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Google Adwords and the Lost Art of Copywriting

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Tens of thousands of businesses, large and small, use Google Adwords and Overture Match (from Yahoo!) to advertise their products and services on the Internet.

An entire industry, loosely known as “Search Engine Marketing” (SEM for short) has grown up to support this new advertising medium. To date, very little independent analysis (as opposed to analysis by industry players) has been published to demonstrate the effectiveness of these vehicles to advertisers. Still, businesses seem to be using Adwords and Overture in droves.

Briefly stated, Adwords and Overture enable you to run advertisements on search engines and other websites, the display of the ads being triggered by “keywords.” Hence, if you sell “red widgets,” you would choose “red widgets” as one of your keyword phrases. When a computer user enters “red widgets” as their search term on Google or Yahoo!, your ad may appear in or adjacent to the unpaid search results. How high up on the page, and how frequently your ad appears, depends upon your “bid,” or how much you are willing to pay for a user to click on your ad (which leads back to your website). Administering your campaign can get a whole lot more complicated than this, but it gives you the idea in a nutshell.

What makes an effective campaign? There are many variables, but SEM professionals have focused heavily on the importance of “keywords” – to the extent that entire sub-industries have sprung up to show clients how to create lists of keywords! What has been overlooked, in our estimation, is the good old art of copywriting itself – how you write the ad. After all, an ad is an ad whether it appears in a newspaper, a magazine, or on Google or Overture. You’ve got space for a short headline and a brief description – briefer on Google than Overture, but at least Google doesn’t truncate your listing, as Overture does. Given how little space you get to work with, and the fact that you have no visual opportunity, it is crucial to create compelling, snappy ads. Unfortunately, the vast majority are nothing of the sort. Most of them look like badly written classified ads – and that’s the main reason most of them will deliver poor click through rates and disappointing results.

Here’s an example: as a test, I typed “business website promotion” into the search box on Yahoo! With all of those internet marketing types placing the ads, I figured that I’d definitely see some short, exciting text that would really make me reach for the mouse. Wrong. What I saw was just a list of “me too” ads that, with rare exceptions, were indistinguishable from each other. Out of 8 ads on the screen, most just displayed headlines such as “website promotion services,” or “affordable website promotion,” or “internet marketing services.” Why would anyone click on one of those ads, especially when there are literally thousands that say the same thing? The answer is – they wouldn’t.

Perhaps the reason why SEM professionals focus so much on keywords, rather than on writing great ad copy, is that creating keyword lists is, at bottom, a rote task that is frequently accomplished with specific software. Creating great copy, on the other hand, requires a writing implement (pencil or keyboard is fine), a surface (paper or screen) and, the hard part, some really creative thinking! When ad copy is improved, an Adwords or Overture campaign delivers more traffic to your site, often for a lower “cost per click.” Our company, Small Business Online, a web design and internet marketing firm, has repeatedly seen vast improvements in user responses (what’s known as “click through rates”) when the ad copy is compelling.

What are the the characteristics of ads that make users click? Ads that are snappy (you only have a few words to work with) and that promote a benefit do best. So, for example, if you are selling an extremely comfortable hiking boot, don’t just write a headline like “Great Hiking Boots!”. Give the user a benefit, something that’s in it for them, such as “Your Feet Will Love You!”. If you’re selling strong gourmet coffee, don’t just say “Premium Quality Coffee,” say something like “Our Java Will Jumpstart Your Day!”.

How does a person learn to write good copy? It’s not rocket science. Surf over to Amazon, search on “advertising books” or “copywriting books” and a whole world of advertising help will open up before you. Read the reviews, pick out one or two books that are highly praised, and you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to stand out from the herd. And when you stand out, your Google Adwords or Overture campaign will really improve. Compelling ad copy is not the only aspect of these campaigns you need to work on – keywords still count, bids still count. But in the end, your ad is like a sign on the front door to your website. If it’s not interesting or compelling, no-one will knock.

Neil Street is co-founder of Small Business Online, an internet
marketing and web design company
, based in Norwalk, CT. Email href="mailto:neil@smallbusinessonline.net">Neil at Small Business Online
or call him at 203.299.0889

Google Adwords and the Lost Art of Copywriting
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