The Invasion of the Text Ad Clones

By shanesnow
Published on December 8, 2008

How To Differentiate Your Ad In A Competitive Space

As more advertisers are jumping on the paid search bandwagon every day, the ppc marketplace is becoming increasingly emulous. In competitive markets, more and more searches bring up pages full of nearly identical sponsored ads. Here’s an example of a Google search for house painting:

Does anyone else look at this and see the exact same ad over and over again? The only ad that remotely stands out is #4, because the local “Honolulu, HI” makes it take up a little more space.

Does your ad look like this? Well don’t resign yourself to mediocrity. If you think your website is great, but your ad stands out about as well as a single zombie amongst a pack of undead, then you need to keep reading!

(Photo from the movie, Shawn of the Dead, retrieved from

Because of a proliferation of PPC blogs, pay per click tip guides, and “get rich off of Adwords” websites, pretty much everybody has started using the same tricks: capitalization on every word, a call to action that ends in words like “now” and “today” with an exclamation point on the second description line, dynamic keyword insertion, and as many keywords crammed into the ad as possible.

Take another look at the ads for house painters above. Seven out of the eight ads have the word “Free” in them (another common trick), and two of the ads have the exact same call to action, “Get Free Painting Estimates Today!” It might seem counterintuitive, but by employing some of the most “proven” ad copy writing techniques, chances are – these days – that you are going to look exactly the same as everyone else, severely blunting the effectiveness of your ad.

So how can you differentiate your ad in such a competitive space? It seems that by simply writing something unique, an advertiser could seriously increase click-throughs based solely on curiosity or catching the user’s eye. But before you start trying out some wild CTR-increasing gimmick, you should consider your goals. In some cases, simply generating as much traffic as possible is the only goal; however, typically the goal of a paid search ad is to eventually get the click to convert into a sale, lead, or signup. Unique ad copy alone won’t help you in these departments.

Keeping in mind that our priority is probably going to be conversions, and therefore you can’t afford to pay for clicks that have no possibility of making you money, I would like to talk about 3 things that can transform your text ad clone into most attractive ad on the page.

1. Borrow ideas from unrelated, but highly competitive industries

Some industries are more cut-throat than others. Chances are, there are many industries that are more wildly and violently competitive than the one you are advertising in. Think of an industry where competition is fierce and take a look at some of the ads. Take note of the copywriting techniques they use, and use these as a springboard for your own ad copy ideas.

We recently had a client whose ad performance was simply not doing as well as we (and the client) thought it could be doing. A search showed that our client’s ads in certain campaigns were nothing but clones of a dozen other advertisers who had entered the PPC arena in the past several months. We had a brainstorming session to figure out how we could get this client’s ads to stand out. We knew once we got the traffic to the site, we could make the conversion, but we just weren’t seeing any kind of growth in click volume no matter what we did.

So we took a look at some ads in one of the web’s most competitive industries: online dating. Even though our client was in the construction leads industry, we thought online dating ads might give us some insight into techniques we could use in our situation. While these two verticals are highly unrelated, we figured that advertisers in online dating that hadn’t already been driven out of business are likely seeing good results from their ads. And in order to stick out the competition, they would also be forced to write very enticing ad copy in order to snatch clicks from their competitors.

Here are a couple ads that caught our attention right away:

First of all, the ® symbol in the ad immediately gives it credibility and allows it to stick out. They still use the keywords “online dating,” but they clearly draw attention to themselves. Another attractive thing about this ad is the claim to fame, the “World’s Leading Dating Site.” One of the editorial rules for Google and other major search engines is that all claims in ads have to be backed up on the landing page visitors are taken to. If your business doesn’t have some kind of credibility factor like this, take the time to court some endorsements or enter some competitions. could be the world’s leading dating site in terms of members, active members, page views, profit, or any number of things. This means that other dating sites could be the “world’s leading dating site” by another criteria. Which also means that your site could be the leader of something in some quadrant of the world. Pursuing something like this can definitely be worth it.

Although we gained some insights from the ad, we found another one that gave us some material we wanted to immediately work with:

This ad was especially appealing to us for the construction leads market. All of the ads for a search for “Home Remodeling” would show up with the title “Home Remodeling” and occasionally things like “Home Remodeling Quotes.”

So we tested a new ad, based on ideas we got from this one, against our old “zombie-clone” ad. We changed the headline “Home Remodel Bids” to “Top 3 Remodel Contractors,” and guess what?  On that change, our CTR shot up and our conversions consequently increased. Nobody else had a similar ad, and apparently people searching for home remodeling services liked the idea of getting bids from the top contractors (according to us) rather than just getting bids.

You don’t have to confine yourself to pay per click ads, either. Turn on your TV or log onto and watch some ads in another industry. Take note of the calls to action that the ads use. How do they grab people’s attention? What kind of language do they use? Of course, a commercial has a lot more words at its disposal than a paid search ad, but some of the best video ads can condense their pitch into one or two very short sentences.

While you’re at it, go to Barnes & Noble and bust out some magazines. What ads grab your attention? Of course, images can play a big part in attracting you to stop turning pages to look at an ad, but effective copy is essential to print advertising in almost every industry.

2. Write something clever rather than keyword-stuffed

What can cause two ads for the exact same product or service to be light years apart in terms of grabbing attention and invoking action? To stand out in this way, the ad needs to approach the customer from a different direction. A unique angle can give you more than just an edge on your competition. To avoid speaking in too many general terms, here are a few examples, using our same construction leads company:

Instead of:

Start Your Remodel Now
Get Quality Home Remodeling Bids
From Local Pre-Screened Contractors

We tried:

Start Your Remodel Now
Top Contractors So There’s No Delay
Shop Free Bids & Save Today!

What do you think the click through response to this ad was? Well, have you ever heard of the phrase, “through the roof?” Rhyme and cadence are a couple of things that can get your ad to stick in someone’s head. And people like the smooth feel of a rhyme. It may not work in every case, but it’s definitely worth testing.

Here’s another trick we’ve tried: alliteration.

Ready To Remodel?
Compare Custom Contractor Quotes
Click Quickly To Cut Your Costs!

How much friendlier and more clever is this than the generic ads everyone else has, like this one?

Remodeling Quotes
Find Remodeling Contractors
Get Remodel Price Quotes Today

Just a few things to think about. The point is, stop focusing on cramming keywords, and focus on making your ads appealing. Chances are, it’ll pay off.

3. Try something risky

By risky, I don’t mean stupid; I mean do something aggressive. And by aggressive, I don’t mean a call to action like “Order Right Now!” I mean write something that persuades people to click on your ad without looking desperate or the same as everyone else.

This is tricky to do. By studying competitive advertisers in other industries, as discussed in Tip #1, you might be able to find inspiration for ideas if your brainstorming hasn’t gotten you anywhere so far.

Take this example:

Cut The Crap
Expert Remodeling Contractors Are
Ready To Bid. Get A Free Quote Now!

Now there’s an ad that could get your attention. Of course, there are still editorial guidelines to be followed, and taste to be considered, but as the competitive game gets tougher, in order to outshine the rest of the text ad clones, good advertisers are going to have to test risky, aggressive ads.

And that’s the beauty of pay per click advertising. You can test everything, and nothing is permanent if you want to reverse it. If you no longer want to be one of the text ad clones, then start testing some new ads! If they don’t work, then test some other ones!

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5 Responses to “The Invasion of the Text Ad Clones”

  1. Ryan Beale (1 comments.) says:

    Hi Shane,

    Great article! Personally, I believe cloning your competitors Ads is not a beneficial way to increase productivity. In fact, if you are bidding on the same keywords as your competitors and using very similar text ads, you will just drive up your Max Bid. [James:Edited/Removed promotional portion of paragraph.] Thanks!


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    [...] more about the specifics of some of these techniques. It’s written by Shane at semvironment. addthis_url = [...]

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    [...] ads, you can try something that doesn’t seem like it would work but will provide you with some text ad differentiation. Be challenging or irreverent or totally off-beat and challenging, like: “Your Website Needs [...]

  4. How to Write PPC Ad Copy: Four Ad Templates that Cause Clicks and Conversions | says:

    [...] ads, you can try something that doesn’t seem like it would work but will provide you with some text ad differentiation. Be challenging or irreverent or totally off-beat and challenging, like: “Your Website Needs [...]

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