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A Five-Step Process to Writing a Killer PPC Ad

Posted by Jeremy Smith on Oct 30, 2014 7:55:35 AM

How To Write A Paid Search Ad

Okay, I’m going to talk about PPC ads.

I’m going to talk about PPC ads, because this is a really important subject.

Think about it. According to Search Engine Watch, most small businesses spend $1,200 month on PPC. Those are just the little guys — those who bid low and cap spend limits at $30-40/day. Some businesses are dropping $1,388 a day on PPC leads.

There’s a whole lot of loose cash flying out the windows. As WordStream estimates, the average small business wastes 25% of their PPC advertising budget. PPC spending is huge. Waste is rampant. The stakes are high.

Like I said, this is important.

As a CRO, I spend a lot of my time analyzing landing pages, tearing them down, ripping them up and then piecing them back together to form a perfect deluge of conversions.

But all these efforts are totally useless if the ad itself isn’t bringing in traffic to begin with. Ads need power. They need to produce clickthroughs.

Not just ads ... but something even more specific.

Let’s all take a step back. Behind every landing page is an ad. And behind every ad is a marketer. And in that marketer’s task list is “write copy for the PPC ad."

Not only am I going to talk about PPC ads, but I’m going to talk about how to write a killer PPC ad.


If 25% of PPC money is wasted, obviously the next question is, What’s it being wasted on?

Answer: A bunch of things.

But one of the biggies is crappy copy. If you write poor ad copy, you won’t get the clicks you want. You’ll have wasted impressions. You’ll have huge bounce rates. You’ll have frustrated customers.

Worse, you’ll have a frustrated boss.

If you can write killer PPC ads, you will be more successful personally as a marketer, and you will make your company more successful, too.

A few things you need to know about writing a PPC ad:

  • Writing a PPC ad isn’t hard.  You have to keep it simple. There are only so many differentiators, unique value propositions, keywords and CTAs that you can stuff in a few lines of ad copy. Furthermore, you’ve got a bunch of words already picked out for you. For example, if you’re selling phones, well, you have to use the word “phone” at some point in the ad.
  • Writing a PPC ad doesn’t take a long time. You’re not writing War and Peace. You’re writing three lines. The longest you can possibly make your PPC ad is 95 characters. That’s not long at all. This bullet point alone has twice that many characters.
  • Writing a PPC ad simply requires some knowledge of buyer psychology and a little time to read this article.
  • There’s a ton more that goes into creating an ad, plus the whole discussion of site links and extensions. That’s all important jazz, but I’m trying to stay really focused in this article.
  • Remember, you need to know your audience. Everything I explain below will mean nothing unless you’re tuned into your audience’s identity and interests.

I’ve structured this article into three sections, because that’s how many lines you have in a PPC ad. Just three.

Let’s do it.

The Catch:  Front-load your keywords.

I call this “the catch,” because this is what allows your ad to catch the user’s attention. More than anything else (apart from swear words), keywords will grab your user’s attention.

Keywords are what make your ads relevant. Ad irrelevancy is the biggest reason why ads money is wasted and CTRs are in the dumps. How do you make your ad relevant?

Use keywords in your ad copy.

Surprisingly, not every ad uses keywords. Why in the world would they not?

They think it’s a waste of time. Instead of creating a new ad for each keyword, they make generic ads for their product. This is a shortcut that may save a few minutes and let you leave work early on Friday. But it’s a shortcut that could seriously waste ad revenue and produce a terrifying quarterly report for your boss.

I don’t want you to have to face that.

So, use keywords instead. They will attract your user’s attention like nothing else can.

  • Users are searching for the same keywords you feature. When they see them in your ad copy, they will want to click.
  • Users are highly sensitive to any semantic keywords that suggest the result they are looking for.
  • Users are looking for relevance at every point in the funnel — top, middle and bottom. Long-tail keywords — longer and more specific keyword phrases  — are especially essential for having matched keywords in the ad copy. Although they take up more of your copy real estate, they also have a stronger relevancy to the user’s needs.

80% of people will read your ad headline. Only 20% will read your ad copy. The headline is where your most powerful efforts need to be focused.

If you use keywords in this headline, your power will be higher. You will gain the user’s attention, compel them to read, and encourage them to click.

Keywords are your friend.

A query for “conversion optimization” produced this ad and headline. It’s clear, compelling and persuasive.

use keywords in ppc ad headlines

Creating keyword-focused ads isn’t rocket science. All you have to do is replicate the keyword that users are searching for.

Repiclate search keyword

Perfect! That’s exactly what I want, and that’s what catches my attention.

Compare these three ads. The query was “men’s sperry.”

Ad comparison for Sperry Men shoes

Zappos nailed it. Sperry nailed it. But Shoebuy? Nada. Plus, their first sitelink is for “Sperry Women’s Shoes,” which is not what I had in mind. Fail.

I will not click on Shoebuy’s ads. I might not even read the whole thing, because they failed to get me with a keyword-focused headline.

Although you need to use your keyword in the headline, you also have room for some fun words — attention-grabbing words. Let’s talk about that next.

The Sizzle: Mid-load your buzzwords.

Once you have the user hooked with your keyword relevancy, you get them to read further with the sizzle. This is where you pop in some creativity and zing to make the ad exciting.

Bose does this with their “buy earphones” ad:

Ad headlines with buzzwords

Those words — soft, secure, durable, perfect, on-the-go — that’s the stuff of buzzwords and sizzle. It makes the ad look, feel and sound compelling. It’s what invites the eager, benefit-focused user deeper in.

But before you reach for your thesaurus and get all excited, let me calm you down with a few cautions. This isn’t a cool-word fest. This is a careful, calculated and direct attempt to get a CTR. You’ll be more successful with these five rules.

The 5 Rules to a Killer PPC Ad

1. Be very clear.

Clarity trumps cuteness every time. A user is more likely to convert on a clear ad with elementary words than a clever ad with really smart copy.

Like this: “Best iPhone Cases.” No guesses needed.

Clear ad headline

Clarity is your ally in creating ad copy. A confused user is not a user who will eagerly convert.

2. Be very simple.

Humans are wired for simplicity. Although we love the mental rush that comes from solving a complex problem or completing a complicated task, the mind seeks stasis, not complexity. It’s foolish to tax people’s minds with convoluted ad copy, when the whole goal is to get a clickthrough and conversion.

Simplicity is what does that. Simplicity allows the user to understand immediately what’s going on, then make a decision based on that information. If your ad is simple, it will win.

I give this ad ups for the headline — nice and clear. But that copy? What’s going on? What is “full funnel?” What “real-time” activity are we talking about? And why in the world would I want a “B2B Marketing Cloud” if I don’t even know what it is?

Good healdine bad ad copy

3. Be very direct.

Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t mess around with niceties. Just say what you need to say. You have 95 characters, which is less than a tweet. Say it and be done.

Be careful with acronyms. There are some acronyms that might work, especially in niche industries (SEO, PPC, CRO, etc.), but generally speaking, people don’t tend to enjoy deciphering acronyms. Even common ones like SMB, CRM and SaaS are a bit cumbersome.

This ad for the query “conversion optimization” might not want to use the term “CRO” in a headline, since it might not not understood by the user.

Know your users lingo

4. Be very human.

Even in an ad, you’re a human talking to other humans. Sound like it. Jargony fake sales copy has gone the way of dinosaurs and smartphones with small screens. It’s done.

You want to sound real. Go ahead and write a note to your customer — like a personal note. Heck, why not? People want to buy from other real people.

5. Be short.

Long words are off limits. I’m not against long words in all of life, especially since I tend toward the sesquipedalian and lexiphanic myself. I’m just saying that if you use a word like “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” (it’s a thing), you’ve just lost nearly half of your ad copy.

Short words are powerful. Short words are like punches. You can feel them. They have an impact. They work.

And in ad copy, they’re essential.

These five rules might sound boring, but don’t worry. Even though you need to stay within the guardrails, you can still be exciting.

The CTA: Back-load your action words.

Every ad needs a CTA just like a car needs an engine. Your CTA is what makes the ad go. Customers need incentive to click.

Words not to use:

  • Click. That’s a given. Of course they’re going to click.
  • Buy. No, they’re probably not ready to buy. You’re getting them into the page to buy, but your CTR action needs to be a little lighter.

Remember, a CTA is all about the action. They are now supposed to do something. Many ads fall short in this area. They present the information, assume a click, and leave the customer teetering on the verge of a clickthorugh. The CTA, short as it may be, can make the difference between a click or no click.

Here are some great action phrases:

  • Be shocked.
  • Save money now.
  • Find out why.
  • Cut costs.
  • Delivery tomorrow.
  • See who.
  • Discover more.
  • Get info ASAP.
  • Are you qualified?
  • Need relief?
  • Say no to pain.
  • Refuse it.

Each of these CTAs has enough action in them to make them appealing, but just enough curiosity to still add suspense to the ad.

Here are some principles of a CTA that will help it soar:

  • Curiosity — The strong desire for knowledge is responsible for much of the clicking that goes on across the web.
  • Instant gratification — People want it, and they want it now. If your ad copy can promise something instant, it will play into this desire in a beautiful way.
  • Benefits — People don’t care about solutions. They already know the solution they’re looking for. What they really want is benefits. The benefits of a product or service will produce more clickthroughs than solution-oriented ad copy.

Google knows a thing or two about conversions on ads. In the ad below, they focus on benefits. (Don’t ask me why they want a phone call, though.)

Google PPC ad

This CTA, located in the headline is brilliant:

CTA headline


A single article isn’t enough to train you on all the dark arts of clickable ad copy. However, by following this structured approach to PPC ad writing, I can basically guarantee that you’ll see your CTRs shoot straight up.

Even though I’ve provided a rather formulaic and pedantic approach to PPC ad writing, I want to encourage you to be creative. Let go of rules. Defy convention, and do something outside-the-box. Sure, the box is still going to keep you to 95 characters, but at least try to be different.

Often, it’s the disruptors who are the most successful.

What advice do you have for writing a killer PPC ad? 




Topics: Conversion Optimization, copy, Neuromarketing, PPC

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