Updated on January 14, 2019.
This article has been co-written with Sébastien Mayoux, Digital Media Campaign Manager.
Before you start writing, you need to do your homework.
Before you can even start thinking about what messages you want to communicate, you must understand the needs of your potential customers. To accomplish this, try analyzing search trends (keywords) with one of the many tools available, such as:
Once you have an idea of the terms used by your searchers, group them into categories in a document in order to get a better view of the big picture. You can then link your ads to categories of keywords that are actually used by your customers. For the moment you can put this doc aside—we’ll come back to it later.
You probably already know your products very well. But do you know which ones perform best online?
Google Analytics is a tool that can answer a lot of questions relating to your target and your products, such as:
Your marketing efforts will probably be extending beyond the AdWords platform. During the planning phase of your campaign, decide on an editorial line. This will ensure that all of your brand’s content is consistent, no matter whether it’s on traditional or digital media, owned or paid.
For example, the editorial line adopted by Arctic Gardens was:
Help families adopt healthy daily eating habits.
We all know that the competition on AdWords is fierce and that in order to stand out, you need to highlight what makes your products unique, which will help differentiate you from your competitors.
Before you start writing, we strongly recommend organizing a brainstorming session in order to first determine all the things that make your products unique. This list will save you a lot of time when it comes to actually sitting down and writing your ads.
There are a few tools that will allow you to see your competitors’ ads, and some of these will even give you an idea of how those ads have performed over time. Reviewing the competition will help you avoid very costly errors and may even provide you with a learning opportunity.
iSpionage allows you to access information on your competitors’ pay-per-click campaigns, but what we are concerned with most today are ads.
This tool will allow you to see your competitors’ ads at a glance, with metrics such as:
With this information in hand, it’s easy to play with your competitors’ ads in order to determine which formulation would respond to your customers’ needs best and generate the most traffic.
You can start off using the free version, but you will need to purchase the paid version in order to receive more complete analyses.
Now that you understand your target, your brand’s USP and the industry’s best practices (particularly your competitors’ mistakes), you are ready to write.
Here we will focus on creating classic SEM ads, meaning a headline on two lines that have 30 characters each, accompanied by an 80-character description. Our recommendations can also be applied to other types of AdWords text ads, such as Call-Only Ads or App Install Ads.
Here is the classic SEM ad:
And here’s the Call-Only Ad:
This part of the headline is the first thing web surfers will read in your ad, so it needs to be direct and capture their attention in order to encourage them to read further. This means you have exactly 30 characters (and not a single character more) to attract readers’ interest.
The secret to creating a captivating Headline 1 is to respond directly to searchers’ needs. (Now is the time to pull out that list you made of all the search term categories!) Determine the need your potential customer is expressing through the search keywords and respond to it, while keeping in mind who your target is and what products and services you are offering.
While Headline 1 is about attracting the attention of potential customers, Headline 2 is about engaging them.
To accomplish this, you can clearly state what action you expect from them with a clear call to action, such as Contact us, Buy now, Make an appointment or even Call us, depending on your campaign’s objectives.
But to engage the searcher, you also have to highlight your differentiators, such as price (Starting from… ), a special promotion or value proposition.
Also, experience has taught us that it might also be interesting to test variations of your ads. For example, you can communicate the fact that your site is the official one (using Official Site or the trademark symbol ™) if your products or services are offered by other sellers (such as an e-commerce site that also has an Amazon store, for example, or a brand that might be sold through an external distribution network, or even an event promoter whose tickets might also be sold through Evenko.ca).
In an AdWords ad, the most important message should be put in Headlines 1 and 2 in order to optimize performance and relevance. However, the description can be used to communicate other information through an additional 80 characters of text.
The description should provide additional, complementary information to what is provided in Headlines 1 and 2—you should not repeat or paraphrase what you have already put in the headlines, but instead give additional information about your products to web surfers.
For example, you can take advantage of the extra space to communicate your company’s positioning or specialized expertise (The Canadian Leader, Over 50 Years of Experience, etc.). You could also highlight the range and depth of your offering (Over 50 stores across the country, Over 38,000 recommendations, etc.).
Since the arrival of expanded text ads on AdWords in 2017, it has been possible to enrich your display URL with two paths called Path 1 and Path 2. These can be defined manually, without necessarily being present in the URL of your destination page. This means you can take advantage of this additional space in order to:
AdWords offers features that allow you to personalize your ads, and you should definitely take advantage of them in order to increase your ads’ relevance and performance:
The more context you add to an ad, the more likely it is that you will receive higher response rates.
For example, if the device used to search is a mobile device, it would be wise to mention that mobile ordering is easy. Or if web searchers land on your site but don’t complete a purchase, it might be worthwhile to provide them with a special offer since your chance of converting them is higher than with someone who is not familiar with your brand.
These IF functions can be added anywhere in your text ad except in the final URL.
In this example, note that the six parameters were set up in order to personalize the ad.
Here is what the basic structure of the ad looks like.
The above will result in an AdWords ad that is adapted specifically to the product’s features and the current promotion.
When writing ads, don’t forget to also make use of ad extensions to communicate information. Some, like sitelink extensions and callout extensions, are essential because they allow you to increase your quality score. The use of others depends on your campaign’s objective or your particular industry: price extensions and promotion extensions are relevant for retail businesses, location extensions are a good way to encourage physical visits to your point of sale or office, while call extensions will encourage more calls.
Now that you’ve written your ads (and ad extensions), you need to think about putting them online. While this article can offer a lot of excellent advice and tools, there is no magic formula to guarantee success. To be successful, you need to test, analyze the results, then test again. This is why it’s important to set up a testing plan once your ads have been written.
To this end, create variations on the ads that only change one aspect of the ads at a time, such as either Headline 1, Headline 2 or the description. The purpose of creating these variations is to test which versions perform the best in terms of click-through rates or conversions. We always recommend having a minimum of 4 active ads in rotation and a maximum of 12.
One last tip: Start by testing Headlines 1 and 2, since these often have the most impact on ad performance.
To sum up, creating effective SEM ads that generate traffic to your site is accomplished through the following three steps: Analyze your offer, target and competition; prioritize the information to be communicated according to the four main ad fields; and finally, rigorously test the performance of different variations of the ads you will be putting online.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with AdWords? Do you have any more specific questions we can help you with?