powering tour and activity businesses worldwide

Expanded Text Ads: What Your Tour Company Needs to Know

Starting up an online ad campaign for the season? You might be surprised to find that the ads that worked for your tour company last year no longer meet Google’s requirements.

Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) are the new status quo for Google AdWords. They’ve been available since mid-2016, but the previous ad format was only phased out at the end of January. If you’re confused about what’s changed or wondering how to get your old ads up to the new standard, read on.

More Character(s)

Expanded Text Ads are exactly what they sound like: the same text ads Google has always offered, but larger. This might not sound earth-shattering, but Google calls it the biggest change to text ads since AdWords first launched. If you’ve honed a good selection of ads, even small changes can be overwhelming.

Luckily, Google hasn’t taken anything away — it’s simply expanded ad space and flexibility.

Two headline fields: Before ETAs, you were stuck with one 25-character headline. Now you have two 30 character headlines to work with. They display together, with a dash between them.

One description field: Standard ads had two description fields with room for up to 35 characters each. ETAs have just one description field, but it holds 80 characters.

Two domain path fields: Google now takes your website URL from the full link path you specify, so you can no longer provide a non-matching URL and get your ad canceled as a result. You can still customize the path with two 15-character fields.

From an advertiser’s point of view, these changes mean almost twice the space to work with. For Google and users, ads now look better and more consistent across mobile and desktop devices.

In early testing, Google reported a click-through rate increase of about 20 percent, though reports from advertisers are mixed. It’s possible that once users get more comfortable seeing ETAs, they’ll click through more often. It’s even more likely that advertisers will see better results as they begin to discover what works best in this new format.

Room to Stretch

Paradoxically, more space in your text ads means every character counts more than ever. The old format required advertisers to be concise by necessity — now, if you’re not careful, you can make users glaze right over your ads with too much repetition.

Don’t just stick your company’s website domain in the second headline field and call it a day. This is an opportunity to craft a stronger call to action or a more compelling headline.

The first headline field should contain the core of your message. It will always be displayed, so it needs to do the heavy lifting. On mobile, the second headline can be interrupted by a line break or even truncated, so you want to make sure you have prospective customers’ attention with the first headline.

With more headline space, you can free up room in your description to really show customers the benefits of clicking through to your site over your competitors’. A well-performing description line from a standard ad might make an outstanding second headline for your new ETA.

Path to Success

The new domain format doesn’t just give you more room to work with — it also lets you get more creative without breaking Google’s rules about deceptive URLs. Because the ad’s final URL is entered elsewhere, you can use the extra path fields for the most important keywords.

Confused? No wonder. The terminology of display URLs, final URLs, paths and path fields isn’t exactly clear. Here’s how Google explains the change:

These fields are added to the display URL after your website’s domain, so you can add text that will help people who see your ad get a better sense of where they’ll be taken when they click it. The text you put in the path fields doesn’t necessarily have to be part of your website’s URL, but it should be related to the content on your landing page. So if your final URL is www.example.com/outdoor/hiking/shoes, you might want your path text to be “Hiking” and “Shoes” so your ad’s display URL is www.example.com/Hiking/Shoes.

Say you want to advertise kayak tours. Using tags, you might have gathered all your kayak-related tours on a single page on your Rezgo website under http://mydomain.rezgo.com/tag/kayak. That would be your final URL. In your path fields you might enter Kayak and Tours, so your display URL ends up being mydomain.rezgo.com/kayak/tours — and that would still take customers to the correct final URL when they clicked the ad.

Old Faithful

Early adopters had months to test out what works best for ETAs. Even with that extra time, people are still learning what works best. So don’t expect your ETAs to perform miracles as soon as you submit them.

While you can no longer create standard text ads, any existing text ad campaigns will continue until you stop them. Don’t be hasty. If you have an existing text ad campaign, consider leaving it running while you test out different headlines, descriptions, and paths. Google recommends 3-5 per ad group. Leaving your current ads running gives you the freedom to experiment without giving up what already works. Once you’re satisfied with the consistent performance of your ETAs, you can give up standard ads for good.

Just the Beginning

AdWords ads haven’t changed dramatically in the past, but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep changing in the future. Google has already tested expanded ads with an additional 80-character description line. So far that optional second line hasn’t shown up for most users, but it may still.

Just as advertisers experiment to find the best results, we can be sure that Google is experimenting, too.

Written by

Nissa Campbell is a writer who covers tourism and technology. Since 2014, she has been documenting booking software at Rezgo, and working with tour operators at all levels of the industry to help them find solutions to their technical needs.

We would love your feedback