August 14, 2023

How To Write Persuasive Ad Copy in 8 Steps (with examples)

Hannah Peritore

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Why Clever Copy Fails

Writing effective ad copy is an artform.

But, it’s a unique artform—in that, it actively strives not to draw attention to itself with the prettiest words or cleverest phrases.

In fact, ‘clever’ is a dirty word when it comes to copywriting.

At the end of the day, time and again, the clearest, most simply stated copy wins.

How To Write Effective Ad Copy Step-By-Step

In this article, we’re discussing our step-by-step concepting and creation process for writing persuasive ad copy—complete with a million and a half examples (give or take).

Strap in.

Step 1: Do more research than you think you need

First, we start with research.

The key in the research phase is really to do more than you think you need.

💡 Tip: This is the step where you’ll be uncovering all those irritating pain points and irresistible benefits that will drive clicks and conversions down the line.

You want to immerse yourself in the product, competitor products, customer reviews (the good, the bad, and the meh), and anything else you can get your hands on that will be helpful to understanding the messaging that will resonate best with your ICP.

Here is the 4-Step pre-copy research process we recommend doing before you write any copy:

1. Get to know the product backward and forward

You should be intimately familiar with what you’re selling prior to attempting any copy—ad or otherwise.

Pour over any existing product copy, documentation, style guides, past marketing messaging (things that worked, things that didn’t), and refresh your memory on your website messaging overall.

Essentially, whatever’s written down about your product already—read it.

As you go, start noting down the benefits the product provides your ICP, key words and phrases, and anything else that pops out during this process.

Sometimes you’ll find great copy ideas during this step. But it’s important to remember that this is just a jumping off point. 

You have to understand how the product works and what sets it apart in the marketplace—so you can spin those up into benefit statements that will appeal to the ICP.

However, the real insight and copy direction comes from the horse’s mouth, so to speak—the customers—which is why next you need to…

2. Consider the product from your ICP’s point of view

As important as it is to know your product, it’s just as important to really consider it from your ICP’s point of view.

They don’t know your product. And, they don’t care about it, either. Why the hell would they?

💡 Tip: It’s your copy’s job to tell them what your product is in a way that will matter to them.

To do that, you need to find out what they do care about (in relation to your product… not about how they like bonsai trees or something).

Scroll socials.

Figure out what popular influencers or thought leaders on social media are saying about products like yours or the problems it solves.

Your prospects are in the comments.

Stalk forums.

More and more, people are crowdsourcing problem solving using sites like Reddit and Quora to access people who might be going through the same thing and have some insight.

Note down what they’re saying—especially the specific questions they have.

Answering these questions will be invaluable to the copy drafting process later.

Here are 2 exercises to step into your ICP’s frame of mind:

1. The Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) Framework

According to the JTBD framework, people ‘hire products’ to do a job.

So in this exercise you simply ask yourself: what job would your ICP hire your product to do?

Once you have the answer, try to answer other questions like…

  • What outcome might your ICP be hoping to achieve with a product like yours?
  • What other solutions might they have tried?
  • What do they need to know before trying your solution?

Keep in mind: good JTBD questions are open ended, so the answer isn’t influenced by the question in any way.

2. The 5 Whys Framework

The 5 Whys Framework is exactly as it sounds.

Ask a question, and follow it up with 5 whys (or however many whys it takes) until you’ve uncovered the deeper reason behind the initial answer.

We recommend starting out with a question like, ‘how does our product solve ‘XYZ major pain point’ for our ICP?’

📖 Recommended Reading: More on these frameworks and getting to know your ICP in: How To Create an Ideal Customer Profile in 5 Steps.

By now you should have a ton of insight into the unaware and problem aware segments of your ICP.

3. Find out what customers are saying about your product (and products like yours)

My favorite place to find customer voices are in the reviews. Both reviews of your product and competitor reviews.

💡 Tip: Don’t focus exclusively on your 5-stars and your competitor’s 1-stars and ignore everything else.

Read the 5-stars to find out what people love, the 3-stars to hear pain points and alternatives, and the 1-stars for some really juicy insights into what people hate.

If you have time, read them all.

Make notes, jot down messaging themes—or even swipe entire reviews to adapt into ad copy later on.

You can get some great ad copy ideas just by doing this alone.

Turn negatives about your product into positives, and position positives about your competitors as negatives.

Just try not to get completely boxed in by their messaging.

While it’s important to know what’s being said about alternative products, at the end of the day you should always focus your messaging around the benefits of your own.

💡 Tip: Aside from a competitor campaign where you’re directly comparing your product to a competitor to poach their prospects, we wouldn’t recommend presenting an alternative product in your ad copy.

It will only draw attention away from your product to theirs.

Instead, focus on (you guessed it) the benefits of your product—especially those benefits that highlight the weaknesses of your competitors.

So, for example, you could compare and contrast using an ‘us versus them’ format rather than a ‘{your brand} versus {competitor A}’ format.

For a less aware audience, they’ll just see the benefits you offer over a nebulous ‘other’—while those more aware may recognize which competitor(s) you’re referencing and appreciate the comparison.

But regardless of how aware they are, this style of ad should alert them to the biggest benefits you have over the competition.

4. Look at what your competitors are doing

Your competitors are after the same prospects you are—so it stands to reason their ads are a great source of inspiration.

Don’t cop their words exactly.

But take note of the benefits and pain points they’re hitting on over and over. 

You should also take notice of which concepts they’ve been running for the longest time, which presumably pull the most leads.

You can see all of the ads your competitors are running using these 4 great tools:

  1. Google Ad Transparency: Simply paste a domain into the search bar and see every past and current ad they’ve run on Google.

  1. Facebook Ad Library: Similarly, just type a company name into the search bar and see all  of their live Facebook ads.

  1. LinkedIn Ads: Slightly more tricky here. First, navigate to your competitor’s page, then select “Posts” followed by “Ads” to see their current LinkedIn ads.

  1. SpyFu: Get even more insight into your competitor’s paid and organic SEO traffic, how much monthly ad spend you’re competing with, and more.

💡 Tip: We do all of this research BEFORE writing any copy whatsoever.

Your process might be different, but I think you’ll find that when you start working on a new ad campaign, if you fill your head with every bit and scrap of information you can find…

Sitting down to write the copy is a whole heck of a lot easier than if you started from scratch.

Step 2: Write a landing page

Okay, it’s finally time to write! But not the ad copy (whomp whomp).

Ideally, your ads will link to a hyper-targeted landing page. You need somewhere for your future conversions to go, after all.

So, before writing any ad copy, you’ve got to spin up a landing page.

Writing a landing page is a whole article in and of itself, so I won’t be getting into too much detail here.

In the future, this will turn into a call out for a ‘how to write a landing page’ article, but for now it’s just me saying, I hope you have a great day and thank you for reading.

Here is a list of the 7 main sections we recommend including in your landing pages:

The 7 Main Components Every Landing Page Should Have

The Hero: This is where your headline and product description live. We also recommend highlighting your three most important value props, as well as any awards and ratings in the hero. 

The Benefits: Highlight the top 3-4 benefits customers will get from your product. The headlines in this section should be the most compelling benefit statements you can make about the product.

How It Works: Explain in 3-5 steps how the product delivers the benefits you’ve promised. The copy should be exceedingly simple and short in this section to give prospects the feeling that getting started is easy as pie.

The Features: Highlight the top 3-4 features of the product—but frame them as benefits. You want prospects to know what the product can do… for them.

Social Proof: You can talk about the product all you want, but it’s even more compelling to showcase what real customers think. Include customer testimonials and reviews from third-party sites like G2, Capterra, and TrustRadius.

The Offer: Tell them what they’ll get if they convert right now. This is a great opportunity to use artificial scarcity to create ‘limited-time’ discounts and incentives to compel prospects to act immediately.

The Call To Action: Sprinkle your call to action button throughout every section of your landing page to give visitors every opportunity to convert. The copy should tell the prospect to complete your most desired action—e.g.: book a call.

Depending on the product, you may need to add or adapt sections, but these are the core components we recommend creating for any landing page.

Step 3: Determine what awareness stage your ad is targeting

So, to preface, we don’t determine the awareness stage of each individual ad we create.

We already did that, and built out an entire Notion database dedicated to all things copy (ad and otherwise).

🎁 Free Giveaway: You can spend a ton of time making your own… or you can just copy ours.

It’s got an asset repository with 33 unique ad concepts built out, a project roadmap where those assets will populate as you add rollout dates, an ad awareness storyboard, and more—all FREE for the taking.

Here’s a sneak peak…

Get Your FREE Copy of duo Strategy’s Paid Ads Notion Playbook

Since I wrote an entire article on the Stages of Awareness Framework, there’s no need to reiterate the concepts here.

📖 Recommended Reading: How To Write High-Converting Ad Copy: The Complete 5-Stage Framework.

Suffice it to say, writing your copy for each awareness level will ensure your ICP is thoroughly educated about…

  • The problem and pain points you solve
  • How your product will benefit them
  • Why your product is better than the competition
  • The expected results of using your product

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Finally, we’ve made it to the ad-copy-writing portion of the how-to-write-ad-copy article. 😮‍💨

To help illustrate the process, I’ll frame the next 4 sections around a single example of how I wrote a pain-point-centric ad (about how insurance companies take too long to pay out claims) from start to finish.

This is that ad.

‘Main Pain Point You Solve’ Problem-Aware Ad Copy Example

Just to set the scene… this ad is running at the top of the funnel for prospects in the ‘problem aware’ awareness stage. Its goal is to make the ICP solution aware.

Now let’s write some ad copy.

Step 4: Freewrite all of your ideas

I’ll admit… that’s a LOT of lead up… 2051 words of lead up

But, it’ll all be worth it when you’re finally sitting down to write the ad copy—because by this point in the process you’ll be so familiar with the product, its benefits, the ICP, and their pain points, that the copy will practically write itself.

First things first is the brain dump. This is your chance to freewrite all of your ideas, like so:

Example of a Freewriting Brain Dump Session

I recommend defining the ad concept or starting with a question at the top, so you have a bit of a prompt to go off of.

The goal here is just to get started.

Don’t try to write the best headlines ever off the get; just get down some ideas to refine later.

As you can see, I didn’t land on the ‘insurance companies holding your money hostage’ concept until three-quarters of the way down the page in the example above.

During my brain dump, I let myself write whatever comes to mind—gold, garbage, and everything in between. You should too.

After that’s out of your system, you should have at least a couple decent jumping off points.

Step 5: Edit and refine your ideas 

Choose the best of the brain dump and refine.

We recommend aiming for 2-3 really strong image headlines and rewriting them several different ways until you’re happy with them.

Final Ad Copy and Image Direction Example

In this case, I used the well-known industry term ‘depreciation checks’ to specifically speak to the ICP.

In layman's terms, that’s the final check an insurance company issues after a job is completed. The ICP can wait 60-90 days for that check, sometimes even longer, so they are intimately acquainted with the pain of waiting for that check to arrive.

If I had kept the copy more broad, using the original draft copy ‘cash flow,’ this ad would not be as engaging to the ICP.

This is compelling product-aware ad copy because it does these 5 things:

  1. Calls out a single, painfully familiar problem
  2. Speaks to the audience in their language
  3. Introduces the ICP to a solution
  4. Frames the solution as a mysterious secret
  5. Teases the answer with a compelling CTA

💡 Tip: If you’re using an account-based marketing strategy, you can call out the ICP in the ad copy, as well. In this case, you could simply add ‘Roofing Contractors:’ or the like to the beginning of the ad copy.

So you’ve got an ad headline, but what’s going on behind the copy?

You can make your ads even more compelling by adding a striking image, which leads us to…

Step 6: Come up with an image to pair with the ad copy

Let me first say… I am not a designer. But, thankfully, we have one on staff, so that’s not a problem. That said, I always include a direction for the design along with my ad copy (as seen in the example above), and recommend you do too.

Sometimes one just comes to me; but more often than not, I ask my brainstorm buddy ChatGPT for a few ideas.

Most are bad—bless his little AI heart—but usually spark a pretty solid idea after he gives me ten or fifteen crummy ones.

Then it’s up to our designer to bring the whole thing to life.

💡 Tip: Make sure branding, typography, and messaging are congruent with the landing page.

If the ad and landing page don’t look like they belong together, prospects might get confused and bounce without even considering converting on your CTA.

One simple way to ensure congruence is by prominently displaying your logo in both places, but whoever’s designing the ad should work off the same style guide used to create the landing page (and website as a whole).

Step 7: Write the headline

For the most part, the headline will display right below your ad. So, depending on where your ad falls in the awareness funnel, the headline could…

  • Say what the product is or does
  • Offer a discount or incentive
  • Be a compelling call to action

For problem-aware ads, we recommend just stating what the product is or does in the simplest way possible.

Keep in mind, max length for these is somewhere between 30-45 characters—depending on the ad platform—so you don’t have a ton of room to play with here.

Ad Headline Example

Remember, in the problem-aware stage, your prospects don’t know that a solution like yours exists. 

While, on the one hand, you’re trying to build mystique in the ad copy, you also need to balance that out with a simple explanation of what the heck you’re selling.

For example, in the main ad copy, I tease that ‘there’s a faster way to get paid.’ The natural response is, ‘Okay, how? What’s the faster way?’

The headline answers that question: ‘ACV & Depreciation Check Advances.’

For a warmed-up audience in the solution or most aware stages, we’d recommend a call-to-action headline instead.

Step 8: Write the description

You have by far the most room to write in the description, in terms of character limits—plus it’s prominently displayed above your ad.

And, yeah, most people aren’t reading the description.

But think about it, for those that are reading, there’s pretty significant intent there.

Depending on whether you’re running an image or video ad and which platform you’re using, you have anywhere from 150-600 characters to play with.

💡 Tip: The text usually truncates around the 125-character mark, especially on mobile—so for a longer ad, that opening line has to be compelling enough to get your prospects to click the ‘See More’ button.

In this case, I created one long and one short description option.

Ad Description Example

My favorite format for descriptions is a list of benefits or pain points with a ✅ or ❌ in place of bullets because they’re more eye catching than a little old dash.

For top-and-middle-of-the-funnel assets like this one, we suggest sticking to one short description that reinforces the overall concept…

And one list-based description designed to drive some more engagement.

However, for bottom-of-the-funnel assets made for the most-aware audience, we’d encourage you to use the full 600 characters so you have room to be as persuasive as possible.

Generally, you can upload multiple headlines and descriptions along with your ad copy, and the ad platform will responsively mix-and-match them to determine the best performing combination for you.

So you can easily test out different lengths and formats to see what works best for each awareness stage.

And bing, bang, boom, you’ve got yourself a killer ad.

Here’s what it looks like in the wild.

Problem-Aware Ad Displayed on Facebook

Just repeat the process over and over again until you’ve filled out your entire paid advertising funnel with hyper-targeted ads for each stage of awareness.

🎁 Free Giveaway: As promised, you can snag a FREE copy of our entire Paid Advertising Playbook—complete with an asset repository, project roadmap, and awareness ad storyboard— right here for the low-low price of your email address.

Bonus—then you’ll get to see more great content like this in your inbox. Now, won’t that be nice? 🙂

Better yet, hire us, and I’ll write your ads for you.

Book a call to see how duo can completely transform your paid advertising funnel with remarkable strategy, creative, and execution.

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