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Ad Copy Wizardry with Matt Umbro

Matt Umbro

Today we’re talking to Matt Umbro about how to write richer, specific, and more compelling text ads by using ad extensions, extended headlines, ad customizers, and dynamic ads.

Matt is the founder and moderator of PPCChat, a weekly twitter conversation on paid search related topics. He’s a Senior Account Manager and Head of the Community at Hanapin Marketing. He specializes in managing PPC ecommerce accounts, and oversees the content production for PPC Hero.


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Highlights and Take-Aways

  • Ad extensions should supplement and complement the call to action in the headline ad.
  • Ad extensions are part of the quality score algorithm, and should be used to improve performance.
  • Extended headlines use more characters to tell a better story.
  • Ad customizers let you get specific about your products and offerings without requiring extra work.
  • Most advertisers are not using ad customizers.
  • Dynamic ads can function as a catch-all but require extra control and fencing to ensure relevancy.

Show Notes

Ad extensions should complement your headline and description

Amy:  I’m excited to get some tips from you on how to make better ad copy. So the first thing I wanted to ask you about is ad extensions. Ad extensions are kind of a dream, because they give us so much more room to tell a story. But it can be hard to know how to leverage them. And especially as we lose some of the constraints, it can be hard to know what to include where. What are some of your tips that you have for using just regular ad texts and extensions to create great ads?

Matt: Yeah, so this is an interesting point because ever since ad extensions were rolled out by Google, and then Bing followed, it’s been a matter of – how can you use all these extensions in a manner that makes sense for your ad copy? And the analogy I tend to give is, if you build a house – and it’s kind of a bare bones house. It has the room, it has a bathroom, but not much else. These ad extensions are putting in a new deck, refinishing the kitchen, adding a new bedroom and so forth.

If you build a house…ad extensions are putting in a new deck, refinishing the kitchen, adding a new bedroom.

So, I kind of think of ad extensions in that way, in the sense that you want to complement your ad the right way. So between site links, call outs, structured snippets, review extensions, and more – it’s about making sure that your extensions complement your regular headline, and description line 1 and 2 – without necessarily overshadowing it. And what I mean by that is, extensions in general are going to help users see your ads, and they help you stand out more. But again, they’re really an add-on of what you want to users to do. 

So it’s a matter of, depending on the campaign or ad group you’re running, you want to make sure you put appropriate extensions. So if you’re running a campaign for round coffee tables, your ad copy would speak around coffee tables. But your site links might list various models of your round of coffee tables. Your call outs might list how long you’ve been in business for, whether you get free shipping, 24/7 phone support. Whereas your structured snippets might contain the brand, or the brands, of coffee tables that you sell.

How I try and utilize ad extensions is, I try to make them specific enough to the campaign or ad group I’m working on. But still making sure that the headline and description line 1 and 2 is really the main call out – it contains the main call to action.

Amy: Yeah, that’s a great point. I’m glad you mentioned free shipping. Because I think that’s an area where it can be hard to know if that is best done as a callout – or as an extension – or if that’s best included in the ad. Sometimes you might want to include that in the description line too, as a call to action. Especially if all our competitors are using free shipping in the ad. Any time we move something to an extension, it means we risk it not getting shown. So I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to test whether the message is right for including in the ad itself, or whether it works better as an extension?

Matt: So one of my big things is – especially with text ads and the e-commerce accounts – I want to make them stand out as much as possible. Because they’re going to be going against the shopping ads, or product listing ads. So by nature, the fact that the product listing ads contain images, they contain price, users are going to – their eyes are going to be drawn there first. 

Along with ad extensions, one of the items I try to do is utilize the extended headline feature with text ads. And what that is, is if description line 1 is a distinct sentence and ends in a period, then it has the potential to show in the headline as well. So essentially, you’re getting kind of like an organic headline, where that overall headline is the 60 characters. So to your point about free shipping, what I’ll try and do is – sometimes I’ll include the free shipping in description line 1.

I have that extended headline with that much more emphasis showing the free shipping. And it’s bolder, the font’s bigger, and I can show that free shipping is available. But that’s not to say I won’t test it out in the call outs. But it’s going to be that much more relevant with that extended headline. So bottom line is that if I have a major feature I want to call out, I’ll certainly test it in the call out extensions. But I’ll also put it directly within the ad to gain that much more emphasis.

Ad extensions contribute to performance lifts

Amy: So this is maybe a frustrating question for you, because it certainly is for me: how can you best test an ad extension? We talk about testing it – at the end of the day, it can be really hard to actually test just because of the limited information that we have about the performance of our ad extensions. Do you have any suggestions for how to really set up a test? Or is it just a matter of, “Hey, it didn’t tank so that means it’s working.”?

Matt: I think this is a case where, because with sitelinks you can get a certain amount of data, and you have it leave up to 10 in the campaign or ad group at a time. Now only 2 of the 6 will show, but you can have that many running and testing out. So you can see the data for that, so site links are a little easier to test. But once you get to the callouts, the structured snippets, the review extension, and so forth – those are a little bit hard to test, because they’re not – the review extension is clickable. But even if someone clicks that, then they’re not actually going to your site.

Amy: Right.

Matt: So I think it’s a matter where you have to look at the overall performance of the ad group or campaign. If you launch something and run it for 2 weeks, how has the overall performance done? And vice versa – if you then turn it off for 2 weeks, or you test something else for 2 weeks, how has that performance done? So unfortunately, unlike regular text ad campaigns, where it’s very simple to AB test ads and clearly see a winner, with extensions it’s – aside from site links, it’s a little more difficult and time consuming to do that.

Amy: Yeah, it definitely can be. But like you said, if we are adding extensions and they’re still doing, well it’s usually a pretty safe bet to go ahead and add them rather than not doing it. I’ve actually had clients who were like, “Well, should we add this extension? Or what’s the exact performance?” Well we don’t know the exact performance, but you can assume if something’s not getting worse, then it’s at least doing okay, and there’s still a lot of benefits. And Google Ad Words certainly likes it when we create ad extensions, right?

Matt: Well I was going to say, ad extensions are now part of the quality score algorithm, so Google’s on record as saying that having these ad extensions helped improve their overall quality score, and it turn it makes your ads more relevant. So bottom line is that Google is really telling us that we need to use them to improve the performance of our account. And that doesn’t mean we can’t test, but it’s always better to have the extensions than not. Of course, unless there’s an extreme example where they’re not working and that’s one thing. But pretty much every account I’ve set up, I’ve utilized all applicable ad extensions in all the applicable campaigns and ad groups.

It’s always better to have the extensions than not.

Amy: Do you ever use site links to try to qualify the click more, where a lower CTR would actually be a metric of success? Maybe an ad with a bit more consumer intent and you’re trying to get it B2B, and so you add all these sitelinks. Fewer people click because it seems less relevant, but then you’re getting more qualified clicks out of it.

Matt: It’s an interesting concept, and it’s something that I don’t necessarily – I haven’t necessarily tested in depth. Having said that, it’s something where if I have specific ad groups that have the ability to have more specific site links, I’ll utilize the ad group level site links instead of campaign. But in terms of including a call to action within the actual site link, sometimes if it’s a general branded campaign, and that includes site links that lead to different conversion points – for example if my goal is to get a “contact us” form submission, I’ll put that in the main text and then in the site links, and may include links to downloading the brochure, or signing up for an e-mail newsletter.

Those are some things where I try more specific calls to action within site links. But in general, I use site links more, again, to pick up that additional real estate and give users additional options that they can click. Really with any extension, I think the big thing is it helps improve your overall headline click through rate.

Amy: Yeah, I definitely see that as well.

Extended headlines entice people to read more

Amy: You mentioned using the description line 1 to create an extended headline.  Do you ever – once you create the extended headline where you’ve got this big long headline at the top – do you ever feel like the second description line looks really weird? Like, whether or not it performs well, does it ever just look wrong to you when you’re doing that? Or right now are you like, “Well it works, so I’m just happy with it,” and you don’t really notice it. You’ve got this puny second line that you designed for being part of a more robust description.

Matt: Well, in general you have the call out, you have the structured snippets, and then the sitelinks – which are all the same size as the second line of text. And quite frankly, even if description line 1 and 2 was still down there, it’s the same size. So I guess what I would say to that, I think users are going to see the headline first no matter what. And then, if that is appealing to then, then I believe they’ll take the next step to either read just the description line 2 on the next line, or if description line 1 and 2 are all part of the same line, they’ll read that. So really I think it’s a matter of getting that – most importantly getting that enticing headline for them to want to read more. And that’s why having description line 1 in there, especially if you can include an offer like free shipping or a site wide discount, is so important.

Amy: Do you have other tips for how to make the ad more enticing?

Matt: So the extended headline is definitely a big one, and I generally write 4 ads per ad group – 2 desktop, 2 mobile. And at least one for desktop and one for mobile I try to use the extended headline. The other item I use is proper casing for the display URL. So the display URL, a few years ago Google changed it, so it’s always going to be lowercase. So for example, if Nike put “” into the display URL and used a capital “N”, it would still show as all lower case in the display URL.

However, ads now have the ability to show the display URL in the headline. So for that matter, it always makes sense to use the casing you want within the display URL, even though the actual display URL itself is always going to be lower cased. So you get that additional emphasis in the headline. And again, it’s all about making your ad stand out more. The other item, in terms of ad copy and this goes back to ad extensions again, but just making sure you’re differing up your extensions enough.

Use the casing you want within the display URL so you get that additional emphasis in the headline.

Site links, call outs, and structured snippets are all very similar, so I find that especially more with the broader ad groups – like the coffee table example – you can use all of them. And that definitely helps to  tell different information without repeating the same call outs, or the same different products you carry, or so forth within all the different extensions.

Ad Customizers let you add business data for more specific ads

Amy:  Let’s talk about ad customizers for a second. What are ad customizers?

Matt: Ad customizers are essentially dynamic ads that utilize – you can do a couple different things:

1. You can put a countdown directly within your ad.

So for example if you have a sale ending in 5 days, you can set up an ad customizer within your copy that will dynamically count down until when the sale is over. And especially as you get into under 24 hours, it will dynamically say, “Sale ends in 20 hours. Sale ends in 18 hours.” And then it will get down to the minute. So that’s something very powerful for a text ad.

2. You can include business data.

But you can also include what’s known as business data, and that’s in the shared library section, where you can dynamically create ads that include

  • products
  • the inventory left
  • the starting price
  • cities where people are

And essentially what you’re doing is you’re submitting a – similar to a shopping feed, but only with that information into this business data section. And then your ads are populated with dynamic attributes that will automatically pull up what someone is looking for.

With ad customizers, your ads are populated with dynamic attributes that will automatically pull up what someone is looking for

So one of the examples is, I work with a company who sells vegetable seeds. So how I use the ad customizers is, I’ll upload a feed that contains the number of inventory, or the number of models for tomatoes, or green peppers, or for lettuce. And then I’ll put what the starting price is. So what that will do, is now when someone searches for tomato seeds, they’ll see that we have 160 models in stock starting at $3.95. And then if that changes, I can just make an update directly within the business data section to accommodate that. 

One way I like to use that customizer data, specifically with the countdown, is put that countdown customizer within description line 1. So that way our full headline will read, “Oval Coffee Tables, take 20% off, sales ends in 5 days,” or whatever. And again, that makes it that much more appealing for someone to click.

Amy:  I haven’t ever had much success using the countdown customizer. When we look over all at how the ads did that included it, they almost always lose the test to the ones, just the regular ads that don’t include the countdown. And it could just be – I don’t know, maybe it’s starting too early. There could be a variety of reasons that it’s not doing as well, but I’m wondering if you have any tips for success for how to make your countdown ad customizer really perform well?

Matt: I think it’s best to include words like, “ends” or “only ‘such and such’ days left”. I think it’s more than just adding the customizer. Instead of saying, “Sale is for another 5 days”, “Hurry! Sale ends in 5 days.” Or “Hurry, offer only good for the next 2 days,” or something. So even though you have the countdown in there, it’s still adding some other urgency words. But the thing that I’ve found, is I’ve actually found the opposite. And granted, I’m sure we had different verticals, where it made sense to use them at different times. But I found that these – specifically these countdown customizers really do add that sense of urgency, and especially as they get closer to the end date, really show much better CTR’s.

Which I generally expect, because again, it makes the ad that much more appealing. But I’ve also found better conversion rates in general, which I’d run a big test last year. And it was something that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, because obviously getting the click, those ad customizers will help. But I didn’t necessarily know that it would help conversion rate. And it did, so I was pleasantly surprised by that. But the other thing too, is these countdown customizers can be used not just for econ to promote sales.

But if you have an event that’s going, or you want someone to visit the store because you’re only going to be there for a certain number of days. Or if you’re a B2B company and you’re promoting a webinar, you can say, “Hurry, webinar starts in 2 days.” Or going back to the business data, you can say, “Hurry, we only have ‘x’ number of seats left in the webinar.” So there are a variety of ways to use the ad customizers to try them out. And I think that’s one of the fun parts about them, is that you can always try something new. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But if it does, that’s great.

Amy: Yeah those are some really good examples of where it could work well. Would you say that for the most part, just looking at use cases, that larger businesses tend to be able to use customizers better? Or would you say this could really work for any size of business?

Matt: It depends on what you’re offering. I do think the ad – the countdown customizer is really universal to any business. I would say that probably some of the inventory, some of the starting price customizers – generally will be more applicable for larger businesses that carry many models, and really have a ton of options. But that’s not to say that smaller businesses who only have 100 products for example, can’t use them.

Amy: Do you have any things that you see where people try it and get wrong? Any tips to avoid doing for customizers?

Matt: Not really, to be honest, I found very few advertisers that used them. I actually ran a study during the holiday season last year. Where I had 10 search queries that I typed in 3 times a day for – from – a couple of days before Black Friday until after the New Year. And I actually only saw – of the couple of thousand searches I did, it was really – it was in the single digits I believe, the number of people that used ad customizers within their copy. So to me, it’s not even about doing it wrong. It’s just that advertisers are – I’m finding aren’t really using these customizers at all.

It’s not even about doing it wrong. It’s just that advertisers are – I’m finding – aren’t really using these customizers at all.

Amy: Well it is a new thing to learn, right? So I think your examples of where you can use it are going to be really helpful to help people thinking about when they could possibly apply it.

DSA and DKI: dynamic ads require extra control

Amy: For dynamic ads in general, not just writing ad customizers, but writing dynamic ads – do you have any tips around that?

Matt: Yeah so I work with a few e-commerce accounts where we use dynamic search ads. And dynamic search ads in general have gotten a bad rap in the past. Because the feeling is that they spend a lot and really grab traffic for everything. Which results in spending lots of money with very few conversions. But I think fundamentally, a lot of advertisers look at dynamic search ads in the wrong way. My rule of thumb is that you want to make sure roughly 75% of the inventory on your site is covered in text ad campaigns. And then anything 25% or less is fair game for DSA’s.

Because the – the real idea behind DSA’s is it’s for sites that have thousands of products on their site. And at any given time aren’t going to have coverage for all of those products. So DSA’s kind of act like a catch-all shopping campaign where they’ll show ads for the products that you haven’t written copy for yet. So they – they really work best in that way. And with dynamic search ads, obviously the headline is dynamically generated, based upon the content of the site.

Because really the sense is that dynamic search ads in general, you should be bidding very low, essentially, very similar to a product shopping campaign. You’re bidding so low that you expect to get a lot of clicks, and not convert as much. But you’re paying so little that it almost acts as – any conversions you do get are going to come at a lower cost. And also, the terms that do convert, you can add them, or you can create a new campaign or ad group, bidding strictly on those terms. So the benefits of DSA’s are huge. Not just conversion wise, but how they can help expand your account.

With DKI in general, I wasn’t always a big fan of it, because I felt like you should always – if you’re going to have – if your ad groups are so segmented, then you won’t really need DKI, because at least some version of the headline or keywords you use in the ad copy is going to be a variation of what a user types in.

But having said that, based upon the success I’ve seen with dynamic search ads and ad customizers in general – and also what we see with shopping, even though shopping’s a little bit of a different beast. It’s something dynamic keyword insertion, I’ve been testing a little bit more. And not doing it overwhelmingly, but the results have generally been pretty positive. But again, with DKI, it’s important that you have those very segmented campaigns and ad groups. So if you use it, the right query or the query someone types in is still going to relate to the ad you create.

Amy: Right, I feel like a big area where people got DKI wrong is – essentially it’s garbage in, garbage out. Like if you have a really bad, un-curated keyword list, you’re going to have really bad ads. There’s just no way around it. But as long as you’re really cautious, and like you said – segmented about how you have everything set up. It actually can really make your ad a lot more relevant without having to hyper-segment all of your AdWords into much tighter groups in order to get that headline to match the keyword.

Matt: Absolutely.

Amy: For DSA, I want to just bounce back to that, just because I’m kind of fascinated that you are able to have success with that. I just haven’t seen that very often. And so I think what you mentioned about using different constraints, and making sure that everything else is kind of fenced off.

And so you’re only working with – it sounds like a limited inventory with a very limited keyword set. Would you say that’s kind of what makes it successful? Or is success similar to the success you’d see in display? You have a lot more volume, a lower conversion rate, but at the end of the day, it’s still doing it’s job. Is that accurate, and would you say that there are other things that help DSA campaigns to be especially successful?

Matt: Again, I think the big thing is just making sure that you’re being diligent about reviewing the search query report, and constantly adding negatives. With DSA’s, I go through the search query report many times a week, and I’m constantly adding negatives. I mean I have over 1000 negatives within the DSA campaigns I run. And probably more, and adding to that list every day. And that – that doesn’t even include the negatives from the other campaign.

With DSA’s, I go through the search query report many times a week, and I’m constantly adding negatives.

So going back to our round coffee table example, I would include round as a negative keyword within this DSA campaign. Because I’m already – I’m already bidding on round coffee tables in another campaign. So, again it’s about being extremely diligent with negativing out keywords. And then also your auto targets. So you can set your auto target to – you can target the whole site, you can target sections of the site.

But just as important is negative auto targets. So what I’ll do, specifically with e-commerce is: I’ll always set a negative auto target if page content contains some variation of out of stock. So in other words, DSA isn’t showing if the product isn’t in stock. I’ll negative out all the non-product pages, so whether that be a blog, whether that be an advice center or the contact us page, I’ll negative out all those. And then also, with the ad copy, here’s where – and I think it makes a lot of sense, especially – with any text ad campaign you want to do it, but especially with DSA’s. To really highlight any offers you have. Just because your description line 1 and 2 are fairly generic.

So those offers can be huge there. But really DSA’s aren’t so much about making them bigger or trying different bids. It’s more about controlling what’s coming in, and just making sure that you have a really tight gap on what’s there, and quick – if a relevant traffic is coming in, quickly getting rid of that.

DSA’s aren’t so much about making them bigger or trying different bids. It’s more about controlling what’s coming in.

Passion and collaboration are a must for growth

Amy: What would you say is the best part of having your job?

Matt: Best part of having my job – well there are lot of great things.

First off, I love PPC and just the whole paid search world in general. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade now, and it sounds cliché, but I truly do love my job, and it’s exciting when – especially with Google and Bing, they’re always evolving. And it’s exciting to always be kind of on the cutting edge and learning new tricks and trying new things. So, I think kind of just the – the everyday paid search aspect of it, and trying new things and learning is really the best part about my job.

But, again, where I work at Hanapin, we’re all paid search. So of course we have the PPC Hero blog, which we blog about paid search every day. But the great part about working there is really a collaborative environment is fostered where people try new things and are really good at a lot of things. And I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues from anything from doing Facebook paid search, to better Excel documents and so forth. So I think really just that whole environment that fosters learning is really second to none.

Amy: There’s so much opportunity to learn new things. If someone wants to be where you are professionally what steps would you say they should take?

Matt: That’s a good question. So obviously the big one is you have to have a passion for the job. And you have to get excited about new things in paid search and what it entails. It’s really hard to fake liking paid search, as I’m sure it is any job. So that’s the – that’s the number 1 thing.

And then I’d also say you have to be willing to work on your off hours and the weekends. It’s not so much necessarily on client work. But also continuing to hone your skills. Reading new blogs, maybe thinking about new things to try. Writing your own blogs. 

I’ll give a plug here to my other baby, #ppcchat every Tuesday at 12pm Eastern Standard Time, following that hashtag. And continuing to learn. So ultimately it comes down to the love for your job and the passion you show for it. And then proving – even during non-work hours that you’re willing to learn and stay involved with it. 

Amy: It sounds like you’ve got a lot of dedication, and it definitely shows in – frankly your prowess with paid search. You’ve got a really good understanding of how it works.

Hero Conf is coming right up!

Amy: Thank you for sharing all your advice with us. You’re speaking at Hero Conf in Philadelphia. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you’ll be speaking on, and how people can find you there?

Matt: Yeah, so I’m actually speaking on what we’ve talked about today. In terms of kind of my – I think the official title of my presentation is, “How to make your ads the superhero.” Basically tips for writing better ad copy and making your ad stand out more. Many of which we’ve talked about in today’s discussion.

Hero Conf will be April 25th through to 27th in Philadelphia. If you want to learn more, you can just go to And my employer Hanipin Marketing actually puts on this conference. And this will be the – I believe this will be the 6th or 7th conference. Last year, we did one overseas in London, and we’re actually going to be doing it in London again this year. But Philadelphia will be the – will be the 5th year that we’re doing the US conference.

Amy: Oh wow, that’s exciting did you get to go to London?

Matt: No, no. I was actually on vacation when London happened. But perhaps this year?

Amy: I hope so. I’m sure – you’ve got a lot of great information, who wouldn’t want to hear it in the US or internationally, right?

Matt: Hopefully. My motto is whether it’s a blog post or presentation, if someone gets a tip or 2 they can use, I’m happy.


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