In October 2000, Google launched a month-long beta with about 350 advertisers for its new Google AdWords advertising platform. The tiny test would go on to become the biggest online advertising platform and lead to over $100 million in revenue per day.
While it started simple, Google came out with new add-ons to the original product. One of the biggest was the 2003 release of Google AdSense. This allowed publishers to monetize their traffic with ads served through the Google Display platform.
Banners were obviously one of the main ways that publishers monetized their content.
However, the ugly text ad would end up being one of the biggest ad types on the Google Display Network, despite the fact that it has recently become somewhat forgotten. HTML5 ads, flash ads, interactive ads, and all other fancy ads became standard fare for most advertisers.
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
A larger ad with a nice design and colors is likely to perform better than just a few lines of text, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
The data tells us that text ads still work. Sometimes they work even better than banner ads. In fact, some of the world’s most successful advertisers are spending millions of dollars a month on text ads alone.
Why “Ugly” Text Ads?
Every year a new ad type comes out that’s more animated and more eye-catching than the rest.
This begs the question: Why do some still use text ads on Display?
First, text ads can outperform banner ads. Sometimes it’s better for an ad to blend in to the content on a publisher. Text ads relevant to publisher content often look like organic content. This gives the ad more credibility. You’ll often see text ads being used heavily on publishers like Yahoo! Answers and Ask.com, which are sites that have a lot of text on them and few images.
Here’s a great example of targeting a popular answer on Yahoo! Answers about dog barking with a relevant text ad:
Text ads are also a great place to start your A/B tests because of their simplicity.
Banner ads have many different elements, and every single element can affect the ad’s performance. You often won’t know which one is helping and which one is hurting. Text ads, on the other hand, are just text.
A high-performing text ad also has an amazing copy. I highly recommend that you nail down the copy first before worrying about banner design. Text ads are also great for dialing in the copy that works for your market before you send it off to a designer.
People often get bogged down in the details. We forget about the basics of good copywriting and psychology “tricks” that have worked for decades. The simplicity of text ads helps us return to those tried and true principles.
Which Types of Text Ads Work?
Now that you know why you should give text ads a second look, here are the current top 25 most seen Google Display Network text ads over the past 6 months. These ads have a combined total estimated spending of $5,671,300.
That’s not pocket change.
We’ve provided an analysis regarding why we think the advertiser has been able to spend so much on the particular ad and why it has been working for it. Many of the text ads you’ll see below can be used as templates, so I highly recommend bookmarking this post and coming back to it when you need to start testing some new ads.
#25: Sherpa Prep GMAT
Small classes. Extensive math review. Comprehensive preparation.
Numbers work well in any ad. This advertiser sticks a bunch of numbers smack dab in the headline and then provides a few main benefits directly in the body copy. One thing to notice is that it likely has its prospect’s worries included.
Prospects don’t want large classes under the assumption that they will not receive the type of attention they want. Therefore the advertisers adds “small classes” in the copy. Most people are bad at math, so they add “extensive math review” to the copy. Directly addressing a prospect’s worries in your copy is a great strategy.
#24: Active Campaign
Find out how 100k businesses have grown using email + automation.
Active Campaign (an email software provider) starts off with a very simple headline that captures your attention through the use of the “=”. Symbols also work well in text ads. The headline also provides a direct benefit, even if the benefit is vague. The rest of the copy is based on social proof.
#23: Active Campaign
Intelligence driven email marketing & marketing automation. Try it now.
This ad by Active Campaign tests another angle. It explains the features of the service and has a call-to-action that directs the user to try the product.
#22: Weekly Marks
$47/hr Part-Time Job Openings. Requirements: Must Have Computer.
This features a very direct headline that addresses something that many people want. The advertiser probably uses “(2016)” in the headline because it makes the ad seem like it’s up-to-date (and it allows it to stick a few numbers in the headline).
The body copy contains the hourly wage of the jobs. Most people would be happy with $47/hr working from home since most jobs pay much less. The “requirements” are pretty basic. If you’re seeing this ad then that means you have access to a computer.
However, the idea behind this piece of copy is to tell prospects that they don’t need to have any specific skills in order to get the job.
#21: Compare Top Schools
See If You Qualify for a $5,775 Grant to Help Pay for College.
Again, there are more numbers in the headline and in the body copy. Also notice that the body copy DOES NOT say “You can get up to $5,775 in grants to help pay for college.” It says, “See If You Quality.” That’s important! It makes people curious to see if they qualify and adds credibility to the ad.
#20: Inmate Call Solutions
Unlimited Inmate Calls $7.25/Month #1 Inmate Call Servc 5 Yrs Running!
The headline for this ad for an inmate call service could be beefed up since it just uses the name of the company. However, the body copy does a good job fitting in two quick benefits — unlimited calls that are cheap — and some social proof at the end: “#1 Inmate Call Servc 5 Yrs Running!”
Cut down a bit of your belly every day by using this 1 weird old tip.
We’ve all seen this ad.
This is a classic “weird tip” weight loss ad. These ads have been around for years. Numerous advertisers continue to use them. And yes, they continue to work in both text and banner ad format.
Although it seems simple, there is a lot going on in the “one weird tip.”
First, it’s just one tip. It’s not 10 tips, it’s one. This makes it seem simpler.
Second, “cut down a bit of your belly every day” is a benefit that people want, AND it gives them the mental picture of their belly actually shrinking.
Third, the word “weird” was not often seen in the weight loss business (until everyone started using it in their ads). This means that the ad caught peoples’ attention because they were not used to seeing the word “weird” alongside weight loss ads. Plus, it makes them wonder what is weird about the tip.
Again, curiosity is a powerful lever to use in your marketing materials.
#18: The Sovereign Investor
80% Stock Market Crash to Strike in 2016, Economist Warns.
What is the main emotional driver behind this ad?
Fear and anxiety are common emotions used in ad creatives and sales letters for financial products. They might be the two most powerful emotions in copywriting (yet not always the most appropriate).
The headline is meant to scare the heck out of the prospect.
Plus, it’s combined symbols (% sign), numbers (80%), and the date. This gives the prospect a reason to click today.
You’ll also notice that the body copy is a longer version of the headline. The only difference is the authority added at the end by mentioning that it’s an “economist” making this prediction.
#17: Disk Doctors
Hard Drives, Raid Servers, NAS/SAN, Serving Since 1991, Fast & Secure
The copy in this creative is pretty straight forward. It mentions what the service is in the headline. Then it provides a quick list of the types of hard drives that the company fixes. There’s a bit of social proof/authority at the end by telling the prospect how long the company has been in business for.
#16: Dropant Games
Online Games – Free Play Top30 Online Game 2016
This is a more “spam-like” ad creative for a free online game site. It includes a bunch of keywords as many times as possible, especially “games.”
#15: The Oxford Club
These 3 stocks are hitting urgent buy signals. Access our free report
This is similar to the “1 weird trick” ad in that it contains a specific number of stocks. Simply saying “stocks to buy right now” isn’t as powerful. “3 Stocks to Buy Right Now,” however, is a big idea. Plus, it’s easy to understand. People can understand that there are three “hot” stocks right now and that they should buy them.
One browser for all your devices. Fast, free & installs in seconds!
The body copy of the ad addresses the three things that people want in any product or service:
- People want things to be fast.
- People want things to be cheap.
- People want things to be easy.
#13: The Blood Pressure Solution
Learn the 1 Odd Grocery Store Item That Lowers High Blood Pressure
Here’s another variation of the “1 weird trick” ad. Again, being specific (“1 veg”) and the big idea that there is ONE veggie that can “kill” (a great word to use in copy) blood pressure is both powerful and simple to understand.
Update Windows® 10 Drivers from DriverUpdate™
Various software products choose to use the headline “Start Download,” or another variation of this. We’ve seen this being used in multiple ads, so it’s likely that this headline call-to-action works well for software products.
#11: EMSL ANALYTICAL Inc.
We Identify Particles – Fast Result XRD, SEM, XRF, FTIR, GC/MS & More
This is a very niche, market-specific ad. I don’t personally understand what all of the acronyms stand for, but we assume that these make sense to the target audience and provide the tests that they are looking for.
Get guaranteed lifetime income and reduced risks to retirees all here.
This ad for financial services provides a big benefit combined with a number directly in the headline.
#9: Aviation Institute of Maintenance
Campus in Chesapeake & Connected With Employers Across The Country!
This creative contains a VERY important benefit that other job and university ads don’t usually have: “Connected With Employers Across The Country.” Sure, people want education, but what they need is a job. They might even believe that the institute is good, but they might not believe that they will be able to easily find a job afterwards. This ad addresses that worry.
#8: AJP Personal Training
Lose weight. Gain muscle. We offer 1-on-1 training in Loudoun County
Punchy, basic benefits are the crux of this ad. People want to lose weight and gain muscle, period.
Search Videos w/ HowToSimplified™ On How to Do it Yourself – Free!
Here we have another example that puts a call-to-action right in the headline. It also uses the trademark symbol (symbols catch your eye).
#6: Apache Village RV
Local RV Dealer Focused on You. Serving St. Louis since 1975
This creative uses authority by letting the prospect know that the company has been in business since 1975. Older demographics tend to value longevity than younger generations. Since the average RV owner is 50+, this is an important piece of copy to have in the creative.
Convert From Doc to PDF, PDF to Doc Simply With The Free On-line App!
Again, the “Start Download Now” call-to-action is stuck right in the headline. Then it gives a simple description of what the software does, followed by that magic marketing word: “free.”
#4: Aviation Institute of Maintenance
Acquire Proper Knowledge & Skill Levels To Get An A & P Mechanic Job!
This is a fairly simple ad that contains many of the elements of the other ads in this list.
#3: Palm Beach Research Group
Born before 1969? You can get an extra $4,098 monthly with this
Coming in at third is a variation of a very successful ad from the Palm Beach Research Group, a highly successful Agora subsidiary. This is definitely one company you should check out if you want to see amazing copies and creatives. The headline is SUPER eye catching. The word “hate” is very powerful. We’ll look at this ad in more detail later in the #1 winning variation.
Get Business Internet, Phone & TV. Help Your Business Grow w/ Comcast!
This ad creative is more of a branding ad. The headline is just the company name, which isn’t a compelling hook. The body copy lists what the service entails. However, the last line, “Help Your Business Grow w/ Comcast!” does provide a direct benefit. That being said, most advertisers should avoid using this style of creative.
#1: Palm Beach Research Group
Born before 1969? You can get an extra $4,098 monthly with this
Finally, we’ve arrived at number one.
First, the headline “Social Security Shutdown” is eye-catching.
Why is social security shutting down? What’s going to happen?
There are elements of fear and curiosity. Social Security is a huge part of society in the United States. We all pay into it. It’s one of the government’s biggest expenditures. Most people rely on it when they retire. A headline that states that social security is shutting down is alarming.
The second line is what is called an inclusion-question. An inclusion-question uses borrowed trust. Most people will be skeptical of the second statement (“You can get an extra $4,098 monthly with this”). However, adding the inclusion question “born before 1969?” gives it a bit more credibility because it implies that the second statement now applies only to people born before 1969, not everyone.
There’s so much that can be done with text ads. It’s often worth the extra effort to write a bunch of text ads, test them out, and then move on to nicer banner ads. You might be surprised; your text ads just might outperform the banner ads.
Have you tested text ads on the Google Display Network? What was your experience like? Comment below and let us know!