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The write stuff in AdWords copywriting

Saying what you mean and meaning what you say

Derek Bentley and an accomplice were breaking into a warehouse when they were caught by the police. Bentley’s accomplice was holding a gun. When one of the policemen told him to hand it over, Bentley said, “Let him have it.” His accomplice subsequently shot and killed the policeman and Bentley was tried for his role in the “murder” and hung. But what did Bentley mean when he said the words – “let him have it” - to kill the cop or surrender the firearm?

Four little words but a world of different meaning. This tragic example shows us that language has to be precise to communicate effectively. It’s also the case that most mistakes, or misinterpretations, happen when we only have a few words at our disposal. Understandable perhaps in the heat of a dramatic moment, but this couldn’t possibly happen in a sophisticated communications industry – or could it?

It’s all about the words

Google AdWords is a copy only medium and the vast majority of AdWords ads are not written by people who would by any stretch of the imagination call themselves professional writers. This is curious, not only because professional copywriting is proven to increase the effectiveness of every other advertising medium, but also because Google actually reward advertisers who write more effective AdWords ads with higher positions on search pages and lower costs. Given this set of circumstances, common sense would dictate that AdWords advertisers would employ copywriters to write their ads, but they don’t, which prompts the question why?

Media V Creative – who’s best at writing AdWords copywriting?

The answer is in two parts. Firstly, Google has the culture of a technical company not a communications company. For proof of this you only have to look at their AdWords How to Guides. They are all about the technical aspects of operating a Google AdWords account. They talk about algorithms, bid prices and quality scores and the like. When they do talk about how to write an AdWords ad, the advice is basic at best. This approach to AdWords is mirrored in the marketing services world. Remember, we’re talking about a massive advertising medium here, worth over £3 billion in the last year in the UK alone, which is bigger than terrestrial TV stations ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 combined. Consequently, AdWords has become the preserve of the media buying agency rather than the creative one. Walk into the AdWords department of any big media buying organisation – and they all have one – and you’ll see ranks of people sitting hunched at computers tip-tapping at their keyboards juggling all the technical aspects of running a Google AdWords account, and when they’ve finished doing all that, then they’ll write the ads.

A new role for AdWords copywriting

The second reason is that to date, with only a few notable exceptions, the humble AdWords ad has not garnered the attention of professional writers. Creative agencies won’t touch the medium because to do so would be to impinge on the territories of their media agency cousins. Furthermore, their copywriters are more concerned with creating new campaigns and writing TV commercials to bother with what are basically “lineage” ads. And this goes for Direct Marketing agencies too. Another problem is that Google AdWords isn’t a medium that agency copywriters can simply pick up and run with. AdWords copywriting is complicated and has to be learnt, and few agency copywriters  are keen to hurl themselves into the world of “Display URLs”, “Enhanced Site Links” and “Dynamic Keyword Insertion” to name but a few.

So it would seem that in terms of professional marketing services, the Google AdWords medium has been structured more to suit the financial arrangements of agency groups rather than be of maximum benefit to the client. Consequently, the AdWords medium has grown up as a media product rather than as a creative or copywriting one.

Where would Direct Marketing be without specialist copywriting?

Let’s compare this with the DM industry for a moment. Where would this sector be if every mail shot, reply card and DRTV ad had been written by the media buyers who booked the space and bought the airtime? Would we have the vibrant, effective, sales oriented and brand building medium we have today? Yet, this is still the state of play with Google AdWords. And make no mistake, Google AdWords is not just a direct sales medium, it has grown into a powerful brand building medium too, being the vital last link in the brand building chain.

It pays to have AdWords copywriting

Then there’s the fact, mentioned earlier, that Google rewards AdWords advertisers who write more effective ads. Suppose for a moment the TV medium worked like this and TV stations rebated advertisers hundreds of thousands of pounds the more effective their TV commercials were. Every marketing director and chairman in the country would be straight round to their advertising agencies insisting that the best creative teams in the agency were put on their accounts immediately. Wouldn’t you?

Global brands need global Adwords copywriting

So far we’ve discussed the case for the benefits of professional AdWords copywriting from a purely UK standpoint. But Google AdWords is international, and so are a lot of brands. But how international is their AdWords copy? Does a media buyer in Buenos Aires write with the same brand understanding and tone of voice as his or her counterpart in Berlin? Somehow we doubt it.  As the Derek Bentley story reminds us, being precise and concise in a single language can be difficult, but what happens when you are communication in over 30 different languages, which is often the case with international AdWords campaigns?

AdWords copywriting - the future of AdWords

All this leads to one inescapable conclusion. Writing matters in AdWords. More than this writing is crucial to advertiser success, and for the long term future of the Google AdWords medium. And writing needs writers. Writers who know direct response copywriting techniques, brand communication and understand the unique dynamics that makes Google AdWords work. Why? Because if Derek Bentley had been less of a media buyer and more of an AdWords copywriter he wouldn’t have said “Let him have it”, he’d have said, “Give him the gun”, or “Hand it over”, or “Put the gun down”. He would have been clear, concise and communicated exactly what he meant. He also would have conveyed his “brand” character in that moment, as being that of a conciliator not a violent criminal. Amazing, isn’t it, the difference a few words can make when they’re well chosen. And that can have a huge effect. Whether it’s one fatal shot in Derek Bentley’s case, or millions of lost clicks for international brand advertisers.
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.