How to test a paid ad campaign
You can use this short guide with every source - pop traffic, push traffic, native, even Facebook and Google.
The article divides the testing process into an order of priorities. It also throws up some additional advanced variables – like dayparting and week parting.
Why you need to test your campaigns effectively
If you are on a tight budget, it is very important for you and your budget that your testing is efficient and logically ordered.
You need to know a big percent of your campaigns will fail from the beginning (this is normal for every affiliate out there, not only for you), and those that don't fail will require a lot of your money and time for testing and optimization before they are profitable.
If you can't test cost-efficiently, not only are you going to wind up frustrated, but you're going to be broke too and your media buying journey will end. Apart from knowing in what order to optimize the elements of your campaign it’s also important to have good media buying fundamentals so you know when to cut sources or increase the bid. For this, we recommend checking out our ultimate media buying template.
What strategies can be used for testing?
Some affiliates prefer to test a certain angle first ("You have 1 unread message", "I’m new in the town, let’s date"), work out if it's a good performer, and then take the campaign from there.
Others swear by the principle of testing the offer first, to the point where they won't even build a landing page until 1000 clicks have been sent direct to the advertiser to see some conversions. You can test this method with some pin-submit offers for example.
A few affiliates go by intuition. They have no guidelines, just a 'feel' in their guts for what will be profitable and what will not. Some of them have bought the famous Grandmother Nina’s amulet and it helps when they choose what and how to test :) This method even works sometimes.
It's really interesting to hear the different theories over how best to test an offer, and it'd be great to get some feedback on your own best strategies.
Steps to testing
1. Find a suitable traffic source.
First things first, the top priority is to find a reliable traffic source, before you can even look at offers to promote. If the traffic is shit or if the bid is over the sky to get profitable conversions, then you're working at an instant disadvantage which is not your goal.
There is no reason to start searching for an offer when you know the traffic you buy is garbage, right?
2. Match the traffic source to a suitable vertical.
When you know your traffic is good quality, the next priority should be to match it to suitable niches.
The nature of the traffic determines the suitable niches. (don’t run anti-aging offers on adult sources) And if you get this wrong, you are screwed before you've spent a single dollar.
3. Find the best converting offer in the niche.
So, we've found a good traffic source and established that it's suitable for a specific vertical. For this example, let’s say dating. The next step in the testing process is to find the two best offers in the dating vertical.
Some people will say the best way to do this is to test, test and test again. Well, that's true - but a cheaper way is to use your eyes, ears, and brain, then test.
Look for examples of existing campaigns that are already running on your chosen traffic source. You can use spy tools or you can do some manual spying using a good VPN while you browse some sites. Then model the similar attributes, including the offers they promote (if you don’t know the ad network just ask your affiliate manager from your current network to find it out for you or you can use offers aggregators like Offervault.)
Check out our Steps to finding the best CPA offers to learn more.
Once you decide on the top two offers, it’s time to split test them, aiming for at least 1000 clicks each before making a decision on which one to keep.
Pro-Tip: Always ask your affiliate manager which variant of the advertiser’s landing page converts best with your source or at least traffic type. Sometimes there is a huge difference between the different variations so you need to test at least two of them.
4. Find the best angle
A lot of affiliates, after finding the best traffic source/offer will jump straight to testing landing page variations.
Although testing the angle should be your fourth priority, it is still MUCH more important than the type of landing page you use, the copy, the headline, and your images above the fold.
I place a much higher priority on finding the best angle to promote an offer than I do on the content of the landing page. The angle is what distinguishes your entire sales funnel. It is how you attack the marketplace, and the message you use to monetize demand.
If you use an overly general angle, ("Do you want to meet a sexy girl?"), you risk being beaten out of the market for irrelevance. If you use an overly niche angle, ("Want to date with a girl who loves reading Ca$hadvertising?"), you risk alienating too much of the market and making your profit impossible.
That’s why the angle is everything!
From a creative perspective, before you think about my landing page variations, you should think long and hard about potential hooks that will dictate the creatives and landing pages you use. It doesn’t matter if you use banner, native, or push traffic – the ad creative is very important.
Assuming all other variables stay the same (you run the same offers on the same traffic sources as your competitors), it's your secret weapon that is often the difference between success and failure.
We recommend testing at least 3-4 different angles on an offer with 2 creatives for an angle.
5. Find the best landing page and pre-lander themes
Once you've nailed your traffic source, niche, offer, and angle - it's time to weld it all together using a good landing page.
Pro-Tip: In most cases using landing pages is obligatory. Sometimes affiliate networks already have a good and proven funnel that you can use so before start developing your LPs you can ask your affiliate manager about a funnel.
You will notice in most verticals that there are nearly always 2 or 3 landing page themes that are used for years.
For example, for those selling weight loss supplements, you'll find a fairly even spread between affiliates that use the flog (fake blog testimonial) and the farticle (MBC Health News exclusive!). These are two different themes that you might group separately as a 'group'.
What we see from a lot of affiliates is a failure to test different “groups” of landing pages.
It's a common mistake to choose one group (just the flog, or just the farticle), and then to create several variations of that single class - instead of testing the “groups” against each other (i.e. the flog vs. the farticle).
Before you start changing colors, CTAs, pictures on my landing page, it’s always good to test the different “groups”. We want to find the best converting landing page theme before we move on. For more ideas check out our article on creating pre-landers.
6. Find the best headline and imagery to go above the fold.
We all know headlines and images are the most important front-end parts of every landing page.
If you test landing pages of the same “group” against each other, you will nearly always find that altering these two variables has the biggest difference on your CTR to the offer.
We could talk a lot about the best headlines, but suffice to say, it needs to be a bold statement/promise that captures the user's attention and builds on your angle of choice. Check out our tips to writing better text copies.
The image above the fold is equally important. Use clear photos with good resolution here and usually it’s not a good idea to use simple stock photos.
7. Find the best advertising creatives to drive traffic to your landing page.
Some affiliates insist that the banners and text ads we use to drive traffic are more important than the landing pages we direct it to. I'm not sure I agree, but it's easy to see where they're coming from.
A lot of the time - well, every time when you're bidding CPM - the quality of your creative (measured with the creative’s CTR) will determine the CPC that you pay for your traffic. Failing to nail down a good CPC can cause us to lose faith in the rest of the campaign before we've even started.
When your bidding on CPC, having a poor CTR can affect your reach and slow the amount of traffic going to your offer.
The ad creatives are always at the very top of your funnel and having bottlenecks here will affect the overall reach of your campaign. Fortunately testing ad creatives is as simple as creating more ad variants with each campaign and enabling automatic optimization.
8. Find the best copy and CTA for your landing page
Once we have a working combo angle – landing page - creative, it's only then that we start playing with the main copy on our landing pages, and testing factors like the wording on my call-to-action, the shape, and the colors of the buttons, etc.
If you are on a small budget, these factors fall under 'want to test', not 'need to test'. I don't recommend spend money on them until you have a stable campaign with a proven formula for generating profit.
9. Find the best hours and days to run your campaign.
The last thing I test is hour-specific performance. Are there times in the day where the campaign is converting better? Can I shave out certain hours to bump my ROI? Are there certain days that are not worth running on?
Pro-tip: you can use dayparting in your dating campaigns. Try to run traffic between 8 PM and 3 AM on the working days and see what will happens.
But before you make any decisions for dayparting you need to have enough data otherwise you can destroy your campaign from the beginning.
So, that's about it. A complete breakdown of the factors I consider while testing, as well as a rough sketch of the order in which I test them.