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How the Top 5 Brands Are Using Paid Search Ads

  |  April 9, 2014   |  Comments

A look at how five of the world's most valuable brands are utilizing pay-per-click (PPC) search strategies, and what you can learn from their successes and shortcomings.

According to Forbes, the world's most valuable brands include Apple, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, IBM, and Google, which make up the top five, respectively. As a search marketer, I wanted to put the brands to the test to see how they are using pay-per-click (PPC) and look for any obvious wins or losses in the ad's visibility. I am focusing on Google AdWords for consistency and simplicity.

Top Five Brand PPC Ads on Google

Apple: Search for "Apple iPad"

Apple's PPC ad served for an iPad search is using the Google AdWords image extensions, now in beta. The approach is of brand "storytelling" of various ways the iPad is used around the world. This appears, at first, to make the ads look more like content than advertising (except for the obvious bright yellow square indicating "ad").

The ad copy is focused on branding with sitelink ad extensions that include one direct response call-to-action, two with product information, and one that matches ad copy. I would have used an ad extension like "Official Apple Store" or similar to let the consumer know they can buy directly from Apple and stand out a bit more from the other ads on the page.


Microsoft: Search for "Microsoft Surface"

Microsoft is serving two ads, one from Microsoft.com and one from microsoftstore.com. While this gives advertisers more ad real estate, it technically violates Google's double-serving policy: "advertisers should avoid running ads from different accounts on the same or similar keywords that point to the same or similar websites." This is a common issue with large companies with multiple websites to control keywords across PPC accounts. As well as the fact that these accounts are competing against each other in the ad auction, driving up the cost per click (CPC).

In terms of the ads themselves, ad number two is more sales-focused, including several calls-to-action in the ad copy and sitelink ad extensions to "buy." It provides product information and price point. It uses AdWords review extensions, which is a great bonus. However, the review is about the ease of typing on the Surface, and I'd think there would be more persuasive or engaging reviews that would convince me to buy.

The first ad is OK, but definitely does not have the selling power of the second ad and may inadvertently compete with the Microsoft store ad.


Coca-Cola: Search for "Diet Coke"

Ah, the crisp, refreshing taste of Diet Coke...yes I am headed to the fridge to crack one open after reading this ad. The experience of this classic beverage is conveyed right on in the ad copy, as any good brand ad should. This ad uses social extensions: "extensions and annotations allow you to include Google+ follower information in your ads." The problem I see with the social extension is that this major iconic brand has only 814 followers on Google+, which is underwhelming. I would build a larger following to display before adding this ad extension and perhaps use sitelinks ad extensions to drive to recent TV ad campaigns, videos, and other brand content.


IBM: Search for "IBM Cognos"

In contrast to Coca-Cola's social ad extension, IBM has more than 27,000 followers on Google+, which looks impressive and more appropriate to use this ad extension. I like how this ad gets down to business with a clear benefit - "turn insights in action" - then gives me more product information and nice call-to-action: "get the free software now." The display URL information after the slash was noticeable and uses precious character count to convey more information. Great job.



Google's own ad for AdWords needs punctuation, and without it is blending two lines of ad copy together, resulting in one long run-on sentence. They are the only advertiser who uses the optional sitelinks extensions descriptions, which allows for up to 35 additional characters to "tell your customers what to expect if they click the sitelink." This is a great feature to leverage when using sitelinks. They have been using the messaging "be found in more searches," but I would like to know that I can grow my business or reach customers, not just be found. The messaging in the sitelink extensions gives more resources and I like "set your own budget" since it seems to overcome a common objective to AdWords' "can I afford this?" question new advertisers may have.


How do your PPC ads stack up to the to the world's most valuable brands? Can you apply their successes and shortcomings to improve your own performance? Tell us how in the comments.

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Lisa Raehsler

Lisa Raehsler is the founder and principal strategist at Big Click Co., an online advertising company and Google AdWords Certified Partner, specializing in strategy and management of SEM and PPC for search engines, display, retargeting, and social media ad campaigns. Lisa has led strategy on dozens of PPC accounts and puts her experience into practice every day as a thought leader in integrating clients' search campaigns with ecommerce websites, behavioral targeting strategies, and web analytics. She has participated extensively in the local interactive community, as well as at national search engine marketing conferences. Lisa's recent speaking engagements include SES, OMS, MIMA, HeroConf, and SMX conferences, as well as numerous private and public training engagements. As a columnist for ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, she writes on the topic of paid search. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRocksSEM.

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