The Most Important Element of PPC Ad Copy

One of my favorite tasks is writing PPC ad copy. I love the challenge of squeezing as much goodness as I can into 90 characters. I guess it’s in my blood after all these years of writing short, concise ad copy.

Recently, I was asked, “What’s the most important element of PPC ad copy? Is it the headline, the first description line, or what?” Of course, my kneejerk response was “It depends,” which is really the answer to just about any question related to PPC.

Still, the question got me thinking. Is there one element of PPC ad copy that’s more important than others in most cases?

If I had to give only one answer, I’d say the headline. After all, it’s the only part of a PPC ad that’s underlined, and if you include keywords in your headline, they’ll be bolded:

headline

But as I look at the ads in that screen shot, I start to think that other elements might be equally important.

Sitelinks

Surprisingly, the first ad on the page above isn’t using sitelinks, but the other two are. The Amazon sitelinks are great – they’re all relevant to the category (Kitchen & Dining, Small Appliances, Kitchen Tools & Gadgets) and season (Off to College). Target falls down a bit by focusing entirely on college back to school. The Magic Bullet is a product I’d be interested in, but I’m long past the college dorm move-in days.

Still, the use of sitelinks takes up more screen real estate, so that’s an important element.

Reviews

See how the review extension makes the Amazon ad stand out? Those nice red 4.5 stars are visually appealing to say the least. If you qualify for review extensions, they’re definitely important.

Call Extensions

2 of the 3 ads above include phone numbers. One of them is relatively local – although Jackson, MI is at least 30 minutes away from me, and there’s a Target within 10 miles. Still, the phone number can be another important element of a PPC ad, in addition to a great way to boost conversions.

Location Extensions

That Target ad also includes a location extension. While these make ads stand out on the page, I hesitate to say they’re the most important element because most advertisers cannot track in-store sales back to a PPC ad. And in the case of this ad, even if I decided to buy at Target, I wouldn’t drive half an hour to that Target – I’d go to the Target closer to me. Either way, location extensions do help ads to stand out.

All of these elements are great, but you have to be in a premium position to take advantage of most of them. What about when your ad ends up in the right rail, like some of the ads below?

right rail

When ads appear in the right rail, you have fewer options. And of course you don’t have control over whether your ad shows up on the top or the right. So you need to make your ad copy work no matter where on the page it happens to appear.

This is where basic ad copywriting comes into play. A good headline, ideally with the keyword included, is going to be critical. Including the keyword in the body of the ad is also important. But are other elements just as important?

Call to Action

A lot of advertisers forget to include a strong call to action at the end of the ad copy. That’s usually a mistake. It’s a good idea to tell searchers what you want them to do when they get to the landing page – and ideally it’ll be to convert: buy something, download a report, etc. So I’d have to say that the call to action is nearly as important, or maybe even more important, than the headline.

Copywriting Tips and Tricks

There are a few tricks that I’ve learned that work no matter where in the ad they appear. One is the word “free.” “Free” is the magic word when it comes to PPC. People absolutely love it, and ads with the word “free” are almost always going to get better results than ads without.

Another element is just a single character: the exclamation point. You’ll notice that ads across verticals, even in B2B verticals like the above example that tend to avoid marketing hype, use exclamations. There’s a good reason for that – it works.

I’ve run tests where the ads were identical except that one had an exclamation and one didn’t. The ad with an exclamation way outperformed the ad without.

So What’s The Answer?

You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? The most important element of PPC ad copy is the element that drives the best results, of course!

What’s your take? Is the headline the end-all? The call to action? Something I didn’t list? Share in the comments!

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The Dos and Don’ts of PPC Testing, Or, “Days Are Not Data”

Last week, I wrote about the new Adwords option to optimize for conversions, and I talked a bit about testing principles. In my experience, PPC testing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of PPC. I’m always surprised by how many advertisers don’t test at all – which is, to be blunt, a huge missed opportunity. Yet many advertisers just put one ad variation into each ad group and let it go, never knowing whether it’s really the best variation or not. Wouldn’t you rather know what ad message generates the most traffic & conversions for your money?

I’ve also frequently seen inexperienced advertisers overreact to normal daily variations in performance. Even the best-managed campaign will have ups and downs on any given day; traffic, conversions, CTR, and any other metric can vary, sometimes wildly, on a day to day basis.

At a recent SES, my good friend Andrew Goodman made what was probably an offhand comment in one of his presentations, yet it stuck with me because it was so profound and true: “Days are not data.”

I love it – it’s brilliant. And true. You don’t need to be a statistician to realize that day-to-day fluctuations do not represent statistical significance in any way. Yet I regularly hear from clients, and even PPC managers-in-training, when results go up or down in a day’s time. These fluctuations, especially at the keyword level, should almost never be cause for alarm.

So how do you know when you have meaningful data? Here are some rules of thumb, based on best practices and years of experience.

Look at a large enough set of data.

If an ad group or keyword got 2 clicks yesterday and 10 clicks today, I can tell you right now that you don’t need to worry about it. Not only are the total numbers too small to be significant, at a minimum you should be looking at week over week data. I’ve written about dayparting recently, and the whole premise behind dayparting is that performance varies from day to day. So don’t make any judgments until you have at least a full week of data, if not more.

Another good rule of thumb is to make sure your data set has at least 100 clicks. You may need more than a week to amass that much info. Be patient – it’s worth the wait to know you’re looking at significant data.

Don’t guess – use statistical tools.

At SMX Advanced last year, I spoke about evaluating PPC tests using SuperSplitTester, which is my favorite easy-to-use statistical tool. But you don’t have to use that one. Just use any tool – but make sure to run the numbers and don’t guess. I’ve used SuperSplitTester enough to guess the winning ad correctly a lot of the time, but not all the time. Don’t guess – your clients and/or employer will thank you.

Evaluate test data systematically.

Yeah, that sounds like a stats prof talking, but what I really mean is set a schedule to review test data, and stick with it. We’ve found that a monthly review is enough for most advertisers when you’re talking about ad tests – even our high-volume clients often don’t reach statistical significance before a full month has passed. Having a set schedule to follow not only ensures the work will get done, but also ensures that the test periods are relatively similar from month to month.

And if you’re really freaked out, only change 1-2 things at once.

One of our clients recently shifted their business goals and strategy, which required a pretty big shift in their PPC campaigns, as well. We launched 3 new campaigns all at once. (I don’t always advise this, but in this case it made the most sense.) When I checked it the day after launch, spend had gone through the roof. Like a good PPC tester, I didn’t panic – but I did lower the campaign daily budgets a bit, just to improve my comfort level. What I didn’t do is go in and start pausing keywords and ad variations, and making a bunch of bid changes – it’s too early for that. The point is, if you’re freaked out, do make a couple changes, but then give it at least a couple days to gauge the effect.

Using systematic, smart testing processes will really pay off in PPC campaign success, I promise!

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