How to Write Display Ads that Actually Get Clicks

People don’t pay attention to ads, but who can blame them?

In this digital age, there’s more clutter than ever to cut through, and researchers estimate that online users interact with over 10,000 ads on the daily, with some 27% of U.S.-based online users currently running ad blockers.

While this alarming ad blocker rate looms over the future of marketing (and has possibly put a damper in your conversion rates), it’s important to note that a successful marketing campaign won’t just appear out of thin air.

With intent-driven design and display ad copy growing astronomically, it’s no wonder why digital advertising spending in the United States is estimated to cross the $171 billion threshold in 2021.

This proves that you can personally tailor your display ad copy to yield ample click-throughs and conversions — you just need the right combination of empathetic and affecting copy, as well as a seamless design experience.

Below, we’ll give you the rundown on best practices for crafting display ad copy that connects with audiences far and wide (or depending on your targeting location).

Illustration of a man writing display ad copy

But first — what are display ads?

In a nutshell, display ad copy is the words you see on every advertisement –– from text-only ads on Google to animated variations on Facebook. While online ad writing should be concise, yet compelling, its sole purpose is ultimately to convert.

Yet, getting people to click on ads isn’t quite so simple. With such a limited character count, you need to immediately engage viewers in just a few powerful, actionable words. For this reason, many brands lean on copywriters to handle display ad writing, though the company may write other types of high-quality content in-house.

8 display ad copy best practices

While the average reader is a tried and true skimmer, they’ll always pay attention to word choice. Forcing keywords into unintelligible sentences or creating ads that differ from your typical brand look and feel are major no-nos.

Not to mention, this can decrease your return on investment (ROI) or harm your brand’s reputation. Utilize the following best practices so you can craft digital copy that captivates your readers without annoying them:

1. Research your ad platform and audience

Remember: if you’re trying to speak to everyone, you’re speaking to no one at all. If you’re not identifying and connecting with your audience, you’re risking shouting into the void, like so many ads do.

High-converting copy involves a smattering of data science, psychology, and creative research. Before you can develop a targeted ad campaign, you want to identify your target audience and understand their problem, while also accounting for platform differences.

When writing your digital ad, consider:

  • Ad specifications for each channel, specifically character limits for headlines, body text and descriptions.
  • Market research regarding your target audience’s cross-platform user experience.
  • Establishing buyer personas to help picture the person you’re starting a conversation with.
  • How your competitors leverage display ad copy in headlines and call to actions (CTAs).
  • Unique features in ads that grab your attention, such as statistics or social proof.
  • Demographics, behavioral traits, and psychographics of your audience segment.
  • The emotions triggered by a specific pain point.

2. Ensure all copy aligns with your brand identity

It’s easy to get caught up in your writing and forget that it needs to match a certain style. Your display ad copy should complement the ad graphics, harmonize with the linked landing page and, above all, match your brand identity’s tone and tenor.

Read through your landing page, website, and social media copy––then read them again. Next, confer with your brand guidelines, even if this is your 20th time doing so. Knowing your brand identity inside and out will make it way easier to write consistently excellent copy.

3. Practice empathy in your display copy

You don’t need a psychology degree to understand how humans work. There’s also no need to rely on clickbait tactics. Instead, try to incite an emotional response using effective, intuitive copy.

There are different ways to go about this technique. Tapping into the broadly used fear of missing out (FOMO) is a highly effective method. The human mind wants to stay connected and in-touch, so combining this sense of urgency with a “me” factor, urging people to take action now to get what they want.

Adding a timeframe to your message by saying “today” or “before taxes come due” can remind shoppers that time isn’t unlimited. You also can agitate the ad viewer by presenting something they love alongside something they hate while positioning your brand to give them more of one and less of the other.

4. Hone in on search intent and specific queries

All the persuasive tactics in the world won’t help if you don’t match search intent. You can craft the best headline and spend hours creating the perfect copy. But, if your in-their-face “buy now” advert pops up when viewers search for a do-it-yourself trick, your misguided ad will either get ignored, or worse: aggravated shoppers will note you as a company not to do business with.

There’s definitely a science behind writing data-driven display ad copy. For example, pricing is a real motivator with some products. Including a figure in your headline or body copy can increase conversions. However, it can have the opposite effect in other instances.

So dig into why people are using specific keywords to search and learn what results they expect to pop up. Then write some ad copy that satisfies search queries and matches their intent.

5. Obsess over your display ad copy headline

Your headline is the first and sometimes only thing people see and pay attention to. Make it clear and compelling, and rework it many times before settling on the final copy. In some cases, adding your value proposition to the headline can drive click-throughs.

For instance, if you sell jeans for tall women, feel free to say “over 50 tall styles” to differentiate your business from the other ads saying the same thing — “If you need tall jeans, our brand sells them.” You can also test the use of negative words in your headline to agitate or evoke emotion, such as avoid, stop, never, or worst.

6. Write for people, not search engines

You’ve researched your target audience. You understand their problem. Now write your display ad directly to them, and be sure to use “you” or “your” in the copy. Reference their fears or objections, and position your brand as the ultimate solution to their issue. Use your words to help people visualize the benefit of clicking on your ad right now.

Additionally, you can use your copy to qualify buyers and get more clicks from your target audience. For example, if you sell audiobooks for kids and want to promote your latest toddler book, start with a line saying, “Are you a parent with a toddler who refuses to sleep?”

7. Perfect your call-to-action (CTA)

Like your headline, your CTA and the text on the CTA button are extremely important. Everyone feels tired and decision-fatigued. Tell them what to do next, and if your copy already attracted their attention, then there’s a good chance they’ll follow along to the next step.

Your CTA should match exactly what the person will do when they arrive on your landing page, so it’s vital to use your display ad copy and CTA to tell them what comes next. Most CTA buttons use a short one to three-word CTA, such as:

  • Download
  • Get started
  • Sign up
  • Try it free
  • Shop now
  • Learn More

8. Perform A/B testing

No first draft of anything is perfect, let alone the first trial of a display ad. It’s best to create two versions of the same ads with varying copy, tweaks to design elements, and

Lastly, don’t assume your digital ad copy is the best it can be. A/B tests are crucial to achieving a high click-through rate (CTR) and improving ROI. Marketing during a recession or slow time is rough, so get the most of your ads by testing them.

A singular word change to your headline or CTA can have drastic results, so create two versions of your ad and see which one performs better. Then, keep creating, testing, and reworking.

3 examples of great display ads

If you’re still wondering how you can write effective display ad copy, follow the above tips, and be sure to check out the examples below for insights and examples. While each example works a bit differently, they’re used at the right time and place, and serve as great models for display ads that generate clicks and lead to conversions.

1. Google Fiber

This Google display ad is short and sweet—like all effective display ads should be. In just 12 words, the concise message and tranquil blue coloring prove that fluffy copy isn’t necessary.

When people were adjusting to work-from-home life, with lagging internet connections and stark overage charges, reading “Stream,” followed by “unlimited internet,” is all they needed to consider.

The ad’s casual, sentence-case typeface also drives the copy home, resulting in a minimalist, yet effective display ad that relates to the internet bandwidth issues of the lockdown era.

Google Fiber display ad

2. Diib

Diib’s Facebook display ad copy targets users with limited time by pointing out its 60-second scan. Next, the writer references its reputation, “as mentioned in Entrepreneur,” followed by a list of benefits using all-caps to make the words Plan, Free, and Pro stand out. I have no idea if it works, but for 60-seconds and for free, I’m willing to check it out.

Diib display ad

3. Moz

Moz uses 17 words on its LinkedIn ad. The brand knows its LinkedIn audience is full of skimming professionals looking for inspiration business and , and the Moz brand is well-known. They want to attract a specific group of people—those looking to check out their online presence with local search engines—and they offer a free tool to do it.

Moz display ad

Make your display ad copy shine

Words are hard, but they’re the bread and butter of a solid display ad campaign. While they help mold perceptions and drive conversion, a successful campaign is driven by empathetic copy, sleek design, and a connection made between brand and user.

Understanding your target market, using display ad copy best practices, and testing your ad can help you build an enticing ad campaign.

If you’re unsure about effective display ad writing, reach out to our digital marketing team. We’re happy to help you explore ways to get the best return on your investment. Contact us to chat about copywriting for your short or long-term needs.