How to write ad copy that actually converts (and 3 major mistakes to avoid)

When it comes to creating ads that convert searchers into customers, many advertisers dive in to structure, testing, and more, and gloss over one of the most important elements of any campaign: copy. Your ad copy is the very basic building block of your advertising. Getting it right can be the difference between a milquetoast conversion rate and driving huge value for your clients and stakeholders.

In her session at SMX Convert, Alyssa Altman did a deep dive into writing ad copy that actually converts including understanding search engines, funnels, intent and more. Check out our recap of her popular session below:

The evolution of search engines

“Google, Microsoft, and other search engines have reversed engineered their search algorithms over time (and re-engineered them) to make sure that they are giving someone the best answer to their ‘question’ as humanly possible,” started Altman. Many pieces of information that used to exist solely on websites are being pulled directly into the search engine results (things like weather, mortgage rates, math problem answers, etc.). That means there’s a lot of competition for clicks in SERPs as a result.

The key to effective ad copy, said Altman, is to understand what your PPC copy is answering in the first place:

Questions to ask yourself about any given topic include the following: “Is someone looking for general company information? Are they doing company comparisons? Are they doing some window shopping?” said Altman. For micro-moments, “people are telling us exactly what they want, so our copy should match that request.” And, of course, some people are just ready to convert, so the ad’s copy should reflect that intent.

This is all easier said than done, right? This is why she focuses on how marketing funnels actually work and figuring out how to align intent.

The reality of funnels and intent

Ad copy that converts starts with narrowing down the funnel, instructed Altman. The traditional notion of the marketing funnel assumes the user does a search to gain awareness of solutions to a problem. From there they consider a company/solution, and then they convert.

But most paid search marketers know it’s not that simple. The conversion process is not as linear for most customers, especially given how cross-channel marketing works. “Our searches don’t actually connote what we are looking for,” said Altman. “There’s this assumption that Google or Microsoft knows what we’re thinking before we think it… but someone could type in a company name and they could be thinking two completely different things.” One person could be looking for a website while another might be looking for a contact form, for example. 

The key to remember is that there are awareness and consideration searches that happen throughout the funnel. Plus, conversion searches might happen on queries that we may not normally consider “bottom-of-the-funnel” type of searches.

”When we’re looking at the reality [of the funnel] it presents the case as to why testing needs to happen or we need to take a deep dive into why a search is happening. Not every search is created equal!” shared Altman in her session. You can have two searchers using the exact same query with completely different intent. That’s where writing PPC copy gets tricky. To determine what people actually mean when they search for something, advertisers have to test.

Testing in action

How to test ambiguous intent. When you’re not sure if your searcher is ready to purchase or just looking, you can test ad copy in a single campaign with dual ad groups and matching keyword terms. Altman also recommends using the same audience for this test. “Starting with a question or a concern that someone may have has the potential to convert at a higher rate,” recommended Altman.

The measure of which ad is doing best for this intent test is click-through rate and conversion rate. “If you’re running this test and noticing that you’re getting more downloads than form submissions than you can estimate that this query might be in the form of more general research,” she instructs. “If you’re getting way more form submissions in this split test, you can shift your messaging to be more primarily geared toward sales.”

How to test obvious intent. When you can tell that the intent is obvious, you can hone in even more and change one variable in an ad. “This testing works well when a user is explicitly telling you what that want to do. ‘I want to purchase this vehicle near me,’” said Altman. The test setup is the same except you’re doing ad variation testing within Google Ads with a 50% split. 

This can give us information about a potential customer. In this example, our lead forms can tell us, “if they’re trying to haggle another deal or they don’t understand a pricing” which we can then use as data to inform our copy, said Altman. “Understanding the content of a submission or a lead is just as important as writing the copy itself.”

Copy mistakes to avoid

If you’ve done your research, created tests to determine intent and then narrow down the messaging when you do know the intent — there still may be some hiccups in your ad copy. Here’s how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Forgetting the power of your headlines

Your headlines are prime real estate! Use them for unique identifiers, not duplicate information. For example, this ad from a university duplicates the URL in the headline. This is a waste of potential ad copy that could catch a searcher’s eye or convince them to click through on your ad versus a competitor.

Mistake 2: Obvious keyword stuffing

It can be tempting to repeat your main keyword(s) multiple times in your headlines, descriptions and extensions. Altman recommends only doing this if it makes sense in the context of the ad. Quality Score takes your keywords into account as a diagnostic tool for recommendations for improvement. Its three main components are: 

  1. Expected CTR
  2. Ad Relevance
  3. Landing Page Experience

A headline like this doesn’t make sense for this query and likely won’t lead to a conversion — just a wasted click.

Mistake 3: Inconsistency from search > ad > landing page

Ensure that not only the search term is included in your ad and landing page content, but it addresses the larger picture. If you’re paying for a search term, make sure your process is setup for success. In Altman’s example below, we can see that when people search for “primary care doctor near me” a relevant headline is key, but so is a customized landing page experience. 

Taking this searcher to a page that highlights services related to that query will be more likely to lead to a conversion than just taking them to the home page and letting them figure it out on their own.

Next steps

Altman recommended ​​understanding what you are specifically testing before looking to set up an experiment. Testing intent vs. the winning messaging are two very different paths to go down. Clearly identifying what your end goal is will help to drive your upfront testing strategy. 

When testing copy, make it worth testing. Use power words like “free, special offer, now available, in stock, etc.” or emotional calls-to-action such as “explore with us, speak to a person, etc.” to really analyze what messaging has a stronger appeal and why.

Finally, Altman said that advertisers should make sure they have enough data to run a proper test when it comes to copy. Timeframes for testing mean nothing if an activity doesn’t occur during that predetermined frame. For example, if a 50% split test is occurring, aim for 100-200 clicks before starting to analyze your data.

Want to see the full session? Check out all of SMX Convert here on demand.


About The Author

Carolyn Lyden serves as the Director of Search Content for Search Engine Land and SMX. With expertise in SEO, content marketing, local search, and analytics, she focuses on making marketers’ jobs easier with important news and educational content.

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