Forrest Gump

Reading search marketing blogs is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. Today I was scrolling through my blog reader quickly reviewing the “big three” blogs. When I got to the YSM Blog, I was greeted with this headline: “Writing Effective Ads.” With a smile I clicked through and began reading. Very soon into this excerpt from Yahoo!’s Smart Start guide, my smile turned upside down in frustration. In between providing a few solid pointers on writing ad texts, Yahoo! managed to sneak in some truly awful advice.

Before I break down Yahoo!’s post, let me first share a dirty little secret. Today is the first time I’ve ever read about the Smart Start guide. How in the world did I miss this thing? It was released in January! While I don’t agree with everything in the booklet, it is a pretty snazzy introduction to PPC and Yahoo!’s interface. But really, how did I miss this?

So, now it’s on to Yahoo!’s ad writing advice. The first section is titled Write the Best Ad Text You Can.

  1. Be Clear, Be Precise. I’m on board with this one. Ads that have a clear message will drive higher click-through-rates and conversion rates.
  2. Be Concise, Be Factual. If I knew what Yahoo! meant by “too salesy,” I would consider agreeing. However, when I think of the function of PPC, “salesy” is what we’re all about, right? Including price and calls-to-action like “buy now” are both tried and true methods for driving sales.
  3. Don’t Use Ampersands. Seriously? For one thing, using ampersands saves me 2 characters when writing ads – not to mention that I can point to many ads in my Yahoo! campaigns that have excellent CTR and conversion rates in spite of my “unprofessional” ampersands.
  4. Use a Strong Call to Action. Despite contradicting point #2, I whole heartedly agree.

The next section is about DKI. Use the Keyword Insert Feature

  1. Let me be clear, I think that when used properly, DKI can be a great tool. What I don’t agree with is Yahoo! completely side-stepping the fact that a well-organized account structure can render DKI nearly useless. When you structure your PPC account around tightly themed ad groups, it’s a piece of cake to simply write your keywords directly into the ad!
  2. My one concession: in the full version of the Smart Start guide, Yahoo! appropriately places the account structure section before the ad text section. At least they got that right.

If you would remember, the title of Yahoo!’s post was “Writing Effective Ads.” Well, thus ends the part about actually writing ads. That’s all you get about writing, but this is only 50% of the article! Next up: Make Sure Your Landing Page is Consistent with Your Ad.

  1. At first glance I have no qualms with this idea. One of the most important actions you can take for your PPC campaign is to match well written ad texts with a highly targeted, relevant and keyword rich landing page.
  2. Where Yahoo! misses the mark is in pointing readers to the HOW. “For best results, focus on the customer, not your company.” Huh? What about writing a compelling headline that connects the user experience between ad text and landing page? What about strong calls-to-action? What about keywords in the copy? Two short sentences on this subject is sad, at best.

Are you ready for Yahoo!’s last attempt at redemption? Use Ad Testing.

  1. “Testing ad messages is the mark of a smart advertiser…” I couldn’t agree more!
  2. Since this post has been nothing short of a rant, I guess I shouldn’t stop here. My final point is more of a difference in opinion: To optimize ads or not to optimize ads. Yahoo!’s opinion (and the opinion shared by Google and MSN adCenter) is that setting your ads to automatically optimize is the best way to go. Why is that opinion flawed? Primarily, it’s a suggestion that benefits their revenue stream. The more ads are clicked, the more money Yahoo! will make. But more to the point, it detracts from your ability to run a clean A/B split test for your ad texts. There are a myriad of factors at play in determining which ads will be “the best” and you should do everything in your power to control the test and declare a true winner!

Well, that pretty much sums it up. I think that Yahoo!’s intentions were good when writing their post, but they just simply didn’t make the grade. And some of you may argue that this post was written for beginners and should be treated as such. Even so, I still think that Yahoo! should have done a much better job of walking newbies through the tricky maze that is PPC ad text creation. They’re one of THE PPC authorities, and should write blog posts as such. They should be giving us advertisers the real “meat and potatoes” posts!