How paid search (Google AdWords) can help copywriters click with copywriting

Copywriting found an unlikely hero recently in Google's Head of Design, Patrick Collister. I say unlikely because Google isn't normally associated with good copywriting. In fact, Google generally isn't associated with any kind of professional copywriting whatsoever. But perhaps that needs to change - and fast.

Copywriting in the doldrums

Patrick was speaking at the DMA's (Direct Marketing Association) recent event hosted by Google which looked at the state of copywriting in the UK today, and specifically what copywriters think of it. Suffice to say the picture they painted wasn't a rosy one. It seems copywriters feel undervalued, disrespected, and the arrival of new digital channels such as email marketing, blogs and tweets etc, and all those things we now lump together and call "content", has cheapened what they do.

Content and copywriting

Copywriters have been slow to embrace this new content world I suspect, believing that writing emails and blogs and other content are beneath them. As a result non-copywriters have filled the vacuum and once they've bashed out a bit of content start calling themselves "copywriters" despite having no knowledge, craft skills or experience. Take paid search for instance. Big brands spend fortunes on the medium through their media agencies, who also have to write the ads because no one else will touch them.
On many digital platforms, copywriting is being written by non-copywriters which isn't good for the client, the consumer or the medium.

The demands on copywriting have never been greater

These four line ads represent the toughest direct response copywriting discipline ever invented. You only have a small number of words to make your pitch with, you only have 10 seconds on average to win the click, you're surrounded by your direct competitors and algorithms measure the results of your efforts within seconds and beam them straight to a watching client. Phew, that's brutal. I feel for people in media agencies who have to write these ads because it's not what their jobs are about. Their skills lie in the technical aspects of managing AdWords accounts and yet they're also expected to write compelling, direct response ads.
Media buyers are being forced to become "copywriters" despite not having any copywriting experience.

Copywriting is fighting back

However, there are a small number of us copywriters out there who are perverse enough to rise to the Google AdWords copywriting challenge rather than ignore it. After all, it's not going to go away. Far from it, in fact, because paid search now accounts for over £3 billion in the UK alone every year. This means that advertisers spend more money on those little ads than all the direct mail shots and coupon ads produced in the UK put together. Why, well maybe it's because paid search really works. So just think how much better paid search would work if it received the proper direct response copywriting attention it so obviously deserves. Copywritng makes a difference whatever the medium, and paid search is no exception. Especially when you consider that the only thing a search sees when they land on a search page is…er…words. And as Patrick Collister pointed out what copywriters know is that it's not what you say it's how you say it that makes the difference, and copywriters also have that rare ability to put themselves in the readers' shoes. A highly relevant skill when it's applied to people searching on Google because they're doing it now!

A way forward for copywriting

The evening ended with the announcement that the DMA, together with Royal Mail, Google, The Guardian and HP, are sponsoring 20 scholarships via its Future Writers Lab initiative. I haven't seen the curriculum but I hope that writing for Google AdWords and paid search is on it – and if it isn't, it needs to be. Writing Google AdWords ads may not win our new breed of copywriters any awards, but it will win them the respect of very happy clients. And, who knows, it just might also teach them a lot more about direct response copywriting in the new digital age and, guess what, the experience might also inform and develop all their other copywriting. A case of a little less D&AD and a bit more PPC perhaps.
By Paul Booth

Paul is the Chief Executive Officer of The ATO Co, which delivers ATO AdWords copywriting for UK-only and international brands in over 80 countries around the world.