What I’ve Learned from Reviewing Thousands of Pay-Per-Click Ads

Since September 2010, I’ve been writing for BoostCTR, a company that specializes in PPC ad optimization.

During that time, I’ve written more than fifty “Win of the Week” columns and reviewed thousands of PPC ads as part of BoostCTR’s quality assurance.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  • The single greatest reason why one PPC ad beats another is clarity. The clearer your ad is, the stronger it will perform.
  • The word “compare” is a powerful word. So is the word “free.”
  • Many writers don’t read carefully. Even experienced writers need help adhering to dozens of client-specific rules.
  • Some clients are extremely picky. Others are a breeze to write for.
  • A single exclamation point at the end of the first or second line of body copy almost always lifts response.
  • Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) must be used carefully; it often backfires.
  • Just as in all forms of ad writing, you must be able to discern what the searcher really wants — and feature that in your ad.
  • Shorter words are almost always better than longer words.
  • Sometimes a creative, emotional approach will outperform a straightforward, cerebral approach.
  • The use of symbols (for example: & # @) often creates a lift in CTR.
  • Winning ads almost always include a call to action.

Have any PPC ad writing tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below. Thanks!

-Ryan M. Healy

18 Comments

  • Stephen Dean

    March 30, 2012

    Ryan, you could have made this into an infoproduct. Thanks for sharing! I’ll be saving this link.

    What about landing pages, have we ever figured this out? Is the key just to make sure you don’t resemble direct response?

    • Ryan M. Healy

      March 30, 2012

      You’re welcome, Stephen. :-)

      I’m not sure what the secret is for landing pages (from Google’s perspective). Mostly, don’t look like a direct response page. Also, it helps to not be in one of their “hit list” categories, which include dietary supplements, anything that mentions making money, etc.

      • Jim Sansi

        March 30, 2012

        Don’t look like a direct response page… for a landing page?

        If you can pull that one off, then Ryan you are a copywriting wizard! ;-)

        -Jim

  • Kevin Dawson

    March 30, 2012

    Really, let me echo: you should have made an info product off of this.
    BTW — These are great Eugene Schwartz-style headline testers.

  • Gerrid Smith

    March 30, 2012

    Awesome list, Ryan. I’m actually in the process of writing some PPC ads for a client so this is definitely a nice surprise.

    Cheers!
    Gerrid

    • Ryan M. Healy

      March 31, 2012

      Glad you found it helpful, Gerrid.

  • Ted Kolovos

    March 30, 2012

    I agree 100%. In fact I think clarity is something that only develops after the 5th or 6th edit of your copy (at least for me) and that’s maybe why so many ads and other content are deficient in that area (people don’t like to edit).

    I’d add that a close second (and it goes hand it hand with clarity) is relevance! You touched on that too in one of your bullets.

    I’ll share your post with my network :)

    • Ryan M. Healy

      March 31, 2012

      Hi Ted – Great point about editing… that’s where the clarity comes through. And thanks for sharing my post. :-)

  • Dr. Michael Beck

    March 30, 2012

    Regarding your first point, how many times does clarity factor into everything we do? The success of any copywriting is hugely based on the clarity of your message.

    • Ryan M. Healy

      March 31, 2012

      Good question. Clarity factors into what we do more often than we think. Giving instructions to a child, negotiating a project, teaching, etc.

  • D Bnonn Tennant

    March 30, 2012

    Ryan, it’s interesting you mention clarity first. Dr Flint McGlaughlin of MECLABS has a saying: “Clarity trumps persuasion.”

    In fact, I’m in the process of developing an info-product around the principles behind successful marketing (the kind of principles that drive tactical stuff like the 4U formula for headlines), and one of the main three is clarity.

    Thanks for sharing these insights. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that symbols can lift response. I’d have thought they’d reduce clarity. Can you give me an example of an ad that uses an @ sign or #?

    • Ryan M. Healy

      March 30, 2012

      Examples:

      #1 in College Textbooks
      Get Textbooks @ Low Prices!

      The # symbol is usually part of:

      #1 in _______

      Seems to work well when the # is at the start of the line.

  • Dan G.

    March 30, 2012

    DKI, not used carefully, does backfire. Learnt it hard way, twice :(

    • Ryan M. Healy

      March 31, 2012

      Well, on the bright side, at least you learned it! :-)

  • Paul

    April 2, 2012

    Ryan, that sounds like a really cool gig. I’m curious about when you said, “why one PPC ad beats another”. Are you talking specifically about clickthrough rate? Or are you talking about the ultimate conversion?

    I never thought about using the special symbols. Very interesting.

    Maybe you could start a new site called DamnYouDKI.com ;-)

    • Ryan M. Healy

      April 2, 2012

      In most cases, I’m talking about CTR. But in some cases it is conversion. It depends on which metric the client chooses to use to determine winners/losers.