What keywords are right for your site? What is the correct way to approach online advertising?

If you need to generate fresh ideas for your Google Adwords ad or your website offers, this article is for you.

First, a sad story.

A few years back, my boss asked me to write some online ads. We were going to use Google Adwords and Kijiji to find new clients for our basic website service.

It was sort of a learn as you go type of operation.

But I was ahead of the game! I had read sales books and done tons of cold calling over the telephone. I knew that you had to have a hook, and you had to talk about benefits and not features.

For those of you who think that sales is all icky and boring, it just means that instead of saying you are selling a mini fridge with 3 temperature settings you say “it keeps your beer cold”. Also known as What’s In It For Me.

So I typed out some benefit-rich headlines and got our designer to make some cute icons and off we went.

And the worst thing was, we even got some interest from the ads, and then some sales. So I really thought I was hot stuff, and never really learned how to do it right.

Right being effort + time + cost of business < profit.

I think we just about broke even in the short term, so that felt pretty good. Or at least better than nothing (since it ultimately didn’t lose money and helped grow the business).


What was my mistake? Or rather, what was I missing?

Well, actually, I didn’t tell you yet. Because the parts I already wrote ARE good stuff. The benefits and all that. But they are not really POWERFUL. They fail to fully connect and engage.

Write Online Ads With Words Your Reader Would Use

Let’s talk about actively engaging your target audience. Flipping a switch in their mind. That’s the turbo booster launching pad that turns readers into customers for all your online advertising.

You see, here are some of the terms I was using in my ads:

  1. “Your site will have basic SEO (search engine optimization)”
  2. “You’ll have a responsive design”
  3. “You can have unlimited updates to your pages”

There was a longer list, but I think you get the picture. And those are some pretty sweet things for a standard website that is at a super affordable price (compared to, say, the Yellow Pages website service).

However… those are sweet things to me, because I am in the website industry. To most people, I might as well have been speaking Swahili.

Maybe you, dear reader, are slightly more savvy. Maybe you have a pretty good idea about things like SEO, responsive, updates, and pages.

Even if you do know a thing or two about these things, do they really connect as well as:

  1. “People will find you on Google”
  2. “Your site will look good on a phone (mobile friendly)
  3. “You can call or email us and we’ll change the words and pictures on your website in less than two business days”

You might have already figured it out. Each of these numbers is saying the exact same thing as the last set of numbers. But this time it’s saying it in the language my customers use.

I got sooooooo wrapped up in my little project, I brainstormed all these ideas, but they were coming out in my words. The words that I use every day with the owners and the designers and the people online who work in the same industry. These words had absolutely no connection to what my customers were saying, even though they WERE benefits.

It’s just that very few people who read them could recognize they were benefits.

Once we started to figure this out… and I’m embarrassed to say it took a few years… we started changing our advertising. Sales did tick up (now we were making money in the short term, instead of breaking even). But the biggest change was the customer engagement.

When I — or my staff — spoke to clients, they were happier, more informed, and had expectations in line with what they were paying for.

Now for an oldie but a goodie cheesy line… But Wait, There’s More!

So let’s say you are nodding along with this article. You get what I am saying. You are starting to do a little mental inventory of your advertising. Does it list benefits? Do my target customers understand them?

Just so.

You’ve got the idea, but let’s make it a little more interesting.

Leverage Testimonials & Surveys To Learn How To Talk Like A Customer

This is a topic called “Voice Of Customer Research.” It’s where you listen to what your customers are saying, and then you say it back to them.

You can do this during the sales process, or you can conduct surveys and follow-ups after someone has become a customer.

It’s not exactly a game of I Know You Are But What Am I, but it’s in the same ballpark.

The basic idea is, once you figure out what your customers are interested in (why they did business with you), and how they describe it (the exact words they use), you can then adjust your marketing. With your new focus, from real-world experience, you will connect and engage much more easily with future customers.

I’ll tell you what happened to us, from the above example.

Once we started using the words the customers used, what they really wanted became much clearer. What we thought were the coolest benefits of our service turned out to be not as important to the customers.

They wanted:
“To get an online presence.”
“More people to call me.”
“A website I can update myself.”

The more I heard these three phrases, the more I kept thinking… “yes, but we can do even better than that, because blah blah blah.” Sometimes — so dumb! — I would actually say that to people over the phone. They were probably thinking that we haven’t even made a deal yet, and here I am talking way beyond what they wanted.

Then I just let go. One day I was on a call, and this guy was telling me about his service that sells dry cleaning equipment. He said it was time for a website. So I asked him what his goals were; what he hoped the website would do for him.

He thought for a bit, then he kind of stuttered out a half answer. I finished his sentence for him … “so, basically, you just want to get an online presence.”

Yes, he replied. Yes, exactly!

Any number of companies could have given him a website presence. Some of them would have done it really well, some would have charged an arm and a leg for an amateur hack job. There were obviously more things to it than just getting online.

And he and I had talked about those things, and I knew we could provide them.

But it was this simple phrase, used hundreds of times before this call by other people talking to me, that really made the connection.

If you remember this story, you can use it to your advantage the next time you do an online ad or re-work your website wording.

The greatest thing about it is that you probably have all the ammo in your head, you just need to tease it out. Or if you are an owner who has been removed from the trenches for a while, just ask your sales or service staff what phrases the customers use most often.

Ideally you would figure out what pain the customer most needs to solve first, then figure out what words they use to describe the pain or the hoped-for solution.

But since you (or your staff) are already familiar with the words your customers use on a day to day basis, it seems like that is an easier place to start. Then you can do more research and testing to figure out the exact way to pinpoint your focus.

I’d like to give you a few ideas on how to start doing this. Before I do that, I’ll tell you one more quick little story. It’s sort of a warning.

Once I got hired to write an ad for a concrete paving company. Their usual business was done through commercial contracts. They had been paving since 1979 and nearly everyone in the industry knew them. So they never really had to do any advertising.

Because of a bad overall economy, they started to see their main business slow down. This had happened before. In fact, it wasn’t so bad because it would clear out some of the new competition, while they could afford to ride it out.

But management wanted to get some extra bucks to make up for the business they were missing during the downturn. So they decided to focus on residential home owners.

Problem was, they did not have nearly the same reputation with your average home owner in the city. Remember, they were doing mainly contract work for other companies.

Okay, so, simple… they wanted an ad so that if you needed to pave a driveway for your home, you would give them a call.

Now I know nothing about paving or construction or driveways. So I tried to do some research with them. These were very good guys who did excellent work and they were really proud of it. But they had been doing it so long that they couldn’t really talk about it beyond “we are concrete contractors.”

They sort of thought I was an idiot, asking them all these questions. As in, it’s not that complicated man, we do concrete… we do driveways and sidewalks and stuff.

I said we had to nail down who they were appealing to, and what those people wanted.

Their manager replied “privates.”

Excuse me?

“Privates. We wanna do more privates. Private paving. Paving for privates.”

When they had a job directly with a residential home owner, they called it a private job. That got shortened to “privates.”

It was going to be really hard to see any success with an ad title that sounded like a softcore flick — Paving For Privates.

The moral of the story is that what you call it (privates), and what your web guy calls it (residential home owners), is not always what your potential client calls it.

How To Do Voice Of Customer Research

Find out what problems your clients want to solve, and what words they use to describe the pain and the solution. Commit this information to memory, add it to your employee training, and make sure your advertising reflects it.

You can use this info when you are doing keyword planning, or for more concrete things like pay-per-click ads, blog posts, or even good old fashion non-web advertising (sandwich boards, flyers, tv, radio).

First, make a list of all the service and product-based words your current customers use. Compare them to your internal phrases.

I’m not saying you can never use industry jargon. You might sell only within your industry, and to simplify your terms would make you sound unprofessional. The point is to speak on the same level as your potential clients.

Second, do some internal research. Go back and ask new customers what they were looking for and why they picked you. Make a note of the common words and phrases that come up. You’ll also get a bunch of new testimonials for your website.

Now that I’m thinking about it, you should go back and re-read old testimonials and online comments. Any common threads there? Write them down.

Even criticisms and complaints can be helpful. Again, look for phrases that are used most often.

Third, check out your competitors and general discussions online. If you are a traditional brick and mortar business you can find similar companies through Yelp or Google Reviews and see what people are saying about them. Just make sure they are doing something very close to what you offer.

You can also try forums or question-and-answer websites. Yahoo Answers is one. Reddit is another. See what people think about your industry, what they don’t trust, what they need more information about.

Finally, sit down with your big listaroo of all these words and phrases from your research, and go hammer and tongs on your current ads. Try to re-write all the headlines and state all the benefits using your customers’ words rather than your own. Choose some of the new testimonials that you’ve dug up.

Since it’s always good to test everything, you might want to keep a control version of your old ads. John Hart recently wrote a blog post about how you can use the service Unbounce to A/B test different ads at the same time.

There’s No End To Learning From Your Customers

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, you can check out this article by SumoMe: 3 proven strategies to discover EXACTLY what your customers want.

It goes over stats and real-world examples of companies that used simple customer research to improve their websites, emails, and ads.

There are also some interesting stories about how this type of psychology is used in other industries.