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The High Priesthood of Ad Copy

Ad Copy Optimization.jpgadwords_screen_2_post.jpg


Recently I stumbled upon an interesting difference of opinions on the importance of ad copy between the experts in this community. To state the obvious the opinions of AdWords experts in this community are to be taken seriously. Those are expert opinions I’ve come to respect, yet some of which are quite different from mine. See the discussion here. 


Personally, I place utmost importance on Google AdWords ad copy. On a scale of 1 to 10, ad copy gets a 10 from me.


There are other things of importance on a prospect’s path to purchase. There are other 10s out there. But I believe in the special nature of the Google "search ads moment.”


The time stands still at that moment. Well, it’s when the time stands still for only a moment Smiley Happy.


That moment is when a prospect may pause their high speed pursuit of instant answers to read a few ads at the top of SERPs chosen algorithmically by Google's Hummingbird also and more recently Rank Brain machine learning artificial intelligence engine and will make a subjective decision to click one of them. Or not to click. Once a choice is made and acted upon, the path to purchase usually speeds up again, with perhaps another brief pause to scan and read advertiser's website pages.


So the searchers first asks Google something like “Is your brand/product/service going to solve my immediate need at a right price or the right quality?” or “what’s so special about brand/product/service and how will it solve my issue?” Smiley Happy And then momentarily pauses to read the answer. That moment is ridiculously important in my opinion. It is the moment when I, a PPC person writing the ad for the brand, am in charge of influencing a prospect's consideration.


And while some searchers automatically click the #1 result, others do take a moment to ponder their choices of ads and organic results. Those searchers matter a whole lot more than we think. They are not an overwhelming majority, but there's enough of them. Check out this Nielsen study of SERP clicks, which concluded: "there is a strong bias in favor of clicking the top link, though not so strong that link quality is irrelevant." I believe that the same logic holds for the ad clicking behavior. People do stop to consider. 


If I -or any other PPC person- wrote an ad that states something like “Acme Inc makes great product/service, which solves the following purposes,” a searcher may be a tad underwhelmed to click. Despite my ad addressing the value proposition and a benefit. And even though the brand/product/service that I am advertising may actually objectively be the best fit for what they need!


It is my prospects’ emotional nature that governs their decision to click. Influenced by my choice of words, or an imperceptible deviation from the core search inquiry in a claim my ad copy makes, an irrational mood they are in; or could be the way that words string together on a mobile device. Can be anything really. The nature of purchase decision-making contains many “if - then” scenarios.  


A prospect may be persuaded that they are making a rational decision based on thorough research, but they are only human. Ad copy quality (amongst other things) can easily influence their decision. What else to wish for as an AdWords professional than for that influencer ad to be mine? Nothing really!


Having said that, high-quality copy does not mean a Shakespeare-esque literary exercise, it sometimes just means higher relevance match to the [derived] search intent.


Whatever makes them tick, I am certain that an experience with copy is a big part of what makes them click.


How do I know? I myself have hovered over an ad in position #1, almost clicked it, read it, and moved on to the ad #2 or #3 a thousand times. That’s how! There is plenty of other ads to click on Google Smiley Happy. Sometimes I moved on to an entirely new search altogether.


Having specialized in AdWords for a while, I am conscious of how often that happens. It happens enough times to suggest that there are [sometimes subtle] copy clues that may deter us from or induce clicking. And there are prospects who actually read the ads closely, then choose the one ad that addresses their concern -a.k.a purchase intent- the best.


The importance of loosing “only a click” cannot be underestimated. A click as an action does not mean much, it can be easily reversed with a back button. A click is also a signal of purchase consideration, or of brand affinity. Those are the deeper signals of special meaning, indicating higher stakes for both the prospect and the brand.


A click is not only a single outcome of an ad auction sending signals to Google aggregating those signals into a self-perfecting algorithm. A lost click may also become a lost prospect. Chances are that a competitor is going to have a decent landing page if they managed to beat me in an auction.


Even if my landing page matches their search intent precisely, offers streamlined, pleasant and overall perfect user experience (plus sings and dances to boot) - they’ll never know it. Because a competitor’s page only needs to be good enough to keep the prospect from considering mine! If I lost a click, I may have lost a prospect as well.


That’s something my client cannot really afford. My client needs to capture the attention of prospects searching for them on Google. Some searches indicate intent to purchase clear as day. My client’s livelihood depends on being considered for those clicks.


All this explains why I consider ad copy the most important part of AdWords equation (along with some other factors high on the totem pole). I believe ad copy needs to be carefully crafted and usually spend long hours on it.


Nielsen Norman Group conducted plenty of research tracking what people look at - as opposed to click on- on web pages as well as on SERPs results. Here is a link to one of the latest summaries that were published in 2013, but are still relevant today. They summarize their findings as follows:


Summary: When web content helps users focus on sections of interest, users switch from scanning to actually reading the copy.  




“..our eyetracking data also detected a third ingredient for converting users from scanners to readers: high-quality writing.”


So I spend long hours crafting ad copy into some semblance of “high quality writing” as much as possible. While often times it doesn’t need to be anything extraordinary, I try to include qualitative descriptions in an ad with the following broad examples:


“we’ll get you places quicker,” or

“guarantee to satisfy your cravings faster,” or

“cater to your needs with an unparalleled degree of expertise,” or

safely resolve the issue at hand with a long-term guarantee.”


My #1 rule to follow in ad copy:


Introducing an emotionally appealing characteristic, a "third dimension" in addition to the benefit and value into the ad copy supplies the differentiating factor that helps achieve highest CTRs


Nothing earth shattering, no F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leo Tolstoy or Paulo Coelho in my ads.


But there needs to be enough time spent on understanding the search intent enough to beat the next best ad out there by appealing to the human nature of searches addressing their fears, hesitations and concerns with best copy quality possible given the nature of AdWords management.

about Julia Muller

Marketer by education and experience since 2000 with extensive experience on the agency and client side both.

January 2017

Fantastic Article Julia.  Thanks for writing it up.  I learned a few new things.



Julia_Muller Top Contributor
January 2017 - last edited January 2017

Thanks @Tony_Guo. Is ad copy still a 5 for you? Smiley Happy



Mark H Badged Google Partner
January 2017

Yay for ad copy!

Julia_Muller Top Contributor
January 2017 - last edited January 2017

Hey, @Mark H! How about you? How does ad copy rank for you?

January 2017

Thank you @Julia_Muller great article. do you know any resources for writing great ad copy?

Mark H Badged Google Partner
January 2017
Ad copy is the single biggest driver of revenue for clients. So, it's the
biggest thing I personally focus on. Ad copy testing all the way down to RoI has
been very beneficial. If we're going on a rank of 1 to 10, I'd go with 10 as
Julia_Muller Top Contributor
January 2017 - last edited January 2017

Hi @Zaby,


I have learned to write ad copy from experience, iteration and seeing what gets them clicking. Plus from experts' advice.


What I do is I set a certain CTR blue sky goal per account and continue to optimize ad copy (along with other elements) until I reach that goal. For search ads with substantial traffic my personal record is 12% account average with thousands of impressions per month. But I also had client accounts that just can't have a higher than 3% CTR average for numeours reasons. So, I optimize ads that are underperforming per average within an account. As long as there is enough impressions data for an ad and the CTR is not up to my stadards, I keep optimizing. That is the best teacher. I reference auction insights reports to learn who my competition is and then reference 3rd party software to learn how the competing ad copy looks as well. 



I also learned from many talented search marketing professionals over the years. Amongst them

  • Joanna Wiebe of copyhackers puts out the most amount of inspirational copy (not just ad copy, but all copy) advise (one of my favorites here).
  • Another person I've gotten many an ad copy advise and inspiration over the years from is Frederick Vallaeyes (good example here).
  • Search Engine Land covers that topic as well (example here).
  • As mentioned above my favorite method is to learn what works for ad copy writing is by optimizing ads in the account. In my experience AdWords HeartlovesHeart new ads.

NOTE: Please note that all the links I posted here will open in a new window and they are links to articles published outside of this community. Therefore, they will navigate you away from here.

Julia_Muller Top Contributor
January 2017

Awwww. I am glad we see eye to eye on that @Mark H Smiley Happy