3 Rules To Write Better Ad Copy

Before the days of smartphones, I would often hear complaints from friends about how text messages weren’t long enough to get their message across. Text messages are 160 characters long.

Along came Twitter (which was originally designed to be used via text message) and I heard even more complaining about how tweets were too short to say what they wanted to say. Tweets max out at 140 characters.

As a PPC professional, I just laughed to myself. I thought that 160 or 140 characters was voluminous. I could say what I needed to say and have room top spare. Why? Because I’d been writing PPC ads for years. I’d been selling products/services with just 95 characters!

Writing Better Ad Copy

Many of you may lack confidence in your writing skills. Personally, distanced myself from the entire subject of English during college. My high school AP class got me out of freshman writing and my junior writing class was offered by the business school instead of the English department. I actually boast about getting a college degree without taking a single English class.

But you don’t need professional training to be a great ad copy writer. I had to grow and develop the skill myself, and here are 3 rules that you can follow to write better ad copy.

Rule #1 – Think Like Your Customer

I wrote a full post about this titled “What Keeps Your Customers Up At Night” and I recommend reading it in its entirety. But I will offer a couple high level points here.

  • Don’t Assume – You all know the saying about what assume spells, but I see this happen frequently. Meetings are held, problems are discussed, and plans are made with unwritten assumptions. To get at the heart of the matter you need to question assumptions, validate them, and then explicitly state them. Then you can ensure everyone is on the same page and you’re dealing with what really matters.
  • Get Closer To Your Customers – As businesses grow, the decision makers tend to get further and further away from customers. If you don’t have the time to interact with customers directly then you need to talk to the people who do.
  • Use Their Vernacular – Say things the way they say them. You may think you’re an “enterprise widget management solution”, but you’re customers might simply call you their “inventory system”. If that’s the case, you’ll get better results from ad copy about how you’re an awesome inventory system because you’re speaking their language.
  • Learn What’s Important To Them – I recently went couch buying. My wife had picked out a sofa/loveseat combo that she liked and I was there to give it the run through before we bought. I sat on it every which way. I had my wife sit with me. I laid down on it. That was when I was sold. You see, at 6’2″ I’m used to sleeping on couches where either my head or my feet will be on an arm rest. This couch was long enough that I could lay flat without hitting either arm rest. It was the clincher for me and I don’t think the salesman even realized it. What are those clinchers for your product/service?


Rule #2 – Convey Unique Value

Tell me if you’ve ever done a search and seen several ads that look virtually the same? Perhaps it looked something like this:

Image via Wordstream.com

When all the ads look the same, how will you stand out from the competition? Are you willing to bid enough to get that #1 position so that you get the click? It shouldn’t have to come to that (though Google’s bottom line would appreciate it)

You need to dig down to the core of what your product/service does. Here are some questions you need to answer, and then commit these answers to memory:

  • What problem does your product/service solve?
  • How is that solution better than your competitors?
  • Why should a customer pay $X for your solution?

The answers to these questions will obviously be interrelated, but I want to make sure you have homework when you’re done reading this post. Write each of these questions at the top of a whiteboard and then answer each one as specifically as possible. Don’t worry about the length to the answers at first. Once you have answers you feel good about, start distilling it down to phrases that will fit in ad copy. Break it into some pieces that are 35 characters, some that are 70 characters, some that are 90 characters. These are the phrases you can use on various PPC platforms in your ad copy. This will make your ads stand out from the rest and you can get the click even if you’re not in the #1 position because you’re conveying your unique value right there in your ad.

Now on to the third rule.

Rule #3 – Always Be Testing

After taking the time to think like your customer; to really know their pain, their fears, and their worries. After distilling your companies unique value for each product/service into phrases that are 35 or 70 or 95 characters. After all this, you might get attached to your work. You’ll step back and admire it. Perhaps you’ll even pat yourself on the back as you hit the “Save” button, knowing with absolute certainty that you’ve just created the best ad your account has ever know.

And then it fails to beat that old, crappy ad that’s been there forever. It might even get beaten badly. At first you might get angry. You’ll blame search users for being stupid and not understanding. It might be Google’s fault for not giving you good enough placement on the page.

This is why testing is so important. Testing takes the emotion out of the equation. Instead of making qualitative assessments of which ad you feel is better, your potential customers are making quantitative assessments for you. Their clicks show they preferred your ad to another advertiser. Their conversions show that you delivered the product/service that solved their problem. Then it’s not about which ad is better, but which ad produced the best results.

Even when you start to feel like you’ve run out of ideas you can draw inspiration from competitor ads. While you could search a bunch of keywords, you’ll save time by using a research tool like iSpionage. For example, consider you’re in the big data industry and you want to see what a competitor is using in their ads. iSpionage allows you to see ads at the keyword level like this:


One of the great features here is the AEI (Ads Effectiveness Index) that even tips you off on which ads are performing best for your competitors. Then you’ll know which ads to use as the genesis of your next ad test.

This method can be particularly effective when competing against a large competitor with a full PPC team because as the smaller advertiser you can learn from their experience and larger budget.

Homework Assignment

Thank you for reading this entire post. As a bonus, here is the easy-to-follow homework assignment that will get you writing better ad copy today:

  • Identify 3 underlying assumptions you make about your customers and question them. Are they valid or not?
  • Speak with 3 average customers face-to-face (or speak to 3 customer-facing employees)
  • Answer the 3 questions from Rule #2 IN WRITING
  • Using the answers from above, start at least 1 ad test today