Marketing

26 Different Ways for Writing Search Ad Copy That Gets Clicks

We asked 51 marketers for their best search ad copywriting tips. The results: 26 creative and practical tips for writing ads that people can’t help but click.

Jessica Greene Jessica Greene on March 19, 2019 (last modified on March 20, 2019) • 21 minute read

Search ads can launch your business to the top of search results, but if your ad doesn’t inspire clicks and conversions, that page-one placement quickly leads to a negative ROI.

And when it comes to building effective search ads, it’s all about the copy.

Unlike social and display ads, you can’t include eye-catching images, graphics, galleries, or videos in search ads.

Instead, you have one tool for inspiring clicks: your words.

To find out how the best search marketers craft compelling ad copy, we reached out to 51 of them to request their best search ad copywriting tips.

92% of our respondents write their search ads in-house; only 8% outsource the work:

They replied with 26 tips. Some are marketing best practices while some are a little weird, but all might be worth trying if you’re looking for new ways to increase your search ad click-through rates.

Editor’s note: Want an easy way to quickly visualize the performance of your search ad campaigns? Download this free template and track important search ad metrics like impressions, CPC, conversions, cost-per-conversion, and more.

First, What Are the Most Important Copy Elements of a Search Ad?

According to our respondents, the most important copy element of a search ad is the main headline:

“Focus on the headline,” says Isabella Federico of WeBizz. “As David Ogilvy—better known as the ‘Father of Advertising’—said: ‘On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.’”

And while the main headline may be the most important element of your search ad, your secondary headline and description are important, too. In fact, in terms of importance, they didn’t fall far behind the headline.

So while a great headline is important, the best ads feature compelling copy throughout each of their sections.

To write the compelling copy for every element of your ads, follow these tips.

First, Focus on the Basics

A core best practice for any marketing or advertising campaign: know your audience. And that’s as true for search ads as it is for any marketing or advertising campaign that you run.

To write search ads that are perfect for your target audience, consider these tips.

1. Focus on User Intent

“Unlike on social media platforms, people use search engines to find products, services, and solutions to pain points,” says Advance B2B’s Jesse Särmö. “So when writing a search ad, you must always address searcher intent properly.”

“If people aren’t converting, it’s likely that your ad doesn’t match user intent. You may be using the wrong words, the wrong message, or both.”

Cariad Marketing’s Jamie Burgess agrees: “The most effective way to create winning ads is to write ad copy that answers as many of the searcher’s questions as possible:”

  • “Does this company provide the service/product that I need?”
  • “How much does it cost?”
  • “Why should I trust them over someone else?”

“These are generally the core questions a potential customer or client will have in mind when searching,” Burgess says. “When writing your ad copy, every line should be viewed as an opportunity to convey these points to your intended audience in a concise and direct way.”

“I took over Google advertising for a new customer a few months ago,” Särmö says, “and I revised their campaigns to better cater to searchers’ questions and problems.”

“The revised ads received 14.34% more clicks than the old ones—and at the same costs. They also drove 92.94% more conversions, and our cost-per-click decreased by 2%.”

Related: 42 Paid Marketers Share Strategies for Lowering Your AdWords CPC

2. Minimize Your Branding

“One big mistake that I see in-house marketers make on a regular basis is over-branding their PPC ads,” says Tommy Landry of Return On Now.

“I’m not discouraging the use of your brand. That’s a requirement. What I’m talking about here is wasting valuable characters on emotional or on-brand messaging.”

“PPC is not designed to drive your PR efforts or help you further brand your company. Its number-one objective is to get clicks to your site so you can convert people.”

“Anything beyond that is just noise in the system. So focus your copywriting on earning the click, and get out of your own way.”

3. Use Your Audience’s Language

“Great search ads are written with your audience’s word choices in mind,” says Ashley Quintana of Bridges Strategies.

“For example, in legal marketing, we have found that ‘attorney’ and ‘lawyer’ are used by different kinds of personas. We use ‘Demographics’ to build persona profiles, and then we use the preferred word choice in ads for those personas.”

“We make sure that we thoroughly research the type of language and writing style that our target audience responds to the best before we even attempt writing anything,” says Kraig Martin of Storage Vault.

“In a competitive industry, tailoring the language of your campaigns to your audience is essential if you want to stand out from your competitors.”

“We have a large variety of demographics that use our services—ranging from students to senior citizens—and the type of language and content each group prefers obviously varies. This means that a single brand voice isn’t really an option for our copywriting.”

“Instead, we use brand values—namely, a focus on personal service—that we use to tie together the modified brand voices for each demographic,” Martin says.

Wes Marsh of DigitalUs agrees: “We have clients in the healthcare space, and we have certain ads tailored to the needs of the family and separate ads tailored to the needs of an individual.”

“The ads are based on slight keyword variations because we know the search patterns are different for someone searching for a service for themselves versus someone searching for a service for a loved one.”

4. Focus on Pain Points

“Focus on your audience’s key pain points to create targeted copy for your ad,” says Rajat Chauhan of Techtic Solutions Inc.

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa of Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa Associates agrees: “Avoid telling people all of the wonderful things you can do for them. Instead, focus their problems.”

“Too many businesses focus on benefit selling, but a better way to get clicks is to make it all about the user,” says Catalyst Marketing Agency’s Ollie Roddy.

“For example, instead of a marketing agency writing ‘We generate more traffic and leads for our clients,’ you should write “Generate more traffic and leads for your business.’ That small tweak to make it directly about the person reading is a much better way to get click-throughs.”

“Create a headline that actually solves a problem,” says Stephanie Tilton of Stephanie Tilton Copywriting. “When you do this, your ad will look less like an ad and more like a piece of content. Your customers will be more likely to click the ad to see if you really can solve their problems.”

5. Align Your Ads with Your Campaigns

“I always align the ad copy with the specific campaign we’re also creating content for,” says Delta Marketing Group’s Theresa Keller. “Write the ad copy to provide people with a defined and specific path to the solution.”

“For example, instead of an ad for a private high school that says, ‘California High School | Apply Today,’ I use ‘Integrated STEM Curriculum | Admissions Due 4/11.’”

“It’s pointed in its message, and it sends people to an informational interior page rather than the homepage. And including a date creates urgency.”

6. Be Personable

“No one wants to deal with a big, faceless entity, so the best piece of advice I can provide is to make sure your company seems human,” says Charlie Worrall of Imaginaire Digital.

“Making both your clients and your potential clients feel comfortable is important. Writing copy that makes your company seem relatable will make potential customers more likely to click your search ads—and more likely to recommend you to other people.”

7. Keep It Simple

“It’s easy to get lost in your own head when writing ads,” says Brian Schofield of Market 8. “This overthinking results in long, drawn-out sentences filled with jargon and an ambiguous value proposition.”

“For that reason, the best copywriting advice I’ve ever been given is ‘keep it simple, stupid (KISS),’ and it refers to every element of an ad.”

“The internet is completely saturated with advertisers competing for ad space, so you have to be crystal clear about what you do and why you’re the best.”

8. Get to the Point

“I follow one simple rule: always get straight to the point,” says Sean Si of SEO Hacker. “Understand what your prospects intend to do, and then write straight-to-the-point, direct copy.”

“As an example, my headline for an ad targeting the keyword ‘SEO Philippines’ is ‘SEO Company Philippines | 1st Page. Our SEO just Works.’ I know that prospects searching for that keyword are looking for SEO services in the Philippines, so I wrote what they wanted to see: ‘1st Page.’”

9. Research Keywords First

“My most effective copywriting technique for writing great ads for Google search,” says Cedrick Capati of Spiralytics Inc., “is to do thorough keyword research before doing any writing.”

“To make sure that people will see your ads, you have to target keywords people are searching for. Doing thorough keyword research will make sure that the words you’ll be using in your ad copy target things that people are actually interested in.”

“The best search ad provides the most relevant response to the searcher’s query,” says Lewis MacGillivray of High Speed Training. “The art of effectively achieving this, however, is actually performed during ad group and keyword creation.”

“With a well-structured account, you are able to tailor your ads to match the level of intent the searcher is showing.”

“For long-tail queries, be softer in your ad text and try and stand out through unique selling points that highlight why you are a better choice than your competitors—but don’t push the sell.”

“For shorter queries demonstrating a high level of purchase intent, hit searchers with stronger, more direct messaging including offers and discounts,” MacGillivray says.

Related: How to Use Google Keyword Planner to Research & Target the Right Keywords

10. Mimic Your Organic Listings

Travis Johansen of Provid Films recommends writing your search ads just like you write your organic search snippets: “Write ad copy that would be a good and valuable result if you were competing for organic search traffic instead.”

“If people see your ad and it doesn’t look too spammy—if, instead, it looks helpful—then you’ll have an advantage over all of the other spammy ads.”

11. Include a Call-to-Action

Megabolt Digital’s Meg Casebolt offers two search ad copywriting tips: “make sure that your keyword matches your ad copy, and include a call-to-action in the description.”

Lots of our respondents agree that a call-to-action is a must-have, but not everyone agrees on where to put it.

Down the Hatchet’s Alex Vdovenko says that “the most effective way to grab attention and inspire clicks is to include an immediate call to action.”

While Living Online’s Brenda Ledwith recommends “having a strong call-to-action at the end.”

But regardless of where you place your CTA, WebMechanix’s Chris Mechanic says to avoid “standard CTAs like ‘request an appointment.’ They’re so overused that people have become banner-blind to them.”

“A variation like ‘discover the new you’ can help you stand out,” Mechanic says.

And Srish Agrawal of Animated Video says to remember that “your call-to-action needs to inspire not only clicks on the ad, but also subsequent actions and conversions on your website.”

Next, Spice Things Up

Once you have the basic best practices down, you can start adding some flair to your ad copy. Use these tips to write search ads that stand out from the crowd.

12. Create Intrigue

“The most effective copywriting technique I use for my ads is to build in mystery and intrigue to create a sense of tension,” says Dustin Christensen of JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law.

“Instead of laying everything out in the copy, I’ll use a technique to describe something without giving it away—essentially, showing instead of telling. I’ll use a phrase like ‘Learn Why Our Attorneys’ Win Rates Are So High.’ Something like that shows a benefit or feature without giving away all of the details.”

“This encourages searchers to click to get the ‘why’ of the ad. Why are the attorneys win rates so high? Why do clients return for more work? And so on.”

“By creating some mystery and intrigue in the ad, it encourages the right viewers to click to learn more.”

13. Present a Specific Benefit

“Make the first line of the description a true benefit,” says Mandy Kilinskis of Datamation Imaging Services, “things like ‘Make Your Business More Efficient’ or ‘Eat the Best Pancakes of Your Entire Life.’

“Copy with benefits like that seem to get a much higher click-through rate than anything else I write. In one ad group, one of these benefits-based ads gets about 60% more clicks than one that speaks more to how many years of experience the company has.”

14. Evoke Emotions

“There are hundreds and thousands of search ads out there all tussling for clicks,” says Ryan Underwood of YourParkingSpace. “To stand out from all these piranhas, a clear and insightful ad is not going to cut it. Instead, you’ll find yourself sinking to the bottom.”

“The key to an outstanding ad that will garner a handsome click-through rate is one that pulls on consumers’ emotions. Emotions often override common sense and the analytical mind; you just need to know how to evoke them.”

“For example, when writing an ad for a disability claims lawyer, you could tap into the anger that potential consumers may harbor for the government. Or you could play on shame when writing an ad for a weight-loss program.”

“There is a myriad of human emotions to utilize that can yield great results when done properly.”

15. Use Powerful Words

Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray recommends “using powerful words like ‘Now,’ ‘Easy,’ ‘Offer,’ ‘Sensational,’ ‘Limited Time,’ ‘Best Selling,’ ‘Proven,’ ‘100% Guaranteed,’ ‘Refund,’ ‘Free,’ etc.”

“You want your copy to be convincing and persuasive. Don’t be too broad; get straight to the point and list the benefits people will get by clicking the link.”

16. Write Something Weird

“The best search marketers combine two critical elements in a single headline: a keyword and a weird word,” says Orbit Media Studios’ Andy Crestodina.

“First, include the target keyword phrase for both organic and paid search. Tell the searcher you’ve got what they’re looking for. You need to check all of the boxes for a good keyphrase:”

Keyword Research, Orbit Media Studios

“Now that you’ve met their expectations, it’s time to be unexpected. Add the weird word: something that holds their attention and sets your headline apart.”

“If your target phrase is ‘dog training,’ the headline could be ‘The Dog Training Class Your Carpets Will Love.’ Or if your target phrase is ‘IT managed services,’ the headline could be ‘Just The Nerd You Need for IT Managed Services.’

“Get a keyword phrase, then get weird,” Crestodina says.

Bamboo Nine’s Zak Pashen agrees: “In my six-year career, two of the funniest concepts that actually drove excellent results were:”

  1. “an e-commerce gifts company advertising for the Star Wars BB8 toy with the headline: ‘They See Me Rollin’, They BB8-ing’”
  2. “a poultry company whose target audience was families used the headline: ‘Cluck Here to Find Out More’”

17. Ask a Question

“The most effective copywriting technique I’ve used so far for writing ads for Google search is to ask a question,” says The Advisor Coach’s James Pollard.

“Questions are great for eliciting curiosity, and they create an itch that people have to scratch. When people see a question, they’re more likely to click.”

18. Do Something Different

“Analyze competitors’ ads and, where possible, try to improve on them,” says Alexander Reichmann of iTestCash.

“Take a look at your competitors’ ads for the keywords you plan to bid for so you can write your ad differently,” says Tony Capetola of Sales & Orders. “The last thing you want to do is mirror what everyone else is saying in their ads. If you do, your ad won’t stand out and won’t generate the results you want.”

Improve Your Life’s Stacy Caprio agrees: “Google the keyword you are writing the ad for first, and then look to see what words and angles you can use to stand out from the current ads and competition.”

And Matthew Tudge of WDA Automotive offers a method for this approach: “Complete a competitive matrix of first-page search ads for your main keywords. Include what each ad does well and what the ads aren’t doing. Do they have a clear call-to-action? Do they list benefits? Do they use hooks? Do they include offers?”

“From there, you’re able to discover the holes in the current ad space and work out how you can capitalize on that to stand out from the others.”

19. Include Keywords in Your Ad Copy

“Always include the target keyword in the first headline of your ad,” says Caitlin Sweeney of Clicks and Clients. “This will make your ad the most relevant to the user’s search query, and Google will rank your ad higher.”

Charlie Robinson of CRP Marketing agrees but recommends including your keyword in each section of your ad: “Use your keyword throughout the different elements of the ad, including the headlines, URL, and description. But don’t stuff keywords into your ad. Keep your message concise, direct, and informational for the viewer.”

“The most effective way to write search ads is to have your keywords in mind first,” says Laura English of Sonder Digital Marketing. “A lot of times it’s really obvious that people have written naturally first and sprinkled their keywords in afterward. It creates bad copy.”

“Knowing the keywords you want to incorporate first makes writing your ad much easier, and it reads more naturally.”

20. Target Long-Tail Keywords

“I like to focus on long-tail keywords that are very specific to a searcher’s intent,” says Jeff Hill of Senior Market Advisors. “Generally, long-tail keywords will bring in fewer impressions due to their specificity, but their click-through and conversion rates can be significantly higher.”

“Recently, I ran a Google Ads campaign for Medicare plans that include silver sneakers benefits. My average CTR was 11% and my average conversion rate was 7.5%, but my long-tail keywords had CTRs of 30%-100% and conversion rates of 25%-100%.”

21. Include Pricing and Discounts

“Users are always looking for quick results and a bargain, so ensure your brand hones in on the discounts your company offers in your headline and SEO title,” says Katie Derrick of Africa Travel.

“If you include discounts on your products in your ad, it’s vital to put this information in your headline to capture your target audience’s attention and generate instant clicks.”

22. Use Symbols, Numbers, and Emojis

“Use a symbol or number in Headline 1 or Headline 2 (or even both),” says Srajan Mishra of TSI Apparel. “It instantly grabs attention. For example, when we used the headline ‘All Uniforms @ One Place | #1 Rated Uniform Company,’ we ended up getting 10 times more conversions than our standard text ads.”

Max Robinson of WeSwap Euros agrees but recommends brackets specifically: “If you want to draw the eyes of searchers, place information inside of brackets to attract their attention.”

Matthew Ross of The Slumber Yard recommends parenthesis over brackets: “I know it sounds simple, but we’ve found that parentheses grab the attention of viewers. In fact, when we A/B tested this theory, the ad that included parentheses attracted 16% more clicks than the ad that did not.”

“To take it a step further, we’ve found that you should not include more than 3-4 words inside the parentheses. If you string too many words together, the theory loses some of its power.”

And Book Learn Pass’ Amara Ukaigwe suggests using emojis: “Use emojis and symbols in the headline and body of your ad copy. We’ve seen a significant increase in click-through rates from mobile devices when using this tactic, and it seems to resonate well with our customers aged 16 to 35.”

Finally, Take Advantage of Extras

Once you’ve adopted the best practices from the first section and crafted unique copy for your ad using the tips in the second section, take advantage of these extras to create even higher-performing search ads.

23. Add Callout Extensions

“Aside from call extensions that display a phone number along with your ads and sitelink extensions that display relevant site links, using callout extensions is one of the most effective ways to help your ads and brand stand out,” says Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group.

“Callout extensions are yet another space to differentiate your brand or offer. They should be used to highlight what makes your offer or brand unique and, most importantly, relevant to the search intent that your ads are displaying for.”

“Not using callout extensions is giving up free real estate to make your ads and brand stand out from the competition.”

24. Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion

“A great way to insert your target keyword in your ad headline or copy is to make use of Google’s dynamic keyword insertion feature,” says Stephen Montagne of NetHustler.com.

“Simply use something like this in the title: ‘Are you looking to buy {KeyWord:T-Shirts}.’ Then, Google will automatically insert keywords from your ad group like ‘Blue T-Shirts,’ ‘Green T-Shirts,’ ‘Yellow T-Shirts,’ etc. based on the keyword the searcher used. When it can’t find a match, it will just use the default ‘T-Shirts.’”

Devin Beverage of Dev Bev Co. also recommends dynamic keyword insertion, but says to “make sure your campaign isn’t too segmented if you use this method.”

25. Run a Few Variations of Ads to Find the Best

“We always write multiple ads and monitor them to see which one works best,” says Katharine Pebworth of Alexander Advertising International. “You never quite know what people will click on. I have a linguistic background so I always think about linguistic variation when writing my ads.”

Jeff Green of Green Thoughts Consulting agrees: “Be blunt and direct and run two versions per ad group. A/B test these find the best ad statistically, then rinse and repeat.”

“In my opinion,” says Muhammad Roohan of The Ideators, “you should create at least three different copies of ads for each keyword or ad group, then A/B test to see which performs best.”

26. Keep an Eye on Your Ad Scores

Jason Dodge of BlackTruck Media + Marketing says it’s important to keep an eye on your ad scores.

“Navigate to the keyword level detail in your campaign, then select ‘Columns’ > ‘Modify Columns’ and scroll down to the section titled ‘Quality Score.’ Toggle on both ‘Quality Score’ and ‘Landing Page (Exp) Experience.’”

“These two metrics will allow you to see both the quality score of the keyword and the experience on the landing page for that keyword.”

“If you have a lower overall quality score, it could be related to the ad. If you’re seeing a lower landing page experience, consider looking at the landing page you’re linking to in order to make sure it’s relevant to the keyword you’re targeting.

How Long Should You Run a Search Ad?

After you’ve written and published the perfect ad, the question becomes: “How long should you run it? At what point does a search ad begin to decay (impressions and clicks begin to drop off)?”

We asked our respondents to find out. The most common response? It depends.

Our respondents report that it depends on the ad, competition, niche, bid environment, type of campaign, size of the target audience, product/service, industry, market, and search volume.

“Decay is just another variable,” Charlie Worrall says. “Some ads may be effective for a long time while others progressively get worse—or just don’t work from the get-go.”

“If it’s a truly good ad, it won’t decay,” says Ben Dooley of Your Target Leads. “There are certain ads that we use that have been running for almost a year and still convert.”

“It all depends on the ad itself,” Stephanie Tilton says. “If you’ve written an ad that works, you may not see impressions and clicks drop off. But Google Ads are always changing, and what works today may not work tomorrow.”

“The best thing to do is track your results and make changes when needed.”

About the author
Jessica Greene
Jessica Greene writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.
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