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From the Trenches

The Most Challenging Copywriting Job in the World

Mike Sweeney | May 6, 2008

I’ve always said that writing ad copy for pay-per-click ads, particularly for Google AdWords, is an extremely challenging task.  Here’s why:

  • Google gives you what seems like 10 characters in which to fit your entire marketing message.  OK, I am exaggerating, but most marketers and copywriters are long-winded folks by nature, so restricting us to somewhere in the range of 100 characters is tough.
  • As opposed to a print ad or radio spot where writers and creative folks are able to express concepts with supporting visuals or audio cues, the typical ppc ad is relatively lifeless.
  • Your ads appear right above or under ads from 3-20 of your closest competitors, depending on your category.  Not exactly exclusive territory.
  • If you’ve designed your ppc campaign well, you’re controlling which ad copy is appearing under individual keywords.  That being said, even knowing which keywords a search engine user is searching for does not mean the writer knows the search engine user’s ultimate goal of searching.

OK, OK.  I’ll stop giving copywriters and PPC professionals a reason to ask for a raise, and instead focus on a real-life example of solid ad copywriting.  I was recently searching for a plumbing/heating company to repair our water heater, and realized that we’ve never really liked any of the plumbers we’ve used.  Without much time to ask for any referrals from friends/neighboors, I did what most folks do these days – I googled it.

To protect the innocent, I am going to remove the actual geographic descriptors and company names from the remainder of this post.  Here’s how the next steps unfolded:

1) I searched for “plumbers xxxx city, virginia” on Google.  As expected, a plethora of local search listings, hit or miss SEO listings in the top 10, and pay-per-click listings up the you know what.

2) For a variety of reasons, I dismiss the local search listings and organic listings, primarily because in this category you get every directory (superpages, yellowpages, yellowbook, switchboard, etc.) listing possible, and that’s not what I am after.  I don’t want to call 16 plumbers to find the right one, I want to try to make 1-3 calls and get someone out to the house.

3) So here is a sample of the ppc ads I see and my commentary on each:

Plumbers: www.insertplumberhere.com
Expert Plumbing Installation, Repair And Replacement Services!

>>Commentary: Uhhh…great, you haven’t told me anything.  I have no idea if you’re really local, no idea if you can take care of my project today, I just know you’re a supposed expert.  Terrible ad.

Local VA Plumber: www.insertplumberhere.net
We Drain Your Pipes Not Your Wallet. Call (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

>>Commentary: A bit better than the first example.  Some may like the cute tag line, I just see it as an obstacle. The good news is that I know this company is local through the use of “VA” in the title and the listing of a local phone number in the ad copy.  Average ad.

Plumbers: www.Superpages.com Washington, DC (Hagerstown, MD)
Find Washington DC Plumbing Services & Contractors w/Superpages

>>Commentary: I just list this one for giggles.  My apologies to Super Pages, but you’re asking me to take an additional step to go to what amounts to yet another lesser search engine, just to find more listings.  No thanks – if I wanted to open up my 20,000 page Yellow Pages book, I’d do that.

Plumbers: www.insertplumberhere.com XXX, VA
XXX Plumbing – Serving Virginia. We Give Phone Quotes. 24 Hr Service

>>Commentary: The best of the bunch, although still not perfect.  You tell me you serve Virginia so you at least appear to be local.  You tell me you have 24 hour service, so given the urgency of my problem you can probably get here today (by the way, does anyone really want to wait a few days to resolve a plumbling problem?).  And here’s the bonus! You offer phone quotes, so I’ll know before you arrive at my house whether my job requires my first born as collateral, or my first born + my house.

And don’t even get me started on the landing pages associated with each of these ads….that’s a topic for another day.  Here’s the point – when writing ads for ppc campaigns, every word matters.  Every character matters.  Capitalization matters.  Your URL matters.  Don’t take this process lightly.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.