You have a lot to say to potential customers. You need to grab their attention, notify them of promotions and special offers, position yourself as a part of their lifestyle, and drive them to convert -- all while reinforcing your brand image.
But in the world of paid search, you have a limited amount of space in which to accomplish all of this. Many times I've stared at my screen, rearranging words and rewriting copy to nudge my message under than 70 characters (71 if you're being pedantic, or using Yahoo).
Given these restrictions, there are four keys to drafting effective paid search ads:
1. Don't Try to Cram Everything into a Single Ad
It's almost impossible to fit your branding message, the product you're pushing, your free shipping offer, and all the other things your client/boss insists you include into one ad. Instead, draft multiple variations: an evergreen branding ad, another that touts your current promotion, and another that encourages e-mail signups. Focus each ad on a specific goal that you can track.
One of the major benefits of all major PPC platforms is the ability to test ad copy with your audience and get the results quickly. Load multiple ads, let them rotate, and then examine their performance. Track every metric you can think of -- see which ad leads to the best conversion rate, the highest order value, the most discounted merchandise purchased. Then you'll have a suite of options you can swap out to adapt to any goal.
2. Speak Your Audience's Language
You know your customer demographics. You've probably combed through dozens of sites and networks for your display media campaigns looking for just the right fit to speak to your customer. But are you speaking their language in your paid search ads?
Is your customer interested in long-term value? Write ads that call out the quality of your product. Is your customer concerned with social status? Tell them that they'll be the envy of the town after they buy from you.
Is your customer a 14-year-old girl? Write an ad with "OMG!" in the copy. You may have trouble sneaking that last one by your branding department, but I've seen that exact example outperform all of the other ads in a teen-focused campaign!
3. Use Adjectives to Pre-qualify Your Traffic
Let's approach this tactic in a slightly roundabout way by examining one of the primary differences between offline and online advertising programs: the cost model.
In traditional offline advertising, your entire budget for a campaign is spent (or at least spoken for) before the campaign goes live. The usual goal is to get the ad in front of a large number of potential customers and drive as high a percentage as possible "through the door."
Quantity is the name of the game because your total cost is the same whether 10 or 100,000 people respond to the ad. Offline advertising is much more focused on "opportunities" (the number of people who saw the ad) and "engagement" (the number of people who responded in some way).
In the online world, where "opportunities" equal impressions and "engagement" equals clicks, there's a much more important third metric: conversion rate. In the PPC space, you're paying for every customer your ad brings to your site, and quality of traffic is vastly more important than quantity.
This challenge is offset by the online advertiser's ability to target their ads in so many ways -- search queries, geographic location, demographic information, page content, and so on. What most people don't consider is that your PPC ad copy is another fantastic opportunity for you to target your advertising spend. You don't want just anyone clicking on that ad -- you want to focus your budget on customers who are likely to convert.
This may sound simplistic, but it is too often overlooked. If you don't sell men's clothing, make sure you ad specifies "Women's apparel." If you sell luxury home décor, make sure your ads contain high-brow words like "luxury" and "décor."
An ad that reads "shop for tables at our site" will result in visits from far too wide an audience. Don't waste money on a click from a broke college student looking to furnish their first apartment, when that can be avoided by carefully considering the adjectives in your ad copy.
4. Keep it Simple
Despite years of testing hundreds of ad variations, there's one basic ad that time and time again drives the best results for my e-commerce campaigns:
"Shop for (product) at (site)."
No fancy promos, no wacky attention-grabbing gimmicks, no exclamation marks -- just a calm, definitive statement that informs the customer that they've found what they're looking for. While I fully believe in testing, testing, and then testing some more, this basic ad is always one of the versions live in all of my campaigns.
In closing, here's something to consider:
Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story using just six words, and is said to have called it his best work. The story, in its entirety: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
As a paid search advertising nerd, I can't help but notice that this story is not only six words long, but it's also just 33 characters. In less than half of the space allotted to a paid search ad, Hemingway was able to capture the reader's imagination and evoke an emotional response. With twice as much room, we can surely compose an epic, or at least write some effective ads!