PPC Ad Copy

How our testing improved our click-through rate by as much as 121%


We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

PPC Ad Copy (Windows Media Audio)

PPC Ad Copy (RealMedia)

This research brief will answer the following questions:


The primary purpose of any online ad copy is to get a user to click through to visit your website. While it is true that the best ad copy will also contribute to high conversion after the click, the easiest factor to measure the “effectiveness” of your ads is click-through rate (CTR).

On the pay-per-click (PPC) search engines, ad copy can be tested to optimize CTR quite easily. On Google AdWords, for example, multiple ads can be created in the same ad group to test a variety of ad copy approaches. The best ad copy can then be isolated and optimized even further.

Often, the best ad will be one that sets your offer apart from those of the competition.

Consider the following when creating an ad:

  • Do you have the lowest price? You may have success with listing the price of your items in the ad itself, perhaps in the title.
  • Do you have the best variety? Listing the number of products you carry in the ad may be most effective.
  • Do you have high-quality products? Emphasize this in your ad copy, citing specific awards or “prestige” brands, if appropriate.
  • Is top-notch customer service your strongest selling point? What credibility indicators can you use in your ads to emphasize this?
  • Is the site content-driven or informative? Mention how your site can meet the needs of potential customers.

Without giving potential customers a reason to buy from you, you are inviting them to visit your competition. Customers often search so fast that they make decisions about a purchase in just a few seconds. On the Web, you are just a click away from rejection. Therefore, to be effective, your ads need to capture the attention of a potential customer at first glance.

But it doesn’t stop there. Your copy should not only garner attention, but should also be interesting enough to get a customer to slow down, read, and most importantly, click.

An additional benefit of optimizing ad copy for the PPC engines is that it helps you discover effective copy for other media. One of the quickest ways to test a new marketing message is to measure its effectiveness in the PPC engines. Granted, this may require that you break a marketing message into its constituent parts due to the character limitations in PPC ads, but key phrases and short sentences can be tested quite easily.

1. How do you determine the best ad copy for your business?

We continually stress at MEC that although some wisdom can be gained from viewing case studies and other research, a true indicator of your potential success will come through your own micro-testing.

To measure the effectiveness of a number of PPC ad copy approaches, we set up micro-tests for two different online industries. We were able to derive meaningful results in just a few days of testing.

These were the testing parameters:

  • Two sites were selected for micro-testing, an Internet marketing-related site and a specialty pet products site.
  • Each site had a single Google AdWords ad group driving traffic to it.
  • Cost-per-click bids were set at very low levels for each respective industry in an attempt to control position in the engine.
  • Five pieces of copy were developed for each site. All the remaining ad group settings remained identical so we could isolate the impact of the changing copy.
  • The ads appeared in both Google search results and the AdSense content-based ad syndication network.
  • Results were gathered over a period of 4 days.

Below is an overview of the results for both campaigns:

Campaign Summaries
Internet Marketing Site Specialty Pet Site
Days Tested 4 4
Search Clicks 162 99
Content Clicks 555 715
Avg. Position – Search 11 5.8
Avg. Position – Content 2.9 4.4
Avg. Cost-Per-Click $0.21 $0.05

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: In two micro-tests, we generated approximately 800 clicks for each of the two test sites. These clicks came both from Google search results and from Google AdSense content ads.

Here were the ad copy click-through results for each site:

Test Site A – Internet Marketing Site
Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad #1 175,256 149 0.0850%
Ad #2 175,256 149 0.0850%
Ad #3 176,178 185 0.1033%
Ad #4 197,393 92 0.0466%
Ad #5 199,238 145 0.0728%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Ad #3 performed 21.5% better than the next best ad for this Internet marketing-related website. It performed 121% better than the worst ad.

Test Site B – Specialty Pet Site
Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad #1 23,687 303 1.2792%
Ad #2 14,689 164 1.1165%
Ad #3 14,920 160 1.0724%
Ad #4 13,228 111 0.8391%
Ad #5 10,382 76 0.7320%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Ad #1 performed 14.6% better than the next best ad for this specialty pet-products site. It performed 74.8% better than the worst ad.

Why did some ads perform better than others? We can look specifically at the features of the five types of copy used for each site:

  • Ad #1 – This ad had a well written body copy and used keyword insertion in the ad title. In other words, we included the actual bid-for search terms into the ad “headline” or “title”, which is the prominent first line and the actual hyperlink of the ad.

    An ad of these specifications performed the best for test site B, a specialty pet-products site.

    Here were the ads we used:

    • {KeyWord:Free Marketing Research}
      Web Marketing Techniques & Research
      PPC, SEO, EBay Marketplace & More.
    • {KeyWord:Bulldog Info & Resources}
      Family website devoted to Bulldogs.
      Photos, Info, Resources & Community
  • Ad #2 – This ad had a “poorly written” body copy with keyword insertion in the ad title. Some examples of poorly written copy are included below.

    Here were the ads we used:

    • {KeyWord:Free Marketing Research}
      We hold all the secrets to internet
      marketing. Buy Now!
    • {KeyWord:Bulldog Info & Resources}
      Site about family dog
      Pictures and links here
  • Ad #3 – This was an “over-the-top” piece of poorly written body copy, using keyword insertion in the ad title. Examples of “over-the-top” copy are included below.

    Interestingly, this ad type performed the best for the Internet marketing-related site.

    Here were the ads we used:

    • {KeyWord:Free Marketing Research}
      Lousy Marketing Ideas.
      Don’t Come to our Site.
    • {KeyWord:Bulldog Info & Resources}
      Vaguely useful pet site
      Affiliate links and pictures
  • Ad #4 – This was well-written body copy with a poorly written ad title (and no keyword insertion).

    Here were the ads we used:

    • Make Money Online
      Web Marketing Techniques & Research
      PPC, SEO, EBay Marketplace & More.
    • Dog Site
      Family website devoted to Bulldogs.
      Photos, Info, Resources & Community
  • Ad #5 – This was well-written body copy and an “over-the-top” title.

    Here were the ads we used:

    • Lousy Marketing Ideas
      Web Marketing Techniques & Research
      PPC, SEO, EBay Marketplace & More.
    • Useless Pet Site
      Family website devoted to Bulldogs.
      Photos, Info, Resources & Community

Interestingly, the kind of “reverse psychology” Internet marketing ad we described as “over-the-top” actually outperformed all the other ads for that site. In general, online marketers are used to being sold to, and in this case the ad copy was meant to do the opposite. So this ad performing well, although not predicted prior to the campaign, was also not completely unexpected.

The impact on CTR with a poorly written body copy was slight, but the effect of poorly written title copy was quite significant, which leads us to the conclusion that most potential customers focus on the title rather than on the body or on the ad copy as a whole.

For Test Site A above, ads with a good title (ads 1-3) performed 53.6% better than those with a poorly written title (ads 4-5).

For Test Site B, ads with a good title (ads 1-3) performed 48.5% better than those with a poorly written title (ads 4-5).

KEY POINT: The most important factor of your PPC ads is the headline or title. More than any other part of the ad, the title can impact the CTR of your ads.

It is impossible to infer a concrete plan of action for the best possible PPC ad copy based on two micro-tests. Ideally, you will implement your own testing and discover the optimal ad copy for your own unique offer. In the following section, we offer the most effective techniques we have learned from several years of PPC ad copy testing.

2. What are the most important practices to keep in mind when optimizing your PPC ad copy? (16 Techniques)

  1. The most important element of your PPC ad copy is the heading or title. The more potential customers identify with your heading, the more likely they will be to click your ad. The number of characters allowed in your heading is quite limited, so optimizing the best possible combination of words is of utmost importance.
  2. Using relevant keywords in the ad title usually work very well. This technique captures the attention of users by putting their search terms in the most prominent position in the ad.

    To match your title keywords to search terms, you will have to set up individual ad groups for important search terms. On Google AdWords, you can use automatic keyword insertion, which will save a tremendous amount of time when setting up campaigns spread over numerous keywords. For example, if you have 1500 keywords and want to put all of them into a single ad group, you can set up your account to automatically insert the search terms into your title (as long as they don’t exceed character limitations).

  3. If your prices are the lowest or close to the lowest in your industry, placing product prices in the ad title can boost CTR and skyrocket conversions.
  4. “Free” add-on offers work well in the ad title. For example, if you offer free shipping, free bonus software, or a free 30-day trial, try mentioning that in the ad title and the primary offer in the body.
  5. Make sure the “display URL” is the shortest possible URL. Display URLs are basically free brand exposure for your domain name. Even when no one clicks your ads, you are still receiving exposure. If your site domain is www.MarketingExperiments.com, do not use https://www.marketingexperiments.com/adcopy_article/ as the display URL. Make it as simple, uncomplicated, and memorable as possible.
  6. It is best to display URLs with the “www” in front of them rather than simply marketingexperiments.com. Although it might not be necessary to use the “www” to reach your site, it lets customers clearly know that they are seeing a website URL. It thus becomes more likely that they will remember your site.
  7. Google will let you use some capitalization in the displayed URL. So using www.MarketingExperiments.com instead of www.marketingexperiments.com may make your URL more memorable.
  8. When possible, try to quantify your ads. If you have the most or greatest variety of products in your niche and you believe that gives you a competitive advantage, use that in the ad. If the price of your service is relatively low compared to alternatives, advertising the price in the ad copy – or even in the ad title – can be quite effective.
  9. Avoid using hype in your ads. This is especially true for those products and services whose potential customers may be inherently skeptical. For more on an honest approach to writing copy, review the article Transparent Marketing.
  10. Create a sense of urgency in your ads if it can be done without hype. Rather than using words like “amazing” or “unbelievable,” try “limited-time offer” or “available for overnight shipping.”
  11. Use clear, precise sentences, not just keywords.
  12. When space is available, always add a credibility indicator. Examples of these include: 30-day money-back guarantee, 5-star rated merchant, etc.
  13. Be aware that CTR is not the only important factor in a highly effective PPC ad. Conversion rate is also very important. The temptation on PPC engines is to use highly specific ad copy to pre-qualify your clicks. This may allow you to pay for less clicks while achieving a higher conversion rate.

    However, Google has minimum CTRs that must be maintained for your ads to remain active. The minimum CTR varies by keyword. In addition, a high CTR will also positively influence your ad placement in Google, so sacrificing CTR to increase conversion, while it could save you money, is often quite risky.

  14. Create a unique approach that focuses on the opposite or reverse of what your competitors are advertising. As we saw in Test Site A above, a reverse-psychology approach can often outperform the expected approach for some ad types.
  15. KEY POINT: You cannot write PPC ads in a vacuum. Testing is essential. Furthermore, you must pay attention to what your competitors are doing in the PPC engines. Study your competition’s ad copy to determine how your own marketing voice can be distinctive from that of your competitors.
  16. Review our previous PPC-related reports, listed in the “notes” below.

These sixteen techniques should help you develop the best possible ad copy for a variety of PPC campaigns. But again, nothing should replace ongoing testing as your primary means of optimizing your copy.


Related MEC Reports:

Literature Review

As part of our research on this topic, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable

About This Brief


Editor — Flint McGlaughlin


Writer — Brian Alt


Contributors — Aaron Rosenthal


HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer
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