search-drtv-checklistWhen we evaluate paid search programs and websites of potential clients, we can’t help but notice the prevalence of issues we know depress response and reduce conversions. These problems exist for companies that have a website and may or may not use paid search engine marketing (SEM).

We’re going to look at 19 different items that should be reviewed at least quarterly to make sure those folks responsible for strategy and execution are not missing out on any of these obvious and subtle factors. Many of these relate directly to copywriting and may serve to point out deficiencies in writing copy for SEM and your website.

1. Copy Relevance to Keyword Searched

One of the most common problems is the use of generic copy that is used for most or all keywords. Keywords that are grouped properly in ad groups must have specific copy that the consumer will relate to after searching (see last month’s column, which focuses on this topic).

2. Clear and Easy-to-Understand Copy

Time-stressed consumers who are constantly multi-tasking want copy that is simple, clear and concise. They don’t want to think about what the copy means or what the writer intended. Asking a potential customer to think about what you mean will result in a click to a competitor’s site.

3. Strong Call-to-Action

This is particularly important in paid search since you only have a few words to promote your product or service and call for a click. The best way to develop great calls-to-action is by looking at what others are doing. Type in 25 different keywords and take notes on the best calls-to-action that result. See the example at the end of this column.

4. Presence of a Trust Statement

Whether yours is a well-known name brand or not, consumers who have not purchased from you need some reassurance that they can trust your company. Examples include copy like “official site,” “since 1932” and “over 1 million sold.” The trust statement should be greatly expanded on your site.

5. Competitive Strategy on the Same Keywords

Enter almost any keyword that you’re bidding on and take a look at all the results on the screen. See what your competitors are saying, what offers they are making and their calls-to-action. If a competitor, for example, is offering free shipping and you’re not, that would be worth evaluating.

6. No Wasted Words

One of the first things you learn as a direct response copywriter is the value of words. Whether your copy is short or long, words that don’t add to the message are a waste and need to be eliminated. Whether we’re talking about words in your SEM copy or on your site, make every word count.

7. Remove Long Words

I could have titled this section “Eliminate Long Words” but chose the shorter “Remove Long Words” to illustrate how easy it is to replace longer words with shorter ones. Doing so increases consumer comprehension and makes the phrase or sentence easier to read.

8. Add a Promotional Element

Paid search gives you the ability to test an unlimited number of elements. One not used often enough is some sort of promotion. Testing promotions like “one-day event” or “66% off, next 6 hours” should be a standard part of your SEM program.

9. Include Site Links

You can make it very easy for consumers to get to specific areas on your website from within the search listing. Beneath the three-line SEM ad, you can include links to various areas on your site. The illustration at the end of this article clearly shows the value of including site links.

10. Use Specific Numbers/Percentages Where Available

Consumers respond better to specific numbers or percentages than vague statements like “big discounts” or “huge savings.” They actually respond better to numbers versus percentages. So, “regularly $50, now $24.99” is usually more effective than “50% off regular price of $50,” which requires them to calculate the savings. Don’t assume that everyone is a math whiz.

11. Consistent Search and Website Copy

You’d be shocked at how often search copy/offer/prices do not match what webpage the consumer is taken to when clicking on the search link. Consumers are confused enough with all the information overload and choices, so why turn them off even more with copy mismatches?

12. Remove Copy That Encourages Unqualified Clicks

One of the cornerstones of great paid search is highly targeted copy that results in only the most qualified clicks: consumers most likely to convert to customers. Yet, we see so much search copy that is very general, promises the world and surely will result in a lot of clicks, with many of them completely unqualified. That’s a waste of money in our book.

13. Inappropriate Automatic Keyword Insertion

The search engines make it easy to insert keywords into your search listings, so you can automate the process. While this sounds efficient on the surface, it’s a bad idea if not executed correctly and proofed. You don’t want a search listing where the consumer can’t make heads or tails out of the copy due to a poor insertion.

14. Lack of Proofreading

While not every consumer cares about misspellings and typos, enough do. There is simply no excuse for typos in your search and website copy. It sends the wrong message to those consumers who see them.

15. General Copy Used for Specific Products/Services

Based on our last column about the importance of the consideration cycle in search, we know that general copy used when consumers search for specific products, models, model numbers, etc. doesn’t work. Don’t use “great prices on ink cartridges,” which will force consumers to find the specific cartridge they need, when you can use very targeted copy like “$20 off HP98 cartridges” that will get the consumer right to the exact page where the product exists.

16. Unnecessary Repetition

There’s absolutely no need to repeat the company or product name two, three or even four times within a search ad — yet I see this all the time. You need to make every word count, and repetition usually adds nothing and can even detract from the ad.

17. Outdated Deadlines

Because paid search can be used as a great promotional tactic, it makes no sense when deadlines are outdated because the date has passed. Imagine what you would think if you saw an ad that said, “special buy-one, get-one offer expires on August 20” in an ad you’re reading on August 25?

18. Use of Words That Diminish the Brand

In general, we’re all concerned about protecting and enhancing brands in advertising. Your search copy is no different. When reviewing search copy, look for words that don’t fit in with your brand’s character and find better ones that do.

19. Reduce Fluff

Words like “best” and “cheapest” and “most” are so overused that they have become meaningless. Check to see if you have words like these that can be replaced by more meaningful, specific copy.

Search/Website Report Card Key Takeaways

The best place to start when reviewing your search ad is to look at a really good one and use it as the standard to which yours should aspire. In this example for Bealls of Florida, note how every word works hard to convey a specific message and how the site links are very promotional:










Consumers today are looking for the fastest way to find the information they want and place orders online. They equate confusion with difficulty and often abandon when the search results and/or website isn’t clear and easy-to-understand. Create a process to review your search and web copy on a regular basis to ensure that these common errors don’t creep in and turn potential buyers away.

Originally published Aug 28, 2012 1:00:16 AM, updated July 28 2017