metric, accounting for varying ad views. However, look at the number of views as well. This will help you see if there are any subject matters or headlines that Google’s algorithms prefer. Choose any standouts CTR or views, and proceed with those as your starting subject and headlines.
Repeat these steps with HEADLINE variations: Using your winners from the previous steps, make a few variations, all with the same copy. Once again, wait until you have sufficient data, and choose your winning headlines. If you have time, try to repeat and refine this process until you have 3 headlines per campaign. This will give you some wiggle room, as your paid media may not perform exactly the same as Google AdWords.
Repeat with COPY variations: You know know which content gets clicks, and more specifically, which headlines do too. Now test the more minute piece – the descriptive copy. Using only winning headlines, write a few copy descriptions. On most platforms, the headlines and image are the biggest determinants. For this reason, make sure you have a few winning headlines, but then narrow down your descriptive copy to one winner. While less exact, this can save you time and money if you don’t want to continue testing with your paid budget (3 headlines x 3 body copy = 9 paid tests, not accounting for image variation in your paid media).
*Note – Keep your CPC bid even across all tests. Unless you are using every cent of your Ad Grant budget effectively and don’t want to hamper those results, put all bids to $2. This will give you the maximum views, and therefore maximum budget.
If you are driving towards a conversion…
And therefore need visitors to take an action upon the initial clickthrough (like filling out a form with email, or making a donation)
Repeat with LANDING PAGES: You’ve made it this far. Don’t let your landing pages be the weak link. Test for the highest conversions. You can repeat tests with every single aspect of a landing page, but the main things are:
- Content heavy vs. form heavy (AdWords pro tip: Google prefers content)
- Headlines (AdWords pro tip: Google prefers high keyword relevance to your ad copy)
- Form placement
*Note – This is a test. While high CTR and conversions with Ad Grant campaigns can be a great driver for real your overall objectives (step 1), make sure you’re noting any differences between AdWords and your actual paid media. However, if you’ve been able to execute the tests well, you may be seeing exciting results with your Ad Grant by now.
You’re welcome – you now have all creative decisions made for your paid campaign, AND a robust Ad Grant campaign. Try upping the budget to boost the free results.
Nonetheless, by the time you hit “spend” on your paid campaign, you will know that your budget is being spent efficiently. Don’t waste another cent of your media budget on poor creative. Use your free Ad Grant spend to test, and your organization’s real monetary budget to create meaningful results.