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What is copy testing and how do you do it?

Last updated

1 April 2024


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Hugh Good

Today, it's harder than ever for companies to capture attention, create buzz, and compel consumers to buy through advertising. Effective ads can be time-consuming and costly to create. To ensure that they aren't wasting their time and money with the wrong ad, ad agencies and in-house marketing departments evaluate them before launching them in the market using an approach known as copy testing.

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What is copy testing?

Copy testing is a form of market research designed for marketers to gather the feedback necessary to estimate how consumers will receive an advertisement. It uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods to predict its performance. And many marketers continue to use these same methods after an ad goes live to monitor its performance. 

Traditionally, copy testing was a time-intensive and expensive process. However, digital technology has made copy testing simpler and cheaper.

Why is copy testing important?

Copy testing is a critical part of advertising as it helps marketers:

  • Predict ad performance

  • Save time and resources by identifying and remedying poor-performing copy pre-launch

  • Understand how consumers perceive both the creative and the brand

  • Encourages continuous assessment and improvement

If they don’t carry out copy testing, marketers could spend tens of thousands or more on ad creation and placements that don't resonate with consumers. Or, worse, they could waste time and money on ads that alienate a large portion of their target market. 

Without copy testing every ad, marketers might rely on insights from one successful ad that don't carry over from one target market or time period to the next.

Different measures to test copy 

Marketers and market researchers typically have a battery of measures they include when measuring the effectiveness of copy, but they will vary these based on time and budgetary constraints. The most common measurements may include:


This measures an ad's effectiveness in compelling viewers to take a specific action. For example, a marketer may wish to assess how many consumers are likely to visit a store after seeing a specific ad.


When marketers measure recall, they seek to determine how well consumers remember an ad after it has been shown, including things like brand, message etc.


Non-verbal copy test measurements involve assessing the emotional impact of an ad by capturing non-verbal feedback, such as facial expressions and body language.

What copy testing methods do marketers use?

There are many methods marketers use to gauge consumer reactions to ads. And you'll find marketers tailoring some of the most common of each to suit their needs, organizational dynamics, and budgets. Typically, however, you'll find one or more of the following in place:

Focus groups

Focus groups are a core component of qualitative marketing research. They involve a small group of individuals drawn from the population you'd like to learn about and a facilitator who will ask questions and lead a discussion about the subject you're researching. When you use focus groups as a copy testing method, you pull together a group of prospective or existing customers (depending on who you're hoping to target).

The facilitator will gauge their perceptions about the brand before seeing the ad and learn about their decision-making process concerning the category of product/service being advertised. Then the focus group will see possible ad drafts in one or more contexts. 

The facilitator will then ask the focus group participants questions to learn about:

  • Their reactions to and feedback about the ad(s)

  • Their thoughts on the different contexts in which they've seen the ad

  • Their perception of the brand after seeing the ad

  • How their purchase behavior and related decision-making is (or is not) affected by the ad

  • Further insights about their decision-making process

Focus groups can be an effective copy-testing tool, with some caveats. The first is that the results you gather from a small group may not fully reflect the sentiments of your larger target market. You'll need to conduct quantitative research, such as surveys, to validate the insights your focus group provided, at a representative level. 

The second caveat is that focus groups are a time-intensive and expensive process. It often takes considerable effort to pull together a group that reflects your target market and access a trained facilitator, even if the focus group is virtual. 

Virtual focus groups provide less feedback (such as body language) than in-person ones, which are more difficult to pull together. And following a focus group with a survey to broaden your sample size takes even more time. In today's fast-paced business environment, many companies have forgone focus group-based copy testing for all but the most expensive ad placements.

Sales copy tests

Typically used when advertising is the primary form of marketing, these tests are used to measure the effectiveness of ads after they go live. Marketers test which ads generate the highest sales levels in multiple target markets. The ad in the market with the highest sales is deemed the most effective.

This method is less commonly used today than in decades past. Most businesses use multiple marketing tactics rather than just advertising. And it can be challenging to determine exactly how much advertising spurs sales versus, for example, social media or a combination of two or more channels. Further, sales copy tests only give you feedback after the fact. If you only use this technique, you could go live with ads that alienate consumers.

Day-after-recall copy tests

No longer frequently used, these tests are designed to determine how well a consumer recalls an ad after seeing it on television. Marketers conduct standardized one-on-one interviews with consumers

However, it has always been a bit challenging to pull together consumers who have seen a specific ad. Moreover, with many marketers spreading their ad dollars more evenly among digital and emerging channels, day-after-recall tests have seen less use in favor of less expensive and time-consuming copy testing methods.

What is automated copy testing?

In automated copy testing, marketers use software applications to send draft ads to consumers and collect their feedback. Automated tests allow marketers to share multiple ad variations easily, integrate new drafts (and remove others) from the test quickly, and aggregate feedback. 

Now, while marketers won’t benefit from all of the feedback they receive in a focus group, such as facial expressions and body language, they do benefit from the speed of the feedback they can obtain. They also can test more items than they can by using other measures.

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing is an experiment involving the exposure of two or more variations of an item to a group and the use of statistical analysis to determine which group members prefer the most. It's often used as a component of automated copy testing. 

Marketers will share ad drafts with small groups of their target consumers and use the feedback to determine which ad would be best received by the target market.

Why copy testing is crucial to ad campaign success

Not only are there more ads than ever before. Social media companies and streaming platforms are also in competition for our attention. People are also working more than ever, and there are only so many hours in the day.

That's why copy testing is so important. Marketers must craft compelling creative that helps them achieve their advertising goals, be they direct marketing, building “buzz”, or brand awareness. And they must hone in on the consumer segments most likely to respond positively to their brand or product when they see the ad. Copy test feedback allows you to adjust the ads to ensure your ad campaign succeeds.


What is the purpose of copy testing?

Copy testing is performed to gauge the likelihood that an ad shown to its target audience will achieve its intended effect.

How is copy testing done?

Copy testing may be done through focus groups, individual interviews, or software applications. Copy testing today, especially for digital ads and messaging, is most commonly performed using software applications.

When is copy testing performed?

Copy testing is usually performed after the creation of ad drafts, though it may also be performed after an ad is live to monitor its performance.

What are the disadvantages of copy testing?

Traditional methods of copy testing can be time-consuming and expensive. Regardless of the method, marketers may find themselves unable to complete a copy test thoroughly within their organization's time constraints. 

In addition, copy tests are only as effective as the insights into our target market on which the advertising and messaging is based. If we don't ask the right questions of the right people, our copy test may be useless.

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