Tip: an undocumented secret in Google AdWords

January 23, 2009 in SEO/SEM, Tips

Note: old hands with AdWords already know this, but for those of you who are new to AdWords, or haven’t gotten that deep with it yet, I hope this tip helps you out.

First – when writing ads in AdWords, you should all know that the very first and most important rule is to use the keywords in your ad, preferably in your ad headline. This gives you the highest chance of getting clicks – in part because it bolds those words in the ad itself, but also because it’s a clear match for what the searcher is looking for.

Adwords-example Now, have you ever noticed how you can type some obscure term into Google, and ebay/Amazon/Target/Shopzilla have ads showing, with that term in the ad? Well here’s how they do that, and why you might care.

This tip is most useful for people who have many, many product offerings. The most effective thing to do is write specific ads for each of your keywords. If you want maximum success and click though rate – that’s the way to get it. But if the constraints of time, or budget, or practicality make that impossible, then this can be a good option.

Google has a syntax feature when writing ads where you can create a placeholder in your ad copy, then Google will dynamically flow a search term that matches one of your keywords into your ad, under certain conditions.

Here’s the syntax that you’d put in your ad. Note: the “default text” text is what shows if the term won’t fit or the quality score of the term is too low:

{Keyword: default text}

Example ad text using the technique:

{Keyword: Stuffed Bear}!
Get your {Keyword: Stuffed Bear} Here!
Free Shipping on all orders.

Here’s what happens – Google will use one of the keywords in your ad group that matches what the searcher typed in and put it where the placeholder is.

So if you have a keyword Pink Bear, and someone searched with the term Pink Bear, the ad would show thusly:

Pink Bear!
Get your Pink Bear Here!
Free Shipping on all orders.

All the same ad writing rules apply, of course. But when used properly, this can be a great help. Enjoy!

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Very timely. I just started an adwords campaign last night (my first time since 2004).


Posted by: Adam | Jan 23, 2009 8:27:22 AM

As a consumer, I tend to find this extremely annoying more often than not. I'll click on the ad link and... guess what? The site doesn't actually sell any pink bears. Instant mental black-list for that seller. You've just paid for a click-through and alienated a customer at the same time. So be very careful when using this feature, and ensure that the placeholder substitutions are something your site can actually live up to.

Posted by: Keith | Jan 23, 2009 9:28:22 AM

Great point Keith - to expand on that - make sure that you associate an appropriate link with each keyword you enter. In other words: make sure the link on the pink bears keyword is associated with a link to the pink bears. If you're dealing with thousands of products, you should be able to automate an export of the keywords with appropriate URLS.

So when entering the keyword do something like:

pink bears ** http://www.mysite.com/search?pink+bears

Posted by: Carson McComas | Jan 23, 2009 9:43:39 AM

Thank you, this is one of the best tips I've seen in a long time - a random thing we all should know but don't.

Posted by: Iolaire McFadden | Jan 24, 2009 7:30:17 AM

I have tested parameterised keywords quite a bit. I found they often have a higher click through rate, but a much lower conversion rate. The ROI is therefore poor. Do your own A/B testing to verify if this is true in your market.

Posted by: Andy Brice | Jan 27, 2009 2:24:38 PM

Yes thanks for your experience Andy, and as I note in the post "The most effective thing to do is write specific ads for each of your keywords. If you want maximum success and click though rate – that’s the way to get it."

Posted by: Carson McComas | Jan 27, 2009 2:29:23 PM

It is not a undocumented secret. Google shows you how to do it and yes it will improve CTR but not conversions. Spend the extra effort with your more targeted campaigns and ad groups. A solid landing page/website is more important than anything. I have seen advertisers spend hundreds of thousand on clicks going to a horrible site with no tracking!

Posted by: Big Squid | Sep 30, 2010 4:03:33 PM