I have to give you bad news: there is no copywriting Holy Grail valid for all sectors and for all types of ads. Whoever says otherwise either does not know what they are talking about or has not yet reached the level of awareness of a PPC professional with some years of real life on the job experience.
Advertising copywriting is by definition an inexact science (assuming it can be called a science), which has creativity for most important asset (otherwise many famous art directors would not have 6 zeros bank accounts and everyone would be able to write beautiful ads ;-). As soon as something is “coded” and begins to be used by the mass of advertisers, it gradually loses appeal to end users (since all ads seem similar).
I’m sorry to be the one to give you this piece of news, but, there are indeed some best practices that won’t make you the “AdWords Midas King”, but will surely help you to better understand how to write outperforming PPC ads ;-).
Let’s start from the key questions we should ask ourself before starting to write an ad: “who are our ideal target users?” (or, to use a more trendy definition, our “buyer personas”) and, above all: “why should they choose our ad and not a competitor’s one?“.
These answers are often far from being obvious and as we can copy the best ideas of our competitors, our “strokes of genius” will sooner or later be “cloned” by others.
Once we have a more precise idea of who and why should click on our ads, we can always count on some basic rules that will make easier to get clicks and conversions. These best practices will be fulfilled as long as your ad is:
- Unique (find and use concepts you only can say to your target users – ex.: Brand X Official Shop, Official Reseller, etc.);
- Appealing (intercept users’ needs from the first words – they will only keep reading the ad as long as they find something interesting for them);
- Evocative (create a positive or scaring mental image in which your typical users can merge themselves);
- Clear (immediately quote the main advantages of the offer and make easy for users to understand why they should click on your ad);
- Coherent (among the different part of the ad and with the landing pages, which has to recall the same key concepts expressed in the ad and fulfill – or exceed – expectations created).
To do this, in addition to look at what competitors do, you have to put yourself in your users’ shoes and analyze the details of the promotion, brainstorming it with the internal project managers or (even better) with those who have direct contact with the final target of the ads.
AdWords main ads presently consist of two titles of up to 30 characters each (including spaces), a description up to 80 characters, and two fields of max 15 characters each for display URL sub-folders. Writing a good promotional text is therefore undoubtedly an extreme copywriting challenge.
There is a very precise hierarchy in these fields, because it is very likely users will scan them quickly, rather than actually reading them completely. They will only read what interests or involves them emotionally enough to push them to really read the rest of the text.
That’s why we have to use our best cards in the first title (the most important key concepts and the main “mental hooks”), to then add in the second title other main details to make the offer more attractive. The description will be the right place for the most relevant promotion pluses and in the display URL we will put some more keywords related to the offer.
The best strategy to make our ads attractive is to try since the beginning a lot of different variants in each ad-group using some of the following criteria:
- Immediate benefits for the user (example: immediate download, free guide, special offer, free shipping, etc.), rather than technical features. If I say that a USB flash drive has 8GB of memory I am highlighting a feature. If I say that there will be room for up to 4 movies or 5000 songs I am underlining a benefit. Pointing out benefits means to take a step towards the user. This is less important in business to business, but anyway, those who make the final purchase choice are still humans (at least the most of the times ;-).
- Price convenience. Mention it if relevant/possible, or otherwise state a starting price or a discount (to be tested in separate ad variations). Avoid it on Luxury goods, of course. If a price is mentioned it is vital that the user can find it in the landing page.
- Verticality and/or range of products. Especially when we can not or do not want to use the price lever, it is convenient to let our potential buyers know that our offer is very specialized (vertical) or very wide, or even both at the same time (example: over 200 types of corkscrews, more of 40,000 products for the kitchen etc.).
- “Magic” words such as “discount”, “offer”, “free”, “promotion”, “sale” etc. Basically the same we see used as “visual hooks” in supermarkets, often colored in red or otherwise warm color.
- Evocative words, when possible, try to recall a mental image, rather than simple characteristics of the offer. Better: “imagine your sign with unique LED effects”; instead of: “personalized signs”.
- Uniqueness and registered trademarks. Find something only you can say, and use it (and then check that no one is copying it). For example: official shop brand X, authorized dealer brand® (the presence of the registered trademark symbol helps), minimum price guaranteed, etc.
- Theming. Repeating in the ad the main keywords used in the group is an almost obvious best practice (for Quality Score too). The more the ad will show the exact words the user has just searched (automatically bolded by AdWords), the higher CTR will tend to be. But take a look at what competitors are doing first. If they are all pointing on the same words, the first title will be almost the same in every ad and this will weaken it. “Keyword Insertion” can simplify your work under this point of view, you should always try it, at least in some variants (https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2454041).
- Capital initial character of each main word (improves the readability of the ad).
- Scarcity. Few pieces left (if you’ve ever booked a hotel room on Booking.com you know exactly what I’m talking about ;-).
- Urgency. Only for today, last days, expiring offers, until …, are missing x days, hours etc. In AdWords, it is also possible to insert automatic countdowns that modify the ad text according to the time (days or hours) missing to expiration (https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6193743).
- Aversion to risk/loss. It is one of the basic principles of persuasion and can be used directly in the ad text (ex.: do not miss…) or in a more indirect way evoking mental images of risky situations to “hook” the user (ex.: imagine losing all your HD data suddenly).
- Social validation. Man, however evolved, still remains a social animal. Just as it is impossible for us not to look where a group of people looks, we tend to evaluate offers that have already had significant commercial feedback (examples: X million customers, Y business customers in Z countries, etc.). Being able to mention important references or testimonials could make a difference, even in an AdWords ad.
- Authoritative. One of the most powerful basic principles of persuasiveness. We can using it by referring to the long presence on the market (ex.: founded in 1969, over twenty years of experience, etc.), or to sources of external certifications (ex.: award-winning software, X quality certification, etc.), or even presentations in front of very large audiences (ex.: seen on TV, author of the best seller, etc.).
- Call to action (CTA). The presence of an imperative action verb is often useful to test (ex.: see the details, discover the offers, download now, save X now, etc.). However, I can without any doubt affirm that it is not something necessary at all costs, especially if you are promoting complex products with long purchase cycles. The presence of a specific mobile CTA is certainly much more useful if you want to target smartphones users (you can always differentiate desktop text with the “IF” function https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/7207341).
- Location. Mentioning the city where the offer is available can be a decisive factor in increasing click rates (as long as the quoted location is not too far from the users’ position). If you have a network of brick & mortar stores to be sure to show the best location you can it is possible to use “Ads Customizers” (https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6072565). Here are some fantastic suggestions about it by Martin Roettgerding (one of the most renowned European PPC specialists) https://shop.adworldexperience.it/en/negozio/ads-customizers-in-action/.
- Surprise or unexpected facts. Try to surprise the user with something unexpected is something you may want to try, at least in one ad variant (ex.: “Are you sure you are getting the most out of…? Then do not click on this ad”).
- Question sentences. Trying to connect with your users asking a question can be sometimes useful to try (provided that the question is not trivial and is well connected to what user researched). It is also a way to focus on the real needs that our product/service can respond to ( example: “Tired of a slow computer? Switch to …”).
- Synthesis. Besides the main ad text we will have to use several extra texts (extensions) with all of the details we could not write in the main ad for lack of space and even repeating the most important things (https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/7332837). Extensions are your Ads best friends. Use all you can possibly use, especially sitelinks, callout, structured snippets and promotions.
Besides these copywriting best practices, start writing a minimum of 5 or 6 ad variations for each ad-group and continue adding new variations from time to time, improving the ones with the best CTR or with the highest rotation numbers, in order to counter-balance the natural loss of efficiency due to competitors’ activity.
For each group you can enter up to a maximum of 50 ad variations. Many PPC specialists suggested competing with only 2 variants at a time, then systematically create new ads starting from the winning one. This is an outdated approach that requires large amounts of time (if you do not add variants regularly you risk seeing CTR rates drop much faster than a group with many different ads) and is based on the assumption that the platform defines winning ads only considering CTR. In reality, AdWords chooses the ads to use in each auction with many different dynamic criteria (device used by the user, location, time, query typed, to mention only known ones) and that’s why it happens quite often that the most distributed ads are not those with the highest CTR. Of course the more you leave the platform free to choose what you think is the best ad among many different variations, the more the performance of the campaign will be optimized.
Now it is your turn. Tell me if I missed something relevant in my copywriting basket tools and I will more than happy to add it 😉