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My non-scientific field research tells me that there’s a 95% chance that you don’t spend enough time improving the only visible part of your account: the ad copy.

I’ve seen it in many accounts: everything looks pretty good (account structure, match types, bids, budgets, settings, etc.), but new ads are added sporadically and significantly losing ones stay active way too long. Or even worse: there’s just 1 ad per ad group and it’s pretty much the same ad in every ad group.

Please, let your competitors make these mistakes, as they’re costly ones. And remember: there’s always a better ad to write. Always.
So I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll be armed with more than enough ideas and resources to write new ads to give your account the boost it just might need.

Besides, ad writing is the part within PPC that’s the hardest to automate. So if you don’t want to be replaced by algorithms in the coming years (as Bryan Eisenberg boldly predicted in February 2013), becoming a good copywriter is the way to go.

The good news is that the art and science of copywriting has been around for way longer than PPC and you can still learn a lot from books like Scientific Advertising (written in 1923!), The Copywriter’s Handbook, Tested Advertising Methods, Ogilvy on Advertising, How to Write a Good Advertisement, and many others.

Writing good copy is hard, and if you have just 95 characters to convince searchers you have the best answer to their question, it’s even harder. However, the numbers will tell you what works and what doesn’t, which quickly increases your learning curve.

As said, copywriting is an art and science. This post is all about the ‘art’ part: the actual writing process that requires human intervention and creativity. I will leave the ‘science’ part for a future Testing part of this series.
That post will be about analyzing the numbers and correctly split testing ads. Furthermore, best practices for text ads on the Display Network will be covered in a future Display Network part, as these often require a different approach.

So let’s go into the best practices for writing compelling search ads. But as with all things in PPC: you should test best practices for yourself to be sure.
Especially with ads, you’ll quickly find out if a best practice also works for you, or if you’re better off going the opposite way.


First and foremost: be relevant

Consider your ads as a bridge. A bridge between the search queries of the users and the landing page you’re sending them to.

So you have to be relevant and connect to both sides:

  • Reflect the search query in your ad: as stated before, consider the search queries as questions and your ads as possible answers. So write answers as best as you can by trying to get inside the mind of your audience, understanding what their intentions and pain points are and mirror those.
    • An easy way of showing users you have the answer is to use the same words as they do in their search queries. Obviously, don’t overdo this, as your ad still needs to look natural.
    • And of course, it’s only possible to give the most relevant answers within tightly themed ad groups, as covered in the Account Structure part of this series. If you’ve built your ad groups around the two-word rule, those two words should usually be in the headline of your ads.
    • And as you know, words that were used by the searcher will be bolded in your ad, which is something you definitely want.
  • Make sure to use the most relevant landing page: use a destination URL that is relevant to the search query and to the ad. So don’t mention stuff in your ads you don’t clearly provide on your landing page. And don’t send users that look for something very specific to a generic page and vice versa. Just as your ad, your landing page should provide the answer to the question of the user.

To get into the mindset and habits of good copywriting for PPC I can highly recommend fully reading the following article on the Tenscores Blog: It doesn’t click. You still don’t know who I am and what I want. These are the steps you should go through when writing ads and unfortunately, it’s still not how most advertisers write their ads.

Second: implement the 4 U’s

Maybe you’ve already heard about the 4 U’s to write headlines and subject lines, as they’ve been around for a while. I find they’re also very useful to remember the best practices for search ads as these should also be:

  • Unique
  • Useful
  • Urgent
  • Ultra-Specific

Translated to PPC ads, it means they should contain:

  • Unique Selling Propositions (USP’s)
  • Benefits
  • Call to actions
  • Features

It will be very hard to fit all 4 U’s into 1 ad of 95 characters, but it’s definitely worth trying. And if you manage to do so, please share your ad in the comments ;-)

If you manage to get 3 of the 4 U’s into 1 ad, you’re already ahead of most of your competition, as many ads contain fewer reasons for users to click on them.

Unique

Why should a user click on your ad and not on any other search result? In other words: what makes you unique in a positive way? To be able to answer these questions you need to know your USP’s. It’s one of the hardest parts of marketing, but once you have one or more clear and powerful USP’s, you’ll be ahead of any competition that writes generic, run-of-the-mill ads.

As this is all about standing out from your competitors, you should regularly search for your top keywords in the search engine and check out their ad copy. By analyzing their features, benefits and USP’s, you can make sure you have something unique to add. Using one or more of the tools listed at the bottom of the Impression Share & Auction Insights part of this series will help you to easily keep track of your competition’s ads.

USP’s, as all parts of your ads, are a work in progress: a USP that worked wonders a couple of years ago may be ineffective today (probably because it isn’t unique anymore). So keep testing and refining your USP to ensure it’s still compelling to users.

Useful

How will your product or service make the life of the user better, easier, more interesting, enjoyable, etc.? In other words, answer their question: “what’s in it for me?”

You need to understand your audience’s fears and desires to be able to offer them persuasive benefits.
A benefit connects emotionally with a searcher, conveying something they want or avoiding something they don’t want.

Urgent

What do you want users to do on your landing page? The answer to this question is your call to action (CTA). You could use a generic call to action like ‘Order today’ or ‘Call now’, but it’s much more powerful to make it specific and it’s even better to make it time-sensitive (hence, urgent). So don’t just tell users what to do, but also why they should do it (now).
Also, don’t forget to use the same wording as on your landing page or website (so if your site has a ‘buy’ button, use the word ‘buy’ in your CTA and not a synonym like ‘order’).

To get plenty of inspiration for strong call to actions, check out the Call-to-Action Cheat Sheet for Writing Effective PPC Ad Copy at LunaMetrics.

Ultra-specific

Avoid generic copy at all costs. Be as specific as you can be about what you have to offer. Numbers like prices, percentages, savings, earnings and statistics often work well, but also test being specific about features without numbers to see what works best.

Miscellaneous Ad Copy Tips:

Next to the best practices of relevance and the 4 U’s (but also within them) you can test with this list of miscellaneous ad copy tips to further increase the performance of your ads:

  • Ad Extensions: especially sitelinks will give you additional lines to communicate more features, benefits, promotions and much more. The best ones however, should be in your ad copy as your ads won’t always show in the top positions.
  • Avoid hype, superlatives, marketing speak and technical jargon. Keep it real and keep it clear. Users want solutions to their problems; they’re not too interested in how great you think you are. However, don’t be too plain either. As Perry Marshall says in his book (and what Andrew Goodman calls the ‘Goldilocks’ principle): “what works is something in the middle: intriguing, yet not pushy.”
  • Capitalization: try capitalizing each word (or most words) of your ads to see if this leads to a higher CTR.
  • Display URL: it’s still useful to capitalize your domain in your Display URL as Google will show capitalization when the domain appears in the headline (this happens). Especially if your domain contains 2 or more words (e.g. TheGuardian.com) or if it’s an abbreviation (e.g. IMDb.com) it’s recommended to capitalize your domain. Furthermore, it isn’t necessary to add www. before your domain in the Display URL, as Google will add it anyway. By leaving it out, you also save yourself 4 characters you may need to create a more relevant Display URL.
    Next to your domain, don’t forget to use the Display URL to be relevant and reflect the search query. You can do this by using a Display URL like YourDomain.com/Most-Important-Keywords. Even if that URL doesn’t exist on your domain, it’s no problem to use it in the Display URL.
  • Exclamation points: you can use just 1 exclamation point in your ad copy (not in the headline) and at one point it’s something you should try. The best way to find out if it works for you is to test 2 identical ads in an ad group and just replace a period with an exclamation point in one of the ads.
  • Keyword Insertion: this shouldn’t be necessary in tightly themed ad groups, but it’s still worth trying out under specific circumstances. One such situation would be when synonyms have too low a search volume to justify a separate ad group but you still want to reflect them in the ads. Another reason is to trick Google into exceeding the character limits of the ad. Read more about this loophole in How to Get an Ad Headline to Exceed 25 Characters.
  • Longer headlines: in at least 1 ad per ad group, end description line 1 with a period or question mark. That way, your ad is eligible for longer headlines in top positions that usually improve CTR (according to Google, 6% on average). You shouldn’t use an exclamation point as Google won’t show it at the end of longer headlines. So it’s better to use your only exclamation point in description line 2.
  • ‘Official site’: if it makes sense and you’re actually the official site, mentioning this is known to have a positive effect on your ad’s performance.
  • Poetic devices like rhyme, alliteration and metaphors can help your ad stand out from the crowd.
  • Power and action words like discover, try, get, easy, fast, learn and receive often appeal to users. You’ll find many more in the mentioned LunaMetrics cheat sheet.
  • Questions: experiment with questions in your ad copy to show you know exactly what’s on the searcher’s mind.
  • Social proof like testimonials, awards and credentials. The review and seller rating extensions are also ways to add social proof.
  • Special symbols: copyright and trademark symbols are known to increase CTR, as are quotation marks.
  • The F-word: use ‘free’ if you can as it still works like a charm, so if you have something free to offer, please mention it. It’s also a great way to capture leads: offer something for free after the visitor has given you his or her email address.

Tools:

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, this was all about the human and creative part of ad copy, so tools won’t fully do this for you. However, a couple of tools and services can help you out with writing ad copy:

Free tools

  • AdWords Editor: especially in combination with Excel you’ll be able to quickly add and edit ads at scale.
  • Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer: paste your headline (or any text up to 20 words) and this tool will analyze it to determine the Emotional Marketing Value score. Definitely worth trying out.
  • QueryMiner’s Ad Relevance Tool: this Excel file will calculate how relevant your ads are to your keywords or search queries. This is a great way to check how relevant your ads are.

Paid Solutions:

  • BoostMedia: formerly BoostCTR, this company is all about improving the performance of your ads with a network of experienced copywriters in combination with their own software. For larger advertisers or agencies without a team of copywriters, working with BoostMedia is a way to make sure professionals keep improving your ads.
  • DataPop: DataPop offers a semantic advertising technology to dynamically create and test ads.
  • Mass Ad Copy Creator: one of the Certified Knowledge tools, it helps you to quickly create many ads at once based on your own variables.
  • PPC Campaign Generator: based on your keywords, you can dynamically create relevant ads for each of your ad groups.
  • SpeedPPC: similar to PPC Campaign Generator, this tool helps you automatically create targeted ads based on your keyword lists.

 

Ad Copy: Your Audit Checklist

checkbox

Do your ads reflect the search queries and mirror the user’s intention(s)?
checkboxDo you send users to the most relevant possible landing page, given the search queries and ad copy?
checkboxDo your ads contain one or more USP’s that make you stand out from the competition?
checkboxDo your ads make it clear how your product or service will improve the life of the user?
checkboxDo your ads contain call to actions that make it clear what to do on your website and why to do it (now)?
checkboxDo your ads contain specific features and attributes concerning your products or services?
checkboxDo you regularly test and implement miscellaneous ad copy tips as listed above?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

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