Remember MTV's Pimp Your Ride? Well today I'm going to pimp your PPC ad. Roll in with your Chevy Cavalier and I'll send you home with a Cadillac. Of pay-per-click ads.
OK, these advertisers didn't ask me to revamp their ads, but I'm doing it anyway (for free!) and I think we'll all learn some valuable PPC ad writing lessons in the process.
Lesson #1: You have limited space. Don't waste it.
Below are the first-page sponsored links for a search on "web design firms."
This ad is redundant. The URL tells us the name of your company, so use the headline to say something more—tell us a little about what you offer and what sets you apart. (And one or the other could include the keyword to increase relevancy.) Notice how the competing ads have included useful information about price and location.
Lesson #2: Don't be generic.
Here are some ads that display for the keyword "heart monitor."
I think the second ad is pretty good—it doesn't beat around the bush, just tells you exactly what kinds of heart monitors the company offers and how much they cost. The easiest way to make it stronger would be to use a display URL that includes the keyword. The destination URL actually does include the keyword, but the ad implies that clicking will take you to the site's home page.
The real mess is the Amazon ad. I guess Big Daddy Amazon can get away with this because people will click based on name recognition and trust alone. But you PPC advertisers out there who are less than Amazonian should really avoid being so blatantly generic. Clearly they're using dynamic keyword insertion  since the first line doesn't even make grammatical sense. They might have at least extended DKI to the URL. Thumbs down.
Lesson #3: If your ad is relevant to the keyword, prove it!
Once again, I present multiple ads (sponsored links  for "Boston restaurants") for context and contrast. To me, the Ruth's Chris ad sticks out as a winner. I think bold assertions ("The greatest steak you've ever had") are more effective than generic marketing mumbo-jumbo like "Try our steaks today!"—especially if you're targeting a high-end customer—and I like the specificity of the call to action.
The loser for me is the Hyatt ad. I can't even tell why they'd be bidding on this keyword. AFAIK Hyatt is a hotel chain, and if they have restaurants, the ad doesn't tell me that. It just tells me this is the "official site" of the Hyatt Regency Cambridge (thank God it's not one of those silly Hyatt Regency fan sites!) and that I can "book online"—"book" is the language of the hotel, not the restaurant. I just don't see why anyone would click on this ad after performing this search. Hyatt must really be paying out the nose for a first-page listing.
Lesson #4: Consider the customer's intent.
Now a search for "personalized water bottles":
This is a mid-tail, if not long-tail , keyword that definitely reveals some purchasing intent—anyone searching on this phrase is probably looking to buy promotional products for a business or event. As such their primary concerns are probably cost and quality of service—not the way the water tastes.
There's also a significant difference between "water bottles" and "bottled water." Both can be personalized, but the phrasing does matter, so this might be a good case for using phrase match vs. broad match. Someone looking for "water bottles" is probably in the market for refillable drinking bottles, making the "tastes great" claim even more irrelevant.
P.S. "Personalized water" does not make sense. Maybe "Make sense" should have been one of my lessons.
Lesson #5: Don't repeat yourself. Did I already say that?
I think so, but it bears repeating. (God I'm hilarious.) Consider these results for the keyword "men's skinny jeans." (BTW, if you're a man considering taking the plunge into skinny jeans, I recommend this tale of woe .)
This last ad could not be more dullsville. Men's skinny jeans. Men's skinny jeans. Men's skinny jeans! I'm all for including the exact keyword to increase relevance, but this bludgeoning approach is essentially keyword stuffing and does nothing to distinguish itself. You also need to make your ad compelling (to humans, not just algorithms).
The top two ads are so much more appealing—the first offers a promotion code, which will certainly grab a lot of shoppers' attention, and the second makes an attempt at humor with the "getting pantsed" reference. Being clever won't necessarily work with every audience, but it just might get you somewhere with the hipster skinny-jeans-wearing crowd.
I hope we've all learned something today, or at least got a kick out of pointing and laughing at some bad PPC ad writing. Until next time!