[Updated] How to write effective Google Search Ads that convert
Creating a Google Ads campaign for the first time can be daunting. Previously called Google AdWords, the platform itself isn’t entirely intuitive, and there are so many technical terms specific to Google that it can feel like a jargon-filled minefield. What’s more, whilst the algorithm favours ad relevance and quality of landing page experience, the optimization recommendations and click-rate bias suggest that Google Ads’ model is set up to maximise return for Google - rather than you, the customer.
To put it simply, Google gets paid per click whereas you only make money out of conversions. This is an important thing to remember. Of course, there’s nothing all that surprising about the fact that Google is set up with Google’s best interests in mind. Google is a money-making corporation, after all! But it’s easy to forget the implications of this in practice when you’re dipping your toe in the water for the first time.
There are some great resources available online and the Google Ads training itself, which is free, comes with lots of online resources. For anyone who is serious about making the most of Google Ads, the course is a worthwhile time investment.
Whether or not you have the time or inclination to complete the training, there are a few best-practice rules to bear in mind:
Get the headlines right
Identify keyword gaps in the ad market to inform your headline-generation (reasonable search volume, little competition).
Focus on long-tail keywords
Use all the ad elements to make your ad work as hard as possible for you
Google’s PPC options are numerous:
- Search (text) ads
- Display ads
- Shopping ads
- Video ads
- App ads
- Local ads
- Hotel ads
With more campaign types being released regularly.
The main focus of this blog is best practices for Google Search ads, however, the methodology and tips are relevant for all of Google’s PPC campaign types. Additionally, these tips can be applied to B2B PPC campaigns, as well as any SaaS search ads and ecommerce.
Where do Google Search Ads Appear?
Search ads can appear anywhere on Google’s Search or Display Network.
Can appear on Google Search sites, including Google Play, Shopping tab, Google Images and Google Maps, as well as Google Search itself.
The Search Network also includes non-Google websites, called Partner sites. You can opt out of this reach if you wish.
Google also offers "Search Network with Display Expansion", where your ad can appear on relevant pages across the internet via the Display Network
1 Get the headlines right
Headlines are the most important aspect of your Google Ad, and the quality of your headlines will have a huge influence on the performance of your ads. Each Google Ad has three headline fields for the advertiser to populate. Headline 1 is your most important bit of copy - and will always get served to customers. Google Ads will experiment with different combinations of the other headlines you write – so customers will sometimes see 1 on its own, or 1 and 3, 1 and 2, and sometimes 1, 2 and 3. This inbuilt testing helps google identify the best-performing ad format for you.
What makes a good main headline for a Google Ad?
Writing headlines for Google Ads is a knack. It really is a case of practice makes perfect. With headlines, the trick is to do your research before writing them. Google Trends (a separate, free tool available outside of Google Ads), and the Keyword Planner tool inside the platform are both useful ways to road-test headline ideas. The ideal keywords to base your campaign around should have a relatively high search volume and relatively low competition (not too many other ads competing for space).
Think outside the box with your headlines – for Headline 1 in particular, writing the ad from the customer’s point of view is essential. What do they want to know? How can you persuade them that you can help them solve their problem? What will seem most relevant to your target audience, enticing them to click?
What about headlines 2 and 3?
For headlines 2 and 3, you can think about how to add value. This relies on you having a really strong landing page with content that is relevant and helpful, and has a good lead-capture tool (a gated ebook, for example, with content that is valuable to your customer). This landing page should have clear call to action buttons to help customers book an appointment there and then. The greater the quality of the landing page, and the clarity and relevance of the content on it, the more likely it is that Google will give your ad a high quality rating. This has a direct impact on your ad visibility and ad spend. And one last word about headlines - All Headlines Should Be In Caps.
2 Focus on long-tail keywords
You might have heard the terms ‘short-tail’ and ‘long-tail’ keywords. Short tail keywords are search terms made up of 1-3 words. An example would be ‘Inbound Marketing Agency.’ An equivalent long-tail example might be Best Value UK Hubspot Marketing Agency. As a general rule, individual short tail keywords have a higher search volume, but the majority of searches involve more precise long-tail phrases.
As HubSpot blogger and SEO expert Neil Patel states, research shows that around 70% of internet searches are made up of long-tail keywords. Choosing long-tail keywords will ensure that you capture customers who are closer to making a decision. For example, if you search for ‘lamps’ then you are most likely browsing compared to someone who types in ‘floor lamp with pink shade’. The second person is a better prospect as they know exactly what they want, and they are actively looking for it.
3 Don’t ignore the extension fields
There are a range of extension fields you can populate in Google Ads. These won’t always be shown (and you can set specific time-boundaries about when they are), but it is worth spending time filling in any which are relevant to your business, as they can make your ad work harder for you. Here’s our guide to site extensions:
This is particularly useful for local businesses and services, where it is an advantage to show your customers how close you are to them. Even at a time where nobody can visit your shop, knowing how far away you are will still help people make a decision about whether to purchase from you when factoring in delivery times.
These are the blue highlighted bits of text that appear below an ad, linking to specific pages on your site (they might read ‘book a meeting’ or ‘content marketing’) or link to another piece of content that is relevant to your ad. Increasing the number of links on your ad will increase the chance of a prospective customer clicking.
This allows your customer to see select products and prices in the ad itself, and click straight through to buy them. This extension is effective because it takes away some of the work for the consumer - if they don’t have to search further to find out how much it will cost, they might make a quicker decision to purchase.
Makes it possible for you to enter a sale or promotional price on an item - again, helping prospective customers to make a buying decision sooner by giving them more information without having to click first.
These allow your phone number to appear in your ad. This is an extension that can be set only to appear during office hours, or at particular times of the day or night, as you prefer. If you are able to take phone calls from potential customers in the current climate then this will be an advantage. People are craving human contact, so if there is a way for them to reach out and speak to you, make sure they know about it.
These link through from your ad to a mobile app download. The advantage of app extensions is that they enable you to link to both your website and your app all in a single ad. However, if the main goal of your ad is to drive app downloads, app promotion ads might be a better option as these link exclusively to apps.
These appear on smartphone ads, and allow a mobile user to message your business directly from the ad. This is a great lead-capture tool.
These are extra text fields which aren’t clickable, but are there to ‘shout about’ something specific (they might read ‘Find Out About HubSpot coaching’, or ‘No-obligation contracts’). Callouts are a great way to make your ad copy work harder as they help you to highlight key features and benefits - such as ‘money back guarantee’ or ‘no cancellation fees’ - which might be deal-breakers for your customers.
Structured snippets show in the form of a header beneath your ad. This feature gives you more bang for buck with your ads - because it enables you to give visitors a preview of your products and services before they click. This could improve your return on investment because the additional information can increase the relevance of your ad.
Not strictly an extension, countdown timers can play into your buyer’s FOMO or loss aversion. Countdowns can either be counting down to a specific date (“Available until 3rd July” or “Only 5 days to go”) or can reflect finite availability (“10 seats left!”).
4 Consider engaging a Google Ads expert
When it comes to making the most of your Google Ads budget, an experienced planner with expertise in Google Ads is worth their weight in gold. At ESM Inbound, we know our way around Google Ads, and our experience in setting up and running countless campaigns for a diverse assortment of clients has taught us a lot about what works.
We help those who are new to Google Ads create campaigns that leverage our expertise in inbound marketing as well as our team’s extensive experience of Google Ads. This combination helps ensure your customers get served ads that have the best chance of generating qualified leads for you. We’re experts in keyword optimization, and our dedicated ad-writers understand how to use call extensions, forms and structured snippets to ensure each ad works as hard for our customers as it possibly can.
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