Writing Headlines

Writing Attention – Grabbing Ad Headlines

Now that I’ve told you to consider each component of a search marketing ad separately, I’m going to hedge slightly and ask that you also pay some attention to how your ad holds together as a whole. Most of the time, this doesn’t require much more than reading it through and making sure that none of the transitions — between your headline and your description, or between your description and your “call to action” — are too abrupt. We’ll consider this point in more detail following our review of the three components listed above.

As mentioned in our introduction to writing effective ad copy, there are three primary things that a search marketing ad has to do: grab a user’s attention, describe your offering, and tell a user what to do next. The function of an ad headline is to grab the user’s attention.

When one of your ads appears on a search engine results page (SERP), it has a lot of competition. We’ve found that users tend to look at ads in the Sponsored Links section in clusters, rather than one at a time, so you’re usually competing directly with the one or two ads before and after yours. You may have to compete with ads that receive premium placement above the organic results, and, well, you’ve also got to compete with those organic results.  All sorts of elements on the page are vying for a user’s attention, and the primary tool for grabbing that attention away from everything else is your ad’s headline.

Not only is the headline especially good at grabbing attention — you shouldn’t try to make it do anything else. As Hunter Boyle recently wrote over at the Marketing Experiments Blog: “The objective of your headline is not to sell, but to connect with your reader. That split-second connection only has to compel readers to continue — not necessarily to buy right away.” In other words, use your headline to grab a user’s attention, and then let the description line and “call to action” do their jobs.

If you’ve already searched the web for tips on writing headlines, you’ve probably found a lot of information about specific words you should use in your copy (“you,” “how,” “money,” “want”) or specific formats to write in (questions, how-to’s, announcements). All of these are good tips, but they still don’t make it clear exactly which words you should use in your copy, or exactly which format you should write your ad in. You’ll have a much easier time doing this if you take a preliminary step: think of a user’s search as a question.

Google may be the most comprehensive and successful search engine on the web today, but Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves) is the most literal — it understands that when users perform searches, they’re asking a question. The first step in writing a search marketing ad is to identify the question a searcher is asking.

Here are a few examples of searches that users might perform:

1) “chicago mexican restaurant”
2) “banjo lessons”
3) “red roses”

What questions do each of these searches correspond to? Here are some educated guesses:

1) chicago mexican restaurant: “Where can I go for great Mexican food in Chicago?”
2) banjo lessons: “How can I learn to play the banjo?”
3) red roses: “Who can I get to deliver roses to my fiancée’s office?”

Having translated these queries into questions, the task of writing a search marketing headline becomes much easier.

In our first example, the user is trying to find a place to eat, and you want to direct them to your restaurant. Be direct, and keep it simple, with something like “Chicago’s Top Mexican.” Including keywords in your ad copy always helps. For tips on how to do so, read Ehren’s post on “Keyword Insertion”. Of course, a user might not be looking for the best restaurant in a category — those spots can be pricey. They may prefer “Great Cheap Mexican Food.” The word “Top” may turn those users off, but that’s fine. If you offer a premium product — rather than a value product — you want to attract users looking for the best, not the cheapest. The goal isn’t to grab everybody’s attention; the goal is to grab your potential customers’ attention. Somebody looking for cheap tacos won’t be interested in dinner at Frontera Grill, so a marketer trying to drive reservations at that restaurant shouldn’t target those clicks. More clicks are great, but only if they’re high-quality clicks.

Our next example would be a great place to use a “how to” headline. “Learn to Play The Banjo” is simple, clear, and directly speaks to what the user is trying to do.

The last example is more ambiguous. The search “red roses” could correspond to a variety of questions, and there may be only one that you’re ready to answer. Ask that question. “Want Roses Delivered Now?” If the answer is “yes,” there’s a good chance they will read the rest of your ad to see if you’re offering what they want. If it’s “no,” you won’t get their attention, but you wouldn’t have gotten their business anyway.

Now that you’ve gotten your users’ attention, you need to tell them what you have to offer. That’s the task of the “description” line, and the subject of our next tutorial.