10 Tips on How to Write Better Pay Per Click Ad Copy

I hate wasting money. Even other people’s money. And while I love pay per click advertising, it can be like hoarding up a big pile of cash and setting it on fire. You just hope you get warm enough before the blaze goes out.

Of course, most of us don’t just light our budgets on fire. And many of you reading this know all about the pay per click basics. You’ve already:

  • Set a conservative daily budget (no bonfires for you)
  • Carefully picked your keywords for optimal conversions (not just to nab tons of traffic)
  • Grouped your keywords into tightly-related ad groups
  • Added negative keywords – both at the campaign and at the ad group level
  • Optimized your campaign settings for device, location, ad rotation and more
  • Set up conversion tracking
  • Written some well-targeted ad copy

If you’ve done all that, you’re well on your way to a profitable pay per click account. But I have one more recommendation: Split-test your ad copy. Relentlessly. Systematically. Forever.

Why? Because if you haven’t been split-testing your ad copy, you could probably be getting three to four times the click-through rate than what you’re getting now. And as you know, that could result in a lower average cost per click, more ad exposure (traffic) and dramatically better results.

How do I know split-testing works so well? Because a few years ago I managed over $12,000 a day – over $2 million a year – in pay per click advertising. I did so in a cut-throat niche: online background checks. I was competing with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other bidders.

To survive, I had to test and exploit every possible technique I could find. And one that worked the best? Split-testing ad copy for narrowly-targeted ad groups.

When I say “narrowly-targeted,” I mean as narrow as one word per ad group. If there was enough volume and a high enough conversion rate to warrant it, of course.

Over dozens of iterations, I got some of those ads up to over 20%, even 30%, click-through rates. For some context, here are the average click-through rates by industry:

This is a Wordstream screenshot on the average CTR by industry. Improve your results by reading our post on how to write better PPC ad copy.

The thing I like best about this technique (aside from getting to write and run tests), is that it’s free. Unless you’re working with a very stingy PPC agency, coming up with ad copy ideas is relatively cheap. It’s also relatively easy, once you know a few tricks.

So, if you’d like to be getting way more mileage out of your PPC budget, but don’t think of yourself as an ace copywriter, try a couple of these tips. Even one, applied over time, could cut your cost per click by a third. No budget bonfires required.

1) Obsess over searcher intent

As mentioned before, PPC advertising is ferociously competitive. Your ads are competing for users’ attention against a wall of text and links and other options. They’re also competing against the “SQUIRREL!” effect all this has on your user’s attention.

Because of that, you have to snag your readers’ hearts instantly. And I do mean their hearts. Even B2B buyers are being guided by their emotions and built-in prejudices as they scan the ads. They’ll pick an ad from the hoard based on those preferences. Then, they’ll screen it through their logic filters.

To get their attention at all, you need to know what they want, and how to show them you’ve got it. In other words, talk benefits, not features.

Lil’ copywriting 101 here: Benefits are what people get out of using products and services. Things like saving time, reducing costs, getting a raise. Features are the specifics of the products – the 3-terabyte hard drive, the easy payment plan, the anti-gravity propulsion. Newbie copywriters tend to focus on features. Buyers’ hearts sway on benefits.

Here’s an example: Speak to their pain. Use “End the CRM data feed headaches” as a headline. Then use the lower lines of copy to outline the features.

Here’s another example: Speak to their fear. “Who are they – really?” used to do well for background checks ads.

Want a general rule? Put the benefit or benefits in the headline. Put the features in the lower lines of copy.

Here is an example of Ad Text copy where the benefits are clearly stated in the headline

An example of benefits in the headline. Everybody wants to lose weight, but most if us fear it’ll mean being hungry all the time.

2) Use power words

Even with the new expanded text ads, our pay per click ad copy is still an exercise in brevity. Every word counts.

So make them count. It’s good writing advice to replace weak verbs with strong ones, but when you’re writing PPC copy, it’s essential.

Fortunately, there’s been quite a lot of study done on which words sell. There’s a whole series of books, in fact:

Want to know the ultimate power word? It’s “you,” followed closely by “free.”

3) Steal

I dislike adding this technique. But it works… and your competitors are using it… and you need it.

What I mean, of course, is to steal your competitors’ ad copy. Except (before you gasp at how unethical this is) please don’t nab it wholesale. And don’t overuse this trick. Snitch words and phrases – not the entire ad block.

Of course, some advertisers do steal nearly the entire ad block. That’s them – not you. I’m also going to assume that your company is actually different than your competitors. You’ve got some USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that truly sets you apart. Don’t cover that up.

But here’s how you can snitch a little here and there to get a modest edge. Consider these ads:

Here is an example of multiple companies using the same phrases in their ad copy

Here’s what I notice:

  • Several of them use the word “Quality.” I might split-test a couple of ads with that word
  • All but the top ad mentions free shipping. That’s an easy phrase to squeeze into an ad for a couple of split-tests, too
  • Three out of four of them mention a “guarantee.” Sometimes it’s a “lifetime guarantee,” sometimes it’s a “9-year guarantee.” Sometimes they use the word “warranty” instead of “guarantee.” That’s all worth split-testing
  • Notice the dots between the phrases

I think you get the idea. And to go back to the whole idea of “stealing.” I could have just as well said, “pay attention to what your competitors are doing, and see if it might work for you.” But “steal” is a far stronger word, and it’s more concise. My PPC training won out.

Bonus idea: Look at ads from other industries and niches. This is a terrific way to find some ad copy gems… and to stay a couple steps ahead of your competitors.

4. “Don’t write ads your landing page can’t cash”

This is a quote attributed to a Google AdWords reviewer from a few years back. It means that no matter how inspired or awesome your ad copy is, it must be backed up by your landing page.

Here’s two examples of how this plays out:

  • If you don’t offer free shipping, don’t say that in your ads. (Duh, right? But it can be tempting… those two words will get you more clicks)
  • Don’t say you’re the “best” unless there’s third-party verification of that on your landing page. It’s not OK to just make the claim. Some third party – like Consumer Reports or Crazy Uncle Ed’s CRM Review – has to vouch for you

5. Use words that match the query

It’s important to stand out from the other ads. You can do that by using words in your ads that match the search query of the user – it’ll make the words that match appear in bold. Like this:

This google search shows how marketers are using the searchers query in their ad copy

Bonus trick: Use the searcher’s query on your landing page too.

6. Stand out

The first thing you’ll think of when I say this is special characters. All caps. The kind of formatting tricks you see in eBay listings. They can help for sure (if you can get them past the ad reviewers). But there are other ways.

Like ratings and site link extensions, for example:

This example shows how using site link extensions can help you stand out.

7. Go short

If you really nail every word, sometimes you can stand out by simply having a noticeably shorter ad. Most ad writers get so obsessed with squeezing in every word they forget the punch of brevity. So while they zig, you zag.

Corollary to this: Once you’ve got a high-performing ad, it’s tempting to just stick with it and only test little changes. Resist that. Every once in awhile, test ad copy that’s completely, totally different. Copy that’s from out of left field, two towns away.

8. Maximize your display URL

People look at display URLs. They assess ads based on them. Even a couple of keywords in an ad’s display URL can deliver an additional information, or give context. This makes for more room to convey a message. Use it.

This ad is a great example of maximizing your URL to communicate your ad copy.

Bonus idea: Capitalize the initial letter in every word of your display URL. It makes them easier to read.

9. Use a call to action

Another problem with using up all your ad space to talk about your offer? Too many copywriters forget the call to action. Don’t. Every ad should have one at the close.

If you had to pick just one phrase to start testing in your ads, I’d recommend it be the call to action. Try ads with and without a call to action… you’ll probably see at least a 10% lift for the ads with CTAs.

These ads are an example of using calls to action within your ad copy

The second two ads here have calls to action.

10. Be specific

Numbers get more clicks for article titles. They work for PPC ads, too. If you can, use the most specific number possible. 187% will usually work better than “almost 200%.”

Word to the wise

For some of us, it’s fun to optimize ad copy. It’s even more fun to see click-through rates soar, and cost per click drop. But pay attention to the quality of traffic you’re sending to your landing pages and through your entire conversion funnel. It doesn’t help your company if you get higher click-through rates on your ads, but your final conversion rates fall into the toilet.


There’s an old saying among direct mail types. When they launch a campaign, they pronounce with glee, “It’ll never be as bad as it is now.”

What they mean is that when you first launch a campaign, you’re only at iteration #1 of your testing. As you continue to run and test the campaign, it will get better and better and better. PPC accounts should be that way, too.

What about you?

Got any PPC ad copy tricks you want to share? Leave a comment.