PPC Ad Writing Tips from the Experts: An Interview with BoostCTR
First off, can you tell us a little bit about BoostCTR?
Jeff Sexton: BoostCTR helps businesses improve their pay-per-click advertising ( PPC) by boosting the click-through rate (CTR) of their ads. We take clients’ best performing PPC ads, re-write them, and then split-test the original ad against our new challenger ad. And we repeat that process until we beat the client’s old ad by at least 5%, or we give them their money back. 5% is the guarantee, but our average click-through rate increase is more than 30%.
What qualities make for a great PPC ad?
JS: First, great PPC ads match the intention of the searcher – they have outstanding relevancy to both their search terms and the prospective customer motivations that caused the prospect to type those terms into Google in the first place. This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many ads get this wrong, or don’t get it completely right.
Second, great ads quickly convey a unique and engaging sales proposition for the searcher. In other words, those ads answer the “Why do business with us” question in a compelling and credible manner.
Third, great ads are specific and credible. They use numbers and facts instead of superlatives and hype-filled adjectives.
There’s obviously more to that, but those three attributes go a long way. Plus, we can’t give all our secrets away ; )
Ryan Healy: Every week I write a column called the “Win of the Week” on the BoostCTR blog, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that great PPC ads are always clear. There’s no confusion, no big words, no awkward phrases. Just plain, clear language.
Probably one of the easiest ways to boost CTR and conversions is to make your PPC ad as clear as you possibly can in the space you have.
What are the most common ad writing mistakes?
JS: Well, this doesn’t have to do so much with the ad itself, but probably the most common ad-writing mistake is allowing a mismatch between what’s promised in the ad, and what’s promoted on the landing page. Quite a few PPC ads say one thing, and then point the prospect to a page that doesn’t immediately reiterate the claims and promise from the ad. This is a sure way to get PPC traffic to bounce off your landing page. Of course, getting solid match-up between ad and landing page may require the advertiser to build additional landing pages, but it’s usually well worth the effort.
RH: A big mistake I see is focusing too much on features and not enough on benefits. In most cases, it’s better to omit features from your ad and list a primary benefit instead.
Another big mistake is not investigating what competitors are saying. You might have a good idea for your ad -- but if all your competitors are already using your idea, then you might want to go a different direction. Unique ads get more clicks.
How many ads do you recommend testing at once? Do you ever stop testing for certain keywords/ad groups?
JS: We test one ad per ad group that the customer has asked us to optimize, and we do a straight A/B split test, which means we only test one PPC challenger against the original per test. Now, we might run 3-4 tests against the original if the first few challengers don’t produce a winner for the client, but it’s only one ad at a time.
Are you ever surprised by which ad "wins" a round of testing?
JS: A fair amount of the time the winner is foreseeable. Other times the winner may not be the ad you expected, but the results make sense in retrospect. But I think everyone involved in optimization testing of any kind -- or at least anyone who is any good at it -- has had the experience of having a dramatically different result in a test that was supposed to be a sure-fire win. It may be relatively infrequent, but it happens, and those are really golden learning opportunities.
Those surprise tests are where you can gain new insight into the customer. Perhaps an upset tells you that perhaps the buying motivation that you assumed on the part of the customer was a faulty assumption. Or that a supposed competitive advantage wasn’t nearly as important to the customer as to the business. Or a given trigger word has different connotations to you than to your prospect. And so on.
But most people don’t do the hard thinking that they ought to when they get a surprise result. See, what too many people do is just randomly throw stuff against the testing wall to see what sticks. And in those cases, either they’re never surprised because they never bothered to anticipate which variant would win or why, or they’re surprised but totally unable to squeeze any learning out of the surprising result because they didn’t start the test with a sound hypothesis. So while split testing may not be rocket science, it should follow a scientific method.
If you could only change one element of a PPC ad to boost CTR, what would it be? The title? The call to action? The number of times you use the keyword? The URL?
JS: Well, all of those elements are very important, and I’ve seen tests where any one of them have driven astounding increases in CTR. And in such a tight space as a PPC ad, everything really works together, so it’s tough to isolate this or that part and say: this one thing is the most important element. But that said, I think the title plus call to action are really a hugely powerful combination; you can get a lot done by changing those two things.
RH: It really depends on the ad I’m trying to beat. What I do first is look for the untapped opportunity. Sometimes I find it by looking at competitors’ ads. Sometimes I find it by looking at the landing page. But whenever there’s an untapped opportunity, you should take advantage of it -- whether that means changing the title, body copy, URL, etc.
Aside from awesome ad writing, what elements are most important to an effective PPC campaign?
RH: Keywords, campaign structure, bidding strategy, landing page, conversion and follow-up process. That’ll keep you busy for a while. ;-)
How does the keyword research process differ for PPC versus SEO?
RH: It actually depends on your business model. Let’s assume for a moment that you’re actually in business to sell products or services...
When you’re investigating keywords for a PPC campaign, you’re usually looking for keywords where the searcher has a strong intent to buy. This is because you must demonstrate positive ROI in a relatively short time frame (1-2 months for most people).
With SEO, you might look for keywords with less competition where the searcher is not quite ready to buy yet, but is moving in that direction. That way, you can get the searcher onto your email list, nurture that relationship, and move him/her closer to a sale.
But let’s look at a different business model: selling ad space.
If you’re in the business of selling ad space, you might be more interested in getting as much traffic as possible to justify higher rates. In which case, you’d bid on high-volume search phrases with low CPC. And for SEO, you’d target high-volume search phrases with low competition.
So your business model really determines your strategy for PPC and SEO.
What are your favorite, must-have tools – for PPC, SEO and otherwise – that you use every day?
JS: Well, for PPC, I think split testing is simply a must-have. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not uncommon to get surprise results, and one of the biggest elements of your ad’s quality score is your CTR. If you’re not optimizing for that, you’re volunteering for Google’s Stupid Tax, whereby they let lower performing advertisers pay more for their ads. Of course, I do work for BoostCTR, but don’t let that bias fool you. If you’re not split testing your PPC ads, you ought to be.
RH: For PPC, I use what’s usually referred to as an “AdWords Wrapper.” You type in one or more keywords; the AdWords Wrapper then provides you with a list that includes broad match, phrase match, and exact match formatting. Here’s a good example.
For SEO, I use a number of different tools. I use the Google Keyword Tool plus a number of paid tools for building backlinks to my website.