Copy and the iceberg effect: what you don’t see matters

The Iceberg Effect can hurt the profitability of your PPC ads because you end up paying for irrelevant search terms. But what role does copy play in the phenomenon? Let's find out.

In a previous article, we discussed the Iceberg Effect with PPC ads.  In essence, the Iceberg Effect describes the following phenomena:

  1. A) You bid on keywords you can see
  2. B) You pay for search terms you can’t see

The difference between these two concepts is not minor. In fact, it speaks to a big problem that affects marketing teams: having proper control over your ad budget spending.

The best way to illustrate the point is via an example. To do that, we need to think about keyword matching.

Let’s say you run an eCommerce store that sells sports goods. Sports shoes are one of your best-selling items, and typically, you stock running shoes.

When you’re running ads, you get to choose how tightly your keywords relate to your prospect’s search terms. When you bid on the keyword “running shoes,” there are three main options:

  • Exact match: You’ll get searches with “running shoes” but also terms like “sneakers” and “trainers.”
  • Phrase match: This option opens the net and takes in searches like “women’s running shoes,” “best shoes for running a marathon,” and so forth.
  • Broad match: Broad match casts a wide net and can take in a lot of different types of search terms, like “basketball shoes,” “golf shoes,” and even “football boots.”

Now, there are a couple of issues here that should stand out immediately. You’re a sports shoe retailer, and within the exact match, you’re vulnerable to getting people who want recreational sports shoes. Someone could be hunting for a slick pair of trainers to complete a Saturday night outfit, but instead, they get directed to your sports store and a wall of functional trainers. You’ve wasted money on an ad, and they’ve wasted their time.

The problems are even more pronounced with Phrase match and Broad match, where your ads are taking in people with different levels of intent and even grabbing in people who want to slowly stroll around a golf course or even get about via a golf buggy. In other words, it is not the marathon-running clientele you’re looking for.

So this is the Iceberg Effect in action. You pay for a keyword thinking it will lead your ideal customer to you, but instead, you get a bunch of people who are interested in adjacent products. Or, to put it another way, because you can’t see or predict which search terms you match for, you end up targeting the wrong people.

So why not just tighten the net?

In an ideal scenario, you could use long-tail keywords where there is very little ambiguity about a) the searcher’s intent and b) the specific product they want. However, the problem is that if you make your search terms too narrow, you hurt the volume of people you can target.

The fact is, people use all sorts of terms when searching for a product, so reaching your target audience requires a bit of flexibility. It’s a delicate balance.

How does the Iceberg Effect affect ad copy?

What should become clear from the section above is that ad relevance affects click-through rates (CTR) on your ads. Now, if you’re only paying for clicks, the penalty associated with serving ads to the wrong customer won’t be as severe. If our golfer friend uses the search term “golf shoes” and they’re served an ad for your site, there is one thing that can stop them from clicking through, and that’s precise and accurate ad copy.

Now, there are two areas of ad copy that we need to think about. They are:

  • Ad copy for your paid search ads
  • Ad copy for your landing pages.

Let’s deal with both individually.

Ad copy for paid search ads

Precise ad copy is good. It ensures that people searching for terms related to your chosen keywords have a good idea about what you’re selling based on the ad alone.

In our example above, someone searching for “golf shoes” could get served an ad for your store under the Broad Match condition. However, if they’re greeted with an ad copy that says “Nike Running Shoes – Your Marathon Partner,” they’ll be fairly sure they’re in the wrong place and won’t click your ad.

This example underlines a vital point: Include keywords in your ad copy. As shown above, they reduce the likelihood of irrelevant customers clicking your ads. More importantly, they increase the possibility of getting relevant clicks, contributing to more cost-effective marketing.

Ad copy within your landing pages

Of course, we can’t forget to talk about landing pages. After all, your paid search ads need to direct your users somewhere. Ensuring a solid relationship between your ad copy and landing page is essential. One of the best things you can do is to include keywords within your landing page headings to ensure your audience knows they’re in the right place. What’s more, it will help with organic SEO too.

The other thing to consider is “Ad Quality Score” or “Ad Relevance” ratings. These ratings greatly influence whether or not your ad is ranked for specific keywords. One of the determining factors is Landing Page Experience.

Now, in many ways, this feature is built to reduce the effects of maliciously irrelevant ads. For example, a bad actor uses a copy suggesting “Win a free car” but directs to a landing page hawking a timeshare apartment or something similar. However, these safeguards also affect ads from legitimate businesses when the copy is not quite relevant to the audience.

Here, we can see how the Iceberg Effect can wreak havoc on your ads by serving them to irrelevant audiences and sending signals to your ad platform that your ad and the searcher’s intent are not aligned.

Of course, the opposite is true here too. Quality landing pages that clearly chime with search intent boost your ad’s Quality Score, reducing the overall cost of serving ads.

Final thoughts

The Iceberg Effect can hurt the relevance and overall profitability of your ads. This can be catastrophic in an eCommerce environment with tight margins and ever-increasing customer acquisition costs.

However, solid and accurate ad copy can reduce the Iceberg Effect and ensure that your paid search efforts only target interested customers.

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