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14.3 Short Copy

Learning Objective

  1. Know what short copy is and how it should be used in online copywriting.

Online copy often has only a limited amount of space and short amount of time to get a message across to visitors and entice them to take action. This is especially true of banner advertising and PPCAdvertising on search engines. (pay-per-click) advertisements on search engines, but it is also is important across all eMarketing disciplines. The most important short copy of online marketing is the call to action (CTA)Words used to encourage a prospect to take a particular action..

Call to Action: Telling People What to Do

A crucial element to online copywriting is the CTA. Users scan Web pages and look for clues as to what to do. Don’t make them think; tell them what action to perform.

A call to action is a short, descriptive instruction that explicitly tells a Web visitor what to do. Banner advertising usually involves a clear call to action, and it can also be used in paid search advertising. Call-to-action copy is not limited to short copy: e-mail newsletters and promotions should also make use of call to action, and we even see them all over Web pages. Calls to action should always be above the fold to drive action.


Use active verbs for sentences in the active voice. This sentence is in the active voice. Passive verbs can be used but tend to make for less instructive copy. Passive voice is being used in this sentence.

Any time that there is an action that you want a Web visitor to take, a call to action should instruct the visitor what to do. This means using active verbsIn a call to action, it is the word that conveys action or behavior. when you write and crafting hyperlinks to be clear instructions that resonate with your visitor at each step in the conversion process.

Passive Sentences

  • When your e-mail has been received, an order number will be issued.
  • A big difference can be made in a child’s life by donating today.
  • By joining our database, great prizes can be won.

Active Sentences

  • Send us an e-mail, and we will issue you an order number.
  • Sign up to our newsletter and receive interesting marketing news!
  • Donate today and make a difference in a child’s life!
  • Join our database and win great prizes.

A strong call to action resonates with the action that the visitor needs to take, as opposed to the technical function that is performed. For example, if a user has entered an e-mail address to sign up to your e-mail newsletter, the action button should say “sign up” (which is what a user understands) and not “submit” (which is the database action).

Consider what actions mean offline:

  • With e-mail newsletters, “sign up” can have very different connotations from “subscribe.”
  • “Subscribe” is very different from “subscribe for free.”

Whereas subscriptions connote regularity as to the times when newsletters are sent (e.g., once a week, on a particular day at a particular time), “sign up” does not carry the same burden. There is only one way to know what call to action works best on a Web page, in an e-mail, on a banner, or in an advertisement: test, test, test. You could do this by performing A/B split tests to see which CTA drives the most clicks or actions.

Features and Benefits

Writing compelling copy means conveying to readers why they should perform an action. While featuresA prominent aspect of a product that is beneficial to users. may seem all-important, you need to communicate the benefitsThe positive outcome for a user that a feature provides. of the features to the user, as this is the ultimate driver of action. Features and benefits are described as follows:

  • Feature. A prominent aspect of a product or service that can provide benefit to users. It describes what the product does.
  • Benefit. The positive outcome for a user that a feature provides. It can be the emotional component of what the user gets out of the product.

Features and benefits are very different. Features are what are important to the company that provides the product or service. Benefits are what are important to those who decide to use the product or service. This part of the copy could be the make-or-break selling point, so be direct and illustrate why they should choose your product instead of your competitor’s.

For example, consider a home entertainment system. Features could include surround sound and a large flat-screen television. The benefit is a cinema-quality experience in your own home.

Persuasive writing makes use of features, benefits, and active verbs to create appealing messages for your personas: Enjoy cinema-quality movie nights in your own home with a surround sound home entertainment system.

Be personal, be descriptive, and illustrate that their needs will be met and even surpassed.

PPC Advertisements

PPC advertisements have a very limited space, and very limited time, to get a message across, as well as plenty of competition for an Internet user’s attention. These four lines of copy need to work hard to be convincing and compelling to ensure a top return on investment.

PPC advertisements follow the same basic structure:


A heading in PPC advertising looks like the following:


Two lines of advertisement copy,

Which can be displayed on one line

Refer to Chapter 7 "Pay per Click Advertising" for Google’s editorial guidelines.

When the copy of the advertisement matches the user’s search term, those words are often displayed in bold in the advertisement. This makes the advertisement more prominent and can improve click-through rates. This is also why keyword research is very important.

For example, if the search term used was “roses,” an advertisement with “roses” in the copy might look like this:


Roses for Valentine’s

A dozen red roses for your love;

Fast, free delivery in RSA.

Using keywords in the advertisement copy can help improve click-through rates. However, this can mean writing thousands of advertisements—one for each keyword in the PPC campaign! The paid search advertising platforms have a neat tool to bypass this problem: dynamic keyword insertionIn paid search advertising, this allows keywords used in searches to be inserted automatically into advertisement copy..

Dynamic keyword insertion allows for the search term used to be inserted into the advertisement copy. This means that you can write one advertisement, and every time it appears for a different search term, that search term will be inserted into the advertisement. In the copy for the advertisement, it looks like this:

{keyword:alternative word}

The brackets indicate that this is where the dynamic keyword should go. The copywriter also needs to select an alternative keyword to show if the search term used does not fit into the space available.

Google’s tutorial on dynamic keyword insertion has the following examples that explain this best.Google, “How Do I Use Keyword Insertion?” tutorial, Google AdWords Help Center, (accessed June 17, 2008).

The following advertisement text is created:


Brand-New {KeyWord:Phones}

Huge selection of phones. Great prices.

{Keyword:phones} in stock. Free shipping!

The previous advertisement is then seen by searchers as the following:

Advertisement 1. Keyword: nokia n90


Brand-New Nokia N90

Huge selection of phones. Great prices.

Nokia n90 in stock. Free shipping!

Advertisement 2. Keyword: samsung d500


Brand-New Samsung D500

Huge selection of phones. Great prices.

Samsung D500 in stock. Free shipping!

Advertisement 3. Keyword: motorola razor silver


Brand-New Phones

Huge selection of phones. Great prices.

Phones in stock. Free shipping!

With limited word count available, it can seem a daunting task to communicate information that entices the right traffic to click through and that differentiates you from your competition. Testing variations of copy is the best way to determine what works best for your campaign.

Key Takeaways

  • The call to action is a short descriptive instruction that explicitly tells a Web visitor what to do.
  • PPC advertisements have a very limited space to get a message across, so this copy must be effectively written.
  • Dynamic keyword insertion will help make PPC copy more effective.
  • Testing different variations of the copy is the best way to find out what works best for your campaign.


  1. Visit a search engine and find some examples of PPC advertisement copy. Evaluate the different types of copy and how they are written. Do you think they are effective for the keyword used? Find an example of one that may not be effective. Indicate how you would rewrite the copy so that it would perform better.