The Science behind Writing and Designing Converting Ads

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The Science behind Writing and Designing Converting Ads

Creating ads that convert may seem like a fantasy, but generally, it takes some real effort.

There’s no shortcut. You have to master the craft.

Unbounce reported that 98% of advertisers waste money on ads, mostly unintentionally. Are you one of them?

Most likely.

You and your marketing team might be wasting money on ads right now — and not have any idea that you’re doing so!

There is no simple way to make your ads work. Writing engaging ads that appeal to your audience is no less than a science. You should bear this in mind when designing an ad for your next text or display campaign.

To help you understand what makes your ad engaging, and why some ads perform better than others, you must understand and learn the science behind writing and designing ads.

While there are many variables that can make or break an ad in terms of engagement and conversion rate, the most crucial ones are discussed below.

Let’s take a deep dive:

Focus on benefits not features

No matter what your end-goal for a given ad may be, you’ll need to carefully study your product or offer to understand its core benefits because this will be your value proposition. In the words of Theodore Levitt, Marketing Professor at Harvard Business School:  

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

The primary task of an ad should be to help customers get their job done. Generally, your target audience is not interested in the features of your product. Instead, they are only interested in what benefits they will derive from it.

Here is an example of an ad that lists all the features of the product.

For a potential customer, this isn’t as attractive as an ad that converts the same features into benefits. The same ad will look something like this if it focuses on the benefits of the product.

Keep your baby healthy and clean” is something that appeals more to parents as compared to natural, effective, and chemical-free diapers.

Here is another example of an Apple iPod ad that contrasts emphasizing features and emphasizing benefits.

What do you think is more appealing for a potential user of an iPod? The answer is pretty obvious, right?

So how do you convert features into benefits?

There are 3 simple steps:

  1. Understand your target audience’s problem. What is the specific problem that your product is designed to solve?
  2. List all the features of your product that are related to the customer’s problem(s).
  3. Convert each feature into a benefit. For instance, 4GB RAM is a feature but high performance and fast speed are the benefits.

The truth is, stressing benefits over features is one of the most repeated rules of copywriting — particularly when writing ads.

Benefits will prompt the purchase. In fact, if people respond to your ad because of the benefits, they will not regret it afterwards.

Switching the emphasis from features to benefits can increase CTR as much as 151%. Do it now!

Target emotions

Do your ads consider the emotional side of your target audience?

They should – every single time. Period.

Unless you are creating ads for robots, you can’t ignore emotions. The following ad by Hootsuite does a great job of targeting viewers emotionally.

Emotional ads perform better than rational and combined ads. The human brain has the ability to process emotional input without cognitive awareness. Therefore, even if an ad is not rational, but emotional, it will convert.

Studies show that brands all over the world use emotions to sell their products. They write engaging ads by leveraging on emotional triggers. This is really not surprising because emotional marketing (particularly in ads) works every single time, provided it is well-executed.

Over 42% of B2B marketers say that the emotional benefits highlighted in their ads improve the ads performance.

When people need to make brand decisions, they rely heavily on emotions. Again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Emotions drive a person’s intent to buy.

As Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, wrote in Fast Company, “The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”

The next time you create an ad, try targeting specific emotions with the help of power words, colors, and copywriting. It’s something worth mastering.

Have a powerful call-to-action

A call-to-action (CTA) is an instruction that incites the ad viewer to take an action or to respond to the ad. It tells the viewer ‘what is expected of them’ and what action they’re supposed to take after viewing the ad.

An ad without a CTA is the last thing you need in this world. So why are powerful CTAs so important, and what should you expect from them?

To throw more light on this, here are a few facts and figures:

  1. First-person CTAs increased click through rate by 90%. ContentVerve changed the phrase from ‘Start your free trial’ to ‘Start my free trial’ for a whopping increase in CTR.
  2. In one study, orange CTAs increased conversion rate by 32.5%, while red CTAs increased the rate by 21%. (QuickSprout)
  3. CTA buttons increased CTR for Create Debate by 45%. (Copyblogger)

The idea is to optimize the CTA. There is a lot of room. You never know what might work. At times, changing the color of the CTA button may boost conversion rate by 35.81%.

It could be a word, phrase, period, or pretty much anything. As shown in the following example, changing a single word in the button may increase conversion rate by as much as 90%.

It all comes down to testing different variations of the CTA. It’s a continuous process. Keep tweaking the CTA for better results in conversion rate and engagement.

Here are a few tips for writing killer CTAs for your ads:

  1. Use power words to connect emotionally with your readers.
  2. Use a powerful verb at the start of the CTA such as find out, buy, shop, download, fill out, etc.
  3. Create urgency. Give your potential customers a reason why they should click now and why they must take action now.
  4. Keep it short. You deal with limited space when you create ads, so make sure your CTA is short yet complete. It should also make sense.

Original graphics and images

Ads that include a rich selection of media increase conversion rate by a whopping 60%. Adding unique and creative images and graphics to your display ads will boost conversion rate as well as engagement.

Neff, for instance, added a visual discount incentive to one of its ads on Facebook. This resulted in a 38% increase in conversion rate, and a 20-fold increase in ROI.

This study shows that there’s a positive correlation between the clarity of the image  and the perceived ownership of the object in the image. If you wish to establish an emotional connection with your target audience through your ads, be sure to add detailed product images whenever possible.

Use real and original photos for ads and say “no” to stock photos.

The problem with most marketers is that 68% of them have no knowledge of creating original visual assets. Imagine creating a strong image for your ad campaign without resorting to the usual stock images used by hundreds of other advertisers.

There are tools that will make your life easier when it comes to creating original images and creative graphics. Some of the best tools include:

  • Canva
  • Jing
  • PhotoScape
  • FotoJet
  • PiktoChart

Understand the psychology of colors

A research study showed that over 90% of the product judgments made by users  could be traced back to color. Colors help you play with the psychology of the ad viewers.

Science has proven that people perceive colors differently, and that colors can influence people’s behavior and decision-making.

Joe Hallock conducted a study to find and compare color preferences in 22 countries. The study showed interesting results. Orange is the most disliked color. Other least-liked colors include purple, yellow, and brown.

As we age, our color preferences change. Older people like blue, purple, and green, while youngsters seem to be in love with yellow, red, and orange.

When creating images for ads, consider the age of the target audience and choose your colors accordingly.

It should be noted here, however, that you won’t be able to boost the conversion rate of an ad merely on the basis of color. The colors must be appropriate for the product and the brand. It’s a complete package.

Colors evoke certain emotions. For instance, green is considered a color of peace, health, and growth. A mismatch of the color and the product will yield negative results, while a good fit will do much better.

When you create an image or a display ad, you rarely deal with a single color. Colors are always used in combination so it is critical to understand how to do this effectively.

A study by the University of Toronto showed that the majority of people prefer color combinations of 2 to 3 colors. Combinations consisting of more than 3 colors are perceived negatively.

When you create your next display ad, try matching colors to your product that promote both the product’s function and its perception. In a survey, people were asked to select the color they associated with a specific word. Here are the results:

Although there is no quick fix, using the color red in an action text or a CTA text generally seems to outperform other colors. Wingify founder and blog writer Paras Chopra conducted an experiment to find the best converting combination of colors for the CTA of one of his products.

Below are the various color combinations that he used for his CTA:

The 10th variation performed better than the others.

It’s not a coincidence. The color red combined with a light gray color seems to work every time. However, this is not set in stone. Test it and see what works for you!

Social Proof

There’s a reason why 90% of consumers reported that positive reviews about a product influenced their buying decisions.

Did you know that 62% of all clicks go to the listing with the highest number of reviews? Yes it does.

And that’s the power of a social proof. In other words, your ideal customers are moved by what they see others do.

Creating ads that highlight customer reviews and testimonials will help increase conversion rate and engagement. These types of ads increase CTR by 300% and reduce CPC and CPA by 50% each.

There’s nothing better than posting a review from an influencer. For instance, if you are an SEO agency, and if somehow Matt Cutts recommends or even talks about your agency, this will be enough to drive thousands of new clients to you.

What do you think?

You can use third-party reviews in your Google AdWords ads using a simple extension. AdWords has a complete guide on how to do it.

Use Numbers

Be as specific as possible and use numbers in ad copy.


Research shows that when numbers are used in ad copy, they make the ad appear more accurate and credible. It has also been proven that specific numbers (1432) perform better than rounded numbers (1400+).

These two examples of ad copy for a brand were tested.

The test showed that the ad displaying the exact amount saved in January performed better. The conversion rate increased by 23% and the CTR by 217%.

Here’s another example:

The ad with the specific numbers outperformed the one without. This increased the level of confidence in the ad by 99% and increased CTR by 88%.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and at MIT conducted a study and found that the number 9 has a special power. Using the number 9 in ad copy will significantly boost conversion and sales. For instance, instead of using $100 as the price, using $99.99 will make a huge difference.

This does not mean that you can fake numbers!

Never do it.

Using numbers in the copy has multiple benefits.

  1. It makes you, your brand, and the ad credible.
  2. It helps your ad stand out from the crowd because most ads do not harness the power of numbers and percentages.
  3. It makes your ads specific. When you use exact figures instead of general terms such as “few,” “the majority,” “most,” etc., it makes your ads specific and more appealing to the target audience.

Are you wondering how to use numbers in your ad copy?

Rest easy. You don’t have to do a survey to use numbers. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Use price.
  2. Use the exact number of your followers, subscribers, users, clients, etc. Example: Join 11067 other cyclists. . .
  3. Use the number of employees in your organization.
  4. Use the number of customers served to date.
  5. Use the previous month’s revenue for your business.
  6. Lastly, ask your reporting team to run a few reports and generate meaningful numbers and statistics.

Test, test, and test

At the end of the day, it all comes down to testing the ads.

Making a tiny change in your ad can increase its conversion rate by 50%, 500%, or even more. You have no idea where it will lead.

You should test everything: ad copy, headlines, CTAs, images, and more.

Follow these steps to test variations in your ads:

  1. Select a variable to test, such as CTA button color.
  2. Create two different ads with different CTA button colors. Change only one aspect at a time. For instance, change only the color of the CTA button. If you change both the color and the CTA text, you will not be able to determine if the change in the conversion rate was due to the color or the text.
  3. Run both ads and set up your metrics to monitor the results.
  4. Run the ads for a significant period of time, such as a week.
  5. Monitor the results and select the best performing ad.
  6. Repeat the process.

Testing and tweaking are continuous processes. Keep testing even your best-performing ads. Otherwise, you will never know what their limits are.

The idea is to have a strong base for your PPC campaign. According to Avinash Kaushik:

“We live in the most data-rich environment on the planet—an environment where numbers, math, and analysis should be the foundation of our decisions. We can use data to determine how to market effectively, how to truly connect with our audience, and how to improve our return on investment.”

Every time you test two ads, you will learn. This is your achievement.

This is the science.


When I started running ads on both Google AdWords and Facebook networks, I didn’t expect to have to think so much about writing engaging and converting ads.

Now I know better.

To quote Emily Triplett Lenz, “there’s so much joy that comes from doing things that scare you.”

If you’re scared of writing and designing catchy but persuasive ads, you need to face your fears and just do it.

This article outlines the scientific approach to take when you’re looking to write engaging ads. Keep at it. Mastering your craft doesn’t come by chance. Be consistent. If nothing else works, use these ad templates to get started.

It’s undoubtedly difficult to create, manage, and run a PPC ad campaign successfully with a decent conversion rate and ROI. But it’s not impossible.

If others can do it, you can do it too.

Get started today!