How I Write Compelling Online Ads

(Photo Credit)


Welcome to Part 10 of our real-time experiment – Testing the Muse in Practice. Originally I had entitled this post “How to Write Compelling Online Ads”, but decided to tone down the rhetoric a tad.


What this post will really do is share the process that I use to write online ads – whether it be right or wrong, the following formula works for me.


Sitting down to write this post, it really dawned on me how many moving parts there are to this process – it’s certainly more of an art than science. If you want to learn more about the psychology of copywriting and useful copywriting tactics, there are many great courses I’ve experimented with, including:

  • Conversion Crash Course – Mike Morgan’s techniques and tactics (including templates) for writing sales letters, product pitches, persuasive web content and emails, as well as the best way to structure your “offer”.
  • PPC Academy – numerous courses and a hand-held approach to consulting for increasing your response rates and conversions, with an emphasis on maximizing your ad campaigns on Google.


However, if you’ve been following along with our real-time experiment, I believe the hard work you’ve already put in upfront should be more than enough to develop effective, highly targeted ads. Consider this:


That’s really all you need to draft your basic online text ads – targeted keywords and ad content, specifically a headline, the body text and a URL.


Online Ads with Google AdWords

There are many different pay-per-click (PPC) networks that you can use to advertise online, but given that Google is the leading search engine provider and has a robust advertising system, we’re going to use Google AdWords as the basis for developing our primary ad campaign. These text ads can (and will) then be repurposed as Facebook ads, as we’ll demonstrate later.


In AdWords, the heading can be up to 25 characters long, followed by two lines (the body of your ad) each up to 35 characters, followed by the destination URL if someone were to click on your ad (again, up to 35 characters long). This provides you with some parameters on how large your ad can be, and it’s not a lot of characters, so you have to be clear and impactful.


This isn’t just about writing outlandish, attention-getting headlines – you need to create concise, highly targeted ads; otherwise you could potentially generate a ton of traffic to your website because your ad is “wacky” or misleading, but that traffic won’t convert, and it will end up costing you a fortune.


Remember, this is PPC advertising – meaning you pay every time someone clicks on your online ad, regardless of whether they convert into a “sale”. So you want to do your best to ensure your ads target potential customers looking for your solution (not people window-shopping).


After spending thousands of dollars on PPC advertising, experience has helped me devise a general framework that I use to draft ads. I don’t necessarily follow this framework as “golden rules”, but it always provides me with a systematic approach to getting started on a new campaign.


Based on our last post detailing how to set up Goals in Google Analytics (read this previous post here), you already have a means by which to measure your progress. Now you need to develop your messaging (online ads) and utilize existing vehicles for getting your advertisements out there to help attract customers.


My Online Ad Drafting Framework


As noted above, you’ve already done the bulk of the keyword research in Part 2 of this series, so you should already have a list of targeted keywords prepared.


I try to have one long tail keyword that is my primary target keyword/purpose (e.g. compare used cars), as well as 1-3 descriptive long tail keywords (e.g. app for buying a used car, used car buying app).


Once you have those foundational keywords, you can begin to look at derivatives of keywords and phrases, which may include reordering phrases or reviewing appropriate synonyms. Through your research (e.g. using Long Tail Pro), you should know in advance that these sets of keywords or long tail keywords (phrases) are being searched and have the potential to generate traffic.


Overall, I attempt to keep this list focused and manageable, which usually results in a final tally of 10-15 keywords/long tail keywords.


If you try to get overly clever with the headline, it may confuse the message.


Trying to get people’s attention with a catchy headline was the marketing mantra 10 years ago (and may still work, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with your advertising campaign); but honestly, for me, the cost per click has increased to the point that unless you have deep pockets or are a masterful copywriter, keep it clear and to the point.


My approach is to simply ensure that the headlines are keyword rich – having at least one of the targeted keywords.


If it can also contain one of the words from the URL (which would likely also be a keyword), that would be a bonus.


Sounds simple enough, but remember, this headline has to inform and get the attention of people surfing the web (all within 25 characters!). Alternatively, you can use the name of the product or app, if it’s self-explanatory.


I guess I’m working off the theory that if your ad is clear, but not necessarily glamorous or overly creative, yet people still click on it – then they are primed visitors.


If your offering is piggy-backing on the popularity of an existing product (e.g. Fitbit) or an already established concept (e.g. Dogs of the Dow investment strategy), then it’s ideal to include those in your headline, as it creates an instant relationship or reference point for people who know or understand the existing product/concept.


For example, the headline “Dogs of the Dow App” (19 characters) is relatively self-explanatory to anyone familiar with the Dogs of the Dow investment strategy.


These types of anchors come pre-loaded, and can tell a story with only one word or short phrase.


You do have to be cautious with this approach, however, especially if you’re mentioning a copyright/trademarked product. For example, I was muse testing an app that would be compatible with Fitbit products, and was contacted by their digital marketing agency and asked to refrain from using their client’s name in my ad, given that it’s a registered brand term. I appreciated the heads-up (rather than a nasty letter from their lawyer!), and this change-of-course forced me to figure out creative ways to say the same thing.


For the body of your ad, you have two lines of up to 35 characters each. I envision these as your marketing “one-two punch”.


Between the header and the two lines of body text, these elements rarely stand alone.


The headline usually sets up the first line, and then the second line hammers home the benefit – this product (headline), helps you [do this] (body, line 1), so that you can [do that] (body, line 2). It’s logical, but also has a nice, natural cadence to it.


Again, as noted above, all of the material you need to generate your online ads you’ve likely already created and used to populate your website. So I start by collecting all of the website content and segmenting into the following groups:

  • Features;
  • Benefits;
  • Taglines; and
  • General content.


In addition, I develop an “ideal ad” – essentially an ad free of the character parameters, that might be used as an ‘elevator pitch’ to someone in-person if I was trying to convince them of this product.


Once you have these groupings, it’s easy to see how each sentence could potentially be carved up and refined into the body of your ad. At the very least, you should turn each feature and each benefit into its own ad.


For example, one of my benefits is “Quickly and easily compare several vehicles at one time”. This lends itself easily to two lines of “Quickly and easily compares” (27 characters) “several vehicles at one time” (28 characters).


Often you’ll find that your existing content is too long, or doesn’t lend itself to being split into two 35-character segments. In this case, you’ll have to tweak your wording to get the same point across.


For example, one of my features is “Instantly ranking the vehicles you’re comparing – uncovering which option is the Best Value for you”. This was a bit long, so I played with the concept a bit:

  • Instantly ranks your comparisons, (33 characters) measuring the “best deal” for you. (34 characters)
  • Measures the “best deal” for you, (33 characters) saving you time and money! (26 characters)
  • Creates apples-to-apples comparison (35 characters) calculating your Best Value. (28 characters)


In addition to features and benefits, you’ll also want to utilize your product/website’s tagline into your advertisement.


Where my tagline was “Taking the guess-work out of comparing used cars”, this would simply be split into “Takes the guess-work out of” (27 characters) “comparing used cars” (19 characters).


There are many ways to slice & dice this, but I try to be deliberate about where one line ends, and the other begins.


The URL section, or web address, is where you place the website destination if someone were to click on your ad. If I’m not mistaken, you can have the online ad display your home page (e.g., yet have the destination directed to a different, second-level page on your website (e.g.; but you cannot list one domain, and actually have the destination redirected to a different forwarding domain.


For our purposes, it’s important that the URL that you’re sending visitors to is the Home page – do not set the destination URL directly to the mock sales page at the end of the funnel.


If you send people directly to your mock sales page, it will skew your analytics and you wouldn’t truly be able to measure the effectiveness of your product offering and sales funnel.


Mix & Match to Construct Your Online Ads

At this stage, you have a list of targeted keywords, a list of headlines, several sets of body text, and your URL.


Assuming you’re using the same targeted keywords and URL for each ad, you can now experiment with various combinations of headers and body text.


You don’t really know which headers are going to perform best with which body text, so you need to create an ad for each permutation possible – e.g. try using the same heading with each of the ads developed for every single feature, and every single benefit.


For example, if you have three features and three benefits, you should use one headline for each feature (3) and each benefit (3), for a total of 6 ads. If you have two headlines, this would result in 12 ads, and so on.


In my This Car or That Car example, I have 13 keywords and 8 planned headlines. Through mixing & matching these headlines with various body text, I have a total 21 ad combinations for testing.


Why so many? Is that necessary? No. But it doesn’t hurt.


Again, we don’t know which ads will resonate with your audience (if any). So, when entering your ads into Google AdWords – you can either adjust the settings to show all ads equally (the same number of times), after which you’ll be able to see which ads had the highest conversion rates.


Alternatively, you could have the settings only show the best performing ads, in which case Google will only serve up the ads that have shown a higher likelihood of getting clicks.


Either way, this data is gold, and will help inform your next steps in testing the muse with online ads.


So now that we’ve developed our draft online ads, it’s time to put them to work. Yep, it will cost money. But money well spent, in my opinion.


What we do with these carefully crafted ads comes next…


I’m curious to know your thoughts on this approach – please let me know in the comments below.  Also, let others know what works for you!


Key Resources Mentioned:


Best Always,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>