Digital marketing and PPC move incredibly quickly. However, for all the technological innovations and new features we see on a regular basis, there’s one element that remains crucially important regardless of changes in the platforms, tools, and technology – writing ad copy.
It doesn’t matter how many of AdWords’ bells and whistles you’re currently using – if your ad copy sucks, you’re not going to see the return you hoped for. Fortunately, the PPC experts here at WordStream know a thing or two about how to write badass ad copy, and in today’s post, we’ll be sharing our best ad copywriting advice ever.
A note before we get started…
There are a number of PPC ad writing tips and best practices that I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re already following, such as actually using keywords in your ads (you laugh, but so many advertisers don’t), and following Google’s policy guidelines (tHiS iSnT aLlOwEd). With that out of the way, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to the nitty gritty of writing awesome ad copy.
1. Mirror the User’s Objective
Nobody clicks on an ad because they think, “Wow, what a cool ad.” They click ads because they want to accomplish something and solve a problem. To this end, one of the most effective copywriting strategies at your disposal is to mirror the user’s goal in your ad copy.
When you sit down to write your ads, think of the user and what they want to accomplish – then phrase your ads in a way that directly appeals to this desire.
This example for the search query “sell your car” demonstrates this principle very well, and all three of these ads have strong points.
The first ad assures the prospect that they don’t need to purchase a car from the advertiser in order to sell their car. The second highlights a very tempting proposition to prospects, namely that they could get a check that day for their old car. The third, although a little cluttered, draws the prospect’s attention to several benefits, such as being able to sell cars to the advertiser on the spot, same-day payment, instant online appraisals, and convenient opening hours. It also features important qualifying information such as operational status and mileage. Finally, there’s a phone number and sitelinks to (somewhat) relevant pages. All three ads also use “Your” in their copy, which speaks directly to the prospect and makes a stronger connection to potential customers.
I'll give you $20 right now.
However you choose to do it, keep the end goal of your user in mind when writing your ad copy. Help your prospects visualize solving their problem by using your business.
2. Include Numbers or Statistics in Your Headlines
Advertisers will do practically anything to get you to click on their ads, but all they really need to do is make your life easier, cut the crap, and get to the point. An excellent way to do this is by including numbers or statistics in your ads, preferably in the headlines.
The two ads above for car insurance quotes in Rhode Island (where I happen to be as I write this) both feature plenty of actual numbers not only in the headline, but in the body copy as well. Although neither of these companies are as well-known or have the brand recognition as brands like Progressive or State Farm, they do offer some compelling figures in their ads (even though the way some people drive here in Lil’ Rhody makes me question how these speculative quotes could possibly be so low).
Although this can be a remarkably effective way to make your ads stand out, it should be used carefully. Take a look at this example for a custom T-shirt printing service:
In theory, this should be a great ad because it mentions upfront – in the very first few characters of the headline – how cheap these custom-printed shirts can be. However, this can also raise more questions than it answers. For example, these shirts might be very affordable, but how good can they be for less than $2 per shirt? As a hypothetical prospect, I’m already questioning the quality of the product before I’ve even clicked through, which isn’t the desired effect.
SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY
Most prospects have an idea of how much they’re willing to pay for something long before they even consider clicking on an ad, so including figures or statistics in your ads helps them make a decision when evaluating your ad with a competitor’s ad.
3. Appeal to Users’ Sense of Entitlement
This may sound like preying on the selfishness of your prospects – because it is. Without inadvertently sounding like a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn, we live in an increasingly selfish society in which many people exhibit a blatant sense of entitlement. As unpleasant as this can be, it can prove a valuable opportunity for advertisers savvy enough to take advantage of it.
The ad above, for a divorce and personal injury lawyer, expertly capitalizes on this sense of entitlement. The phrasing of the headline (“Get The Results You Deserve”) immediately appeals to the notion that the prospect deserves something – a shrewd tactic for a situation as emotionally charged as a divorce.
This technique is particularly prevalent in the legal sector, as many people who file lawsuits do so in the staunch belief that they’re owed something. In many cases, attorneys and law firms leverage the inherently adversarial nature of legal proceedings to create highly provocative ads that can be very persuasive – and appealing to a sense of entitlement is an excellent way to provoke an emotional reaction in your prospects. Speaking of which…
4. Include Emotional Triggers in Your Ads
Nothing spurs people into action like a powerful emotional response – especially online. This principle is what makes clickbait so effective; people read something, experience a strong emotional reaction to it, and then click through. This technique is one of the most powerful at your disposal when writing PPC ad copy.
There, there, Donna - don't cry
The emotional responses you can try to provoke will depend on what you’re offering and the desired effect you want this emotional reaction to have on your prospects. Negative emotions, such as anger, disgust, and fear can provoke an incredibly powerful response in the reader, but it can be a challenge to balance this reaction with the rest of your messaging – you don’t want the negative emotional reaction to carry over into perceptions of your products or brand.
Let’s take a look at an ad for a particularly delicate, potentially emotional service – a site that helps people determine whether their husbands are having affairs:
This ad is really interesting, and a great example of how subtle leverage of emotional triggers in your ads can be highly compelling. Firstly, the ad makes its primary benefit clear, namely that simply by entering an email address, the searcher can find information from more than 70 social networks – quite the comprehensive search indeed, and the kind of armchair detective work that an unfaithful husband might not expect.
The ad also includes sitelinks to pages that also address the kind of suspicions that a mistrustful spouse may have about their husband, such as mysterious calls from unknown numbers. It’s a bummer that “Username” is misspelled in the second sitelink, but it’s still a highly intriguing ad.
Similarly, positive emotional triggers, such as affirmation and humor, can be highly effective at prompting people to click on your ads – but they can be tricky to implement well due to the subjective nature of these emotions (especially in the case of humor).
This technique doesn’t have to be particularly overt, and you don’t necessarily need to outrage potential customers to get their attention. In fact, sometimes, a more subtle approach can be just as effective, as this ad demonstrates:
The ad above manages to stimulate an emotional response while using aspirational language to entice prospects to click. This type of ad may have been well-suited to a negative emotional trigger, but the advertiser has cleverly opted to take a more inspirational approach to a sensitive topic – body image – to get its point across.
Of course, sometimes, taking a more direct approach can be the best way to go, as this ad for a law firm specializing in DUI cases demonstrates with this ad:
In this example, fear – or, at the very least, uncertainty – is the primary emotional trigger (“Don’t Leave Your License to Chance”), and it’s right there in the headline, a very effective tactic. It’s also interesting that the phrasing of the first sitelink – “Tell Us What Happened” – immediately suggests a forgiving, understanding relationship between the defendant and the legal team, a clever use of connective language often seen in the legal sector.
Many advertisers overlook the potential impact that a display URL can have on the success of their ads. Newcomers to PPC may not even realize that the display URL (the URL that appears in their ads) and the destination URL (the actual URL of the page to which visitors are directed upon clicking an ad) can be different.
The display URL can serve two purposes – it can be something more interesting and relevant to the copy of your ads, and it can (and should) contain your top keywords. Even if your destination URL doesn’t contain the keywords you’re bidding on, your ads can still appear in search results if you include them in your display URL.
The example above makes good use of the display URL, which suggests that the prospect will be taken to a product page dedicated to surveillance cameras. In fact, this ad just leads to the business’ homepage – not the best idea – but it looks better than a generic homepage URL, and gives the advertiser another opportunity to appear alongside the search term.
Interestingly, many major brands actually come at this from the opposite direction. Let’s take a look at this example ad from Sony:
This ad, which appeared for the search query “DSLR cameras”, has the main Sony.com URL as its display URL. However, if you were to click on this ad, you’d actually be taken to a highly specific landing page that only features DSLR products, a PPC best practice – so why the insistence on the main homepage display URL? Well, I’d wager it’s most likely a branding decision. You’ve got the main Sony.com URL in the ad’s headline, and the simple, easily remembered display URL further reinforces Sony’s brand recognition. Still, it’s interesting to see how many major brands adopt this approach.
Before making your ads live, be sure to give some thought to your display URLs and how they can reinforce the messaging of your ads.
6. End the First Description Line with Punctuation
This isn’t just the copyeditor in me insisting on grammatical accuracy for its own sake. This technique can also be an effective way of giving your ads extra pulling power.
By ending the first description line after your headline with a punctuation mark, your ad could receive an elongated headline if your ad places in the top three spots, as part of the description can be appended to the headline. This technique can even work if you don’t include punctuation at the end of a headline, as we’ll see in a moment.
However, this technique probably won’t work in your favor if you cut corners with your ad copy. Let’s take a look at this example for an ad displayed alongside results for the search query “cheap flights”:
If you’re advertising on AdWords, you know that ad headlines are limited to 25 characters. As you can see in the example above, this particular headline has many more than that – 51, to be precise. However, what could have been an additional opportunity to convince me to click on this ad has actually become a deterrent to me as a prospective customer.
Firstly, the grammar of this elongated headline is terrible. It wouldn’t have taken any additional characters to correctly hyphenate “lowest” and “price”, and the copy itself isn’t terminated by any punctuation. Secondly, this not only looks bad, but also creates ambiguity about what the ad is promoting. Is this company guaranteeing flights at the lowest price, or is it advertising a specific policy? I don’t want to read about a policy – I want to save money on a flight. Oh well, too bad. Next.
Speaking of flying, check out this ad that appeared during a search for “flying schools”:
The headline of this ad has 59 characters – again, significantly more than the typical limit – and is grammatically correct (aside from the slightly funky, unnecessary hyphen and the lack of punctuation at the end). This copy would have been even stronger had it included punctuation at the end, but it’s still a good example of how this technique can be used to enhance headlines. Even the messaging is solid – after all, learning to fly can be a daunting enough proposition as it is, and this headline takes one of the potential apprehensions of the prospect and preemptively overcomes them by making the very first step in the process plain and simple – find a school.
Here’s another example (from the same search) that uses this technique to great effect:
This ad’s headline is 46 characters long, and while this ad also fails to include punctuation at the end, it includes the primary keywords I searched for (“flying lessons”) and makes the most of the additional space in the headline by focusing on a benefit of taking flying lessons by using an interesting, active verb (“Discover”) and aspirational language. The ad’s single description line also includes a firm price, which makes this ad even more tempting – very clever.
7. Preemptively Respond to Common Objections
Even if you’re operating in a crowded market with many competitors, oftentimes the choice between you and a competing business will come down to one of two objections – how much it’ll cost, and how much hassle it will be. Fortunately, you can preempt both of these common obstacles with a little forethought and some smart copy.
Take a look at this example ad for the search query “home insurance”:
Obviously there are dozens of very large companies offering home insurance, and so differentiating yourself in this particular market could be pretty tricky. However, Liberty Mutual has done a pretty good job of making this ad compelling. Note that the very first word in the headline – an adjective – is “Affordable”, which helps overcome prospects’ fear of being gouged for insurance. Read a little further and you’ll notice that they provide a highly specific estimate (see tip #2) of how long it will take prospects to get their free online quote.
The ad above was actually beaten to position one by the following ad:
This ad does nothing to alleviate my apprehensions about searching for a home insurance quote. Sure, it mentions that a quote will be free, but I’d expect that from any home insurance provider. It doesn’t tell me how long I’ll be expected to spend getting this free quote, nor does it include any phrasing that suggests I’ll get a better deal.
8. Focus on the Benefits
Remember how we discussed that we live in an increasingly selfish society? This should never be far from your mind when writing ad copy, especially when it comes to the body copy itself. Nobody cares about why your company is supposedly awesome. They only care about how you can make their lives easier.
Let’s take a look at some examples of this principle in action. It’s worth noting at this point that one reason I’ve included so many examples from the insurance industry is because of its intense competitiveness and high CPCs, as well as the wide variance between ad copy from one company to another.
The first ad focuses almost exclusively on how their services benefit me as a potential customer. It tells me I can save 5% if I sign up for a plan online, and reinforces my desire to cut costs without cutting coverage. It then goes on to tell me that their plans work with any licensed veterinarian, and includes coverage for hereditary health problems my pets might have.
The second ad makes an attempt to earn my trust by assuring me that Nationwide is “America’s Most Trusted”, but offers no qualifying information to back this up. It then wastes precious space by telling prospects to “Visit Today For Your Free Pet Insurance Quote!”, something I don’t need to be told to do if I’m interested in their services. The ad then goes on to tell me to “Save Big” (whatever that means) without offering any specific figures, and then lists the types of coverage Nationwide offers – using copy that’s virtually identical to the sitelinks immediately beneath it, an almost criminal waste of valuable space that could have been used far more effectively.
It’s worth noting that the second ad could very well convert like gangbusters – I’m sure there are literally thousands of ads out there that don’t follow PPC best practices and still convert very well. That doesn’t mean, however, that advertisers should emulate these ads unless they’ve performed well under rigorous A/B test conditions. As with much of the conventional wisdom out there, real data from real tests is preferable to any “best practice,” even if it seems counterintuitive. Do what works for your business, not someone else’s, and always make decisions based on hard data.
Writing great PPC ads takes time and practice. However, by following the tips above and avoiding the mistakes of others, you can improve the quality of your ads (and your click-through rates, and your Quality Scores…) faster and see a greater return from your ad spend.