In ad copies, we know that content can affect your ad performance. Headings, keywords, or even the CTA can all have an impact on ad performance. It is known that having the right landing page can affect conversion rates. Does the URL shown in your ad have a performance difference? In this article, we're going to show you that this can make a difference.

View url examples

Using PPC landing pages is not an uncommon way to measure performance. In this screenshot we can see ads from Gap and Shein using a subdomain in their ads.

Here is another example from Dell. Advertisers often use subdomains such as deals, shops or coupons. In this screenshot we can see that Dell uses deals.dell.com in its final url.

New URL for displaying computer search queries

A display url test with subdomains

For a brand, we had a lot of tracking challenges due to the large number of phone numbers that appear on their website. We were able to set up call tracking on the Google website but this only worked for the primary toll free number and not the local phone numbers. Analytics was able to track click-to-call activity for all phone numbers, but this was not ideal because the duration of the call could not be measured. Perhaps the best option was to use a third-party call tracking service, but it wasn't an option for this brand.

One recommendation was therefore to set up a PPC landing page that displays a primary phone number that gives a full overview of call quality. One challenge was that the brand couldn't set up a page in their primary domain. So we created a separate domain. All ads were redirected to this domain and nothing else was changed in the ad copy. It should also be noted that this customer is running multiple branding campaigns for different regions of the country.

Brand campaign results for the test ad url

As you can see in the branding campaign, the cost was 12% lower, the impressions were 18% lower and the CPCs were 16% lower. Conversions decreased by 25% and CPL by 16%. Refreshing the ads can reset the Ad Quality Score. This could have contributed to the higher CPCs we saw here. However, the metric that stood out to me the most was the impact on our click through rate. Compared to the original ads, fewer searchers clicked on our ad with the subdomain as the display URL.

The performance of the non-branded campaign was not affected to the same extent as that of the branded campaign. The click rate decreased by 7%, the CPCs were 2% lower, the conversions by 21% and the CPL only 5% higher.

One theory was that customers might have trust issues with the domain being displayed. Maybe they could see the organic list below and click on it instead. In the non-branded campaigns, their organic listing was less likely to appear at # 1 on the organic list due to competition. The click rate improved over the next month, but only to 5.99%. In Analytics we see that organic traffic has increased by 17%. However, the campaign lost less than 1,000 clicks, so this traffic increase may or may not be related to this.

organic traffic after the first round of ad url testing

The click rate never recovered over the next few months and conversion performance remained unchanged until the end of the year. Our main concern was that searchers might have trust issues with the domain we used and could negatively impact the brand.

To test our theory, we performed a split 50/50 test with the primary domain in our experiment. This was the only thing we changed in the ads.

Brand campaign experiment

The experiment showed that using the main domain instead of the subdomain increased the click through rate by almost 50%. This improvement in click-through rate may have contributed to the 21% decrease in CPCs. This data suggests that CTR was possibly a bigger contributing factor to the higher CPCs than we originally updated the domains. This also showed us that searchers clicked our ad more often. The results of this test suggest that searchers may have had trust issues with the domain shown in our ads, especially branded ads.

In this next test, we updated another campaign for the primary domain

Brand campaign domain changed to primary

The change in performance was immediate and significant. The click-through rate was 53% higher, the CPCs were a little lower, and the costs went up.

In Analytics, organic traffic hasn't decreased after this change, which suggests that clicks may have increased gradually. Google states that some of the search ads are incremental. It also supports the theory that branded ads and organic ads in the same auction will gradually increase traffic. You can also read another article about what happened when we paused brand ads.

organic traffic results final ad url test

In this case, we know for sure that using a different domain for our ads had a negative impact on performance. Switching back to the primary domain had a significant impact on the click-through rate for every campaign. Additionally, the CPL for branded campaigns has decreased by 23% since the change.

If you're using a PPC landing page or subdomain, some experimentation should be done to see if your display domain is affecting performance or adding to your costs.

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