Headline Writing for PPC Ads: Dos and Don'ts


Your ad headline is the first thing people will see in the search results – assuming they notice your ad at all. To catch eyes and get clicks, it's essential to write a headline that:

  • Includes your keyword, signaling relevance to the search, while also
  • Being unique and compelling, so it stands out from the crowd

Most advertisers have the first qualification down. The second part is harder; it takes cleverness and creativity to get say something interesting in just 25 characters. But better ads earn you higher click-through, so it's worth it to invest a little more effort into your ad's headline.

Here are some dos and don'ts to consider when writing headlines for PPC.

DON'T use a generic headline

Do a little competitive research on the keywords you plan to bid on before you write your ads, and take note of how you can separate yourself from the pack. Of the sponsored results for a search for "PPC agency," three ads used the title "PPC Agency" and another two used "Certified PPC Agency."

ppc agency ads

All these headlines are relevant, yes – but how is a user supposed to tell which one is most relevant? After a quick scan tells me that all the ads are relevant to my search, I'll be looking for one that tells me a little more about the pay-per-click agency. A simple addition to the headline like "Get the Right PPC Agency" or "PPC Agency to the Stars" (you get the idea) could make a big difference.

DO anticipate the searcher's intent

A keyword doesn't always tell you everything. Take the query "New York bagels" – this could be a New Yorker looking for a nearby bagel shop, but it could also be an Arizona resident who can't find good bagels locally. (This is where some deeper keyword research would be in order, to determine the geographic source of the traffic.)

bagel ads

If you run a bagel shop that ships nationally, and you know you're getting traffic from all over the country, make sure your ad makes it clear that you're not just a local bagel shop. "New York Bagels" alone doesn't tell the whole story; "New York Bagels, Anywhere" conveys a lot with just one more word. ("Order New York Bagels" is more specific, but doesn't let the user know what locations the shop ships to.)

DON'T waste characters

don't waste characters

You have 25 characters to grab the searcher's attention and convey your message. You don't have to use every single one of those available characters every time, but you might as well use most of them. A single-word headline is dull and overly broad.

DO communicate your value prop

value prop

Use the extra characters that aren’t taken up with your keyword to tell people your value proposition: what’s unique about your business and offering. Do you offer free shipping or an unusually large selection? Are your goods handmade? Are you running a big sale? Don’t wait for people to click through to find out why they should buy from you – entice them to click with your headline.

DO try dynamic keyword insertion

This is a somewhat tricky technique, as you can end up with an ad that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if you use it carefully, you can display a headline that’s automatically relevant to a broad range of queries. For example, Sears might set up an ad with a headline like “Save on {keyword}” that might render as “Save on Craftsman tools” or “Save on Craftsman toolset” depending on what the user types. When using dynamic keyword insertion, you’ll need to choose default text to appear if the query is too long to fit in the allotted space. Google recommends using this option only when the keywords in your ad group are all closely related.

DON'T misspell anything

misspelled ppc

This should go without saying, but it does happen. Proofread your ads before you publish them! A big old typo in your headline does not help your credibility as a business.


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Alan Mitchell
Oct 21, 2010

Hi Elisa,

Some useful tips and examples.

While I agree with your comments about mentioning your value proposition, being original, and making the most of your 25 characters, we do only have 25 characters to play with, so standing out from the competition can be difficult.

Considering that an increasing number of searches now contain 3-4 words, it can be extremely tricky trying to include those keywords in titles for relevany, eye-catchability, CTR and Quality Score purposes, while at the same time trying to appear original and include a value proposition.


Elisa Gabbert
Oct 22, 2010

Hi, Alan,
I agree, with longer tail keywords sometimes it's all you can do to include the keyword in the headline. But in those cases, there is often, at least, less competition. With shorter, more competitive keywords, I think it becomes more important to get creative.
Thanks for commenting!

Oct 22, 2010

Thank you for this post.
Really enjoyed it. Got some useful tips and found what i have done wrong in my previous PPC campaigns.
Also read "Seven Unusual, Eye-Catching Calls to Action" ill be following this blog from now on for sure!
Also tweeted;)

Elisa Gabbert
Oct 22, 2010

Thanks, Tony, I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

Jan 08, 2015

Hi! I could have sworn I've been to this website before buut
after looking at some of the posts I realpized it'snew to me.
Anyhow, I'm definitely pleased I discovered it and I'll be bookmarking it and checking back often!

PPC News Roundup for October 22, 2010 | Boston Media Domain
Oct 24, 2010

[...] apply some creativity to write a clever, yet professional ad for your potential clickers.  These tips on headline writing for PPC ads from Elisa Gabbert at Wordstream bring you back to the basics of good ad copy, so you can give your [...]

Nov 03, 2010

Good point about recognizing user intent - also provides a better means for filtering out unwanted clicks

Linda Goffigan
Nov 03, 2010

How can this information about optimizing the 25 character PPC for online sales in regards to writing topics or articles?

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 04, 2010

Hi Linda, the same logic applies to the title in an article. Google displays 70 characters in the SERP, last I checked, so again, it's worthwhile to use all those characters to craft a unique, optimized headline.

Nov 04, 2010

I have found that dynamic keyword insertion in the title can make a big difference to click through rates. With Google instant search results I can see the long tail multiple word key phrases becoming less useful. Truncated one word searches are now often showing up in site analytics.

In any case whether you use available character space to the maximum or not you should always be split testing ads against each other to determine if it is really working for you or not.

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 04, 2010

It'll be interesting to see how Google Instant affects PPC over the long term. I agree that split testing will remain important no matter what.

Geoff Jackson
Nov 04, 2010

I think the key takeaway here is to try and stand out from the rest of the pack, with 25 characters available in the headline, it can often prove difficult to use different copy than your competition whilst staying as relevant as possible.

It's also worth noting that another tactic to stand out is to make use of special characters if you are able to. If your brand or product is trademarked, then make use of the trademark or registered trademark, you could be surprised at just how much your CTR can be improved by the smallest of tweaks.

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 04, 2010

Hi Geoff, thanks for the additional tip! 

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