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Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Anatomy Of Compelling Search Ad Copy

Ad copy is the only part of your PPC campaign that a searcher actually sees. A searcher does not see your keyword list, bids, day parting settings, or daily budget. Those precious few words that make up your ad copy are the only insight into your offer that a searcher uses to make the decision to click on your ad.

Therefore, the characters that are allotted to the ad copy need to convey a message that draws attention, is simple to comprehend, and compels a searcher to click on your ad and do business with your company.

There are five major items that can be used in ad copy. However, ads do not have the character space to effectively allot all of these items at a single time (unless you start combining them—which is a possibility). This is one of the reasons that testing ad copy is essential to PPC success. Ideas are not difficult to come by—results are.

The five major parts of search ad copy are:

  • Captivating headline
  • Features
  • Benefits
  • Unique selling proposition (USP)
  • Call to action

Let’s walk through these five areas of a search ad.

Captivating headline

If no one reads the ad, does it matter what words were used? The very first step to an effective ad is making sure that it’s being read by a searcher. This is where the headline comes into play. The headline has two jobs in ad copy. The first is drawing attention to the ad. The second is enticing the searcher to read the rest of the ad copy.

The headline can be a standalone element that does not borrow from the other ad copy elements—its only job being to bring attention to the rest of the ad. However, it could also be a feature, call to action, etc. The headline should be tested to see how it affects both click through rate and conversion rate. Often, tweaking the headline will affect CTR more than other statistics as its job is to make sure the ad is read by a searcher.

Unique selling proposition

Should someone do business with you instead of your competition? If you answered yes, then why? What is unique about your business that a shopper will not find elsewhere?

The answer to the above questions is known as the USP or unique selling proposition. Differentiating your business in your ad copy can be crucial. If you are selling digital cameras, and thousands of other stores are selling the exact same camera—does it matter where a shopper buys the camera? Of course it does, and your USP tells a shopper why it is not just the product, it’s also the company that matters.

In some industries, the products are so niche that a change in your USP is not going to make a difference in your statistics. However, in overcrowded, highly competitive and expensive marketplaces, your USP should be tested to see how it affects both conversion and click through rate.

Features vs. benefits

These two items are often used interchangeably—however, they are very different and should be treated as such.


A feature is just a bullet point list of what a product is. The feature lists the components or functions that make up a product or service. Currently, I’m writing this article on an IBM ThinkPad that has:

  • Battery: rated for 6 hours
  • Memory: 2 Gigs of RAM
  • Wight: 2.8 lbs

That is just part of the feature list for this laptop. It is easy to write huge lists of features about any single product. And features are very important to comparison shoppers. However, the feature list does not tell someone why they should choose a particular product.

When using a feature in ad copy, be sure to measure if including a feature has any impact on your CTR or conversion rate. In some industries, adding a feature to an ad copy can be very useful—in others it is a complete waste of good characters in the ad copy.


A benefit is something your product or service will do for the customer. A benefit tells someone why they should choose one product over another product.

Often, feature lists draw us into a product for examination—however, the benefit is what causes someone to buy a product. For most people, the things we care about most are time, money, health and family. If you can improve someone’s life in one of those aspects—then you will see sales increase.

To illustrate the point based on the earlier feature list, here’s the benefit of each of those items:

  • It has a 6 hour battery life so you can be more productive on cross-country flights
  • It has 2 gigs of RAM to enjoy the video game HALO’s ground-breaking graphics
  • It weighs only 2.8 lbs so it will not strain your shoulder when carrying it around all day

If you take a feature, add a ‘so’ or ‘with’ to the end of the feature list and create a sentence, you can easily transform a feature into a benefit.

When examining how benefits affect our ad copy, the CTR and conversion rates are the two elements that will be affected the most.

Calls to action

What do you want someone to do if they click on your ad? Why should someone click on your ad? Why are you paying for the ad in the first place?

A call to action is not just a sentence explaining why someone should click on your ad to view your entire offer. A call to action should extend to your website. A call to action tells the consumer what to do next. Each step of the conversion process can use this item to enhance conversion rates.

When searching, consumers are seeking information. Searchers are either not sure of the best place to find information or whether the product they are examining is the correct product for them. When people are uncertain, they are more prone to taking direction towards the desired outcome. Why often we don’t like being told what to do—when uncertain, we do like being guided in the correct direction towards resolution.

While a website should always use a call to action, not all ad copies will need to utilize this feature of ad copy. Your benefit could be compelling enough to induce a click without a call to action.

However, when examining the effectiveness of a call to action, your bottom line is going to be changes in conversion rates. You should measure CTR to make sure that the ad is being clicked; and that the call to action is useful in the ad compared to other ad copy elements. However, the bottom line of most advertising campaigns is some sort of conversion metric—and that is where a good call to action can make the difference.


There are several elements of ad copy. Each element has different strengths as to why it should be used. One should measure each element to make sure that it is helping to achieve the success metrics you set for your advertising campaign. It’s not just each individual ad which should be measured by click through rate and conversion rate—it’s also the singular parts of the ad copy elements.

One of the strengths of a short copywriter is combining elements together. Can your call to action also be a benefit? Can a feature also be a captivating headline? If so, you’ve just created an ad copy line with two elements in it at once. While this can be useful, doing too much in a single line can also be confusing to a searcher. The strength lies in combining elements that resonate with a searcher.

Simple is more difficult than complex. Can you take complex messages and boil them down into easy-to-comprehend statements?

Pay per click ads are short, concise, and very limited in total characters. Each ad copy element can make a large difference in your campaign’s success metrics.

Are you breaking down your ad into various elements, testing each element, and only keeping the characters which are making your marketing campaign successful?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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