From the Trenches

3 Writing Habits You Need to Toss to Write Effective Paid Media

Katie Wolf | November 9, 2017
3 Writing Habits You Need to Toss to Write Effective Paid Media

Everyone has that one annoying writer friend. The English nerd. The grammar police. The one whose text messages are always written in full sentences with proper punctuation. The one who cringes at the thought of using ampersands and abbreviations to fit a complete thought into 140 characters on Twitter. And don’t even think about using “ur” instead of “your” in his or her presence.

I’ll admit it: I’m that person. I like complete sentences, proper grammar, and fully spelled-out words. So, when I was first asked to write a paid search ad, I balked. Fit what into how many characters? Impossible. Give me at least a full page, or give me death.

OK, that’s a little dramatic, but you get the idea. As a writer, I was used to writing lengthier pieces, like blog posts and eBooks — things with a word count rather than a character count. But writing has evolved, especially when it comes to marketing. For many businesses, getting your message in front of the right people requires an integrated approach, and the use of paid media — like Facebook and Twitter ads, and Google AdWords — is part of that. And paid media requires a whole different kind of writing than some of the more traditional content types.

If you’re anything like me, the idea of that kind of writing may make you a little uncomfortable at first — but it’s not a lost cause. To write successful paid media — the kind that gets the right people to take the right action, and ultimately make your business successful — you just have to push past a few of the copywriting rules that have become so ingrained in you.

Refusing to abbreviate or simplify
It goes against pretty much everything in my being (and the AP Stylebook) to use symbols like ampersands and unnecessary abbreviations (like “yr.” instead of “year”) when I’m writing content. But when you’re limited to two 30-character headlines or an 80-character description, the rules change. And if the only way you’re going to be able to convey your message within the ad copy character limits is to replace “and” with “&,” you just have to embrace it.

But it’s not just about the character count. The people who are reading your ads are experts in scrolling through their Facebook feeds and pages of Google results. They’re used to seeing copy that includes symbols and abbreviations — and appreciate it because it’s easy to skim. Just make sure you don’t go too crazy on the symbols or use abbreviations that aren’t clear to your audience. That will only cause confusion (and probably fewer clicks).

Embracing this kind of writing doesn’t mean you should skip proper punctuation, though. Punctuation is what often makes the difference between copy that people understand and copy that confuses. And some punctuation has added benefits: Adding punctuation after the first description line after your headline in AdWords can result in an elongated headline (read: more real estate for your message).

Striving for perfection
You’re probably used to writing with the intent that the piece is going to be around for a while. You put in a lot of time and effort into getting it just right, because once you hit publish, that’s it — it’s done, it’s final, and you’re probably not going to make any significant changes to it.

Paid ads don’t have that kind of staying power. If you run the same Facebook ad for too long, it gets stale, and users won’t engage with it anymore. That means your content-writing approach has to be a little different. While it can pay off to agonize over the first sentence of a blog post to make sure it really hooks the reader, you can’t do the same when writing copy for a single paid ad. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze – as a certain chief marketing technology officer (aka Will Davis) would say.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for quality. You still need to think strategically, include the right messages and keywords, and make sure ads are typo-free. But you also have to consider the reality: Your ad may only run for a week or two before it becomes stale. Rather than writing one perfectly crafted ad, it’s typically more effective to experiment with several different approaches and messages, so you can see what resonates most with your audience. In fact, with paid media, you should always be testing and revising — you can never “set it and forget it.” Consumer behavior changes, your competitors change, and trends change. If you don’t keep your ads fresh, they’ll quickly become irrelevant.

Telling a drawn-out story
When you tell a story, you don’t give away the ending in the first sentence. You weave details throughout the content, revealing the story piece by piece. Even when you get into the realm of marketing materials like emails or brochures, you don’t start with “Buy our product!” — you lead with the customers’ pain points, then explain how your product or service can address them.

But in paid media, you don’t have that luxury. Readers are scrolling fast, and they’re only going to glance at your ad for a second or two. To get your message across, you have to do it immediately. Some readers won’t even read your entire ad, so you should aim to include the most important, eye-catching information in the first 30 characters. WordStream recommends including statistics and figures (including price) at the beginning of your ad when you can. Figures like price or other compelling metrics could help your reader make the decision to click. You can fit in other product features or keywords later in the copy, but the headline should get right to the point.

While it may skirt the traditional rules of writing, paid media copywriting is an art form on its own — and an essential part of most marketing strategies. To do it right, you just have to expand your view of what makes good writing. If you need help with your paid media strategy — or any part of your marketing strategy — just reach out.

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