Learn How to Write Ad Headlines, Part I – Paid Search and Display

Kim Velten June 7th, 2017

If you ask anyone but a writer, they’ll tell you that The Headline is just about the only thing that matters in copywriting anymore. “No one reads,” they say, “Words are GROSS.” Forget the fact that the highest-ranking blogs in search are 1000+ of those nasty things.

But the nay-sayers are somewhat right when it comes to certain forms of advertising and marketing (e.g. Odds are you skipped this entire intro section and went straight to scanning the below subheads). Here’s why: Headlines categorize the information for us and immediately tell us if something is worth investing our time. This is particularly critical for certain types of advertising. And not every type of advertising can have the same approach to headlines, because, well, they’re different types.

In this three-part blog series, we’ll break down headline strategies and writing techniques for some of the tougher digital advertising and marketing tactics. First up, paid search and display marketing. In Part II, we’ll go over headlines for direct mail marketing. Part III, we’ll tackle headlines for websites.

Headlines for Paid Search & Display

Paid search and display have two important things in common.

  1. The headline is *almost* the only thing there’s room for.
  2. The intent is *mostly* to get users to click.

With this combo, you’re already fighting an uphill battle because you have just a few words to get someone to take a committed action they may have had no intention to take. So you have to go into this with a plan, which means strategy before writing.

Static Display Ad Headline Strategy

Static display ads are a lot like billboards. Depending on traffic, you’ll get only a second or few to make an impression. Generally, the three-element rule (headline, visual, logo) works nicely. Here’s one way to go about the headline:

  • Figure out the display banner’s intent – What’s the goal of the banner ad? You want them to click on the banner; your headline needs to be action-oriented. You want to remain top-of-mind; frequently used language like a tagline should be the focus.
  • Focus on approach – Are you re-targeting past visitors to your site? Are you targeting those who visited competitor sites? Are you prospecting? Different situations result in different mindsets, so tailor your words to the way they’re thinking within the exact situation you’re approaching them.
  • Nail down your target – After narrowing your ad focus, what kind of people are left in the pool? What are their demographics and psychographics? Then figure out how to speak with them in a way that helps you stand out from the clutter. We share a few ways at the end of the article.

PPC Headline Strategy

Can a word paint a thousand pictures? It better, with paid search. You have your headline, snippet, and sometimes a little extra, but let’s be honest you only have your headline to grab someone’s initial attention. Here’s your process:

  • Balance authenticity and keywords – PPC viewers are performing relevant searches to the product or service. Meaning they’re looking for a particular thing, or keyword. Using dynamic keyword insertion (where new keywords are used in the same sentence for different searches) is a great tactic to reach related keyword searchers, but it’s not always authentic. Try to incorporate keywords in an authentic way within your headline.
  • Focus on End Goals – Think about the end goal of the user, rather than just the demographic numbers. As Johnathan Dane said (along with a lot of other great things about PPC headlines), “Don’t give up very precious headline space for something you and the visitor already know. Instead, give visitors that end solution they’re looking for.” His example, If they’re searching for how to help get rid of acne, don’t say, “Dealing with Acne?” Instead say, “Kill Acne Once & For All.” Because no matter what age, gender, or culture you are, you want to get rid of acne for good.
  • Check the Competition – The last thing in the world you want is to take the same approach as a competitor. It looks a little like this:

“Outdoor Camping Gear – Kohls.com”

“Camping Gear – Tents, Sleeping Bags & Camping Supplies…”

“Camping & Hiking Gear at REI: Tents, Backpacks, Stoves…”

This one’s simple: Figure out what the others are doing, and do it differently.

Headline Writing Strategies

Now that you better know what you’re going to say in your paid search and display ads, let’s work on how to say it. Here are a few writing techniques to help you catch eyes:

  • Story Headline – This is a one-sentence story that intrigues the user to see the outcome, i.e. a customer story. Avoid click-bait by keeping the story relevant and appropriately paying it off.
    • Lessons I Learned from Penn Foster
  • Benefits Headline – Features explain, benefits sell. Logical reasoning doesn’t play nearly the role that emotional connection does. Focus on what’s in it for them.
    • Love The Skin You’re In.
  • Proof Headline – If you have amazing stats to prove the value of your product, use them. ‘Cause 93.75% of people like proof, we’re sure of it.
    • The Toothbrush Trusted by 4 out of 5 Dentists.
  • Timely Headline – Whether it’s trending hashtags, weather related, or even using countdown timers, making it matter in the now is more impactful than past or future.
    • Macy’s One Day Sale – June 2
  • Humor Headline – In the right context, humor can really make you stand out. It’s hard to be PC these days, though, so take it easy.
    • Buy Love at Amazon.com.

Need help with writing your paid search ads or launching a PPC campaign? The frank Agency can help!

Stay tuned for Part II and III of the headline writing series:

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