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Ad-Writing Tips From the Trenches – A New Formulaic Way to Write AdWords Ads

Over the years, I’ve seen and written some pretty out-there ads for AdWords. I’ve quite literally seen millions of those tiny ads flash by as variation upon variation has been tested and paused, fine-tuned and disposed of. For years, it was incredibly difficult to write an AdWords ad. We had to grab attention, sell the benefits and provide a call-to-action all within the 95 character limit. To further complicate things, Google pretty much ensured that the search term was a mandatory element of the ad with the introduction of quality score and the bolding of search terms in the ads. For the most part, one of those elements always suffered as a result.


Doing this job for almost half my life now, I still have not come across the perfect ad that can fit inside 95 characters and tick all the technical and non-technical requirement boxes. In this article, I’m going to outline what has changed to make this easier, and offer some tips for you to throw into your own ad-writing sprint.


Testing Tips


Before we continue, I need to make a point about testing. You should never take what you read online regarding AdWords copywriting as gospel. Every audience responds differently. Subsets of each audience respond differently again. It’s important to try out new ideas in a controlled fashion to see what works for you, what your audience responds to and what matches the goals of your organization.


At Redlfy, we work with some businesses who only care about the messaging in their ads. They have no interest in the cost-benefit trade-off of simply putting in the messaging they want without consideration for the technical limitations and requirements. It’s up to you, the person writing the AdWords ads, to make sure that they’re being tested effectively and that a suitable balance is found between the marketing department's required messaging and what the users actually respond to (CTR & quality score).



Testing doesn’t have to be complicated, either. You can go the campaign experiments route if you like, but we like to do it a little simpler until we’re really trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Instead of setting up controls and experiments and complicating things, all you really need to do is have at least two ads running in each ad group and give them enough time. After the ads have accrued a certain amount of impressions and clicks, you can pause the poorest performing one and introduce another idea to test against the winner.


If you want to make it even easier on yourself, what we like to do is have an ad-writing spring every week. Throw as many ad variations as possible into each Ad Group and simply change the rotation settings to Optimize For Clicks. This is super handy as it essentially takes care of all the deciding and pausing. Couple this with a script that pauses the poorest performing ads, and you’ve got as automated a system as you’re going to get! Of course, at some point, you’re going to want to try campaign experiments to really fine tune things. But for the heavy lifting, this will do.  


pause non performers.png


A Change in Focus


The biggest change in how AdWords works over the past decade, in my opinion, has been the introduction of extensions. Extensions completely changed the common knowledge about AdWords and how to best squeeze everything out of those 95-character ads. Back in the day, people would share their experiments and best practices but lately, I don’t see people sharing how to best optimize in a post-extension world. Maybe it’s anecdotal, but I still see people following best practices in ad copy writing that are over 10 years old and past their prime. I blame outdated ebooks and celebrity marketers who’ve long since moved on. But I digress. Writing an effective ad is actually a lot easier these days as many of the stricter space limitations have been eased up on somewhat.


Ad Extensions



I’m pretty sure that ad extension uptake was so slow because they were released incrementally, individually and over a long period of time. However, we’ve reached a point where ad extensions are as fundamental a part of an AdWords ad as the headline. It pains me to see how many are still not using them. At our AdWords Agency, an AdWords ad is not complete unless it has ALL relevant extensions added. Not only should they be added, they should also be rotated and tested like the standard part of the text ad I mentioned above.


An Unofficial Standard Formula


I believe that over the years, Google took on a lot of feedback, and probably noticed the frustration in the limitations of standard text ads themselves. After all, they did use their own product for the same reasons their customers did. Little by little, Google started giving us advertisers a little more room and flexibility with our messages. Now, an ad in the first position can have up to 400% more real estate than just a standard text ad and hundreds of % more characters to work with. As I mentioned in my previous article on how to improve your click through rate, squeezing the keyword, the benefits and the call-to-action into the standard ad is no longer essential. With extensions, Google has given us the opportunity to split the burden. There’s also a pretty effective “standard” that we work with that achieves this. The usual caveat of “make sure you test this for yourself” applies here, but this is what has worked REALLY well for our clients.


We effectively split the responsibilities of the ad into two using a modified standard AIDA model.


  • The Attention, The Interest, The Action
  • The Desire, The Interest, The Action (again)

So whereas before we had the Attention, Interest, Desire and Action crammed into the standard ad, now we’ve a little more room to play around.


aida.jpgCredit to For An Excellent Job HereThis ad format of fulfills all the technical requirements of an ad as well as all the well-known emotional and psychological elements. We now don’t have to pick 2 out of 3. Instead, we’ve got 5 out of 4.

The additional call to action is important here. If the ad does not a high enough rank , the second call-to-action will not show because the extension that it’s in does not show. Our research and experience has shown that it’s better to have an ad without a desire/benefit than it is an ad without a call to action. The interest can usually cover enough of the desire in a basic text ad to get you by.


Try It


Have a go at implementing this formula for yourself. Of course, if you’re not using Ad Extensions at all, that needs to be your first step, even before you read the end of this article. However, if you’re using them already, test this new formulaic approach. Make sure you keep the testing of the standard text ads using “automatically optimize for clicks” (essentially letting Google do the split testing for you) and remember that there’s no rotation option for extensions, so make sure you check them regularly to see which ones are performing and which need to be removed. Be ruthless. I think what your customers respond to will surprise you and I think the results of implementing this might surprise you too.


Join us for more articles in this series this week where we’ll be discussing more ways that you can hone your ad writing skills to improve your CTR and account performance.

about Dave Davis

Skydiving and travel obsessed. Director of digital marketing agency Redfly, based in Dublin, Ireland. An marketing agency that specializes in AdWords management, Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.