Mike Ruins Static Paid Search Ads…With Ad Customizers

The weight of an argument is multiplied by making it specific.

Scientific Advertising


Notice the changing landscape of paid search

Mike_Ruins_Digital_MarketingRight about now, you may just be finishing up sifting through what seems like hundreds (I haven’t counted them) “2017 PPC Predictions” posts that were written as we transitioned into the new year.  If you even read just a couple, you know these two common themes stand out.

  1. Audience targeting.  Instead of thinking about only what keyword a person is using, start also thinking about where they’re located, when they’re searching, what device they’re searching on, if they’ve been to your site previously, what point in the buying funnel they’ve made it to, etc.  Then, adjust how you customize your targeting to them.  Audience targeting functionality has already been available for years.  But as it’s matured, we seem to have reached a tipping point with adoption as platforms continue to improve functionality in this area.  Staying competitive increasingly requires its use.
  2. Automation.  Why do a repeatable task if it can be automated right?  Not only does it save time from doing the tasks, but it helps avoid time-sucking mistakes as well.  As I roll into the new year, looking for new and creative ways to automate tasks is my study area of focus.

So my first post of this year is about something that combines both of these – ad customizers (Google only as of right now).  An ad customizer is a special piece of code in your ad text that references data you’ve uploaded to the Google AdWords system.  It allows specific pieces of ad text to be dynamically changed based upon what someone is searching for, which device they’re using, where they’re located, etc. (Lots of example below).

This covers both attributes from above by allowing your ads to be hyper-personalized to specific audience groups, as well as allowing you to automate the process of showing those ads to them.

Yes, they’ve been out for over a couple years now; but it seems like adoption is fairly slow.  The consensus feeling seems to be that they look scary on the surface because there is coding involved.  I must admit, I fell into this thinking as well and it slowed my adoption.  But, you’ll see as we dive in that these don’t require you to know coding at all to be able to learn and use them.

Make a static versus dynamic comparison

So let’s look at a simple example to see if this sparks your curiosity in what customizers can do for you.  Let’s say you’re advertising for college degrees.  You might come up with an ad that’s something like this…


Now watch how you can make this more personal to the audience that’s searching and their situation…


If that person is searching in New York (NY) or Oklahoma (OK) or whatever state, the correct state abbreviation can be inserted just for them.  Also notice how the ad counts down the days until they can start their degree.  If it says 31 days today, tomorrow it will say 30, and so on.

Think about your possibilities

But location and event countdowns are just 2 examples of how ad customizers can be used.  There are lots of things you can do.  Here’s a rundown of some other examples that may spark your creativity with some good ideas…

  • Discounts.  Of course!  Have periodic sales that offer flat discounts, or different discount amounts off different products.  Either way, that number can be dynamically inserted into your ad text depending on what the searcher is looking for.
  • Product names.  Have multiple products that similar ad text can apply to?  Simply have your ad insert the name of the product being searched for dynamically into your ad.
  • # of customers or social media followers.  Find that adding social proof to your ads works well with persuading your target audience?  Dynamically change this number without deleting old ads (and their performance history) and creating new ones.
  • Devices.  Is it more appropriate to use a different call to action for people searching from their mobile phone than people searching on desktop?  Dynamically change the call to action in your ad text according to what device people are searching from.
  • Audiences.  Want to show a different discount to people that have been to your site before, or who made it to a certain step in the buying process?  This can be dynamically changed depending on the interaction each person has had with your brand in the past.
  • # of products/seats/tickets left.  Only have a limited number of something you’re selling and want to create that sense of urgency from FOMO (the fear of missing out)?  This can dynamically change in your ad based on the number you have left.

Learn the nuts and bolts

Earlier I mentioned that this functionality is really easy to use (you don’t have to know coding).  In its simplest form, each piece of customized text takes on the form of {=xxxxxx.yyyyyy}.  “X” is the file name that contains your data.  “Y” is an attribute within your file.  Let’s take a look at a simple example.  Here’s a default ad variation I want to use for sales events…


The attributes I want to change each time a different sale begins are the name of the sale, the discount, the discount code, and the date the sale ends.  Here’s my spreadsheet data (named BrandSale1) that I would upload to the AdWords system…


And here’s how my ad text would reference that data…


Except for the countdown function (which is a little bit different, but don’t be scared!), each customizer references the spreadsheet with my data in it and an attribute column within that spreadsheet to give the output in my desired ad you see above.  Now each time a sale occurs, I simple change the data in the columns and re-upload to the AdWords system.  I don’t have to delete and re-create any ads, and I can test different sale templates across multiple sale periods.  So cool!

Tips and other information

  1. Default fallback text.  As of this writing, most accounts still require a standard ad to run alongside a customizer ad in each ad group.  But Google is currently in the process of rolling out the ability to include default fallback text that will make standard ads optional (more info).
  2. Automation.  More automation!  It’s possible to automatically update attributes like inventory or pricing without having to do it manually (more info).
  3. Character limits.  After your attribute data is dynamically inserted, the ad must still meet character limit guidelines. (the customizers code itself can go over though)
  4. Where you can use it.  You can include customizers in headlines and description fields only.
  5. Numbers.  You can use up to 5 customizers at a time.  You can only pull from one data set in each ad.
  6. Countdowns to events are a tiny different.  I won’t use any more time here to expound on their set up, but here’s more info to guide you through it.

Although you still will want to test, you should get better performance if you’re able to use this functionality to present a more relevant offer to searchers.  If you have a good example of how you’re using customizers to get better performance and save you time, I’d love to hear about it!

Make sure to check out more posts in the Mike Ruins Digital Marketing series, where I challenge the status quo by tackling digital marketing topics that most practitioners have all wrong.

Mike Fleming

Mike Fleming is a Senior Client Manager for Point It, and has been managing PPC accounts of all kinds for over 6 years; with a strong emphasis in Analytics and Conversion Optimization. He’s a respected digital marketing blogger and speaker whose articles can be found on industry blogs like SEMRush.com and SearchEngineGuide.com. He also contributed to a published book called The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music, playing basketball and investing. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

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