Lessons We Can Learn from Top PPC Advertiser Strategy Changes


Last March, we looked at the top advertisers battling it out in Google AdWords for the hyper competitive keyword “acne treatment.”

With AdWords (and online marketing in general) being a constantly changing game, I thought we’d take a look at how things have changed over the last year. And, more importantly, see what lessons we can learn from the changes.

So let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the acne treatment space in AdWords. Then we’ll talk about some keys to their success (the value of proof in advertising being just one).

A New #1 Advertiser (Sort Of)

Last year, the top advertiser was X Out, a product whose ad was showing about 85% of the time when someone typed in the term “acne treatment.” This year X Out is the #3 advertiser and its ads are showing up about 62% of the time.

So who’s the new #1? It’s Proactiv®, an acne treatment product familiar to many from their celebrity-filled infomercials. It also happens to be a product that’s sold by the same company behind X Out.

In fact, the X Out ad last year specifically mentioned it’s from the “Makers of Proactiv®” to leverage Proactive’s credibility and name recognition.

1 - xout ad

As you can see, X Out was a new product last year so it could very well be it was #1 then because Guthy Renker (the company behind X Out and Proactiv®) was looking to give it a boost out of the gate.

Whatever the reason for the drop, the new ad for X Out hasn’t changed too much. While it doesn’t mention Proactiv® or being new, it still emphasizes it’s specifically for teens, it works fast and has the call to action of Order Today/Now. Clearly this is a message that’s working for them. Here’s the ad:

X Out ad

The landing page for X Out, however, has changed in some significant ways over the past year.

Here’s the one from last year:

acne 1

Here’s the one from this year:

acne 2

The header and footer on these pages haven’t changed much. But what’s in between them has.

As you can see in the image above, the landing page from last year had a headline on the left with some brief paragraphs of supporting text below it. To the right, it prominently featured a video with testimonials from teens and then, below the video, had some more copy and a call to action.

This year, the page has a much stronger, benefit-focused headline and subheadline with the call to action in the prime real estate on the top left of the page. A product shot and emphasis on their “limited time” free shipping offer replaces the video on the right.

What’s really important to note here is that this year they’ve added three boxes below the main section, all focusing on one key thing… Proof.

And that brings us to the biggest takeaway from this year over year comparison.

The Focus on Proof

All three boxes on the new X Out landing page are about establishing proof and credibility for the product. Both the current and former landing pages for X Out had links to “Proof” in the header and the footer. But now, they’re layering on even more proof in the middle of their proof sandwich!

The first box on the left explicitly mentions proof in the copy. When you click on it, it turns into a video showcasing testimonials from teens (and their moms) talking about how easy and effective the product is.

The middle “How It Works” button leads to a page that’s identical to the main landing page from last year. (And it features the same video from the new landing page that we mentioned in the last paragraph.)

While this page doesn’t really go in depth into how X Out works, it does touch on it a bit.

The lesson here?

Showing your prospects how your product works is a great form of proof (especially for new businesses that may not have testimonials, case studies, media appearances, etc.). When done right, a demo of how your product works paints a clearer picture in the minds of your prospects about how your product/service can help them which gives it more credibility.

The 3rd box touts a 60-Day “Any Reason” Guarantee. Strong guarantees are yet another form of proof because they show your prospects that you believe in your product/service and stand behind it 100%. And if you don’t have those other forms of proof like testimonials, case studies, media appearances, etc., a bold guarantee may be the best form of proof you have.

One other thing to note about this guarantee. Notice how they name it. It’s not just a guarantee. Its’ the “Any Reason” Guarantee.

That’s important to note because guarantees are pretty common these days. By giving your guarantee a name, especially one that implies a benefit, it will stand out more from the competition and make prospects feel they’re getting something more concrete.

(By the way, this applies to the ubiquitous “free consultation” many service providers offer as well. Don’t just offer a free consultation. Offer the “Free 5-Point Roof Safety Inspection” or the “Do I Have a Case?” Free Legal Consultation.)

When it comes to proof, X Out isn’t the only advertiser that’s put more of a focus on it this year.

The 7thand final advertiser we reviewed in the article last year was Pantothen.  Here’s their ad from last year:

9 - pantheon ad

And this year:

pantheon ad

The ad hasn’t changed much (other than the year) so this appears to be a winning ad formula for them.

What has changed more, however, is their landing page. Here’s last year’s:

acne 3

And this year’s:

acne 4

Again, notice the increased prominence of proof on this page.

First, look how in the nav bar at the top, the Home button last year was darker and stood from the other buttons. This year, however, it’s the Testimonials button that’s darker and stands out from the rest. (In fact, it remains that way even if you click on the Home button.) This is a subtle, but note-worthy change.

Next, the main slide on the slide show gives you the option to download a study that “proves the ingredients in Pantothen help reduce acne blemishes in just weeks.” Studies are yet another form of proof you can use to demonstrate the credibility of your product/service. If you have independent studies and data backing up your claims, use them!

Lastly, gone are the buttons and guarantee under the main slide on the landing page. They’ve been replaced by video testimonials and a “How It Works” video.

According to Impression Share data, Pantothen was the #7 advertiser last year for the term “acne treatment.” This year they’re #2, with their ads showing up 67% of the time. That would indicate to me their updated landing page is working well for them.

Get the message here? The top advertisers (including Proactiv®, whose landing page features celebrity endorsements, a how it works video, an article about the MDs who developed Proactiv® and a strong guarantee) all go BIG on emphasizing proof.

I live in Missouri, the “Show Me” state. That’s a great motto for your website too. In an era where people are bombarded with all sorts of claims from advertisers and have been burned so many times, you have to work hard to show people why they should believe you and the claims you make. And you do that by using a lot proof as the advertisers in the competitive acne treatment market do.

Big Name Advertisers MIA

On last year’s list there were two big brand name advertisers at the top… Olay and Clinique. Both are MIA in AdWords this year.

Now I was a bit critical of their ads and landing pages last year. Particularly Olay, whose ad for acne treatment took searchers to a landing page that didn’t mention acne once!  Clinique, on the other hand, did mention acne and their ad led to a landing page that had more e-commerce focus to it.

In any case, they’re both gone now. While I’m not surprised to see Olay gone, Clinique seemed to have a decent landing page. Perhaps it wasn’t profitable for them or they’re putting their focus on other products the company offers. (Unfotunately, the Spy Tool I use to gather information about AdWords ads and landing pages doesn’t give that sort of information… maybe in the next upgrade! ;)

Neutrogena, not on last year’s list, is the only well-known brand name that’s now one of the top competitors in this AdWords market. They take an e-commerce landing page approach like Clinique did, so it’ll be interesting to see if they’re still around in a year or so.

Lesson? Chances are you’re gonna go up against big-name, well-funded competition in AdWords. But don’t be intimidated. Yes, their presence will likely help drive CPCs up a bit, but that’s not an excuse for you to roll over and give up.

You can write better ads, send traffic to better landing pages and just generally outcompete them. And, as we can see in this year over year comparison, they often won’t stick around for a long time.

Some Things Didn’t Change

Two advertisers that were on last year’s list haven’t changed their ads or landing pages at all.

ExposedSkinCare.com was #3 on last year’s list and is now #8 on the list. AcneTreatmentsOnline.com was #6 last year and is #7 this year.

You can see that their ads both take the same approach.


3 - exposedskin ad



Basically they’re taking the angle that they offer a comparison where they rate/review different acne treatments and their sites will show consumers which is the best treatment for them. This can be a very effective strategy in fiercely competitive markets and, as evidenced from these two competitors not changing their ads/landing pages in the last year, is clearly working for them.

The lesson here is that so long as you’re watching your numbers, if your ads and landing pages are profitable, you can let ‘em ride for a long time. While I’d argue you should always be testing, there are advertisers like these who find a formula that works and stick with it.

Winning the Ad Game

While some advertisers haven’t changed much in the last year, most have. The AdWords landscape is a fast moving one and the top advertisers are always adjusting their ad copies and landing pages to gain an advantage over the competition.

Ultimately, it’s the advertisers whose landing pages convert the best (and are able to extract the most value from each new customer over their lifetime) that win the AdWords game.

And what do the top advertiser’s web sites have in common? Proof.

Lots of Proof and lots of different types of Proof.

Their landing pages are all clearly aimed at proving why their prospects should believe the claims they make about their products. They’re aimed at establishing credibility. They’re aimed at reducing the perceived risk that consumers have when it comes to shelling out their hard earned money for a product.

So, whether you’re advertising your business on AdWords or not, I ask you this… how can  you follow the examples from these top advertisers and add more proof to your website?

Catch up on all the Crazy Egg articles by Adam Kreitman.

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