3 ad copy mistakes keeping you from paid search success

Although Google provides data on keywords, bids and other aspects of your paid search campaigns, it tends to leave us hanging when it comes to ad copy.

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When it comes to ad copy, everyone makes mistakes – even experienced paid search marketers.

After all, Google provides all kinds of helpful information about keywords, bids and search volume, but when it comes to ad copy, it’s up to you to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

So, if you feel like writing ad copy is kind of like playing “Wheel of Fortune.” You throw out a bunch of letters or words and hope you guess the winning combination – you’re not alone. Paid search ad copy is hard for all marketers.

Now, if you’re proactive about testing your ad copy, you can usually figure out some titles and descriptions that deliver decent results, but that’s often a painful, expensive process. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply start with decent ad copy and test your way forward from there?

After writing and reviewing ad copy for countless campaigns, I’ve identified three common mistakes that keep most businesses from getting the clicks and conversions they deserve. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to avoid each of these mistakes and get your ad copy off on the right foot from the beginning.

Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!

1. Keyword stuffing

Back in the early days of Google, keyword stuffing was the secret to online success. If you could discover the right opportunity, you could game the system and make millions from being the top organic result on Google.

Things simply don’t work that way anymore.

Nowadays, users expect Google to deliver accurate, valuable results in response to their search queries.

After years of being betrayed by keyword-stuffed search results, people have been conditioned to avoid clicking on spammy search results – whether paid or organic. Instead, they look for content that actually addresses their needs.

Your customers have evolved, which means your ad copy needs to evolve, too.

Now, none of this is meant to imply that you shouldn’t include your target keywords in your ad copy. Including your keywords is really important. But to understand how to appropriately use your keywords in your ad copy, we need to discuss how incorporating your keywords into your ad copy affects your audience.

Selective Attention

In psychology, there’s an interesting phenomenon referred to as “selective attention.“ To put it simply, our brains are constantly processing an overwhelming amount of information. If we were consciously aware of it all, we’d never be able to make decisions in a reasonable time frame.

Our brains filter out most of the information we’re exposed to, leaving us only consciously aware of a small fraction of what we experience. In other words, we only notice things that are important, different or relevant to us.

So, when you search online for a product or service, your search terms automatically become a high priority to your brain. Your brain naturally sees any search result that includes those terms as something worth paying attention to.

Google’s well aware of how selective attention works, which is why they bold relevant terms in your search results.

For example, here’s what you might see if you search for “travel to India.”

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It’s almost like Google is trying to tell your brain, “Hey! These ads are relevant. Pay attention!”

The problem with keyword stuffing

This all sounds great in theory, but there’s a problem with selective attention. Remember how I said that selective attention is how the brain decides what’s relevant and what’s irrelevant? Well, there’s a downside to all of that.

After years of being betrayed by spammy search results, our brains have been trained to filter out keyword-stuffed ads as irrelevant.

In other words, if your ad copy looks generic, overly corporate or sales-heavy, your potential customers may skim past your ad without even realizing it—their brains will simply filter it out before they even have a chance to read it.

For example, how many times have you seen an ad that looks like this?


If you actually pay attention to the content of this ad, it’s hilarious. But if someone didn’t point it out to you (or you weren’t actively searching for “used diapers” to see just how broad eBay’s use of dynamic keyword insertion went), you might miss the ad completely.

Why? Your brain has been trained to ignore generic, keyword-stuffed ad content.

So, if you want people to pay attention to your paid search ad copy, you can’t just throw a few keywords in and call it good. You need to write content that incorporates your keywords in a compelling, meaningful way.

When people search online for something, they are looking for answers, not keywords. Give them the answers they are looking for, and selective perception will be on your side. Give them a keyword-stuffed ad and they’ll never even realize they saw your content.

2. Focusing on the wrong problem

So, if keyword stuffing isn’t the secret to grabbing your audience’s attention, what is?

If you want people to click on your paid search ads, you need to focus on the problem, pain point or need that triggered their search.

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle to identify the motivating factors behind their customers’ searches. As a general rule, most companies assume that their target audience shares their goals, needs and values. If the business puts a high priority on a certain selling point or feature, they believe that their customers care about that selling point or feature, too.

However, most people couldn’t care less about that big internal push your business just did to release a new feature. They care about whether or not you can solve their problem. If your advertising isn’t focused on them and their needs, they’ll never click on your ad.

As a quick example, let’s say you’ve got an upcoming vacation to Europe and you need to get your passport renewed. Unfortunately, life happened and the trip is only a few weeks away, so you need to get your passport renewed fast.

You search online for “renew passport” and get the following results:

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Which of these two ads are you more likely to click on? Probably the first one, right?

The second ad does mention “Get Your Passport in as Little as 24 Hours,” but it’s only mentioned once and it’s buried in the description. The first ad, however, is focused on your need: speedy turnaround, so it naturally grabs your attention and feels like the perfect solution to your problem.

Now, that doesn’t make the second ad wrong. It’s simply aimed at a different audience with different needs. There are certainly people who would search online for a way to renew their passport without standing in the eternally long passport line, but that’s not you, so you’re not likely to click on the second ad.

See how all this works?

When your ad copy is focused on the needs behind your customers’ search, your business will feel like the perfect solution. However, if you’re focused on the need, people won’t click in the hopes that they’ll be able to find what they need by digging around on your site. You only get one chance to prove that you’re the answer they’re searching for, so make sure your ad copy is focused on the right problem.

3. Neglecting ad extensions

When you write paid search ad copy, it’s easy to focus on the content of your titles and description. After all, everyone sees those. Whether or not people see your ad extensions, however, is up to Google.

Neglecting your ad extensions, however, is a big mistake.

While ad extensions might not always be a part of your ad, when they do show up, they matter. Google reports that adding a new ad extension typically increases click-through rates by 10-15%, so they’re well worth investing some time into.

In my experience, ad extensions are a great way to maximize the potential and scope of your ad copy, especially when it comes to callout extensions, sitelinks and structured snippets.


First and foremost, callout extensions are a great way to stuff more keywords and key phrases into your ad in a natural, acceptable way.

When it comes to your titles and descriptions, people expect your copy to be need- or value-driven. Callout extensions, however, feel like a bulleted list of selling points – which is the perfect place to stuff keywords and other pitch-heavy content. What more could you ask for?


Sitelink extensions are a great way to build out the content of your ads. They offer additional information and direct links to pages that your potential customers might want to visit. Plus, they take up a ton of on-page real estate.

Simply put, when they show up, sitelink extensions can be marketing gold.

To make the most of your sitelink extensions, however, you need to write copy that contributes to your overall ad in some way. If your sitelinks just repeat what your main ad says, people will just ignore them. Getting extra links and characters on a paid search ad is a big deal – make the most of it!

Structured snippets

Structured snippets are an interesting blend between callout and sitelink extensions. Similar to sitelinks, they give you a header and content to work with, but the content is organized into a list like callout extensions.

This design gives structured snippets a lot of versatility and potential, but the current design is kind of hard to read, so you’ll want to be thoughtful about how you approach structured snippets. If you aren’t careful about how you set things up, these ad extensions can potentially hurt your click-through rates. But, if you use them right, they can offer a lot of value, too.


Although Google provides a ton of data on keywords, bids and other aspects of your paid search campaigns, it tends to leave advertisers hanging when it comes to ad copy.

While can – and should – test your way to success, if you apply the principles in this article, you can avoid some crippling common ad copy problems that hinder many companies and keep from achieving their full paid search potential.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Jacob Baadsgaard
Jacob is passionate entrepreneur on a mission to grow businesses using PPC & CRO. As the Founder & CEO of Disruptive Advertising, Jacob has developed an award-winning and world-class organization that has now helped over 2,000 businesses grow their online revenue. Connect with him on Twitter.

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