Brand Experience

15 Tips to streamline your digital ad testing

The how of digital ad testing matters. Just doing it here and there is not enough.

Why? Because at the heart of ad testing is information. Specifically, information on your prospects, customers, products and brand. This may include who your customers are, what they like, and whether they perceive your brand as a solution to their pain points.

Good ad testing uses information to make better ads. Great ad testing creates more information to keep that virtuous cycle moving.

But understanding the various types of information and how to utilize them can be intimidating.

That’s why you need a plan. It’s best to start small, then build up to a bigger plan that makes sense for your business.

Executing on a thoughtful plan for ad testing will:

  • improve campaign performance
  • save time for you and your team
  • strengthen your brand

Start building a plan with these 15 tried-and-tested tips for streamlining your digital ad testing.

 1. Determine your campaign goal

What is your ad campaign designed to do? Who is your target market, and what pain points are you solving for them? What is your success metric (often, click-through-rate or cost-per-conversion)? After answering those questions, structure your ad campaign accordingly.

 2. Brainstorm ad ideas

Start out with a formal brainstorming session, either individually or with your team. Get ideas from industry leaders, your favorite brands, blog posts from marketing agencies, and your competitors. Google is your best friend here.

Don’t just look at ad images/creative. Pay attention to all elements of the ads including title text, description text, CTAs, etc.

Record ideas on a spreadsheet. Once you have a good list of ideas, choose your favorites. Make sure they fulfill the requirements of your campaign goals. Rank your ideas from best to worst.

Also, have a way for your team members to share great ad ideas they see on social media. My team uses a private Slack channel we call #marketingideas.

3. Send out pre-campaign qualitative ad surveys

For large-scale campaigns, you should gather insights on various ad concepts prior to launch. Ad surveys are the best way. Since you spend a lot on large campaigns, the time and effort of a high-quality survey is worth it. This can be especially effective for product launch advertising when you don't have the time to test your ad or message and really need to make a major splash, coordinated with other marketing channel efforts like print and out-of-home.

Some topics you may want to cover in the survey include:

  • Ad effectiveness at selling the product
  • People’s feelings about the product based on the ad
  • The ad’s effect on brand perception
  • Respondent information (demographics, interests, job title, etc.)

Based on insights from this survey, refine the ads to better accomplish the objective. Here is some help for designing ad testing surveys.

4. Know ad specs ahead of time

It’s frustrating to upload freshly minted creative assets to a campaign only to realize they’re the wrong size. Know the size requirements for each ad platform and campaign type.

For example, single-image ads on Facebook should be 1200 x 628, but carousel image ads should be 1080 x 1080. (And be careful with the amount of text on an image, because Facebook limits that, too.)

5. Create briefs for graphic design requests

Don’t walk over to your graphic designer, describe your vision for the next ad campaign, and ask if they can deliver it by tomorrow. Instead, take 15 minutes to write a creative brief and send it to the designer. Not only will the final result be better, but your graphic designer will love you. Trust me—I’ve done it. And it saves everyone time.

A creative brief is a formal request from you to the graphic designer or creative director. It has a specific format that translates marketing information into creative information. Make a creative brief template that you can reuse each time you start a new campaign.

6. Follow brand guidelines

Only 25% of companies with brand guidelines actually enforce them. Advertisers secretly like that statistic because it means less hoops for them to jump through. But, in the long run, it hurts your ad performance and your brand.

Moral of the story? Follow brand guidelines. This should include approved fonts, colors, logos, messaging, brand purpose and positioning, tone of voice, image guidelines, etc. If your company doesn’t have them, ask around. Many companies have guidelines that no one knows about.

If your company literally doesn’t have one, make one. Here’s a great template—but don’t stop there. Place it in an accessible team folder so that everyone will benefit. The creative team will probably change it eventually, but hey, at least you’ll have a place to start.

7. Templatize your ad creative

Make small, mid-campaign tweaks to your existing ad creative with a tool like Lucidpress. It leverages lockable templates to allow non-designers (like you) to make small changes to creative without ruining the brand integrity your graphic designer worked so hard to create.

For example, when your ad campaign starts to fatigue, you’ll need to swap in a new image. Most people go to their graphic designer for this, since the image file was probably created in a complicated program like Adobe InDesign. Avoid this bottleneck by requesting in the creative brief that the image be imported from InDesign to Lucidpress. From there, they can lock certain elements that shouldn’t be changed, like the logo or font. Then, you can makes changes as needed.

Your creative team won’t get bombarded with mundane edit requests, you get your new image in minutes instead of days, and your brand doesn’t suffer. Win-win-win.

8. Use DAM software to store your creative assets

Keep all of your creative assets in an organized and easily accessed folder structure with DAM software (or free tools like Google Drive or Dropbox). This will save you time and headaches. For example, no more tracking down the latest version of your brand logo. They’re all stored neatly in the cloud, so you can find it whenever and wherever you need it.

9. Apply A/B split testing best practices          

Incorrect use of statistical methods result in misguided conclusions. Just like your fifth-grade science fair project, use the six steps of the scientific method:

  • Question
  • Research
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiment
  • Data/analysis
  • Conclusion

The first key is to form your experiment around a simple hypothesis. Your A arm is the control, and the B arm is the new thing you’re testing. Don’t test more elements than you need to, because it will introduce uncertainty into your results.

The second key is to know your required sample size before starting the test so you know how long to run it. You’ll be tempted to call your test at the first instant it reaches statistical significance. Don’t do it. This is a common mistake that leads to false positives and false negatives.

If you’re not sure what’s required, you can use this free sample size calculator.

10. Use A/B testing tools

Many ad platforms have built-in A/B testing features, like Facebook. There are also A/B testing products that integrate with ad platforms. Many of these tools automatically set up the A/B test, calculate significance, notify you when a test is finished, and queue up the next ad to test.

My favorite is Adalysis for AdWords and Bing Ads. It takes care of the whole process, and it helped me double my account-wide CTR from 5% to 10% in six months.

11. Track ad performance with UTM parameters

Tag the destination URLs on your ads with UTM parameters. This helps you analyze performance across channels, platforms, campaigns and individual ads. This information is crucial to the feedback loop that helps you act on insights.

Many analytics platforms like Google Analytics can leverage UTM parameters. There are dozens of great guides out there describing best practices.

12. Keep detailed documentation

Build a spreadsheet in Google Sheets or Airtable for documenting the characteristics and progression of individual ad tests. Include columns for test status, description, hypothesis, primary and secondary metrics and test duration.

This same spreadsheet can house your test ideas, performance data, ad testing to-do list, and links to screenshots of ad creative. Remember that speed is key. Documentation shouldn’t be time-consuming.

13. Know when to test big or small

When starting out with ad testing, the differences between A and B should be large. By that, I mean that multiple ad elements may differ. Your goal is to find which broad concept works best.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a single broad concept, transition to smaller tests. Test only one element at a time. For example, arms A and B should be exactly the same except for the headline text.

There are exceptions to this rule. Always be careful with drawing conclusions on tests that are simultaneously testing multiple elements. It’s hard to know which element caused the B arm to win or lose.

14. Always test ads

You are wasting time and resources if an ad group only has one ad. There should always be two unique ads in an ad group. Don’t test three or more ads at the same time in a group. Testing A vs. B vs. C will just take more time to reach significance. Let A vs. B finish, then add C for round two.

15. Stick to your plan

Any plan is only as good as how long you stick to it. Remember, your plan should be all about the flow and use of information.

Who or where is the information coming from? Where should it go? What is it telling you? How can you leverage it?

If you can answer those questions, great results are just around the corner.

Qualtrics now offers an automated XM Solution for Advertising Creative Testing. This Advertising Creative Testing XM Solution includes a guided wizard, pre-designed survey, and a pre-built report to help you identify which ad holds the best promise. This solution is included with most Qualtrics licenses.

eBook: Test and Launch Effective Ads

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Over 12,000 enterprises worldwide, including more than 75 percent of the Fortune 100 and 99 of the top 100 U.S. business schools, rely on Qualtrics to consistently build products that people love, create more loyal customers, develop a phenomenal employee culture, and build iconic brands.

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