Unarguably, paid search is still one of the most effective methods for online marketers seeking to drive great results. Despite the buzz currently surrounding flashy new ideas such as social media, pay-per-click continues to remain a solid foundation for any serious advertising campaign, especially given its flexibility of set-up speed, measurement, tracking, optimisation and responsiveness.

With recent reports showing that PPC is actually continuing to deliver return on investment despite many advertisers spending less, running effective campaigns from the start is all the more important.

However, the downfall of many marketers is not their paid-search planning, but the actual advert itself. After all, you can have the most carefully budgeted and strategically-planned campaign, but if the ad itself is poorly written, none of this will matter, as your click-through-rate (CTR) will be low and your cost-per-click (CPC) will be worryingly high.

Google is the main force behind paid search advertising, so it seems fair to highlight the 95-character limit of their AdWords ads in order to stress the importance of creating good paid search copy. Even senior marketers often struggle to create ads that convert using such a restricting limit of space.

It’s not just a case of serving an advertisement based on a keyword trigger. The user needs to see something that they want to click on, which is the first step towards that all-important conversion. 

So, with limited space to engage a user, not to mention limited time, copywriting cannot be underestimated in importance. 

Ad Copy Rules

All the search engines have strict policies regarding advertising. Recently, some of these rules have changed, such as Google’s allowance of trademark-bidding and relaxation on alcohol and gambling ads. This has a direct impact upon any ad copy, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with what’s allowed and what’s not. 

Although for the most part, common sense applies, such as an observation of grammar, spelling and punctuation, it’s the intricacies that can catch people out, ranging from country-specific legalities through to data entry affiliate programmes. Because of this, it’s advisable to regularly check out Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s individual terms.

Writing the headline

Headlines have the most impact and are more likely to influence a user to click. With only 25 characters, every letter counts and you need to ensure that you have a snappy few words to capture the user’s attention. 

Key recommendations for creating effective headlines: 

Simplicity and relevance is key. Your headline text needs to be clear and concise. Get straight to the point. It’s as simple as that. On average, eye-tracking studies show that the headline is the most viewed part of a paid search ad, so the text really needs to be relevant to the user in order to generate interest. Enigmatic headlines are guaranteed to lose you clicks. 

Keyword inclusion. Following on from the practice of relevance, including keywords in a headline reflects the user’s search query. This is generally easier to manage if you have a either a generic-based campaign or if you have ad groups with a small amount of keywords. 

DKI it. Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) is a great way to fully make an ad relevant to a user. This is basically an automated set-up where if a keyword within a search query matches a keyword from your ad group, this is placed into your ad copy and displayed to the user. However, there are restrictions in place and it’s a fairly tricky activity. Google gives some useful guidance on this particular practice.  

Writing the body text 

Again, the body text is still a crucial element of a PPC ad, especially given that it contains most of the copy needed to generate interest from a user. In marketing terms, the ad description is to ensure a user converts, no matter what that conversion is: a sale, lead, sign-up or otherwise. 

A great way to write copy is to imagine yourself as the user. If you were searching for something specific, what would prompt you to click on an advertisement? Some points to consider are listed below although this is not meant to be a comprehensive list. 

Call-to-action. You need to encourage users to click on your ads. Using expressions such as “Buy”, “Sell”, “Order” or “Sign up” in the description will really help you in ensuring a user clicks through.

Simplicity and relevance is key (AGAIN). Writing clear and concise copy cannot be underestimated. Searchers need to understand exactly where and what they’ll land on, before they’ve clicked your ad. This will also help you ensure you stay within Google’s policy of “aaccurately representing your product or service” in your advertisement. 

Power-words. Use enticing adjectives. “Unique”, “Excellent”, “Amazing”, etc. can give you great results if used in the relevant context. 

Don’t be modest. If you’ve got a great product or service, say so. You need to be highly specific to make your advertisement stand out. Remember, you have competitors…

Sound urgent. Change your ads regularly. Although this is best practice testing, it also allows you to highlight specific products that may be limited, or on sale. People are more likely to click if they feel something is a one-time opportunity. Scarcity is a great form of persuasion.

Reassure. Make users feel comfortable by highlighting the positives. Is your service qualified in some way? Have you won awards? Do you already have hundreds of happy customers? Can you protect your customers in some way?

Less can often be more. Fewer words can often have more impact. Just because there is a set amount of characters available, doesn’t mean you have to use them all. 

Offers = Clicks. Mention the cost of a product or any special offers you’re running. This is a no-brainer, especially if you can beat the competition on price, but ensure that the user lands on the corresponding page. 

Land correctly. To reiterate (and following on from the point above) always link the ad to the exact landing page of the offer described in the ad. Aside breaking certain rules, the internet is all about delivering instant results to users… and the “back” button on a browser is a lot easier to click than searching through a website… Conversion rates are generally higher when there’s relevance between ad copy and the landing page.

Variation. Use several different ads for each single product – by using different arrangements of key phrases and keywords, this will allow you to test what works (and what doesn’t) to a far greater degree. Consider if your ads are seasonal – not just Christmas – but other major events, such as school or public holidays and change your copy to reflect this if it’s applicable to what you’re advertising.

Spy. What are your competitors doing in their ads? Although time-consuming, it may be worth structuring a keyword and ad-copy audit and running this on regular basis against your competitors to benchmark where they appear and how you can differentiate your ads from theirs. 

Take your time. Killer copy isn’t written within a few minutes – it can take hours, even days coming up with unique and engaging ads. So don’t stress that you’re taking a long time to do this, but remember that time management is important: Don’t leave everything until the last minute. 

Understand the rules of engagement. You need to fully recognise and adhere to the editorial policies of the search engines, especially Google. It’s common sense, but one that’s often ignored. 

The display URL

Ensuring the display URL reflects the content of the ad is often overlooked and is actually quite a complex area. Key points to consider include: 

Be accurate. The most important thing to remember is that the display URL needs to represent the destination URL.

Additional keywords can be used. Sometimes, you’ll be able to place a keyword you were unable to fit into your descriptive text onto the end of the display URL to help encourage a user to click. (So long it’s relevant and adheres to search engine polices.) Be careful of using DKI, as some experts suggest that adding this into the display URL may actually reduce clicks. Also, be aware not to make the URL too untidy or long, as this can reduce branding impact and cause other issues in the long-run. 

Test. As with the rest of your ad, testing the display URL is important. For ideas of different combinations, you could drop the “www” or capitalise the first word within the address. 

More about testing

Testing PPC ad copy cannot be stressed enough. Use three or four ads on automated rotation through Google and then use the daily reporting data to manually optimise your campaign and copy as you see fit: Change the ads with low CTR or get rid of them entirely.

The downside of letting Google optimise ad rotation for you is that you are likely to get an uneven amount of impressions. If you’re unhappy about having this happen, you should manually test each ad individually for equal periods of time before trying to refine the stronger ad copy. 

… And finally

Make sure everything is spelt correctly. There’s nothing more embarrassing than an obvious spelling mistake and it will devalue both your ad and your organisation in the eyes of a user. 

You don’t get much time or space to make a good impression with a PPC ad, therefore ensuring that great copy is visible is extremely important. As mentioned, this is far from being a complete list of copywriting ideas, so please add more suggestions in the comments below. 

For more on PPC know-how, it’s also worth checking out Econsultancy’s Paid Search Marketing Best Practice Guide, written by Dr Dave Chaffey.