Getting More Out of Paid Search Ads: Interview with Michael Holeman

Writing great copy for paid search ads is no easy feat—it requires a combination of creativity, analytical thinking, and a ridiculous amount of testing. To learn more about how to create paid search ads that resonate with customers, I spoke with Michael Holeman, one of Leverage’s paid search analysts and the co-creator of our new RightWord lexical analysis tool.

What benefits do you think advertisers get from search ads that they don’t get from other ad formats?

The biggest benefit is the ability to get your chosen message in front of potential customers right when they’re searching. Most traditional advertising, and even other digital advertising, is about raising awareness and trying to guess where your audience is. Text ads that show on search results pages get your ad copy in front of the audience at their moment of need.

What are the most important ad optimization strategies for businesses that are just starting with paid search marketing?

There are a lot of strategies that go into an effective paid search campaign. You obviously have to think about things like campaign settings, keyword selection, and organization, but once the campaign is set up, the most important ongoing optimization strategy is ad testing. You’ve figured out your keywords and the right time to have your message appear, but now you have to match that with the right message.

What tips do you have for improving calls-to-action in paid search ads?

Test, test, test. And test a variety of messages—different verbs, different focuses—to see what resonates. For example, if you’re an ecommerce business, you might want to try testing a very direct call-to-action like “Shop Now” against something that’s a little more informational, like “Browse Our Selection,” just to see which one your audience is going to respond to better.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see businesses making in their ad copy?

The biggest mistake is having a lack of variety and imagination. If you’re only testing small changes to the same basic theme, you’re not giving yourself a lot of room to grow, and you’re going to get stuck in a rut with your ad copy. To get more specific, one of the biggest ruts people get stuck in is writing ads that focus too much on the product or service without really speaking to the needs or benefits of the customer.

Let’s say a business is increasing their PPC budget and looking for a way to save time on ad creation and testing. What should they do to help manage/automate the process?

A PPC analyst can often manually manage a young or small account. As a rule of thumb, if an account has fewer than 20 active ad groups, then one person can handle manually checking A/B tests, using a statistics calculator to test for a winner, pausing the “loser,” and creating new ads. It can be tedious, but for a small account, it’s doable.

As the account grows, it’s best to start looking for tools that will help you automate the testing process. There are a lot of tools out there that will help identify and flag which groups have a winning ad…there are a number of AdWords scripts and third-party platforms that will handle this as well. These range from thin, smaller platforms that will handle a few optimization tasks to multi-platform ad management services such as Marin.

How do you identify the words and phrases that will best resonate with readers when you have a limited number of characters to work with for your ad copy?

As you test, it’s important to go back into your testing history to see if you can discern any patterns regarding what’s worked and what hasn’t. Also, understanding a business’s products/services and the needs they’re fulfilling can help you choose the type of ad copy that you want to test. The ad copy length limitation is something you’re always coming up against. You have a short amount of space to make your pitch, so you want to look at every single word you’re using and make sure everything that goes into your ad copy is helping to convince the customer.

You and Tiger Sivasubramanian, our Director of Paid Search, recently built an advanced language analysis tool called RightWord. What pain points led you to create your own tool rather than just using what was already available?

right arm holding the letter r for rightwordIdentifying patterns across ads can be simple enough to do on smaller accounts, but it’s not something you can scale without some sort of technology. With bigger accounts, you’re not just comparing one ad against another, you’re comparing a whole set of ads that have won against a whole other set of ads that have lost across time to find patterns. It can be really hard to see that bigger picture when you’re looking at individual tests over and over again.

All of the ad optimization tools out there focus on speeding up the process of testing Ad A vs. Ad B. There were none available that would allow us to look at an entire account over a given timeframe and try to pick up any patterns about which kinds of ads were consistently winning or losing. We built RightWord as a tool to help us get those insights.

What does RightWord do?

It looks at all the ad tests that have happened in a given timeframe and assigns a score to each word in each ad–regardless of whether it’s a winning or losing ad– and totals up the scores for each word across time. So now we can know not just which ads won, but if there were any words that consistently outperformed or underperformed.

How does that help you improve ad copy?

The RightWord report is just a bunch of numbers when you first get it, but analysts can look over it and make inferences based on the data and what we know about the psychology behind some of these words. The report gives you a better understanding of why certain ads win or lose. The better you understand this, the more you can write ads that fit into the winning framework.

RightWord also helps you test more efficiently because you learn what to avoid. If I know a certain type of message consistently underperforms, then I know I don’t have to keep testing it. Now we can focus all our testing energies on not just good vs. bad, but good vs. better.


Our paid search team is now using RightWord to gain new insights into our clients’ pay-per-click advertising. To learn more about how we can use RightWord to help your business, contact us!

Madeline Jacobson

Madeline Jacobson

Digital Content Team Leader at Leverage Marketing
Madeline is a writer and Digital Content Team Leader for Leverage Marketing. After receiving her B.A. in English, she moved from Washington state to Austin, Texas, where she worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer and college prep coach before pursuing a career in content marketing. When she's not writing, she enjoys running, attempting to cook, going to trivia nights, and exploring Austin.
Madeline Jacobson
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