When you hire an agency or individual to manage your paid search advertising account, you are trusting that the account is going to be professionally managed to produce the best, most cost-effective results for your business. It’s likely that you hired a manager in the first place because you recognized that paid search is way too complex for you to spend your own valuable time on. That makes it all the more important that your trust is well-placed. In this series, I’m giving you some keys to how to review your paid search account and evaluate whether your manager is doing the things that ought to be done. (To see all posts in this series, click the series title link above.)

Rip-Off Sign #4: Bad Ads

Paid search advertising is both a science and an art. The science part is obvious: monitoring metrics, evaluating results, testing new experiments. The art part is easily forgotten or ignored, but it is just as important. Ad writing is the creative side of paid search advertising. Your paid search manager needs to be as good at that as she is at choosing keywords and reading analytics reports. Because a creative area is less easy to quantify than a measurement area, the following evaluation keys should perhaps not be given the weight that you might give to other considerations in evaluating your paid search agency’s performance, but they can help in getting an overall impression of your account’s management.

Good Ads Should Be Focused

This goes along with our post on poorly-structured accounts.  Compare the copy of your ads in each ad group to the group of keywords in that group. Does the ad copy speak directly to the search intent of the keywords? In other words, would someone using the keywords in this group to search be attracted to the associated ads? Would those ads speak to the needs of the searcher?

Good Ads Should Stand Out

When someone executes a search on Google, they are confronted by a page full of text. Most users will only stay on that page for a matter of seconds before they click away. Your ads have but a moment to catch the reader’s attention. Is your manager doing things to make them stand out. Some means to that end include:

  • Witty, creative text. Of course, this has to be appropriate to your site and product.
  • Use of keywords in the ad text (particularly in the headline). Google rewards this by bolding the text that matches words the searcher used. Look also for use of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI), an AdWords feature that automatically inserts a keyword in the ad group into the ad if it matches the search phrase entered. You can identify DKI by looking for the code {KeyWord:default text} (where “default text” is whatever text should appear if there is no exact keyword match that will fit in the space.
  • Inclusion of prices, discounts, and special offers. These are proven to increase clicks.

Certainly not all of these need to be found in every ad, but the professional paid search manager will be using some or all of these techniques to make your ads stand out from the crowd.

Good Ads Are Highly Relevant

This goes along with our post about poor use of keywords, but applies to ad copy as well. Professional managers avoid “one size fits all” or generic ads. This usually is the result of a misuse of dynamic keyword insertion (see above) along with too broad keywords (or not enough use of negative keywords to weed out unintended matches). A painful example of this I spotted a couple of years go came in a search for “ball cancer” (looking for medical information). Among the paid search results was this gem:

Anyone in the market to purchase some cancer balls?

Good Ads Are Constantly Tested

While a marketer may pride herself on being able to guess what ad copy will appeal to a potential customer, a wise marketer knows that human behavior is wildly unpredictable. Therefore, the only way to be sure that your ad copy is the best it can be is to test, test, test. In most cases, each ad group should have at least two ads running at any one time so that, over time, it can be determined which one performs better. Once a “winner” is found, the “losers” should be paused, and new “contenders” put up against the “champion.” While we won’t spend time here going into all the principles behind valid testing, the main point is that your paid search manager ought to be continually testing and evaluating ad copy.

As we said at the start of this post, these principles of good ad copy do not alone and of themselves act as “make or break” indicators of a well-managed paid search account, but you certainly should see some effort put forth toward creative and ever-improving ads. Remember, the ads are the only part of your paid search campaign your customers ever see.