How to use psychological principles to improve ad copy

Columnist Jason Puckett explains how you can apply knowledge about human behavior to improve ad copy and increase click-through rate.


Studying psychology as it relates to marketing is no new concept. Using emotions to drive decision-making is a theory that marketers have been taking advantage of since the dawn of advertising. In the realm of search marketing, this is no different.

However, instead of a 30-second television or radio spot, advertisers have a maximum of 170 characters to get the point across. Google’s expanded text ad makes this a bit easier, but not by much.

Typically, the main focus of search marketing has been to increase visibility, but, as certain markets become more competitive, advertisers need to maximize clicks, too. The question is how. Using the following two tactics will not only maximize the efficiency of your impressions but may also use the power of persuasion to inspire a purchase.

1. Create a sense of urgency to drive impulse purchasing

According to a study by the Association of Consumer Research, people engage in impulse buying to satisfy immediate gratification of desire. You’ve seen this before. You’ve probably noticed the deals on candy or gum in the checkout line at the grocery store, tempting you right before it’s your turn to check out. You did not plan to make this purchase, so why did you make it? Impulse!

That feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) is something that can also drive clicks. In the grocery line, time is ticking, the price is discounted, candy is delicious… so you decide to buy it. The same theory can be applied to your ad copy.

In my opinion, search ads are perfectly constructed to evoke impulse purchases. Here are a couple of ways to convey a sense of urgency in your search ads:

  • AdWords countdown customizers. If you’re running a promotion or sale for a limited time, you can help convey a sense of urgency around it with the countdown ad customizer in AdWords. Ads employing the countdown customizer will display the time remaining until your promotion’s specified end date and time, letting searchers know exactly how long they have left to make a purchase.

  • ‘Time is of the essence’-style ad copy. The words “Now” or “Limited Time” are great options here. The fear of missing out on a great deal can create a sense of urgency which compels users to click.

2. Value-based language and emotional response

We all know that ad copy needs to contain keywords. If the ad copy does not contain relevant keywords to the search term, the ad will never be shown. But please don’t let your thought process stop there. Using value-based language is one of the best methods used by advertisers to evoke an emotional response in the form of a click.

What is value-based language?

Value-based language focuses on benefits rather than product descriptions or features. For example, you rarely see a TV advertisement that simply focuses on what the product is — most brands will use ads to showcase how your life will be better if you buy their product. Search ads should do the same thing.

Conveying value is easy — simply write copy in terms of how someone’s life will improve if they purchase your product or service. Use of the word “you” in your ad can help convey this. What value-based language is really designed to accomplish is to create an emotional trigger in order to elicit an emotional response.

In his book, “Descartes’ Error,” Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, tells us that emotion is required for almost every decision we make. When users are confronted with the need to make a decision, the emotions we’ve built based on past experience lead to our decisions.

In this case, the decision to click or purchase is an emotional response based on an emotional trigger put forth by the advertiser. If your ad copy is good enough, it will strike a chord with the reader’s pain points. Users don’t always make purchases based on logic, they base clicks on how they feel. Can your ads evoke that feeling in the correct way?

More detail on emotional triggering

Emotional triggering is a concept that a user will act if they believe that they will obtain (or not obtain) something they feel strongly about. Hopefully your value propositions are aligned enough with your users so that your benefit-based language can trigger an emotional response.

Here are some of the top emotional triggers that advertisers can leverage to evoke a response from searchers:

Respect Be Liked Be Accepted
Be Needed Be Valued Be Understood
Be Right Be Treated Fairly Be in Control
Comfort Freedom Gain Attention
Balance Consistency Obtain Peacefulness
Variety Love Order
Predictability Included Safety
New Challenges Autonomy Fun


If your product can help address one of the above, your brand may be able to use emotional triggering to obtain higher CTRs.

How to spot emotional triggering within search ads

Let’s take a look at some great ads below. Both advertisers are leading with value propositions. I know we have all wanted to skip going to the grocery store and wanted to avoid meal planning. These value-based descriptions are triggering my need for comfort and mental peacefulness. Cooking at home can be stressful!


How to implement

Write out a list of value propositions by saying “If I buy product X, I get _______.” Or, “If I buy product X, I will avoid _______.”

These value propositions can be used to inspire your ad copy.

Get attention and evoke emotion

So, in order to succeed with ad copy, you need to get attention and evoke emotion. Of course, this is a drastic oversimplification of what this article discusses, but true nonetheless. Today’s top advertisers will be able to do these two things in less than 170 characters.

Getting clicks and conversions in competitive markets is becoming more difficult, but top-notch creative is a great way to improve your expected conversion values and return on ad spend.


[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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