Writing Effective Ad Copy

Ad copy is a unique aspect of the search campaign because it is the only part that the visitor can interact with. Marketing Sherpa estimates say that a searcher will spend only 0.7 seconds on average reviewing an ad, yet in that small amount of time you must:

  • Grab the searcher’s attention against 10 organic links and 9-11 other paid links
  • Describe the product/service you provide in a manner relevant to the search query
  • Have an enticing call-to-action that tells the searcher what is expected of them after they click on the ad.

The ads need to be attention-getting and relevant, but also describe who will benefit from the site after s/he clicks on the ad. As an example, imagine each ad being a closed door with a peephole. The relevance of the ad determines the size peephole to look through, and the quality of the ad is how many appropriate people will be enticed enough to walk through the door. If all these are being performed correctly, it should provide the optimum combination of clicks and conversions, which leads to cheaper CPAs, cheaper clicks, and lots of profit.

TIP: It is very rare to want as many people to click on an ad as possible. Writing copy that qualifies an ideal visitor will tell some people that the site is not for them.

There are several online marketing metrics that don’t have the same relevance in search that they do in other fields. For example, CTR is important to banner ads because the advertiser pays for each 1,000 impressions. CTR in search varies based on each client’s goals, and sometimes won’t play a large role in making decisions within an account. The primary reason to use CTR is if you don’t have conversion tracking enabled. If this is not the case the conversion rate and the Return Of Ad Spend (ROAS) should be your key performing indicators.

Character Limits

The engines are more similar than different when it comes to ad display requirements. Here is a basic list of each engine and their maximum requirements:


  • 25 Character Headline
  • 35 Character Description Line 1
  • 35 Character Description Line 2
  • www.35 Character Display URL.com
  • 1,024 Character Destination URL


  • 40 Character Headline
  • 70 Character Description Line
  • www.35 Character Display URL.com
  • 1,024 Character Destination URL


  • 25 Character Headline
  • 70 Character Description Line
  • www.35 Character Display URL.com
  • 1,024 Character Destination URL

Writing Effective Ad Copy & Headlines with Calls to Action

Headlines are in a different color and will be the first part of the ad a person sees. Having this stand out will be ideal to get attention. The best method of standing out is to do something that the other advertisers aren’t doing. This may require using a keyword insert function, but it may also mean to not use a keyword insert when everyone else is. It may also simply be to use a unique style of writing that others aren’t incorporating, like asking a question or even being a little silly. Always keep in mind that it has to be copy that you won’t mind if the client sees while doing their own search, so keep it clean and inoffensive. You should also avoid the use of fragment ideas or concepts, because the short number of characters should be used to complete a full sales pitch.

The description line is the place to back up a claim made in the headline, and/or to give detail about the advertised product or service. It is also the ideal place to add exclusive language to ensure that only the quality traffic is coming to the site. For example, if a client is a networking company for large businesses, a lot of the keywords used by a large business will also be used by consumers and small businesses. By saying “Designed for businesses with 200+ employees” a consumer and the small business will instantly know the ad is not for them. At the same time it will make a searcher at a large business more interested since they know they are the targeted audience.

The display URL acts as a mini-branding function by telling the searcher where the ad will take them. It doesn’t have to be the same as the landing page URL (which will sometimes be very long) and gives some leeway into bending some of the editorial policy rules.

Exclamation points and capitalized words are not allowed in ads. Only one exclamation point can be used within the ad copy of an ad, and one shouldn’t use superlatives like “best”, “greatest”, “lowest”, or “cheapest” without the claim being backed up on the landing page of the ad. This can be worked around, since Google only actively monitors terms like “#1”, “Top”, and “Lowest”.

TIP: If you upload ad copy via AdWords Editor for Google, you can bypass some of the regulations for a limited amount of time. It will let you upload individual words as capital letters. So try saying “FREE” instead of “Free”, and see if it has any impact on your conversion rates.

Using KeyWord Insert Functions

All three engines allow the option to include the search term into a headline or ad automatically to increase relevancy. Studies by Google suggest that using keyword insert increases the click-through rate (CTR) for an ad by varying amounts. The search engines want a high CTR because that’s what they get paid on: clicks. Otherwise the ads take up valuable screen space and don’t generate revenue, which is why the engines typically penalize low CTRs.

By adding the Keyword insert function into an ad, it usually guarantees a part of the ad will placed in bold, which often catches the eye of the searcher. However, as the practice has grown and is being used by less experienced advertisers, some use it as a shortcut for not creating tight ad groups and to still get parts of the ad placed in bold.

TIP: Creating a tightly knit ad group gives more reason to use keyword insert because it will make the rest of the copy more relevant to the keyword being included in the copy.

Keyword inserts don’t always work. One must always consider the character limits on the ad copy while considering using the keyword insert feature, since some search strings can go beyond the 25 or 35 character limits. The engines require a backup to display in case the search query is too long. He backup is the description after the colon mark within the brackets:

{KeyWord:Buy Black Shoes}

A space is not needed after the colon because that would tell Google to place a space before the word “Buy”, which will waste a character and will get chopped off anyway.

Google Ad Copy

Google requires two unique lines of text that can run up to 35 characters each. Previous experience shows that ads usually perform better when each line is an independent sentence instead of one sentence running across both lines. Typically the headline serves as a stand-out function that tries to separate it from the other ads. The goal is to be relevant to the search query and visible to the searcher. When an ad has the same keywords as the search query, Google puts those keywords in bold within the ad. This is often done by using a keyword insert function that takes the search query and inserts it into your ad and instantly making it bold. However, as everyone tries to stand out by using this function, they all begin to look the same. In order to truly stand out one can remove that common factor and be a successful ad without having anything in bold.

Yahoo Ad Copy

Yahoo currently allows 40 characters in the headline with 70 characters in the description line. There are two primary differences between Google and Yahoo copy:

  1. Google breaks its 70 character limit up into 2 lines of 35 characters, where Yahoo has one line of 70 characters that automatically wraps to a second line as space requires.
  2. Yahoo allows for alt text for dynamic headlines. These allow for more control over what appears with a keyword, if the search query exceeds the character limit.

TIP: Yahoo strongly recommends the use of keyword insert to all advertisers. If your conversion rate is starting to dip on otherwise strong copy, try replacing the dynamic headline with a static headline .

Try using the same ad copy on all three engines simultaneously. This will limit the amount of time needed to run statistically relevant ad copy tests due to the higher impression, click, and conversion data.

MSN Ad Copy

MSN took the basic concept of Google’s ad system like testing, geo-targeting, and keyword-insert, and expanded it. The character limits are the same as Google’s, but instead of two description lines of 35 characters MSN has one description line of 70 characters that will automatically wrap to the second line. Visually this makes all of the ads look left justified compared to Google’s which look force justified. Along with keyword insert, MSN allows for a new feature called dynamic text for each keyword. The premise is that one can change the standard order-level ad copy to better fit a specific keyword. This will typically benefit eCommerce sites with large volumes of product pages that want each product page as a landing page for a keyword.

MSN Dynamic Text Example




Search Term

Normal Ad Copy

(as seen in MSN interface)

Dynamic Text Ad Copy

(as seen by searcher)


Black shoes

Kenneth Cole Black shoes

{Param 2} Sale!

Purchase {KeyWord} Today and Save! Only {Param 3}


Black Shoe Sale!

Purchase Kenneth Cole Black Shoes Today and Save! Only $69.99.


In the above example the name of the order group was put in the headline as a Parameter to emphasize a larger sale than one that would only benefit the searcher, and help the advertiser know what sale language caught the searcher’s attention. The keyword insert function was used early in the ad to draw attention and increase relevancy to the searcher, showing that the site has exactly what she is looking for. Finally, a third parameter of price was included so that the searcher knows exactly what she will find when getting to the site.

Using Price in Ad Copy

There is a debate of whether one should or shouldn’t include the price of an item in the ad copy. The argument against is that if the searcher has seen it for less somewhere else, regardless if it is not an exact item match, then she will ignore the site completely. This can be bad for both parties if there are additional rebates or other offers that the searcher wasn’t aware of before clicking on the ad. The argument for including cost is it tells the searcher up front what they’re expected to do and what it will cost them, which should increase the conversion rate. However, one would have to test different ad copies to see if the overall revenue generated with mentioning cost is greater or lower than not mentioning the cost. This will be shown in more detail later. Generally speaking, if the price is above certain psychological levels, or above the price of competitors in the same advertising space, don’t put the price in the copy. If the price is lower than competitors, and the average shopper knows that price is a good deal, then put it in the copy.

Whatever you write for your copy, keep in mind that the headline has to relate to the keyword, the copy has to relate to the headline and sell, and the landing page needs to relate to the copy to avoid a disconnect between you and the searcher. If you have suggestions beyond what is written here for successful copy, please feel free to share it via the discussion.


  1. michelfortin (Michel Fortin)

    Twitter Comment

    Writing Effective Ad Copy [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  2. speak

    I have not gotten into PPC that much yet, but I will be looking at the archives and seeing what information is out there.
    .-= speak´s last blog ..27 Fantastic HDR Photographs =-.

  3. Anne Fox

    Nice list to effectively write ad copy. Most people usually disregard learning the basics. At least now, they will have the chance to know how to start everything right.
    .-= Anne Fox´s last blog ..How to Treat Angular Cheilitis =-.

  4. Don

    @AutoFans Make sure you’re including a strong call-to-action and keeping the copy relevant to the keywords in the ad group. If you can’t get the CTR up, try breaking the ad group into smaller groups and write more specific copy.

  5. Mark

    The truth is, I had the same issue a year ago and it was nearly impossible to find how to solve it. Anyways, thanks for helping us.

  6. Bootstrap

    @Mark: Nothing’s Impossible! All problems has a solution. You just have to know it.

  7. treadmills

    thanks sharing ,I just wonder to try some cpc ad in adwords to promate my new treadmills site!http://treadmillsfans.com/