Writing Effective Search Engine Ads

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference in Boston, MA, March 4-6, 2003.

Relevancy is the name of the game when it comes to copywriting for paid listings, not only for your potential customers, but increasingly to meet the stringent requirements of the search engines themselves. In the Writing Search Engine Ads session in Boston, search engine representatives and marketers discussed how to improve advertising click and conversion rates through targeted ad listings.

Including your keyword to the title and description of your listing can increase your click-through rate by 50%, according to Dana Baker, editor-in-chief for Overture. This could also make your listing more relevant to Overture editors, helping you reduce your "rejection" rate. Currently, about 30% of all listings submitted to Overture are rejected.

Relevant listings are not only rewarded with more clicks from consumers on Google's AdWords program, but also with a higher position. This program considers an advertiser's per-click bid multiplied by the click-through rate (CTR) of the listing when determining an ad's position.

David Fischer, Google AdWords manager, pointed out how Google enables advertisers to optimize their ad copy and achieve a higher CTR, which can in turn lower costs. Google allows advertisers to set up as many different versions of an ad as they'd like for a given keyword or set of keywords. The AdWords system then rotates those ads each time the advertiser's keyword is triggered, allowing advertisers to compare the performance of their listings and turn off the ones that aren't performing as well as the others.

But relevancy shouldn't stop at the paid listing. The message shared in the advertisement should continue on the landing pagewhich should not be your home page. It's best to direct consumers to a specially-designed page for each ad listing (or a group of them), because 96% of people prefer a direct path over a home page, according to Baker. So, search engine listings attract visitors, and landing pages convert them into customers.

Evaluating which listings convert is the crucial step in campaign analysis. Misty Locke, co-founder and executive vice president of Range Online Media, revealed that assuming ROI (return on investment) by campaign components such as keywords "can never be guessed." Even the most seasoned online and offline marketers are often stunned at what actually attracts customers to their Web sites. Locke pointed out that due to the unpredictability of online consumer behavior, advertisers need to look beyond traffic statistics and track conversion data. And advertisers can keep in mind that paid listings help achieve brand awareness too.

Andrew Goodman, principal of Page Zero Media Inc., echoed the importance of tracking paid listings by ROI over CTR. He recommended that advertisers analyze their campaigns at a granular level. Keywords, titles, descriptions and landing pages are ingredients that contribute to search engine marketing success, so each component should be evaluated within the campaign. Deep tracking allows advertisers to weed out the non-performing parts of paid listing efforts to make the overall campaign more profitable.

Writing ad copy for search engine listings is not about knowing the "right" formula. However, following the copywriting guidelines gets an advertiser's listings approved by tough search engine editors, and in front of consumers' eyeballs. Then the customers will show advertisers which messages persuade them to click, shop and buy.

Catherine Seda is a search engine expert who offers in-house training and a free newsletter on search engine advertising.

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