Web Marketing Today

PPC Basics: Part 5. Ad Copy Development and Testing

When it comes to a successful PPC campaign, few elements are as important as ad copy. Ad copy is a lot like a storefront in a mall — if it’s attractive, people will come in, and if it’s not, they won’t.

PPC ad copy is really brief — 95 characters if you’re using AdWords. It may seem challenging to say everything you want to say about your product or service in that small amount of space. In fact, the small amount of space is what makes ad copy testing so critical, and so effective.

Articles in This Series

Step 1: Goal-Setting

It’s important to stay mindful of your business goals during every step of the PPC setup process. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the creativity of writing ad copy. After all, this is where you really get to show off your marketing and advertising expertise.

Be careful not to get ahead of yourself, though. Even the most creative ad copy will not be effective in generating traffic and conversions if it doesn’t align with business goals. So spend a few minutes jotting down what you want to achieve from your PPC campaign, whether it’s an increase in online sales, generating leads, encouraging e-mail signups, or something else.

Step 2: Review your ad groups and keywords

In Part 2 of this series, we talked about using keyword research to set up ad groups based on themes. Now, you’re going to start creating ads for each ad group in your PPC campaign. Get out your spreadsheet of ad groups and keywords, and really think about each ad group and its goal.

Step 3: Write the call to action first

As you’re looking at each ad group, think about what you want searchers to do once they get to your website. For example, we talked in Part 2 about “men’s running shoes.” The goal of this ad group is to get people to “buy men’s running shoes.” That’s your call to action! Later in this article, we’ll talk about testing the specific wording of each call to action, since the exact wording can make a big difference in your results. For now, write down a simple sentence or phrase that sums up what you want people to do for each ad group.

Step 4: Research the competition

Now it’s time to take a look at what others are doing. While I don’t recommend simply duplicating a competitor’s ad copy, keywords, or other strategies, it’s important to remember that your ads don’t appear in a vacuum. Unlike many other forms of traditional advertising, PPC ads are served by relevance — which means your ads will display alongside those of your direct competition. That’s why it’s critical to see what you are competing with and make sure your ad copy stands out from the rest.

Competitor research can be done with specialized software tools, but it’s easy to just perform a few searches on your most important keywords. It’ll become quite clear who the competitors are, and what they are saying in their ads. Tip: Use a “clean” browser for this: Clear your cache and cookies after each search. Otherwise, personalized search will start to kick in, which will affect the ads you’ll see.

As you’re reviewing competitor ads, take notes. I like to copy and paste the complete ads into an Excel spreadsheet, which I can use later for analysis. Note the headlines, calls to action, and any special pricing or offers.

Step 5: Determine your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Ideally, if you’ve been doing business for a while, you’ll already know what it is about your business that makes it unique. Is it free shipping, guaranteed lowest prices, an exclusive offer, or something else? Make a note of your USP — you’ll want to incorporate it into your ad copy whenever possible.

Step 6: Start writing your ads

Now, the fun begins! Gather up all of your work from the first 5 steps in the process, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and find a quiet spot where you can really let your creativity take off. For each ad group in your campaign, you’ll be writing at least 2 ad variations — ideally, I’d like you to create 5 or 6. While there is really no “right” or “wrong” way to write ad copy, here are a few best practices:

  1. Why should someone click on your ad? This is where your USP comes in. You can use your USP as the ad headline, the call to action, or whatever — but make sure it gets into the copy somewhere.
  2. Create a sense of urgency. Remember, your competitors’ ads are displayed right next to yours. If you have a special price, a limited time offer, or an online exclusive, say so in the ad. Often this will be the trigger to get someone to take action on your ad by clicking and, ideally, converting.
  3. Include the price and any free shipping info, if applicable. If you are selling something online, it’s usually best to include the price in your ad copy. Even if your prices are higher than your competitors, stating the price up front will prevent people from clicking on your ad with the sole purpose of seeing how much the item costs.
  4. Include keywords in your ad copy whenever possible. To use the “men’s running shoes” example, your ad should include the phrase “men’s running shoes.” The ad headline might say “Buy Men’s Running Shoes.”

Step 7: Create an ad testing matrix

This sounds more complicated than it really is. A testing matrix is simply a systematic way to plan your ad copy tests in advance. While it takes a bit of time at the start, it will save time in the long run and enable you to learn as much as you can from your copy tests.

Get out the Excel spreadsheet containing your ad groups, keywords, and ad copy variations. Arrange the variations as logically as you can: I like to sort them by headline tests, call to action tests, copy description tests, etc. By setting up your matrix this way, you can test one headline against another, for instance, and learn which performs better. Then on the next round of testing, you can test a different call to action, and so on.

By using a testing matrix, rather than just randomly testing whatever copy comes to mind, you’ll be able to truly learn what works for your PPC campaigns.

Step 8: Track, measure, and repeat

It’s probably clear by now that the whole point of ad copy testing is to figure out the specific wording that will bring you the best return on investment for your PPC dollar. In order to measure results, you’ll need to use some type of conversion tracking.

Ideally, you already have web analytics set up. But you can track PPC without web analytics, if necessary. Both Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter/Yahoo have free conversion tracking scripts available for their advertisers.

I recommend using the free PPC conversion tracking even if you also use web analytics tracking. First of all, it’s convenient to have conversion data available to view as you are working in each PPC interface — you’ll be able to quickly see what is working and what isn’t, and adjust accordingly. Second, the free tracking serves as a redundancy that can alert you to issues with your web analytics. I’ve seen instances where tracking codes for one analytics system or another get erased during a site update, and suddenly I can see conversions in the PPC channels, but not in web analytics. This enables you as an advertiser to short-circuit any tracking lapses and make sure everything is properly installed.

And, of course, the tracking tells you which of your ads are working. Set up a schedule to review your ad copy tests: the exact timing will depend on how much traffic you get, but you should be reviewing results monthly at a minimum. Use a statistical tool (I like SplitTester) to tell you which ad is the statistical winner. Pause all but the winning ad and move on to the next ad in your testing matrix.

By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to reaping the rewards of PPC ad copy testing! In my next article, I’ll talk about PPC bid management.


Melissa Mackey
Melissa Mackey
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