Suggestions for creating effective PPC search ads

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Mary O'Brien is founder and chairwoman of the Pay Per Click (PPC) Summit ( series of conferences. “Hands On: Search” recently asked her about best practices in pay-per-click search advertising.

HOS: What's important to keep in mind about PPC ads?

O'Brien: When you write these ads, you're trying to serve two masters: the search engines, since you're at the mercy of their quality-scoring mechanism for your placement, and the customer, whose attention you're trying to attract.

Of course, it's not just any customer you want to attract, but rather those qualified prospects who are interested in your product or service. Thus, click-through rates (CTR) should play a secondary role to conversions. Many advertisers get so caught up in increasing their click-through rates and lowering their costs per click that they lose sight of the end goal, which is getting folks to come to your site who are willing and able to buy.

HOS: What are some initial steps to make that happen?

O'Brien: The first thing to do is look for the terms you're bidding on and see what the top paid ads look like. In many cases, there isn't much you can do in only 95 characters to improve on what has already been tested. But what you can do is take some of the same techniques as the best ads and apply them to your ad copy. Then add in what differentiates your company from the others. That could be lower price, higher quality or greater selection—or whether you sell bulk, luxury, wholesale, quantity, etc. Of course, you want to test everything.

HOS: What testing process do you recommend?

O'Brien: Different ad copy will pull customers at different phases of the buying cycle, so you must split test. Create two ads for each ad group, and set your campaign to show both. Monitor their performance and delete the ad that has a lower CTR. Then create a new ad and test it against the last round's winner. You can test CTRs at

HOS: Explain a little more about click-through rates. How can you boost CTRs?

O'Brien: For your pay-per-click ads to get a good click-through rate, try to use keywords in the descriptions, as the search engines highlight the keywords and this grabs the prospect's attention. Also, capitalize all your important words, as well as the words in your display URL so they have even more impact.

You can use dynamic keyword insertion where appropriate in titles, descriptions or display URLs. The way it works is, a little piece of code inserted into your ad automatically becomes the keyword that triggered the ad. But make sure your ads still make grammatical sense when the keywords are inserted. Also, try using action verbs in the copy, like “explore,” “buy,” “save,” “find” and so forth.

HOS: How can PPC ads prompt conversions?

O'Brien: Don't be afraid to try something different from your competitors to catch the prospect's attention. You might make a special offer, for example, [or] perhaps a straight or volume discount or free shipping. People love deals. Just make sure [the offer] matches your product or service.

And ask yourself what information customers need to make a purchase decision. Put as much of it as you can into your copy. The old adage, “The more you tell, the more you sell,” definitely applies to pay-per-click ads.

HOS: What's a good keyword strategy?

O'Brien: If you want a way to really differentiate yourself from your large competitors, make your ad groups very specific and mirror the keywords in your ad copy. Many of your larger competitors may be working with 50,000 or more keywords and it's impossible for these companies to focus on creating individualized ad copy. Smaller advertisers can really benefit from customizing their ads to make their products or services shine. Structure your campaigns so that keywords are grouped into ad groups that can specifically target the product or service being searched for while keeping the number of keywords at a manageable level.

HOS: Finally, what are some ad-writing tips?

O'Brien: Focus on your most important benefits and your unique selling proposition, whether it be free shipping, same-day shipping, wide selection, industry-leading expertise in your field, whatever. Then, decide what is most important to your customers and what differentiates you from your competitors. Highlight these benefits in your ad copy, perhaps once in the title and again in the ad copy. And make sure these benefits also are featured prominently on your landing page.

Another good idea is to present yourself as the answer to your customer's problems. Think about the problems your prospects have—and how you can solve those problems—and then determine how you can present the best solution in 95 characters or fewer.

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