How to Write a Killer AdWords Ad by Treating It a Mini Landing Page

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Suppose you launch a new campaign on AdWords and have used all ninja tricks to make sure clickthrough rate (CTR) is high. Once the campaign is made live, much to your disappointment, you discover that CTR is pathetically low. Story sounds familiar?

Click through rate is to text ad what conversion goal is to a landing page. The only difference is that, in an ad you have extremely limited space to convey your message while on a landing page, you can go on and on and on (though I don’t recommend it). However, note that by default, text ads follow structure of good landing pages. First, there is a headline.  Then there are two lines of text (the copy). Finally there is call to action (the URL).

Thanks to my A/B testing startup (Visual Website Optimizer), I have had the luck of helping thousands of our users implement A/B tests on their landing pages. Hence I have come to realize that there are few key elements which set apart highly converting landing pages from rest of the bunch. (I have also blogged about these landing page optimization tips.)

What makes a good text ad (or landing page)?

There are four key elements of a good landing page:

  • Headline that both catches the attention and talks about what the offer is about
  • Text copy and visuals that tells the visitor that this offer is relevant to him/her
  • Social proof that eliminates fear (of wasting time/money)
  • Call-to-action for the next step

Let’s see how these 4 elements map to the ad world.

Headline that is relevant and catches attention

Headline is the most important part of a text ad because a visitor fixes his eye-gaze on sponsored results only for a few milliseconds. In fact, as we all know it – users prefer organic results to sponsored results hence good headline must make the user pause his activity and at least read rest of the ad.

So, what makes a good headline? In my opinion, there are two essential components:

  • Relevance – headline should be relevant to what user is searching
  • Interest – headline should be catchy enough to make user care

Relevance is important because no matter how interesting your headline is, if it does not talk about what user is searching, why should he care? For example, if user is searching for website creation software and you have an interesting headline like Dance like a baby, most users are going to ignore it even if you mention in your ad text that your product is so easy that user is going to be very happy trying the software and hence will dance like a baby. The issue is that most users won’t care to read your explanation in ad text. They will simply ignore your interesting headlines because while searching, they are laser-focused on finding a solution relevant to their needs. (Many marketers get trapped in make it interesting mode and lose sight that they have become so creative that it doesn’t solve its intended purpose anymore)

Similarly, if a headline is relevant but if it fails to generate interest, the ad will be most likely skipped. For example, search for website creation software, you will find that most ads have generic and similar headlines: ‘Create a website’, ‘Website Builder’, ‘Free Site Builder’ etc. While all these headlines are relevant, as a user why should I prefer one to the other? Or, in fact, why should I click on them instead of organic search results?

A perfect headline is both relevant and interesting. Just to give an example, if I were to write headline for website creation software, I would use Site Builder for Grandma! (Of course, I will explain how easy is the tool in ad text but the purpose of headline is to catch attention of the user and make him care, which this headline probably does).

Ad text that is spot on and has social proof

Now, your headline has caught visitor attention and he is reading the text – what do you write in it? In my opinion, the job of ad text is to talk about the problem user wants to solve and to persuade him click to click on the ad. Persuasion is the key word here but it is a challenge to be persuasive in 70 characters or less.

This limit on the text length has paradoxical effect on advertisers who try to stuff all keywords possible. So, an ad for website creation software probably goes like this:

Free, easy to use, drag-drop
Supports flash, 200+ templates

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with the ad above. But the attention span of the visitor searching for something is limited, so you cannot really talk about ALL features of your product in an ad. I recommend talking about only one feature that is unique differentiation of your offering. It may be ease of use, low cost, high flexibility, huge userbase, etc. but key point is to talk about only one aspect in the ad.  In fact, you can run a campaign where multiple ads talk about multiple different aspects of your offering (one at a time, though) and you can see which one has highest CTR.

The second aspect of an ad text is social proof. Good landing pages convert better mostly because they clearly mention how many great customers they have, what kind of testimonials they have gotten and how widely their offering is used. While scanning ads, visitors want to make sure that if they are going to click on an ad and spend some time on the site, so offering on landing page should better be tried, tested and appreciate. (I am amazed to see how many ads out there just talk about features and not mention a single word about social proof. Just Google for website creation software and see for yourself).

So, if I were too write ad text for website creation software, I would write something like this:

Site Builder for Grandma!
Easiest website builder on earth
5000+ customers and counting

Don’t waste the URL part; incentivize the user

In landing pages, we have call to action buttons. In text ads, we have URLs. The URL part of a text ad is the most inflexible part of the ad so we usually end up not utilizing it appropriately. However, in my opinion, the URL part should be used in same manner as we use a call to action button.   A call to action button hits the final blow to nail user’s interest in the offering. On landing pages you will find call to action buttons saying Free Trial, Signup Now, Watch Video, etc. Why not do the same in URL part of a text ad? After all, you want user to take some action on the page your ad points to, so why not talk about that action in the ad itself.

See below how I would use the URL part for the website creation software ad.

Site Builder for Grandma!
Easiest website builder on earth
5000+ customers and counting
mydomain.com/Free-Trial

Note that my focus in on Free Trial aspect, not the main domain name. Most likely users aren’t aware and don’t care what your product is called, so why put all focus on it?

Summary: a text ad is a mini landing page

A text ad can be seen as a landing page in itself. The job of landing page is to make visitor interested and then go to next step by clicking on a call to action button. A text ad is supposed to do precisely the same: catch attention of the visitor and persuade him to click to visit the landing page.  Having relevant & catchy headlines, persuasive text and embedding call to action in URL is the formula to having ads that have great click through rates!

Having said all this and claiming above is a formula for higher converting text ads, you should always A/B test your ads (if you have time, bandwidth and budget to the same). You never know how an ad will convert until you actually make it live! So why take chances with my advice? 🙂

Paras Chopra

Paras Chopra

Paras Chopra is CEO of Wingify. Their flagship product Visual Website Optimizer is a market-leading A/B testing software used by thousands of enterprises and SMBs worldwide. He also write the... Read Full Bio
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