Marketing Bootcamp

What AdWords Research Reveals About Ad Words That Resonate With Buyers

I have a confession to make. I don’t particularly like Twitter. Or any other platform that doesn’t allow me to write longer content. Those 140 characters or so are not enough to express my thoughts. Unfortunately for me, a typical marketing copy today gets shorter and shorter.

Take AdWords for example. There isn’t space for many words there. In fact, you can use only 25 characters in a headline and 70 in the ad copy. Yet, each of those ads has to grab attention of potential customers, inform them, add a strong emotional appeal and persuade them to change their view (or encourage them to take action). And it has to achieve it all within seconds.

But that’s not all. It should also be simple, easy to scan and eye catching. After all, customers hardly read the entire copy. They just scan it for anything that might correspond with what they’re looking for. Needless to say, this sets a major challenge for any copywriter or marketing expert.

One trick to achieve it all is to use what’s called trigger words – words that invoke and inspire emotions and action, based on research conducted by my company, SEMrush. We analyzed 20 million AdWords copies served by US advertisers with a monthly advertising spend exceeding $10,000 to establish the most common words, phrases and other ad elements they use.

Related: 10 Steps to Effective Copywriting

Trigger words. There are certain words that customers tend to respond better to than others. Words like you, free, because, new or instantly persuade them in their own, unique way. “You” for instance creates a personal connection. And according to a research by the Institute for the Study of Child Development certain regions of our brains activate when we see our names in print or on screen. The word “Free” on the other hand suggests an incentive that will keep customers interested. “Because” indicates an explanation which satisfies a basic human need, whereas “New” suggests something exclusive.

Moreover, words like free, cheap or new top the list of the most popular adjectives used by AdWords advertisers with the first one greatly outnumbering the others.

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Reducing perceived risk. The idea of perceived risk influencing buying behavior is nothing new. Every purchase contains a certain degree of risk after all. When making decisions we often deal with uncertainty and consequences of making a bad one.

As the research published in the International Journal of Electronic Business Management suggests, “consumers perceive uncertainty in contemplating a particular purchase intention. The outcome may make consumers unhappy and regretful.” In fact, other studies found that many of us are even willing to pay to reduce a perceived risk. Therefore, any risk reducing statements you use have a chance to convince customers to buy. Simply.

Making promises. Promises are a grey area of advertising. It can be tempting to make false ones to entice customers to buy your product. ”Restoring youth”, “preventing cancer” are great examples of this. It is however a proven fact that “promises, both implicit and explicit, made by service organizations influence customers’ expectations of the service experience.”

Thus, many aspects of our buying decisions are based on the promises companies make. Unfortunately, it seems not many companies take their promises to heart. According to Accenture survey, 62 percent of customers who experienced a broken promise from a company say the company broke multiple promises it made to them.

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Not all promises will work the same way though. “Save big” might not have as much effect as offering the “lowest price possible.” But then again, our research indicated that advertisers prefer to claim “best price guarantee” over “lowest price guarantee,” which ties in with what we said about the impact of trigger words (the word “best” is used approximately 40 percent more often than “low”).

Related: Four Steps to Make Ads More Effective

Motivating customers to take action. A strong call-to-action is what often makes content so successful. BJ Fogg from the Persuasive Technology Lab defines a call to action as a trigger that tells people to perform a behavior now.

He adds that “for behaviors where people are already above the activation threshold – meaning they have sufficient motivation and ability – a trigger is all that’s required.” Furthermore, he identifies three types of such triggers:

"Spark'' is used when a person lacks motivation to take the desired action and thus they include a motivational element.- "Facilitator'' is for users who have high motivation but lack the ability to perform action. This trigger tells them that the target behavior is easy to do and won’t require a resource they might lack at the moment. "Signal'' works for people who have both the motivation and the ability to perform the action. It is the softest of triggers, serving primarily as a reminder of an action. Think of a traffic signal reminding you to take action, stop or go.

When writing a call to action, take into consideration these most popular verbs:

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What’s interesting, the word "buy'' doesn’t appear in the first five results. After all, it’s one of the words you’d automatically associate with the buying intent. It seems, however, that when it comes to advertising, companies prefer less pushy approach and soft sell instead of pressuring customers to buy.

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Similarly, the most popular word used by AdWords advertisers is “now”. It comes as no surprise. To make an impact, your call to action must create a sense of urgency and push your customers to take action right away.

Asking a question. Questions are a powerful tool in sales and marketing. A 1993 research discovered that “by simply asking consumers to form and report a purchase intention, marketing researchers change the consumers' actual purchase rates in a systematic and predictable fashion.”

Separate research suggested “asking a purchase intent question about a product category  (i.e., a question about intention to purchase in the product category, with no specific reference to individual category members) leads to activation of that category in memory. This activation then spreads to brands in the category, in proportion to the prior accessibility of existing cognitions about the brands.”

Making offers irresistible. Nothing works better on us than a good offer. A study published last year in the Global Journal of Management and Business Studies revealed that we indeed build strong brand loyalty and “hardly switch brand choices except in cases of irresistible sales offers.”

In our research we discovered that the most popular offer used by AdWords advertisers is: “best price guarantee.''


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Showing testimonials. Testimonials can be highly persuasive. A 2012 study published by the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research discovered that “when price was high and there were testimonials, more participants were ready to enter their credit card number.”

Moreover, lack of testimonials didn’t result in lower number of transactions only for low priced items. Similarly, their research showed a correlation between previous experience with online purchasing and testimonials, with the latter helping to influence the purchasing decision among low experienced users.

Related: Let Testimonials Do the Talking for You