Paid Search Ad Copy Research Study

Oct 25, 2010 by

In early 2008, the AdGooroo research team set out to create an algorithm which could identify the top performing ads in any industry without relying upon panel data or having access to competitors campaign reports. The algorithm was refined and patented.  Using it, they analyzed over 5,500 popular keywords to determine what techniques the best search copywriters were using to boost their clickthrough rates. Thier findings are outlined below.

Why Study Ad Copy?
Because no comprehensive study of PPC ad copy has ever been published (to the best of our knowledge).

While countless articles have been written on this subject, no one has (to our knowledge) assembled a database of ad copy to determine what, if any, best practices can be gleaned from analyzing this data systematically.

They set out to do just this. They structured their study with two goals in mind. First, they wanted to identify the most effective ads currently being displayed on Google. Second, they wanted to examine these ads to determine if there were general rules that search marketers could follow to write better ads.

The best way to measure an ad’s effectiveness is to simultaneously measure its clickthrough rate against other ads, keeping average position and keyword the same. However, this is a challenging task due to a lack of publicly available clickthrough rate data.

They solved this problem by relying only on measurements that could be easily observed and standardized across keyword and position. If these measurements are chosen properly, they should serve as a suitable proxy for clickthrough rate data. It is then a simple matter to apply them to a historical archive to determine the most effective ad copy.

A database containing most of the world’s ad copy was readily available via AdGooroo. They devised a complex algorithm that analyzes past impression data to determine which ads are the most effective. This method eliminates about 95% of the ads which they know aren’t top performers. The remaining ads can then be easily split tested to optimize your clickthrough rate.

How you can use this special report. 
They’ve included a list of these 17 general best practices:

#1. Include keyword phrase in ad title
Many of the top ads include the keyword phrase within the title of the ad. In their database, nearly 33% of the ads had an exact match between the search phrase and ad title.

Higher clickthrough rates result not only from the ad more accurately reflecting the searcher’s intention, but also due to the fact that matching keywords are bolded in the ad, thus drawing more attention to it.

#2. Include the price somewhere in your ad
15% of the top ads in their database contained the price. Of these, the price occured most often in Line 1 (52%), followed by Line 2 (39%) and title (15%). The vast majority of these ads offered low priced goods under $20.

#3. Include a “call to action”
Including a “call to action” phrase is a commonly used tactic in high-CTR ads. They found phrases such as the following in 29.1% of ads:

•Get official quote now!
•Join now for free!
•Shop now & save
•Learn more today
•Search flights now
•Get Tips at AOL Body!
•Order today for quick delivery!
•Request free info!
•Read this.

#4. Try exclamation points in Line 1 or 2
Did you know Google allows exclamation points in ads? They do, but not in the title (which is why many people mistakenly believe Google doesn’t allow them). This tactice seems to work. 34% of the top ads in their database contained exclamation points in Line 1 or Line 2 (only 1 ad contained it in the title, presumably because Google disallows this).

#5. Squeeze more text in using ampersands
Space is at premium when writing ads, so every character counts. Replacing the word “and” with an ampersand (“&”) is an effective way to get two more characters when you really need it. Ampersands were found in 27% of ads, which indicates that this technique does not seem to hurt clickthrough rates.

#6. Trademark Symbols
Trademark symbols (™, ©, ®) may be required for legal reasons, but they should be tested to see if they can improve clickthrough rates. These unusual characters occurred in only 2.1% of ads. They frequently appear next to company or product names which match one or more words of the search phrase.

#7. Use Specific Numbers
All full 41% of ads contained at least one number. These were most commonly found in “shop” ads such as:

50th birthday gift ideas
A free service to help you find
creative 50th Birthday Gifts.

Or “buy” ads, like:

Save 45% On Abrasives
Grind & Cut Wheels, Discs, Belts
Quality Same Day Ship On Stock Item

#8. Capitalization
Although they were not able to pull up specific percentages to compare ads with proper capitalization (first letter and proper names only) vs. those with which capitalized every word, it was very clear that capitalizing every word is a common ad copy tactic. You should test this technique in your ads.

They also found ads which made creative use of capitalization in the title (“WOW Big Sale!”). These ads draw the eye, yet don’t appear spammy.

#9. Include a Brand Name
They specifically excluded most brand names from their study as they are not typical keywords. That said, there is much anecdotal evidence that including well-known brand names in the ad copy can substantially boost clickthrough rates. In the most competitive categories (such as travel), this may be the only way to compete successfully on Google.

#10. Experiment with extremely short ads
In competitive keywords where up to 11 ads can be shown at a time (8 on the side and up to 3 premium ads), anything which makes your ads stand out can help. Some advertisers rely on extremely short ads to make their point:

5g Ipod
Find 5g Ipod
at Great Prices.

Expense Reports
Top 5 Websites
For Expense Reports

There’s no rule that says you have to use all of your characters, so this is definitely a concept worth testing.

#11. Out-target the competition with localized ads
In some cases, a mediocre local ad can outperform well-written national ads. For instance, here’s an ad which displayed for the keyword “buy digital printer”:

Minuteman Press
Quality, cost-effective printing
“We’re as close as your phone”

While this ad is certainly well-written, it’s quite off-target for this keyword. Still, it outranked many national ads which incorporated the words “digital” and “printer” in the headline.

#12. Capture the lead to boost your conversion rate
In competitive fields, trying to make the sale directly from the ad may be a tough proposition. Often, it’s better to offer information for free, capture the lead, and attempt to sell via other means such as email marketing. This is a common tactic in such competitive fields as:

•Travel – free destination guides
•Online education – degree information
•Pharmaceuticals – prescription info
•Hair restoration – free transplant info

#13. Optimize niche keywords
As profitable as longer, niche keywords can be, the ad copy which appears for them is rarely of the same quality as it is for high traffic broad terms. This makes sense – marketers spend the most time improving their ads for high-cost terms. Given the profit potential of these terms, they recommend that you allocate some time to improving these terms.

For instance, while the keyword phrase “teen car insurance” returned a number of ads containing “teen car insurance” in the title and/or copy, only two advertisers had optimized their ads for “cheap teen car insurance” (most ads were targeted to “cheap car insurance” and said nothing about “teen”).

Similarly, a search on the term “credit identity online report theft” returned five high clickthrough rate ads, but only one of them had anything to do with identity theft. A savvy competitor could easily improve their performance in these niche phrases with even the most cursory ad copy optimization.

The worst case example of this is when advertisers blindly use broad matching. This often results in almost comical ads such as the following:

Protect your system with Dell
and save on Spyware today!

This ad was found for the keyword “spyware”. For reasons unknown, it made it past their filters and is listed as a high-clickthrough rate ad.

#14. Guess the intention on broad keywords
One vexing problem with search advertising is that broad (typically one-word) search phrases generate the most traffic, but offer little clue as to what the visitor is searching for. Relying on the search phrase alone often results in low clickthrough rates.

One tactic that appears to work is to run the “shop” ads for these broad keywords. The intent is to turn a “browser” into a “shopper”, potentially beating other competitors to the punch.

An example for the keyword “spyware” will help to illustrate this. Rather than running ads with the title “spyware”, advertisers are enticing searchers with offers for more information:

Top 5 Spyware Removers
Compare and Download the 5 Top
Spyware Virus Removers for Free.

Which Spyware Remover?
Don’t download any Spyware removers
until you read this article.

#15. Are you an “Official Site”?
Although Google has quietly eliminated most affiliates from its advertiser list, some advertisers are still using “official site” in their ad copy. Only 3.7% of the ads in their database made this appeal, but it may be worth testing, especially for “buy” keywords.

Shop For iPod Nano
Official Site. Free Shipping on orders
$24 & up or pick up in store

Tiffany & Co. (Official)
Shop the Official Tiffany & Co.
site for exclusive Tiffany designs.

#16. “Free” works … but be careful
Including the word “free” in your ad is a sure way to boost clickthrough rates (and deplete your search budget on people with no intention of purchasing from you). Nevertheless, if you believe your business can generate revenue with a “free” appeal, it will almost certainly work… a full 24% of the ads in our database contained this term.

#17. Include “WWW” in your domain name
Surprisingly, we’ve found that including “www” in the display URL tends to boost clickthrough rates. 80.6% of the ads in our database also included it, leading us to believe that this is a general rule. If you are among the nearly 20% of advertisers who are not including “www” in your URL, you should consider testing it.

In the end it’s important to keep testing.  For example we’ve been resting “weekend” ads for a client and have included “Buy with PayPal now!” and have seen a significant improvement in CTC, AOV, CPA, and ROAS.

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