4 Steps to the Best PPC Ads

If you listen hard enough, you can hear the lament of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts in the hum of your computer. Years spent perfecting the craft of improving PageRank to gain visibility in search, only to watch, helpless, as Google gave more and more of their precious Page 1, above-the-fold real estate to paid advertising (and yes, people do click on ads. In fact, we’ve run non-brand campaigns with clickthrough rates as high as 30 percent).

The time has come when companies must ante up for paid search ads if they want to ensure a piece of the search traffic pot.

But it’s not enough to buy ads. As more and more businesses enter the advertising fray, you need to make sure people choose your ad over your competitors. Otherwise what’s the point of all that visibility?

And no matter how much ppc experts say it comes down to smart keyword targeting and bidding, customers don’t care about your backend set-up. They care about your ad copy.

The Anatomy of a Paid Search Ad: A Quick Refresher

Although Google and Bing/Yahoo have made life easier for advertisers with last year’s Expanded Text Ads (ETAs), it still isn’t easy using the limited copy to both sell your brand’s story and stand out in the cluttered space.

The basic bones of an ad are two 30-character headlines and an 80-character description. That’s right, amidst of a sea of lookalikes, you must use a single impression of a single 140-character tweet to win the click.

Okay, that’s not the whole story: the display url and two, 15-character page paths contribute (though to what extent is unclear). And a whole host of ad extensions provide added flexibility and real estate to get your message across (and it is abundantly clear that these do help).

Still, just because you have more options than ever before doesn’t mean paid search became easy. How you use those options will determine whether you win clicks, and hence whether Google favors your ad over your competitors, improving AdRank and reducing cost-per-clicks.

1.   Throw out what you think is a good search ad

One of the frustrating aspects of ads we see is that advertisers are tripping over themselves to mention their points of parity (PoP) in choppy 2-4 words sentences.

Point of parity: aspects of your marketing or business model that are not unique to your brand, but are instead a necessity for remaining competitive within the category. E.g. having a suitable product in stock, free shipping, good customer service, etc.

Any advertiser worth their salt will tell you this gets you nowhere when it comes to advertising (if it’s the price of entry, consumers already expect it, meaning you’re wasting breath). And yet we’ve seen and heard countless blogs and speakers encourage the inclusion of copy that, by definition, are merely PoPs.

Pair that with unimaginative headlines – e.g. “{Keyword} – X Made Easier,” “{Keyword} – The Best X,” or “{Keyword} – Save on X” – and the result are a whole host of uninspiring ads. So throw out most of that formula (except the keyword in the first headline, all evidence points to that being essential).

2.   Start with the marketing basics

Where should you start in order to write truly great ads? Start where every other advertiser and copywriter starts:

  • Your brand mission
  • Your customer’s pain points and aspirations
  • Your points of differentiation (PoD) and brand positioning

We’ve created a handy spreadsheet to help you with this brainstorming.

[Download the Paid Search Brainstorm Aid]

These elements are the foundation of great brands, they’re the emotional triggers that sway customers, and they provide the inspiration and building blocks for imaginative ad copy that will stand out from the fray.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, that’s great and all, but there’s no way I can fit all of that into an ad,” you’re absolutely right. You can’t.

Mix-and-match only a few of the above at a time, just so long as they’re closely related enough to tell a story. If you mention your brand mission in the headline, use the description copy to show how two PoDs helps you achieve your mission. If instead you include a pain point, follow it up with an aspiration and one PoD that’ll make it happen.

Some of our best performing ads have a single 80-character sentence for the description copy, just to ensure the story doesn’t get lost in translation. Not only does it read better and more convincingly than the surrounding ads, the very appearance of its difference helps it stand out.

And those points of parity? Relegate them to a callout or structured snippet extension. They won’t always show, but when they do it’ll be the cherry on top of a great ad.

3.   Determine whether the ad needs a call-to-action (CTA)

If you go by the “best practices” out there, every ad needs a call-to-action. But with such limited space at your disposal, is it really necessary? Not always.

  • If the next step of the customer journey is obvious, leave the CTA out.


For example, if someone is shopping for shoes, telling them they can “Buy today” is useless. They began their search in the psychological mindset of “ready-to-buy,” and they have been trained to expect search results that cater to their exact need, meaning, subconsciously, it’s as though every ad already has the words “buy now” in them. Making this yet another example of a PoP, and a pushy PoP at that.


  • If the next step of the customer journey isn’t immediately obvious, include a CTA.For example, if you are doing content marketing, it’s good to set the expectation that your Complete Guide to X requires access or a download, as you don’t want to surprise your users with a form.

There’s one exception to this rule: if you can seamlessly and concisely weave a CTA and, say, an aspiration together, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

4.   Get creative

All that’s been discussed to this point is fairly mundane and doesn’t necessarily lead to creative copy. And if everyone in your category starts following the first three steps, while you’re still better off than before (because you’ve differentiated your brand), you’ll be stuck with an undifferentiated ad.

If you’re interested in taking your search ad game to the next level, check out this past blog about writing creative AdWords ads (although it was written before ETAs, the process and ideas still hold). TL;DR: get a bunch of heads together and hold a brainstorm, using our Paid Search Brainstorm Aid for inspiration.

[Download the Paid Search Brainstorm Aid]

Don’t get hung up on characters or the fact that you’re brainstorming for a search ad, just concentrate on generating interesting ways of talking about your brand. Not only will you come up with more and better ideas, you’ll have the added benefit of creating ad copy that can be used in social and display.


To sum up:

  • Don’t treat search ads like they’re an entirely different beast, treat them like you would any advertising copy.
  • Think about the experience of your customer: what moves them? What’ll help you begin to build a relationship with them? What would you like to read?

If you want visibility in search, buy ads, write well, then reinvest your ROI into search engine optimization to further increase your share of the search traffic pot.

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