Writing Successful Paid Search Ads

Having a complete keyword list is extremely important for an advertiser to display an ad to the right audience. The ad text can be just as important, though, because if you’re not getting the click, then you’re not getting the click.

Writing a search ad can be difficult, because you really don’t have the space to get creative. 95 characters go by real fast, especially if you’re trying to use words like “interoperability” or “expenditure optimization”.

When I write an ad, I look at two things: what’s on the landing page, and what is the keyword theme of the ad group. With these two things in mind, a successful ad communicates what is on the other end of the click, and uses the motive behind the keyword choice for why I should click through.

To be clear, a successful ad is not one that shows a high Click Through Rate (CTR) unless the purpose of the campaign is to drive all kinds of traffic to the site. Our goal is usually to get only the right kind of traffic… so a successful ad is one that shows a higher probability of leading to a conversion. Here’s an example of an ad that may increase CTR, but is not one that I would call successful:

{Keyword:No Joke, no game}
Check it out. Free stuff!
If you want stuff, come get it free

There’s no expectation for the other end of the click, so I may click through out of curiosity, but then bounce away. Three elements of a successful ad are: (1) description (2) benefit (3) call to action. If I’m selling stuff, a better ad looks like this:

Order Stuff Online
Find items, stuff, and fluff
Free shipping on green things

I know what to expect, and I have a reason to click through. If the landing page is exactly what the visitor is expecting to see, it’s a qualified click because they wanted to be there. So here’s my list of top ten considerations when writing ad copy:

1. Include a compelling call to action

2. set up an expectation that matches the landing page

3. include high converting keywords from the ad group in the ad copy

4. differentiate the ad from the other ads on the page (lots of ways to do this)

5. have one clear message, and make sure it address the motive for searching.

6. Include a benefit or competitive advantage

7. be specific

8. don’t get gimmicky. remember CTR is not the only goal.

9. don’t make the message more complicated by trying to use all the available characters.

10. get creative. You’re limited by engine editorial policy, not by best practices.

Because testing ad copy usually means finding a lot of losers and a few winners, go ahead and try your ideas. I can think of several examples of a test ad that surprised me by producing statistically improved results. Different messages appeal to different audiences, and optimizing a paid search campaign means separating these audiences and finding the ad that works the best. I’m often surprised at what the “best” ad actually is.

What about Keyword Insert?

All major engines give you the capability to use the exact search query in your ad. Try it. Use it in the headline, the description, the display url. If it’s of interest, put some resources into fully researching all the options. My experience has been that including this will increase the CTR, but will also decrease the conversion rate. I evaluate the change to both these metrics and choose a winner based on which ad produces the most total conversions.

What about Content?

Ads on content networks are shown to a different audience. Since these users are not searching for your product or service, they’re not as likely to click through. Usually, content ads should be a little more attention-grabbing. But again, avoid being gimicky or setting up an expectation other than one you can deliver on. Low CTR on content is normal. If you want to increase content network traffic, test some catchy ads, but keep an eye on the conversion rate.

What about display URLs?

The line for the display URL can be used for additional messaging. Add an extension on the end of it to get another keyword in the ad, or make the ad more targeted to a specific audience. Don’t expect it to improve performance, though. Like anything else, results will depend on a number of variables and you’ll have to run a controlled test to understand the effect. I have found that adding on to the display URL has statistically improved performance only in a few cases.

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