A look at some categories of meta messages that might be relevant to your ad strategy.
Last time, I explained that ad formats and copy can send meta messages beyond what is literally conveyed in the text. You aren't just trying to "convince" a pre-digested subset of willing buyers, but rather, you're engaged in a sorting exercise whereby users measure you for "fit" as their eyes flit across a number of listings on a SERP page in rapid succession.
If you play your cards right, the act of sending cues to "your" prospects can simultaneously achieve the purpose of filtering out non-buyers. Apparently, for every searcher with high buying intent, there may be dozens of lame people just casually roving around the web, looking for diversion. Don't cozy up to them!
Here are a few categories of meta messages that might be relevant to your ad strategy. As always, the purpose is to elicit better responses in order to improve CTRs, conversion rates, quality scores, and ROI.
Brand name in display URL? You're halfway there if you're lucky enough to have a slam-dunk brand. If not, you'll have to provide some other reason for customers to be drawn to you. Think of it this way: if you're not seven feet tall, standing in front of someone and telling them "I'm seven feet tall" will do you little good. As a little guy, you'll need to focus on other areas like pricing, comparative advantage in a niche, USPs, promotions, attractive offers, etc.
If you're leveraging a built-in brand advantage, the rest of the ad copy shouldn't "shout" above the brand's weighty presence, since it doesn't need to. For example, if everyone already knows about your famous return policy, you needn't waste space on it in the ad (it's on your website anyway).
It's not an ad unit, it's a tasty menu of links…your links. Over the years, Google has done a fair bit of experimenting making PPC ads blend in as a natural part of the user experience. Perhaps the majority of users don't think ads are identical to natural search results, but it's definitely the case that little cues, such as using a keyword-rich display URL, feeds into the user's bias towards being given a dispassionate, "fair-minded" system for making a choice. Many searchers would like to believe that the search results page is helpful as opposed to being a playground for aggressive marketing messages. Experiment accordingly. The tendency is only exaggerated in the case of the large Sitelinks ad unit, which looks similar to the same unit as deployed in organic listings (see screen shot below). If clicks on your brand term were expensive, this unit might backfire on you. But because you can often get those clicks for under 10 cents with this unit, it helps you draw attention away from other players in the ecosystem who may be "drafting" on your brand name. And it does so with dignity.
Don't be ambiguous with the "buy now." There has to be no better cue that you have a shopping cart than the blue "Google Checkout" icon, but calls to action like "buy now," "free shipping over $100," etc. are also great – not just as benefits or calls to action per se, but as means of confirming that you're not an information site, directory, service provider, or some other category of vendor.
Buy now and here's how! Depending on how it's done, I make a distinction between ads that are "shouty" and those that are ultra-clear. I recently created an ad that told users where to scroll to see the options for this particular product category; I had to do so because of (yikes) an awkward interface that made this category harder to find on the website than some others. In so doing, I accidentally stumbled on a successful strategy for a higher-ROI ad! For some reason, this made it ultra-clear to prospects what they should do next if they wanted to customize their purchase. And again, perhaps the even larger accomplishment was to ensure that it penetrated through to casual searchers: you're going to have to customize something to make a purchase. If you're browsing only for interesting videos and general articles, stay away.
Big savvy retailer, or parent company fluff site? Unfortunately, your giant brand doesn't always do you a favor. Do the other running shoe companies have an annoying tendency to create elaborate informational sites with arty Flash movies about Nobel Peace Prize winners running through the desert? Sometimes well-known resellers and retailers have better brands than you, the parent company. Not in general, perhaps, but specifically stronger for the purpose the buyer is looking for: to buy something at a discount from a large catalog, from a cart, with a great company experienced in logistics and customer service. If this applies to you, you'll need to compensate somehow.
Include geo-signals. If there is a local angle to all or part of your business, it's imperative that you take account of the various local advertising options at Google today, such as full use of Google Places. Other tactics like a) including a city name in the display URL, b) breaking out campaigns to be more granular by geography, and c) using local extensions where the geographic location of a company is displayed under the ad unit, are all ways to convey local presence without saying a lot about it. Geo cues can bring buyers "home" to your business.
One-stop shop? By referring to a large selection, you not only reinforce the notion that you are in e-commerce in the first place, you reassure visitors that it's worth their time to visit your site and to browse around. It's often wrongly assumed that extreme granularity is the key to paid search. It can be, but oftentimes users straddle both impulses: specific desires, and a desire to add more to their cart or to find something even more appropriate to their needs. If there is any advantage to online shopping that stands out above all others, it's the promise of virtually unlimited inventory. If yours is small, people are going to wonder what they're missing elsewhere.
My favorite thing about meta messages is that they typically achieve multiple goals in a tiny space. Because of this, their impact on campaign performance can be surprisingly large, proportional to the space they take up. Use meta messages as a means of squeezing more signals and cues into those 95 character spaces.
Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.