SEM Psychology 101: Persuasive Ad Copy Attracts Clicks

- September 27, 2007

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.

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