By Matthew Stanton

How Marketers Can Use Paid Search To Produce The Right Message

By Kenneth Hamner, Vice President, Search Engine Marketing, Edelman


While there are many channels and opportunities to serve ads online, Paid Search is arguably the best for driving cost-efficient conversions. Searchers with an intent to purchase are actively in-market for a product or service, and the major search engines serve ads against these consumers in real time.

Though the programmatic nature of Paid Search allows marketers to easily serve ads to the right person at the right time, delivering the right message that cuts through the clutter and appeals to the searcher can be a challenge.

To address this problem, search engines have released products to automate writing and optimizing ads. For example, Google’s Dynamic Search Ads will automatically generate headlines, and Google’s new Responsive Search Ads will automatically optimize ad elements to generate the best response rates. However, marketers are still primarily responsible for manually writing, assigning, and implementing copy within traditional Paid Search campaigns, which is bandwidth intensive. Additionally, ad specs can evolve and change as the engines introduce new marketing opportunities, requiring marketers to make further copy adjustments.

Since serving the right ad is crucial for driving clicks and sales, this post will highlight best practices for writing and optimizing copy, and it will discuss how learnings from ad copy can improve other marketing channels and inform brand messaging.

How To Write Paid Search Copy

Every Paid Search text ad adheres to the same structure across the major search engines:

Headline – Headlines are usually the first thing a searcher will notice about an ad as they appear at the top and have a different color and larger font than the rest of the ad.

Description – The description allows marketers to tell the searcher more about the advertised product or service in more detail.

Display URL – The displayed URL includes the root domain of the landing page and can include two custom tailored “paths” to be more relevant to the query and give the searcher an idea on what to expect post-click.

This Paid Search text ad example from Google contains all of these elements:

Character limits can vary by text ad element. Here are the current limits Google enforces for its new Responsive Search Ads:

Beyond headlines and extensions, marketers can voluntarily leverage extensions to further tailor their ads. Here are five extensions marketers can implement:

1) Sitelink Extensions – Sitelinks appear below the main part of the ad and drive searchers deeper into the advertised site. They can have a headline and description lines.

2) Location Extensions – For advertisers with physical stores, an address can be added to the ad to encourage searchers to visit a nearby location. They can also link mobile users to directions to the business.

3) Call Extensions – If an advertiser would like to drive calls to a store or call center, phone numbers can be appended to ads. If the number appears on a smartphone, searchers can directly call the marketer’s assigned number with a simple tap.

4) Structured Snippet Extensions – If an advertiser wants to highlight specific aspects of products or services, these can be added beneath the text of an ad.

5) Callout Extensions – Marketers can add short blurbs of text that help an ad to stand out by highlighting value props specific to the advertiser (free shipping, same-day delivery, free returns, etc.). These blurbs show up underneath the main ad copy.

With so many features available, crafting a great text ad can seem overwhelming. However, keeping the following four things in mind allows marketers to cut through complexities and implement messaging that gets the searcher’s attention:

1) Place the audience at the center of messaging – There are simple ways marketers can accomplish this when writing copy like including the query in the copy, using words like “you” and “your”, and referencing factors relevant to the user like their location. However, the biggest thing a marketer can do is position the messaging to address the intent made behind the query. For example, if a searcher is looking for a floral dress, a clothing retailer can position the copy in a way that states they have a wide selection of floral dresses for any occasion that can be easily purchased and delivered.

2) Incorporate personality – Highlight what makes an advertiser special with language that makes the ad fun but in-line with the company’s chosen tone and voice. Also, incorporating value-props will make the ad differ (and better!) than the competition.

3) Maximize real estate – Marketers should make sure they’re maximizing their available characters so the ad takes up as much of the page as possible. Also, using extensions will make the ad appear bigger and push competitors further down the page and could improve the click-thru-rate 10-15%.

4) Encourage an action – As space and the flow of the ad allows, ask the searcher to visit the site, learn more about your products or service, and complete a conversion (i.e. “Buy Now”). Including urgency can also further help improve click-thru-rates and searcher engagement. However, be mindful that the search engines will not allow marketers to reference the physical engagement with the ad with statements like “click now” or “tap here”.

How To Gather Learnings & Optimize Paid Search Copy

One of the great things about Paid Search is it can collect a lot of data very quickly. Marketers can mine this data to determine what ads are performing, and those learnings can be used to further optimize and increase performance.

To properly gather formal learnings, a marketer should first determine what one variable they want to test & learn, and then messaging should be constructed in a way where learnings can be distilled.

A good place to start testing and learning is to understand what messaging theme performs best. Optimizing to theme will have a significant impact on performance, and it creates opportunities to unlock further performance.

For example, let’s say that an electronics retailer (“EdelmanTronics”) wants to drive more traffic to its website and then convert that traffic into revenue. To determine which messaging drives traffic that converts, it could implement three ads with their own unique theme:

A) “Official Site” messaging – This variation would have a heavy emphasis on having the ad mention it will take searchers to the official site for EdelmanTronics.

B) “Deal” messaging – This variation would highlight the good prices EdelmanTronics offers consumers.

C) “Selection” messaging – This variation would highlight the wide variety of products EdelmanTronics sells.

Once the messaging plan has been established, EdelmanTronics needs to implement the ads in a way that collects data for learnings. The ads should be set-up within the ad platforms to rotate evenly so each ad has an equal opportunity to serve and generate traffic. EdelmanTronics should also give each ad time to collect enough data for statistical significance. For queries with high demand, this could take a few days. For queries with low demand, it could take weeks or months (or never if an ad isn’t serving due to lack of demand).

After the ads have collected enough data and reached statistical significance, results can be compared to determine what theme of messaging performed best. Since the business objective is to maximize traffic that generates revenue, the metric “Revenue-Per-Impression” is being used to determine a winner since it is the product of both traffic and sales.

In this example the “Selection” messaging drives the most revenue per query.

Given these example results, EdelmanTronics could run another thematic test to see if other variations perform well. If EdelmanTronics is confident that “Selection” messaging will perform best, it could retire “Official Site” and “Deal” messaging and only run “Selection” messaging going forward on the tested queries.

If EdelmanTronics were to go with “Selection” messaging, it should set-up additional tests to determine if different headlines, descriptions lines, calls to action, or other elements could further improve “Selection” messaging performance. To inform phrasings for these elements, marketers could use tools like search console to see how searchers are submitting their queries and then create messaging elements in-line with query behaviors and trends. This refinement should be ongoing to further drive more revenue-per-impression until the effort is not worth the impact on the Paid Search campaign.

How to Use Copy Learnings Outside Of Paid Search

Paid Search can generate a lot of data quickly, and that data can be used to determine if a certain messaging theme or element drives clicks and conversions. If there is a learning gained from Paid Search (i.e., a certain phrase or value prop does well), this could be incorporated into other channels for testing.

Edelman uses messaging learnings frequently to inform testing in other channels. For example, Edelman recently ran a creative test to see if “Save 55% Off Purchase” messaging performed better than listing the actual price of the product with the 55% discount baked in. Once the test reached statistical significance, Edelman determined that the “Save 55% Off Purchase” messaging generated a return-on-ad-spend 59% higher than messaging that listed the actual price. Messaging featuring the actual price was then retired across Paid Search, and it was rotated into other channels to test producing similar results.

While messaging elements can be shared across multiple channels, marketers should keep in mind that each channel can have its own unique best practices.

For example, Facebook users respond best to ads featuring images and videos uncluttered by text, and Facebook has previously stated that images featuring too much text can lead to a marketer’s ad being shown to fewer people. However, there are opportunities to include text that accompanies the ad’s visuals. Marketers can incorporate Paid Search messaging learnings in a manner that fits the brand’s voice and is also concise, since Facebook users quickly scroll through their newsfeed.


Having an optimized message that speaks to the consumer’s intent is a great way to stand-out. These targeted messages will drive more traffic from relevant audiences, and it will ultimately result in more actions that serve the marketer’s business goal. Please make sure to continue testing and evolving your brand’s creative until it reflects the appropriate message and apply that message across other marketing communication channels as it makes sense.

About Edelman Digital

Edelman Digital is the digital advisory and integrated marketing arm of the world’s largest communications marketing firm. Our global staff, in over 65 offices worldwide, is built to manage the complexity of modern marketing and online reputation, using a data-driven social-first storytelling approach designed to deliver real-time business results. We believe in exploring future-forward technology to advance the stories we tell. The output of our work delivers experiences that transform culture, reputation and relationships to inspire real-world action between brands and consumers.

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