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How to Write Search-Ad Copy That Doesn’t Suck: 13 Attempts at the Impossible

Posted on January 6, 2016   |   




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, only to watch, helpless, as Google gave more and more of their precious Page 1, above-the-fold real estate to paid advertising.

While SEO is still a key element of any digital marketing strategy, the time has come when companies must ante up for paid search ads if they want a piece of the search-traffic pot.

But relying on pay-per-click (PPC) ads brings its own challenges. Organic listings gave us “ad” headlines up to 60 characters and copy up to 160 characters. Traditional paid search ads only offer 95 characters in total, forcing us to make an equally attractive pitch with 57 percent less material.

And as every digital marketer has discovered at some point, it is a struggle to get those 95 characters—45 less than a tweet—to sing.

Which is why I get so riled up by the legion of PPC bloggers that, in passing, strongly encourage the use of “creative ad copy.” How is it even possible to be “creative” in 95 characters?

The Challenge: Search-Ad Copywriting is a Pain

Text ads present a unique challenge, and not just because of the limited characters. Restrictive ad policies and brief ad impressions make it hard to write much more than a basic “See Jane run” sentence. That’s why it is all the more important to actually know how to write creative ad copy for search ads.

Many digital professionals recommend using calls-to-action, ad extensions, value propositions, etc., but those aren’t creative recommendations, just practical ones. And if an example is ever given of a creative search ad, it is this Samsung S6 ad.

Samsung S6 Google Search Ad

Unfortunately What A – Clunky Headline – toobad.com

Challenge Accepted: Bring It

I love a challenge, especially one that draws upon my creativity, so I set out to create ads that would be both creative and effective, ads that would leave searchers thinking, “Now there’s a creative use of limited space. I will honor their effort with a click.”

And boy was it hard.

But the ads I created, which follow, prove it is possible as long as we approach search-ad copywriting as we would any other ad copywriting. So enjoy, and I hope you learn a thing or two about copywriting in the process.

The Set-Up: Who Will the Lucky Brand Be?

First, I need a product to advertise. Hmm… I saw a television ad a while back for a sleep aid called Belsomra and haven’t been able to shake what to me was a creepy ad.

Side effects include: vivid hallucinations of word demons, night terrors, and fatal somniphobia.

Am I the only one that finds those word creatures disturbing? Also, the legal requirement to list all potential side effects really kills the ad’s effectiveness.

Yet the idea of the drug intrigues me, the interfering with signals that induce wakefulness. And sleep and dreams have long been celebrated as both a subject for and a source of creative inspiration.

So Belsomra it is. (If you see this Belsomra, you are welcome to any of my ad ideas.)

The Results

Poetic ads facilitate recall:

Scientists have discovered that the reason man’s early oral tradition placed such an emphasis on meter and rhyme is that it greatly facilitates later recall. Hence, poesy could be used to facilitate the recall of ads.

insomnia medication google search text ad

Now that I’m looking at it, it does sort of look like a poem.

Fall Asleep Don't Suffer Google Search Ad

Even made the url rhyme with the headline! But, though I tried to write beautiful quatrains, each spun out into ungainly poems. So I had to resign myself to writing silly ads like:

Insomnia medication ad attempt 3

I’m not succeeding here, but don’t rule poetry out.

Allusions tap into existing association networks:

Tapping into cultural references is a great way to leap directly into positive association networks, helping build your brand and inspire conversions. It’s also one of the easiest forms of comedy to pull off.

Google Search Ad for Insomnia Medication attempt 4

No doubt you are asking, where’s the keyword? Will people click if you don’t bash them over the head with their search query? And what will happen to the quality score? All valid questions.

But don’t forget to think in terms of actual search queries. People are not always searching by product or service type, but by what they hope to get out of a product or service. Case in point: ‘How to fall asleep and stay asleep’ has 210 avg. monthly searches, no competition, and a suggested bid of only $0.17. And the more the ad stands out, the more likely it is to be clicked, helping with ad quality score.

That said, the ad doesn’t give enough justification for the click, doesn’t explain enough about the product. Well, there is an easy solution for that: ad extensions.

Google Search Ad with ad extensions

(“Does Belsomra Work? Yes.” would of course link to the results of clinical trials, which I love.)

Other references work in a similar way:

Or tap into the language of other aspects of our lives. For instance: protests—since addressing pain points and expressing sympathy with the customer make for effective copywriting:

Say No To Naps Google Search Ad

But be careful. Without thinking, I used “reclaim the night,” and that’s a tasteless reference. I apologize. But things like that happen while copywriting. So keep an eye out.

occupy insomnia google search ads

I have no justification for this next one, but I thought of it and laughed:

Zzzzz's 70-90 percent off google search ad

I grew tired of the free trial offer, so turned to the savings coupon for variety (both of which are real offers on their site.) It’s always good to change up your offer, so people don’t tune it out.

Also, callout extensions are amazing.

Concision can help you stand out:

Never underestimate the power of concision.

Google search ad comparison side vs top

Questions engage the user:

Will Sleep Aids Help? Google Search Ad

Questions are a great way to draw users in. I also love the idea of using site links to create an interactive Q&A. As for where “No” takes them, create a helpful evergreen page with natural, non-medical practices that can help a person fall asleep (e.g. avoid computer and phone screens leading up to bed) and only plug Belsomra as a supplement at the end.

Humor has always been a marketer’s best friend:

Revolutionary Sleep Aid Google Search Ad

Hey, they can’t all be winners. Puns? Puns are never winners.

But this next one is the best. We can close up shop now.

Sleep Aid For Dreamers Google Search Ad

That headline, day-amn. And pretty limitless opportunities with the description copy as well.

But don’t forget to A/B test your headlines and CTAs either.

Insomnia Med for Dreamers Google Search Ad

The best part? Belsomra is known for causing vivid dreams, making these ads both engaging and accurate.

So What?

What does all this brainstorming amount to? What does it tell us?

To me, the process revealed something that shouldn’t have been surprising but was: we should treat search ads like we would any other ad copywriting.

The process takes time, requires lots of brainstorming and tinkering, and results in tons of duds. But, given enough time and effort (and a thesaurus), you will eventually hit on an idea for a great ad campaign that stands out from the pack and informs the copy of the entire lead funnel.

What we shouldn’t do is add more boring, generic ads to the already overwhelming onslaught of ads. Keep that up and more and more people will start tuning them out. Then this whole channel goes *pooft*

So treat searchers like you would TV audiences and magazine readers: entertain them, wow them, but do something beyond:

Boring insomnia ad in google search

The only people that click on that are people too lazy to scroll.