AdWords Features vs. Benefits, Fried Chicken on eBay, & What Were They Thinking in Chengdu?

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Yes, we tell you that your best advertising states both the features and the benefits of a product. You’re probably learned the value of putting benefits first in an AdWords ad … and know this now-famous example:

Popular Ethernet Terms
Complex Words – Simple Definitions
3 Page Guide – Free PDF Download
3.6% CTR

which outpulled its otherwise-identical rival 36 to 1. Why did it do so well? Because unlike the other it lists benefits first, features second.

Therefore, benefits are everything, correct? Features, at the very best, just get in the way. True? It’s really all about benefits, not features. Yes?

No. Features are the bones that give the flesh of benefits something solid to rest on. It’s critical in the above ad that you know that the “guide” being offered is 3 pages long, as opposed to 30. It’s a PDF download, as opposed to something that takes days to get shipped to you in the mail.

Pay-per-click expert Glenn Livingston is an avid New England hiker. The right boots, he tells me, can make or break the experience. And how you sell boots to the hiker is the same way you sell anything to anyone: Emotion, yes; benefits, yes. But features too. Handling features right is paramount. Cannot miss this.

So Glenn describes two ads. One, hype; the other, true impact.

Here’s the first:

Freedom Hiking Boots
The Ultimate Hiking Freedom!
True Soar Freedom Boots

This is, in a word, hype. Using language that the advertiser hopes will make you feel good. But it’s not tied down to anything; there’s no actual tangible reason to choose these hiking boots over the other. Nothing concrete; just good feelings.

Now contrast this:

High Rise Hiking Boots
Transcend Safely My Friend
w/ Guaranteed No-Twist Boots

This is how it’s done right.

Note the URL at the end too, and how it continues the argument. Any hiker knows the experience and cringes at the sickening image of their own foot twisting, even spraining, in the shoe on an uneven surface. Ouch. “Twist” there is a vivid, almost hypnotic word.

(It’s a verb.)

At the bottom of it all, however, is the feature of the boot, namely the high-rise ankle, that ensures that you cannot easily injure yourself in it. And it comes with a guarantee, which is itself a feature. Suddenly, unlike the previous hiking boot ad, we’ve returned from the ethereal stratosphere back to solid, level ground again.

It’s more believable, gets a higher CTR, and better preps the reader to buy.

Read more from Glenn on this important subject at

DKI Gone Bad

Even though I always got a kick out of this DKI-challenged ad:

Looking for God?
Buy direct from sellers and save

My all-time favorite is still this one:

Fried Chicken
Looking for Fried Chicken?
Buy direct from sellers and save

(Nothing so tender & juicy as the stuff you get off eBay.)

DKI refers to ‘Dynamic Keyword Insertion,’ the feature that lets you echo the verbatim keyword a searcher typed in, in the copy of your ad. The eBay ads above used it, if wrongly. It’s the ad copy technique that uses the { } squiggly brackets.

Our Definitive Guide to Google AdWords™ discusses this in full. But note that you can use DKI in any of four places:

  • Your headline
  • Lines 2-3 of your ad
  • Your display URL (as a subdirectory)
  • Your destination URL

In the destination URL it can work in tandem with special code on your landing page that populates key fields with your keyword, increasing your conversions.

But get it all wrong and you’ll be embarrassed.

So job one is to make sure you get the part right involving the brackets. David Rothwell of shares this example, where all the person had to do was just hit the ‘shift’ key at the right time:

Learn about [keyword]
Learn how the Pro’s can make $1000s
each day using [keyword]

That’s not all that’s wrong with this ad. But the other screwups are minor by comparison. Google’s quality score algorithm will kill it off quickly enough.

SearchWiki, for AdWords

You’ve now been noticing Google’s SearchWiki occasionally – the light up-arrow and “X” boxes next to organic results in recent months. Google wants users to vote on which results are relevant, which aren’t:

So now you’d better start prepping to add this as yet another factor in Quality Score: SearchWiki is being tested (beta only) with AdWords results now. The guys over at WebMasterWorld have been talking about it since last week.

But in this test there are no arrows; just the X. Google wants to know which ads users don’t want to see anymore. Such as:

What is "80" and what is "20" for your business right now? Take my 2-minute quiz and I'll show you where you'll get the highest compound interest on your time and money!

  • Ads that are offensive
  • Ads that are ludicrously irrelevant
  • Ads that make a point of saying nothing meaningful
  • Ads with sloppy English
  • Ads you’re just damn tired of seeing

More good reason to keep split testing. Keep stirring the pot. Keep your message fresh.

Our friend Tom Hoobyar’s perennial advice: “Never vote for the incumbent.” Let the stew turn as it simmers. Found a good ad that can’t be beat? Great. Don’t let a month go by without testing against it something else new and completely different.

What Were They Thinking in Chengdu?

This banner ad showed up the other day on my weather homepage:

It led to this somewhat puzzling page:

Chengdu is a large city in China’s Sichuan Province – home to the spiciest food on the planet. Compare a map of China to a map of the U.S. and Chengdu sits somewhere between Kansas City and Tulsa. It has thousands of years of history and (they say) the prettiest women in China.

So evidently some higher-up in the tourism bureau hired some agency to go run ads around the Internet, and that agency hired some designer and translator to build a website in the hopes that international visitors would click, read, sign up for tours, fly over and spend their cash.

And you see the result. Still waiting for that quality score algorithm to kill off stuff like this.

Granted, the English is no place near the level of the horrifying stuff you find at, but it still ain’t right.

I lived in mainland China from 2000-2004, where I experienced on a daily basis the severest forms of bad advertising imaginable.

But caution: What you see on the Chengdu site dates back millennia: if a business or an organization wants to show their ‘face’ in the community, in this top-down culture they do so by showing off the leaders of the organization hobnobbing with other prominent leaders or dignitaries, or receiving giant government-bestowed rewards. And that (of course!) makes you want to do business with them.

This Buff-the-CEO’s-Ego bit is in no way unique to Chinese culture. The Americans have had their version for years: The image-stroking Madison Avenue corporate ad.

Claude Hopkins in writing his classic ‘Scientific Advertising’ spoke optimistically back in 1918 of a new day soon to come where old image- and brand-only corporate fluff would give way to sharp, crisp, lean, results-tested advertising:

Only one hour ago an old advertising man said to the writer, “The day for our type is done. Bunk has lost its power. Sophistry is being displaced by actuality. And I tremble at the trend.”┬Ł

So do hundreds tremble. Enormous advertising is being done along scientific lines. Its success is common knowledge. Advertisers along other lines will not much longer be content.

We who can meet the test welcome these changed conditions. Advertisers will multiply when they see that advertising can be safe and sure. Small expenditures made on a guess will grow to big ones on a certainty. Our line of business will be finer, cleaner, when the gamble is removed. And we shall be prouder of it when we are judged on merit.

That new day never came to the world at large.

Still, Google and the cost of clicks and social media and more are making us all more careful and honest with our dollars. Recessions help. But that utopia of results-only advertising remains a faraway dream.

We tell this story in our bookstore book, The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords:

Dan Kennedy was in a conversation over cocktails with an ad agency exec. The subject: two ads scheduled to run in a national magazine. One was the classic Claude Hopkins formula with a big headline and dense, carefully-worded body text, followed by a call to action and a clip-out coupon for mailing.

The other was the ultra-modern, ultra-sleek gigantic full-page ad with the irrelevant photograph and blurb at the bottom in tiny, whittled-down, vague text about how hip XYZ Company was.

Dan pointed to the old-school ad and explained to the ad exec that it had been run before, was carefully tested and tweaked for maximum response, and was guaranteed to make the client’s phone ring.

“How would you like to run this one against your corporate-style ad and see which one got more sales?” he asked.

The guy chuckled. “To be perfectly honest with you, Dan, I could run either one. Makes no difference to me. But if I have the choice of showing one or the other to the CEO, which one do you think is going to get us to the martinis faster?”

And the world keeps on turning …

To Your Success,

Bryan Todd

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About the Author

Bryan Todd, co-author of "The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords" is an in-demand consultant not just in Google AdWords but in all of the major aspects of online marketing.

4 Comments on “AdWords Features vs. Benefits, Fried Chicken on eBay, & What Were They Thinking in Chengdu?”

  1. Jocelyne,

    I’m probably not going to give you the most definitive answer you’re looking for, because my answer is “test to find out what works.” The benefits of your product will probably be best shown on line 2 of your ad. Then an attractive or distinctive feature on line 3.

    This all assumes that you’re using the keyword in the headline of your ad and that that comes off to readers as a benefit in some sense or another.

    “Benefit” answers the questions, “What do I get as a result of having this product/service?” or “How will I live, think, act or feel different once I have this?”

    “Feature” answers the questions, “What is this product/service actually made up of?” or “What’s in the product?” or “What special bells or whistles does the product have?”

    You try different benefits, different features, and you’re always testing to see whether features first, benefits second works better in your market, or vice versa.


  2. The key to ad copy is to engage the person/people. Simple, captivating and intriguing. Use facts, percentages, prices and so on to help draw a click that is backed up by more relevant copy on the landing page.

  3. Great information but I have a question:

    On ad copy you have three lines, so do you recommend the benefit in the headline and line 1, or just line 1, or both?

    I have been struggling with writing ad copy and feel this is something that I need to fix. I feel if I could fully understand this concept of benefit and feature more I would be un-stoppable. I must have some kind of confusion on this because I don’t fully understand.

    If I read up on it more I’ll figure it out but feel I need more examples.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Jocelyne Hall

  4. Great article Bryan. So much truth in ad copy techniques. I have stumbled across a few ads that make my brain hurt and if it turns me off than I am sure it has done the same to potential customers.

    I have found that going back to the basics of KISS marketing has been the best strategy in these tough times. Adwords is the initial contact with customers, being honest and truthful will get them to click, then finish up the job with quality landing pages and call to actions.

    Thanks for sharing this. Keep the good stuff rolling.

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