Writing Successful Ad Copy

30 January 2018

Best Practices for PPC

Can you believe that Google AdWords is a little over 17 years old now? Google launched AdWords back in October 2000, and back then the internet and Google was a completely different place to what we know today. There was no nice, shiny, user-friendly interface to create and serve search advertising campaigns from, in fact Google ran AdWords as a test, displaying a ‘see your ad here’ link to a select few users hoping that an advertiser would sign up to their new service. Low and behold, after a few minutes the first advertiser signed up to their service, a company that sold live mail order Lobsters of all things!

Since then, Google AdWords has changed the search landscape dramatically allowing advertisers to get in front of potential consumers quickly and for a relatively low cost.

google ppc ad copy

Some constants have remained over time however; the power of compelling ad copy. Even though ad formats, character limits and the space available to us have changed over time, the concept of strong copy and compelling messages to attract consumer attention has not.

Today, I’m going to take you through some key considerations when writing new ad copy that will help your ads stand out against the competition, and improve your AdWords game.

Use headlines to make your ad stand out

It used to be the case that, as PPC professionals, we were limited to 25 characters in our main ad headline. You can imagine how difficult this was to try and create stand out headlines and fit everything else you wanted to say within the ad, and let’s not get started with other languages than English!

Today however, it is a different story. When AdWords released Expanded Text Ads back in 2016, the character limit was increased and a new, additional headline included. Now, advertisers can create two main headlines at a limit of 30 characters each which both form part of the main link within the search results.

Obviously, with this extra space it is much easier to put more relevant information into your headlines to capture attention; however, that does not always seem to be the case. Take, for instance the results for ‘sell your car’ below:

ppc ad copy sell your car

As much as all of these advertisers are displaying relevant ‘Sell your car’ terms in the ad headline related to the original search term(good for ad relevance and quality score criteria), there is no real differentiation in the headlines between each ad that helps one stand out against the other. There is an opportunity here for these advertisers to take advantage of their headlines to stand out instead of trying to cookie cut what the competitors are doing.

You may have also noticed another big no-no in one of the ads in this example – misspelling words. Always, always run a thorough spell check before you set ads live and avoid the embarrassment of spelling ‘Edinburgh’, ‘Edingburgh’.

Standing out against your competitors, or even on your competitor’s terms can help drive and capture the searcher’s attention and generally improve click through rates. The SpyFu ad below is a great example of how to design a headline to stand out against your competition.

ppc ad copy semrush spyfu

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Write ads to speak to users on all devices

With over 60% of searches coming from mobile devices compared to desktop now, it is extremely important to consider how your ad will display on a mobile device, and the behaviour of your audience whilst searching on mobile. Depending on your vertical, you should analyse what users are doing on mobile through device segmentation metrics within AdWords.

Gone are the days when you had to create separate campaigns, ad groups and ad copy for mobile. Now, a campaign can serve ads on all devices unless controlled through negative or positive bid adjustments. This does make it a little more difficult to control mobile specific ad copy variations, however Google AdWords, knowing that this was an important feature that people used decided to create an in-built tool within the ad copy builder.

ppc ad copy devices

When creating a new ad copy you can insert an ‘IF’ function to tell AdWords to serve a different message within the same ad on a mobile device. Simply insert the message you want to show to mobile users and the alternative that will be displayed on computers. It’s important to consider how your ad will be displayed on different screen sizes, and what behaviour the consumer will have when searching for you on a mobile.

ppc ad copy mobile

Make sure your Call-to-Action is compelling

As with the headline, most ads should be designed for the user to take an action; Book Now, Order Online, Try Now, Sign Up, Get Started… whatever is most relevant to your business and the action you want the user to take. The best way to determine what works best is to perform an ad copy test, either through AdWords ‘rotate indefinitely’ feature, Draft Campaigns or through a 3rd party management tool such as Doubleclick like we use here at Storm for ad copy testing.

Start by creating around three variations of the same ad within your adgroup and change the call-to-action (CTA) slightly. An example of this might be ‘Sign Up Today’ versus ‘Enquire Today’, or for retail you may want to test something like ‘25% Off’ versus a ‘£10 Off’, testing percentage off versus a monetary figure. It really depends on what you are offering, selling or trying to get the user to do. Try testing across your account on various keywords until you can statistically determine what CTA drives better results for you. There’s more about testing further down!

Make use of all available ad extensions!

Ad extensions are vital when planning any ads, not only do including ad extensions help the user discover your brand or product in more detail, but can also significantly improve CTR% and ultimately quality score. Google naturally wants to provide the end-user with the best experience possible, and so heavily promote the use of available ad extensions at increasing relevance and quality of ads.

In fact through their own testing Google have stated that “On average we have found that there is a 10-15% CTR uplift* from implementing a new ad extension.” That’s a pretty big improvement in CTR to be missing out on by not implementing ad extensions. It is also quite surprising the number of accounts that I’ve audited and seen that have no active ad extensions, even adding in simple sitelinks to other parts of the site can dramatically improve your performance.

Whilst just implementing ad extensions does not increase quality score directly, improvements in ad relevance and CTR% can help improve your quality score and ultimately lower your click costs. Thus, it is extremely important to implement as many ad extensions as are relevant to your business.

ppc ad copy ad extensions

There are a variety of ad extensions that you can use to make your ad stand out, but not all will show at the same time as Google optimises towards the better performing extensions. However, at a minimum ensure that you include a set of Sitelinks, Callout Extensions and Structured Snippets. If possible, your ad should also make use of Call Extensions, Price Extensions, Location Extensions (If you have physical locations) and App Extensions (If you have an app, you can include this to aid app downloads). Promotion extensions can also be useful during sale or promotion periods where you can include an exclusive voucher code.

Try out the in-built ad functions

One of the ways you can really capture your audience’s attention is to add the perception of urgency into your ad copy. Luckily, AdWords has some neat in-built functions you can use in your ads to help hit that FOMO (fear of missing out) from the searcher.

Ideal if you are promoting a sale, or have a limited time offer, the Countdown function in the AdWords ad builder is a brilliant way of automating the message to display the remaining time left in a sale. Simply start typing “IF{=COUNTDOWN“ in the description box when creating a new ad and you get a dropdown with options, including when the countdown text should start and end.

ppc ad copy ad functions

Once live, the ad will automatically display the remaining Days/Hours/Minute based on the end date of your promotion. This is an ideal way to automate your future promotional messaging, simply set up your countdown ads in your account and create an automated rule to set them live and pause old ads when your sale is due to go live.

ppc ad copy time sensitive promotions

Test, test, and test again!

Writing ad copy, in my opinion, is a mix of art and science requiring an element of creativity, but also an analytical mind to be able to decipher what is working and be able to cut through the noise. It’s also not a good idea to just write ad copy once, leave it and hope for the best. A good PPC’er will always be striving to make incremental performance improvements with their ad copy through testing.

Depending on volume, a good approach would be to create a hypothesis and decide what variable you want to test, whether that is a different headline, description or call-to-action and create around 2 to 3 unique ad variations. Try and keep the actual testing variable as minimal as possible so you are only testing, say a headline against a headline with everything else such as the description and display url remaining the same. You can simply add these into your chosen adgroup, however ensure that the campaign setting of ad rotation is set to ‘rotate indefinitely’ to make sure that the ads are served in an equal manner.

Testing time will be dependent on the volume on keywords; however a good timeframe is usually around 2-4 weeks for a strong test. Lower volume accounts may need double, or even triple the amount of time to show up results.

Ideally, you want to make sure that your test is statistically significant to at least a 95% confidence level. There are several tools out there that you can use to check your metrics such as the A/B split test significance calculator. You will not be able to be confident that the changes in the A/B test will make an impact on conversions without first checking for statistical significance.

Finally, testing is an on-going process. Always be striving for improvements, so once your test is done, iterate and test again!

The perfect ad copy formula

There isn’t one. The only real way to get the best performance out of your ad copy is to always keep testing. Try iterations of headlines, different USP’s, appeal to different users and emotions, and use different call-to-actions. Look at what your competitors are using as copy, and try to stand out against them.

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