10 tips for creating effective online ad copy

There is a mind-boggling array of different online platforms for getting your marketing message across: From classic display banners through to text-based advertorials, tweets, Facebook status updates and emails, the list goes on and on.

It is very easy to get carried away with the excitement of using new technology and lose sight of basic advertising copy principles.

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People are often quick to blame technology for the failure of their campaigns, using it as an excuse for sloppy, boring, poorly thought out and amateur copy.

You don’t have to be a technical guru or professional designer to put together great, punchy copy for an online campaign. If you do your audience research, understand your chosen medium and keep referring back to the basic principles below, you will be well on your way to generating great return on investment.

1. Keep it simple
The key thing to understand is that online users scan pages very quickly, looking for keywords or specific information. Regardless of the type of advert you are running, your copy must be simple, clear and to the point. Keep headings and sentences in advertorial copy short and punchy, and don’t cram banner frames or images with too much information.

2. Call to action
You must give your audience a reason to click through to your landing page, so include a clear call-to-action in your advert, along with the benefits of your product or service. Explain to the user exactly what you expect them to do when they reach your landing page with powerful phrases such as “find out more”, “download now”, “buy now”, “sign up here”, “visit our website” or “get a quote”.

3. Keep it accurate
Make sure your advert accurately describes your product or service and that it is as easy to read as possible. Do not be confusing, deceptive or fraudulent about offers or company information. It is not always important to have full sentences, but make sure ad copy does not include any unnecessary or excessive capitalisation, grammatical and spelling errors, or slang and shortened words. Unless you’re trying to make a satirical point, LOLspeak, text speak and other such trends will just annoy users and insult their intelligence.

Bad: “New music festival! OMG bands are gonna b gr8! Don’t 4get to register here.” Good: “New music festival with great band line-up! Don’t forget to register here.”

4. Practice short, sharp punches
You only have a couple of seconds to grab users’ attention so make the most of them with short, bold phrases and headings. Anything too ‘busy’ or lengthy will be ignored, so limit banner frames to 2 or 3, and short advertorials to 20-40 words. Longer advertorial pieces should have clear headings, and brief paragraphs which are tailored for quick scanning. Facebook, for example, limits their ads to 25 characters for the title and 135 characters for the body, and Twitter to 140 characters, so learning to be succinct will pay dividends.

Learn from the masters. Look at how the text for the Old Spice guy ads reads on the page. “Hello, ladies. Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man, now back to me.”

That’s punchy writing.

5. Don’t be annoying
A lot more can be achieved with simple design, bright colours and personality than with flashy gimmicks. It is a common misconception that the more bells and whistles an ad has, the more it will get noticed. Ads high in graphics take longer to download and users will not wait around just to see what might be on offer.

Pop-ups and rollovers obscuring information that users are reading or looking for are infuriating, as are rapidly flashing banners, so use Flash and animation in moderation. Users will become frustrated if their browsing experience is hijacked in an unwanted attempt to separate them from their money. They want control over what they are doing. Taking that control away from them will not encourage brand interaction, so keep your advert informative but unobtrusive, and professional.

6. Don’t forget your branding
This might sound like stating the obvious, but make sure the company as well as the product or brand name is clearly stated or included in the title, advert text, accompanying image or banner frame. Many designers or copywriters exclude the information in a bid to save space, relying only on the landing page to give branding details.

7. Identify keywords
Think about keywords that identify your brand and stick to them, maintaining their use across different online platforms. These should be common sense terms that users will search or scan pages for, which describe your brand, product and service, and can be included in text or graphics. It’s also important to design the layout and message of an advert to relate to the content of the pages on which it will appear, if possible.

8. Targeting
It’s very important to tailor copy design and content to the different channels you use and the audiences you address – one size does not fit all, and it’s worth the effort. Niche products or services targeted at specific demographics, or specific offers or downloads, encourage engagement and a better response. Also think about what positions are available for placement on your targeted sites and where the content and structure of the page leads the eye of the user. Choose the advert size and positioning based on these factors.

9. Track results
Consistently monitoring the results of each advert you place will allow you to make design improvements and tweaks to the ads to optimise your results. Establishing a reliable method for tracking the success of your campaign will provide valuable feedback, which can have a real positive influence on ROI. It’s best to have your own tracking system, rather than relying on the host’s, if possible.

10. Keep landing pages relevant
Advertising copy must directly relate to the content on the landing page. Both your ad copy and your website must look professional and branding should be consistent, or you will lose credibility. Both adverts and landing pages should be attractive, easy to navigate and as informative as possible. Users are less likely to click on your advert if it does not accurately describe your product or service, and likewise they will not spend time on your landing page if important information is not easy to find.

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