Eight Essentials For Crafting Killer Paid Search Ad Copy

Here are eight observations about writing and testing pay-per-click ad copy. They’re broad generalizations, so there’ll be situations where these don’t hold, but we’ve found them generally accurate.

  1. Copy is a 2nd-order effect. Writing good copy for your ads does matter, but copy quality is a 2nd-order effect on your PPC success. That is, copy matters far less than PPC’s two first-order effects, which are (a) getting your term list right, and (b) getting your bids right. Using a car analogy, the term list is the engine, bids are the transmission and tires, and copy is the paint job.
  2. Bad copy hurts more than good copy helps.The following graph presents the results of a laborious and top-secret scientific study of copy quality vs. copy effectiveness.

    ad copy quality vs. effectivess

    Actually, I just made those data up. But the graph does capture our many years of experience experimenting with PPC copy. We’d suggest there’s significant benefit in fixing bad copy (moving up from a grade of “D” or “F” to a “C” ), some benefit from improving decent copy (“C” up to “B” or “A”), but the additional benefit that accrues from perfect copy is often small.

    What do I mean by “bad” copy? Bad copy is overly generic, relying too heavily on title slugging, or is poorly matched to the search phrase. (Because of how the engines serve ads, getting copy right is closely tied to term list, match type, and negatives).

    Back to the car analogy, a sloppy amateur paint job can really torpedo the sale value of a car. Decent paint would get the car back to normal value. A perfect paint job would increase the sale value somewhat more, but likely by less than its cost.

  3. Ad copy is disproportionately interesting to senior management. Copy is more visible than terms, bids, or campaign performance reports. As such, ad copy can attract more attention from senior management than is sometimes warranted. This isn’t a bad thing, unless an over-emphasis on copy testing diverts attention from higher value analyses.
  4. Copy should sell you, not the SKU. Specific search terms indicate the searcher has a clear idea as to what she or he is seeking. In these cases, don’t waste precious characters selling the item. Help the searcher choose your ad from amongst the columns of competitors; use copy to sell your company. Searchers want to know, “Why should I buy this from you?”, and good copy answers this question.
  5. Click-through isn’t conversion. You can load multiple copy versions in the search engines and instruct them to favor the ad with the highest CTR. (“Please Brer Rabbit, don’t throw me into the briar patch!”) But click-through isn’t conversion, and your highest-costing copy may or may not be your highest-selling copy. Understand when you want to maximize CTR and when you want maximize conversion, and set up your test accordingly.
  6. When testing ad copy for conversion, use duplicate-ad design. We’ve seen our top Google agency contacts change their minds a few times over the last few years on Google’s recommended way to test copy, intra-adgroup versus inter-adgroup. Because click-through rate influences ad-serving, we’ve always advocated for using duplicate adgroups to test copy. As of this summer, Google again agrees.
  7. Use stats to distinguish signal from noise. The difference between copy versions can be small. Don’t base decisions on random fluctuations. Use statistical methods to ensure performance differences between versions are significant. More often than not, they aren’t.
  8. Test shouts, not whispers. Given how hard it is to detect performance differences between different copy versions, don’t waste your time testing nearly-similar copy variations against one another. Test boldly different messaging – that’s the only way you have a shot at discovering a new presentation that provably sells better.

Those are our eight recommendations for creating PPC copy that will blow your competitors away. As always, your mileage may vary.

Alan Rimm-Kaufman leads the Rimm-Kaufman Group, a direct marketing services and consulting firm founded in 2003. The Paid Search column appears Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column | Search Ads: General


About The Author: sadly passed away in July 2009. His fellow co-founder of the Rimm-Kaufman group, George Michie, took over Alan's post as CEO, and is also a contributor at Search Engine Land.

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  • http://Diorex.wordpress.com Diorex

    Please share a citation for #6 where you state that “As of this summer, Google again agrees.” I have searched high and low for this and see no data to back this up. My Google rep did not even agree…

    Any follow up info would be much appreciated.


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