When You Want CTR to Go Down: 5 Tips for Qualifying Users

For years now we’ve been told to optimize our ad copy to increase click-through rate (CTR), among potentially other metrics, to have it increase our Quality Score. Additionally, the first step to getting a user into our customer list is to get them to actually click on an ad. This opens the door for them to read our wonderful landing pages and potentially convert. Or maybe they bounce and we hit them up later with remarketing. Either way, the relationship can get properly started with a click.

But not all clicks are created equal. Some clicks might be highly valuable and you want as many like that as you can get, some might not be optimal for one reason or another, and some might actually be hurting your performance. In some situations, it could benefit you to actively deter people from clicking on your ads if they’re not the right fit.

The Growth Problem

A common problem I see with Search accounts is the need to grow. The client request usually goes something like this:

“Google and Bing have worked really well for us. Can we get more volume from these channels?”

Firm answer: maybe.

Depending on the account, there may be room to scale in Impression Share and Average Position to drive additional volume through these channels.

But if you’re already highly competitive with your current keyword set, there’s really no place to go in search other than broader keywords. With a longer play, you can try to increase search volume for your keywords by creating a top-down funnel with push advertising, but that’s not a popular option at the moment.

The key problem with expanding to head terms is that they don’t carry the same level of intent as our previous, top performing long tail keywords. They may get us volume, but a good amount of that traffic could end up being junk.

For any needed clarification, here are a couple examples of what I mean by “head terms”:

  • Long Tail: nike women’s running shoes
  • Head Term: women’s shoes
  • Long Tail: blue aluminum water bottle
  • Head Term: water bottles

When you expand to these terms, it becomes important to realize that you’re playing in a totally different sandbox. Nearly all of these terms have less intent drivers found in them and can lead to unqualified clickers.

So what’s an advertiser to do?

Get less clicks.

Why Lower Your CTR?

Let’s do an experiment.

Think of some recent times you’ve been searching for something on the web and read through the ads to find a viable option. Have there been any instances where you read something and said to yourself any of the following statements?

Those are too expensive.
That’s not what I’m looking for.
That’s not designed for my purposes.

Or anything similar to them? If yes, then someone has done a good job of deterring you from clicking on their ad and costing them money. If you could tell that a company wasn’t the right fit just by reading the copy, then you’ve ruled them out of your search and most likely moved on to click another ad that seemed like a better fit.

This is called “qualifying”.

The logic: if you purposefully deter a portion of the audience from clicking on your ad by giving them messages that don’t align with what they want, you’ll save money from those unqualified clicks. Additionally, you may also see an increase in conversion rate as those users who did click have been given more specific expectations of the call to action, offer, etc.

Sure, it might not be what all other “best practices” tell you is the right thing to do, but when you’re competing with really high-level queries, it’s important to make sure you’re qualifying your users before they click. Otherwise, you’ll drive lots of clicks to your landing pages, but not reap the profitability benefits you should be.

That’s the why, let’s jump into the how.

How to Qualify Your Users

There’s no right or wrong way to qualify users with your ad copy. Some industries might respond better to different things. You may even find that different product/service categories perform differently with similar strategies. It’s important to test a number of messages and strategies to see what works best.

Here are six strategies I have seen success with in the past.

Use All the Ad Extensions

I’m starting with the most basic suggestion, but it’s an important one. Even with Expanded Text Ads, our usable character count is still less than a tweet nowadays. Sitelinks, Call Outs, and Structured Snippets are a very easy way to gain additional SERP real estate, but also to convey your qualifying message with more clarity. Keep all the applicable extension types in mind while reading the remaining ideas as they can help you get your message across without sacrificing your actual ad test.

Include Price

Simple, right? But this idea of including your price is something I see a good amount of pushback on. I’ve worked with a number of companies that are selling products that are more expensive than their competition. Usually, this means they also have more and/or better features, benefits, what have you, but that’s not always easy to fit into ad copy.

But here’s the thing, sometimes that’s just going to have to be OK.

Adding your premium price into your ad copy will deter those bargain shoppers trying to find the cheapest solution, but could be appealing to those shoppers who have been doing their research and aren’t afraid to spend a little more to get a better product. Especially for bigger ticket items where lots of research is involved, adding your price could make all the difference to attracting the right buyer.

Call Out Your Users

Currently, we work with a software company that has some overlap between consumer and business intent keywords, meaning, someone could type in the same phrase if they’re looking for a consumer product or a product for a business.

Since we’re trying to sell to businesses, we’ve adjusted our ad strategy to call this out. All ad variants contain either the word “work” or “business” to make it clear we’re promoting a product for a business to deter those consumer queries.

Include the Actual Call to Action

It’s one thing to know that you should always utilize a call to action in ad copy. We’ve been aware of that for over a decade now. But for qualifying your user, it can be valuable to make yourself very clear with your call to action from the get-go.

Many companies will try to soften their call to action to get users to click through to the landing page where they can wow them with super cool stuff. Often times, even for big purchases, you’ll see the call to action of “Learn More” or “Get Started” in the copy. These might be great for your more intent driven keywords, but these head terms might present a problem.

With these broader terms, we’re needing to ensure only the most qualified users click the ad in the first place. Instead of softening your call to action, tell them exactly what you want: “Schedule a Demo”, “Create an Account”, “Buy Online”, etc. This might not seem like much, but setting the proper expectation before the user clicks can be very valuable for these head terms.

Include Your Own Restrictions

This might seem a little strange, but I think it can make all the difference in some cases. Let’s say you’re selling custom tennis shoes. When folks normally buy shoes, with sites out there like Amazon and Zappos, they’re accustomed to the shoes being in the mail and on their way the same or next day. Sometimes at your house by then!

But your custom product will invariably take longer than that. It might benefit you to include an expectation that their custom shoes will be on their way in 3 days. Or 7 days. Or whatever it actually takes.

Being honest with your restrictions doesn’t mean you have to point out a negative like “They offer free shipping, but we don’t!”. It simply means you need to set the proper expectations before someone clicks. If it’s the holiday season and you can’t have a product to them by Christmas, first, you might want to rethink your ad strategy, but second, say in the copy “Have it by January 10th” to set the proper expectation.


It’s not impossible to drive strong performance from high volume head terms, but it does require a bit of a shift in thinking. For these terms, get honest with what you’re selling, how much it costs, and what your capabilities are. You’ll find you might have fewer folks click on your ads, but those that do should be higher quality but also easier to please as they’ve had their expectations set to exactly what you can deliver.

What do you think? How do you improve performance and/or quality from head terms? Share with us in the comments!