In a recent blog post, Yahoo provided some pointers on how search marketers can capitalize on the growth of online shopping during the holidays. Citing a study by comScore, they noted that online consumer spending grew from $19.6 billion in 2005 to $24.4 billion in 2006, a 26% increase. This is astonishing growth, and there is no indication that the upward trend will plateau or decline any time soon. In fact, all the numbers in consumer behavior studies seem to indicate that this year is going to be more profitable than last. This should be highly motivating for online retailers. Recognizing this, Yahoo has offered some suggestions for how the online advertiser can capitalize on this trend to make the most of the opportunity.
Although Search Engines are a relatively young type of media compared to print, radio, and television, the fact remains that all advertising targets people. Regardless of how much advertising methods and styles have changed throughout the years, the effectiveness of any campaign relies on human nature. So when it comes to writing effective search engine ads, a little knowledge about consumer psychology goes a long way.
When writing PPC ad copy, you should not only comply with the editorial guidelines set forth by the search engines, but also consider the major factors they use to determine an ad’s position on the search engine results page. One of the most important factors is an ad’s CTR, or click-through-rate, defined as the number of times an ad is clicked on divided by the number of times it is shown. But don’t forget the people behind the numbers. It’s the searchers that decide whether to click on your ad, so you must know how they think in order to influence them to do so.
Persuasive ads include a prominent call to action. This is a strong statement that tells people exactly what you want them to do. After all, that’s the goal of your paid search campaign. If your ad leaves searchers guessing as to what action they should take, then how are you convincing them to do it? If you want your customers to search, choose, help, call, visit, learn, order, or subscribe, then tell them so.
However, your call to action won’t be effective if you tell the searcher what to do but not why they should. Simply put, people like to have reasons for what they do. When searchers look at your ads, they ask “What’s in it for me?” It’s your job to answer that question, but in doing so, be aware that you have tough competition in a search engine environment. Try to stand out, but without using superlatives like “best” — most engines won’t allow this. A study on ad copy effectiveness in Marketing Experiments Journal* offers some great suggestions. Do you offer the lowest prices? List some prices in the ad title or body. Widest selection? Mention the number of products you carry. High quality products? Cite an award. Informative site? Provide a need your site will meet.
Your call to action will be even more persuasive if it conveys urgency. People dislike feeling like they’re missing out. Give a deadline for ordering, mention a future price increase, let them know your product isn’t available in stores, or offer a free gift with purchase or an introductory price.
Lastly, expect that searchers will naturally view your ad with caution and even some resistance. You can overcome this obstacle by being honest. Make sure your ad’s landing page repeats or confirms your claims, and deliver what you promise. You may want to mention the number of products sold in your ad, or perhaps even make case studies or testimonials accessible from your landing page. People are strongly influenced by social proof; if you show that other customers agree with you, then your ad will have more credibility.
Bottom line: Always remember that search engines focus on user experience, so what works for the users will work for you. And if you understand how your customers think, you will be well on your way to writing influential copy that will encourage them to click on your ads.
By now most of us are familiar with the spell correcting feature found in the majority of search engines available today. We often make spelling mistakes in our search queries and almost automatically click the spelling correction that is suggested to us. In a famous Google testimonial, a woman went as far as to say that this feature saved her dog’s life. In a panic while her dog was choking, she did a search for “chocking dog” and Google suggested that she meant “choking dog”. This led her to a website showing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her dog. While it may seem that this option is a spell checker, it is actually just suggesting searches that have more results. This feature can be a great benefit to the casual surfer, but it can be a real issue for marketers interested in branding.
One of our clients which I was working with is a company called Life Journal. They offer journaling software that helps writers be more organized and focused. Unfortunately, the name of the company is very similar to the popular virtual community and social networking site “Live Journal”. A search for “Life Journal” in Google suggests the search of “Live Journal”. It displays results for both searches separately on the same page. This can be confusing for searchers and often draws them away from what they may have intended. A Yahoo search for “Life Journal” is much more unforgiving. A search query for “Life Journal” actually returns sites for both “Life Journal” and “Live Journal” together in one set of results. This means that the Life Journal homepage and anything related to Life Journal is buried deep underneath the more popular Live Journal sites. This is bad news for Life Journal. A searcher typing in their brand name into Yahoo is unable to locate their homepage or anything actually related to Life Journal.
So what can be done to deal with this search issue? The best answer for now is SEM. When doing a search for “Life Journal” the paid ads still show up at the top of the page. Often this is the only way searchers can find the site because the organic results get buried or can be confusing. It is likely that the search engines will wise up and improve their correction algorithms. Others have pointed out flaws in the corrections system which has led to Google making some changes. This search feature has definitely proven to be a real issue for search engine marketers. The best way we can hope to bring about change is to identify the issue and make it known to the engines.