January 19, 2023
Messaging

How to start with ad testing before you launch your next paid campaign

Ad testing can shape how well your ads perform when deployed for real, boosting resonance and ROI. Learn how to do it effectively with our step-by-step guide.

Advertising think tank Credos found trust in advertising is in a long-term decline [1]. Public favorability towards ads has almost halved since 1992. Despite record ad spend and sophisticated targeting technology, advertisers struggle to connect with their audience [2].

Research firm Lumen ran a study to showcase the reality of ad engagement and found that 91% of ads get viewed for a second or less [3]. How confident are you that your ads capture your audience’s attention that quickly?

In this article, you’ll learn how ad testing can transform your advertising effectiveness, increasing resonance with your target audience and driving more revenue. You’ll also get a step-by-step guide to running ad tests successfully, maximizing the value they provide.

What is ad testing?

Ad testing (advertising testing) is the process of seeking feedback on ad concepts or drafts. Participants in ad tests represent the real intended target audience of the ads. Their feedback is a proxy for understanding how well your ads will resonate and perform when properly deployed.

There are several popular ad testing methods, including panel testing, focus groups, and A/B testing. They all revolve around the same basic concept of putting different ads in front of a target audience to get insights that can drive performance improvements. What differs is how detailed those insights are.

Even the most rudimentary methods can result in significant performance boosts. An Optimizely case study showcased how concept testing helped Sony improve CTR for a banner ad by 6%, resulting in a 21% increase in conversion rate. 

Screenshot of Sony A/B Tests Banner Ads Performance Result

More sophisticated approaches than A/B testing, primarily qualitative methods like panel testing and focus groups, yield deeper insights and can contribute to greater results.

You can test every type of ad, from digital PPC ads to billboard campaign creative. While the feedback you receive can’t predict ad performance with 100% accuracy, it is a leading indicator. 

Without testing, ad creative gets deployed as a shot in the dark. There’s no way to forecast performance. With it, you can pre-empt your real audience’s response and optimize your ads to resonate and convert at a higher rate. Testing allows you to refine your creative before you spend any budget.

What makes an ad effective?

Ads come in many forms with the two most important components being the creative and the copy. Ads requiring visuals (the creative), such as an image or video, take skill and pin-pointed market research to capture attention.

Messaging is also critical to get right. Too long and your audience won’t read it. Too short and you might not have delivered all you need to counter objections and remove friction. Ad messaging makes or breaks any ad, regardless of how impressive the creative is.

Knowing what makes an ad effective helps you identify its weaknesses pre-testing. This allows your test participants to focus on delivering in-depth insights rather than surface-level. 

Here are three of the most influential factors in an effective ad.

Clarity

You have less than a second to capture your target’s attention. Prioritizing clarity in your ad messaging ensures none of that time gets wasted in confusion. It’s the most basic component of an effective ad. 

The following Facebook ad from WeTransfer demonstrates the effects of clarity:

Screenshot of WeTransfer Facebook Ad

The ad text summarizes the value proposition on offer succinctly: “Share files up to 2GB for free. No login required.”

The creative isn’t flashy, but it clearly conveys the product’s utility. The description reinforces the value proposition in even simpler language. With just 17 words, WeTransfer explains its product, describes its benefits, and compels a subsequent action: “Learn more.” 

There’s no room in this ad for misunderstanding.

Trustworthiness

People are skeptical of advertising, so ads should broadcast your brand’s trustworthiness. Clearly demonstrating your credentials or authority helps to break down your audience’s barriers and ensures your message gets through. Trust is also a top-three factor in influencing purchasing decisions, according to Edelman research.

Building trust in ads is similar to building trust on your website. There is a range of “trust signals” that effectively reassure users of both legitimacy and quality, including customer reviews, industry awards, and affiliation badges.

The following Google ad by email marketing brand Sendinblue takes a slightly different approach:

Screenshot of Sendinblue Google Ad

Sendinblue immediately addresses any customer objections based on trust by highlighting their 300,000+ customer base in the headline. Seeing that so many people use the platform signals to the user that the platform is legitimate and worth trying. 

Persuasiveness

Ads should compel the next step. That might be clicking through to a website or booking a free trial. Whatever the conversion goal, make sure you’re driving it convincingly.

A persuasive ad has two main components: a strongly-communicated value proposition and a compelling call to action (CTA). The effectiveness of your value proposition depends on your ad being both clear and trustworthy. To craft a high-performing CTA, follow the data.

HubSpot found that personalized CTAs convert 202% better. CXL discovered that copy conveying a sense of urgency can triple the conversion rate

The following Facebook ad by Mangools showcases what an ad tailored to maximize persuasiveness looks like:

Screenshot of Mangools Facebook Ad

It leverages the power of personalization, offering a discount on the full product exclusively to users whose free trial is due to lapse. There’s a sense of urgency created through the limited availability of the offer, only valid “until the end of your trial.” 

Hitting the right users at the right time with a significant incentive to convert, the brand built this ad to persuade.

The benefits of successful ad testing

You can determine which of a set of ads is best after deployment by monitoring performance, but you won’t know what made it successful. This limits your ability to improve the remaining ads. 

Ad testing is the only way to get a spectrum of feedback rather than binary yes/no answers. It doesn’t just highlight which ads are best; it tells you why. It also provides productive criticism of the ones that fall short. The qualitative feedback you get from ad testing offers diverse benefits, including:

It helps you reliably improve ad performance

Reach outstanding marketing results through iterative progress. Deploying campaigns, analyzing performance, and making tweaks is a fundamental process applied across all channels. The best marketers learn from data to continually improve their approach.

Ad testing allows you to do that same learning without having to spend your budget on deployment. It’s a reliable way to improve your ads without wasting money. This makes ad testing an excellent method of maximizing ROI from a limited budget.

It gives your ideas statistical backing

It’s easy to fall in love with ideas. This is all too common in marketing—internal consensus decides that an ad is good, so effectiveness is assumed. Ad testing allows you to back up that subjective assessment with hard data. This can make settling internal disputes about creative direction easier, resulting in quicker campaign rollouts. 

It also removes a variable when assessing ad campaign performance after deployment. With test feedback strongly indicating your creative hit the mark with your audience, you can attribute poor performance to other factors. This limits the scope of any post-campaign investigation.

It inspires other angles and messaging

The results of ad testing can directly inspire new approaches to marketing and messaging. No one knows your audience better than they know themselves. If the feedback you receive from tests points in a clear direction, with the same themes appearing consistently, you can apply it to future strategies. 

For example, if feedback overwhelmingly highlights a certain product benefit as compelling, you can orient your next campaign around selling it more. This significantly broadens the value ad testing offers. It’s not just useful for optimizing the creative in one campaign—it can influence overall marketing strategy.

It makes segmentation easier to approach

Audiences often consist of sub-groups, each with differing needs and preferences. Segmenting your audience based on these differences enables better targeting. This helps to ensure your ads have the maximum impact across your entire audience. 

The results from ad tests make it clear who you need to cater for and, more importantly, what they want. Sorting the feedback you receive based on the respondents’ demographics makes it easier to attribute certain preferences to specific audience segments. You can then deploy a more effectively segmented ad campaign for improved performance.

How to run ad testing for the best results

Many variables are involved in the ad testing process, from the size of the audience to the amount of ads being tested. Minimizing them is the best way to get the most valuable output. It’s also essential if you plan to run multiple tests and want them to be comparable. 

Follow this step-by-step methodology to ensure your tests are robustly planned and tailored to suit your specific objective.

Step 1: Produce or gather the creative

You can test a single ad or an entire campaign. If the creative you want to test already exists, collate it. If it doesn’t, produce it. Although this step sounds simple, getting it right is essential to maximize the value of the final test results. 

The most important consideration is ensuring the creative you’re testing isn’t too broad. Limit a test to ads from one campaign. Any more and you might struggle to interpret the feedback.

If you’re producing creative from scratch, prioritize the elements of an effective ad listed above. Creative that is already clear, trustworthy, and persuasive gives your audience less low-hanging fruit to critique. This means the feedback they give will deal with deeper problems.

Step 2: Determine what you’re testing for

Next, set clear and tangible objectives to keep your test on track. Potential objectives to choose from include understanding:

  • How well your messaging resonates with your audience’s emotions or addresses their pain points.
  • How clearly your ads convey your product’s value proposition, and how well this matches your audience’s needs.
  • How well your ads compel the next action, or how persuasive they are in driving clicks and conversions.

Well-defined aims will influence how you present the creative, ask questions, and analyze the results. Without them, the feedback you receive will lack focus, limiting the effectiveness of your edits.

Step 3: Choose the right testing method and find your audience

There are several ad testing solutions to choose from, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The main options include:

  • Online surveys are facilitated through platforms like SurveyMonkey. They’re quick and easy to set up, and generally offer the largest audience. However, they’re best suited to providing quantitative responses which offer low-detail insights.
  • Focus groups are held in person or online and moderated by a stakeholder. These offer the chance for highly-detailed feedback, with the moderator able to ask follow-up questions for more detail. The downsides are that they’re time-consuming and they only tend to involve up to 10 people in a local area, a small sample size for meaningful data.
  • Qualitative panel-based tests offer a bespoke audience, like Wynter Message Testing. These provide a middle-ground—easy to set up, with a potential audience larger than focus groups, and questions that can be open-ended. This means the insights available are both detailed and statistically significant.

Choose the method that suits your needs best. Whichever one you choose, make sure that it enables you to reach an audience representative of your ideal customer. If you’re a B2B SaaS brand, the only feedback you should care about is that of B2B professionals of the right seniority level working in an appropriate sector.

Step 4: Analyze the results and improve your ads

Once your test is complete, you’ll have a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed data set. The final remaining step is to interpret the data, form meaningful conclusions from it, and edit your test ads based on those conclusions. 

If your responses are qualitative, you can use tools like word clouds to simplify analysis. A collated view of the feedback makes it easy to spot trends and consensus thoughts. Alternatively, go through each response one by one and make notes on the key points. 

Once you’ve analyzed each response, compile these notes and tally the occurrence of similar points to identify the key ideas. You can then brainstorm how to address the feedback and work on edits that make your ads more suitable for achieving the objectives you outlined at the start of the process.

After the testing and editing process is complete, you can deploy your ads. At this stage, focus on monitoring campaign performance. Testing should have ensured that your creative is well-targeted, but live ads give you more data to work with. 

Identify the lowest-performing creative and pause those ads to conserve budget for the higher-performers. Learn from the best-performing ads and apply their best elements to creative elsewhere in the campaign. As you iterate on this approach, you’ll refine your campaign to maximize performance and secure improved ROI.

Principles of effective ad testing

Following the right ad testing process goes a long way to ensuring your results are valuable. You can further improve how useful the output is by following these testing best practices:

Test enough people

You should run ad tests on an audience that can provide statistically significant results. A survey with just ten respondents won’t generate a meaningful representation of the entire market’s thoughts. You can get away with fewer responses when they’re qualitative, but an audience too small may still expose you to outlying responses skewing your results.

A larger panel of respondents means more accurate results, so take steps to maximize the number of people you test on. At the same time, prioritize maintaining their good fit with your ideal customer profile.

Keep tests consistent

Make sure that your tests are consistent with themselves. When you want the testing output to help you determine the comparative strength of a set of ads, it’s important to minimize the number of variables in the test setup.

In practice, this means asking the same questions, using the same audience, ensuring consistency in the quality of imagery, and using an identical approach to analyze the data.

Keep your questions focused

The questions you ask in an ad test should be concise and clear. Also, keep your question sets short to prevent your audience from getting fatigued and disengaged.

Similarly, keep your questions focused on the same lines of thought. It may be tempting to assess every facet of your ads at the same time, but you run the risk of splitting respondents’ focus. 

For example, if your main testing objective is to understand how emotionally resonant your ads are, avoid also focusing on learning how well the ad conveys the value proposition or how compelling the CTA is. Audiences generally find concentrating on a shorter list of focus areas easier. 

Benchmark your results

You can get deeper insights from ad testing by comparing your new ads to existing ones that you have performance data on. With feedback on both, you can approximate how well your next campaign will perform by extrapolating the old performance data and adjusting it based on the relative strength of the new ads.

Alternatively, test competitor ads at the same time as your own. This can help you to understand how well your creative matches up to theirs. As a result, you can pre-empt whether your campaign will outcompete theirs when placed in front of the same real audience.

Use testing to improve the rest of the funnel

Ads play an important role in the marketing and sales funnel, but they’re far from the only contributor to success. Ad testing can help you improve the impact of your initial touchpoint with a customer. Message testing can strengthen the rest of the funnel.

This includes website messaging, which is the critical next step in a conversion journey. Ad testing works to improve CTR and brand recall. Website message testing tackles the next stage in the funnel, targeting key metrics that directly affect the bottom line, like conversion rate.

You can also apply testing to improve other marketing channels, like social media posts, cold emails, and key landing pages. Taking a comprehensive approach by utilizing testing at every stage throughout the funnel can significantly impact marketing performance. 

Get critical B2B audience insights with ad testing and maximize ROI

In competitive markets like B2B SaaS, even slight edges get amplified and reflected in improved campaign performance. Ad testing is a simple and reliable way of discovering competitive edge opportunities. 

The feedback you receive from your respondents, a proxy for your real audience, can shape every element of your strategy. It can help you settle on the right word choices, improve your ability to craft resonant messaging, and steer a campaign’s overall angle. Testing is the best way to combat the waning engagement levels across advertising channels.

Adopting ad testing as a standard part of campaign development also means you waste less budget deploying unoptimized ads likely to underperform. Together, these benefits are considerable. Testing can revolutionize how well your ad campaigns contribute to broader business aims.

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