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The Advent of Expanded Text Ads—How (and Why) to Use Google AdWords' Most Exciting New Feature in Years

Carolyn Lowe
Aug 9, 2016
Last Modified:
Jan 31, 2023


If you’re like me, one of the most frustrating challenges of managing paid search campaigns has been having to write ad copy within the restricting confines of character limits.

Demonstrated and common-sense best practices have long compelled us to make sure to always include certain components in our ad text: Relevant terms that appear in users’ search queries and landing page copy, some sort of brief pitch or appeal to authority that makes the advertiser stand out from its competition, and a call to action to create a cohesive ad unit in such a way that grammatically makes sense—all (formerly) within a combined total of 95 characters. (And you usually wouldn’t even get to use all of them due to the varying character counts of individual words, leaving you with a handful of extra characters at the end of a line that would go to waste.)

This has forced us to craft our messages with an austerity that distills them down to only the most essential components, bereft of nuance and adornment, and sometimes coercing us into unideally abbreviating words or compromising the way we want to phrase them. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s the crippling migraine of PPC copywriting.

Indeed, we have to deal with many problems in general that are outside of our individual control, and this is something we all eventually come to accept as just part of the human condition. Global climate change is causing increasingly extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and unsustainable ecological pressure. The food choices commercially available to us are often socially, environmentally, and nutritionally problematic in a myriad of ways. But as of just over a week ago, we will no longer have to face the day-to-day struggle of working within unreasonably restricting AdWords character limits. And in my world, that is as good a cause for optimism as any.

I’m talking of course, about Google’s new expanded text ads.

Granted, the availability of ad extensions like sitelinks and (more recently) callouts has, for a while now, provided us with useful additional ad real estate. But these aren’t nearly as important or reliably visible as the actual ad itself. (These, by the way, are still available to us with expanded ads.) And as far as the ad itself goes, the most visible and important component has always been the headline—and now we get two.

For those of you that don’t already know, the newly rolled-out expanded ads are comprised of: two 30-character headlines (which are displayed side by side and separated by spaces and a hyphen), 80 characters of description text (which are no longer broken up into two lines), and two optional 15-character path fields for your display URL.

This new, sudden wealth of text space of course begs the question: What do I fill it with? (Perhaps as important, what don’t you fill it with?) Here are some ideas that we’ve already employed:

 Be More Descriptive

Well, for starters, you no longer have to be so economical with your words in general.

In the new description field, we now have 80 characters of text to work with, which is an improvement not just in overall character count, but also in the fact that it’s no longer split between two lines, so you can be especially generous with descriptors and incorporate more language from your landing page copy (and don’t forget calls to action). So go ahead and use that enriching adjective that you’ve often had to throw out that could’ve been used to call attention to the quality of your service/product (e.g. versatile, portable, durable). Throw in two. Live. Your. Life.

Use More Branding

One component I’ve always liked to A/B test that would usually come at the expense of another component due to limited space is branding. Using your, or your advertiser’s, brand by name and/or tagline can be a good way to imbue your ad with an appeal to authority and make it stand out from your competitors’ ads.

However, mentioning your brand name in your headline or your marketing tagline in one of your description lines almost always meant forgoing one of the ad copy best practices that I mentioned before, like using your headline text to include the keywords in the users’ search query to ensure them that it is what they’re looking for.

But now, you no longer, or at least much less often, have to make that choice when it comes to mentioning your brand or tagline. Since we now have two “headlines” to work with, you can include your branding component right alongside your relevant keyword text.

Continue to Treat Your “Headlines” as One

Now, I put the pluralized “headlines” in quotations to emphasize my next point, which is that it’s important to recognize that you’re still essentially creating one headline, but with two components that aren’t necessarily interchangeable.

This is important because between the two, Headline 1 is what’s going to be read first, so it should be crafted to initially draw the searcher’s attention. This is where you should make sure to include the specific search terms that people are using, and that you are bidding on.

Subsequently, Headline 2 should be crafted as part of your pitch to make your brand, product and/or service stand out. This is where you can feel free to test the inclusion of your brand name, tagline, or otherwise appeal to your brand’s authority.

Some Initial Results

Of course this is still relatively new to us (although some larger advertisers have had the jump on it for a couple of month’s now), but in using the strategies outlined above, we’ve already seen promising results for one advertiser. Since testing the new expanded text ad (shown several paragraphs above) against the previous top performing ad within one high-volume ad group, we have seen CTR increase 57% and Conversion Rate increase 143%.

As we continue to test expanded ads across all of our advertisers, of whom represent a variety of industries, we’ll be sure to post updates on new best practices, what to avoid, and how this will affect the way we do sitelink and callout extensions from here on out.

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