Empathy.
Going Beyond Search Intent To Unlocking User Psychology During That Split Moment Of A Search.

By Christian N.

Winking Sigmund Freud

Don’t stare, it’s rude.
The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”
~ Sigmund Freud

40,000 searches on Google every second.

What does a searcher want?

If you’re an Adwords advertiser, similarly to Freud, this question has most likely eluded you.

Let me explain.

The following chart compares click-through rates (CTR) for organic search results against Adwords ads.

Fig. 1 — Organic CTR vs Adwords ad CTR. Data collected
from Moz and Wordstream.

Organic results have as much as 5 times higher CTRs than PPC ads.

As you can observe, organic results have much higher CTRs than Adwords ads.

Considering the fact that the first ad on Google is usually above the first organic result, why does it have such a comparatively lower CTR?

Is it that people despise clicking on search ads or is it simply that the majority of them… well, they suck.

The vast majority of ads are written by people who have little to no clue about what searchers actually want.

Or… they are so concerned with “selling” that it doesn’t matter to them. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count.

It’s not all ads that suck. In fact, some advertisers get comparable ad click-through-rates as organic search results.

Ask Brad Geddes with his 27% ad CTR, or Larry Kim with unicorn ads that get CTRs above 30% — all on non-branded keywords.

Is it possible to get ad CTRs comparable to organic search results? Yes. Sometimes, if you’re ready to put in the effort. Never, if you’re not.

I can’t promise you CTRs in the 30% range every time, but I can promise you to dramatically improve your ad writing skills and reap the benefits.

Confession — My ads suck too the first time time I write them. And most of them continue to suck for a very long time. The effort required to go beyond average results is significant and one that I’m not always eager to undertake (I’m lazy) but when I do, the rewards are worth it.

You get what
you give.

There are many systems for writing ads, the following is the one that I use. Although I base it all on ads, it is as valid for SEO snippets.

It starts with the decision to take a selfless approach to the ad, removing your business from the equation and dedicating yourself fully to understanding — at a deep level — what searchers are really looking for.

It ends with knowing the words, images and emotions that occur in someone’s mind right before the search.

Summary

How to discover what searcher want in 3 phases using Google.

Search Intent ResearchFig. 2 — Phases of search psychology research.

The deepest layer of search intent research is where the gold is. People, they talk.
  1. Google: Tells you basic information on search intent, mainly if it’s commercial or informational.
  2. Content: Content from search results tells you all potential answers that may or may not perfectly match the intent of the search.
  3. Comments: Tell you which answers users are most satisfied with, the ones they’re not statisfied with and the additional questions they may have.

Phase I – Google
Is she buying or learning?

Search intentFig. 3 — Search intent segmentation.

The two most important search intent categories: informational vs commercial.

Search intent falls into a few categories as shown above and described in more detail on Moz. It is not necessary to analyze all of them and the goal of this article is only to help you write better ads. For that purpose, I prefer a simpler version where queries live on a spectrum between informational and commercial intent.

Simple search intentFig. 4 — Simplified version of search intent segmentation.

The first thing to figure out then, and the most important, is whether a search query leans more on the informational side or the commercial side. Is someone seeking to educate themselves or will they soon make a purchase. A quick glance at Google’s search results will tell you.

Commercial queries are from people who are shopping around for something specific and will soon make a purchase or complete an action of some sort. These are much easier to sell to and most ads are crafted to these kinds of users.

Search results will be dominated by ecommerce websites such as Amazon, eBay or other commerce inclined website depending on the industry.

“Sous vide cooking equipment” is a good example of a commercial query.

Commercial intent search results.

Fig. 5 — Search results for a commercial query.

← Scroll inside!
Pitching information to buyers doesn’t work.

Now, before searching for sous vide cooking equipment, I started out learning about what “sous vide cooking” was and tried a few recipes. (I made that last part up but you’re allowed to believe I’m a sophisticated cook.)

Informational queries are from people who are looking for information and educating themselves about a particular topic. They are learning.

Search results will be dominated by informational types of articles and blog posts. One sure fire sign that a search is informational is when Wikipedia.com or About.com result shows up.

Fig. 6 — Search results for an informational query.

Hard-selling to information seekers doesn’t work either.

All the organic results in the above example, teach something about sous vide cooking.

The main reason why most ads have poor CTRs is because they seldom match this basic level of search intent. One that organic results always match as Google’s algorithms make sure they do.

The vast majority of search queries are informational in nature. A big mistake when writing ads is to treat informational queries like they were commercial and vice versa.

Best practices tell you to do this. You’ve most likely been taught to always highlight something unique about your product or service in your ads and by no means should you ever use the term “Free” in your ads. This kind of advice works well for commercial queries, but it doesn’t with informational ones, which are the most used on the internet.

The better way to treat all queries is to find their hidden intent and write ads that match it. If your product offers answers that directly match a query then best practices are useful, otherwise they’re not.

The next logical question then is… Is it wise to advertise to people who are only looking for information?

The answer is yes, when there’s a path to conversion.

People behind commercial queries often might start out with informational types of queries. The way to advertise to information seekers is to promise them the information that they seek, provide it on your website, then hold their hand towards the conversion that you seek.

You may already be familiar with how I call this process: The Disco Dance.

Fig. 7 — The buying funnel as a DISCO dance.

The “Comparison” step shows the red and green bananas to be imposters.

It’s my version of the buying funnel.

If you meet someone at the Interest stage, your ad should speak to them at that level by promising the right information and it’s the job of your landing page or website to lead them through the rest of the dance.

This process can be long just as is can take a few minutes.

The evolution of search queries that someone may go through looks like this:

Stage Keyword
Discovery sous vide cooking
Interest sous vide cooking recipes
Study sous vide cooking techniques
Comparison sous vide cooking equipment
Order Anova immersion circulator

Fig. 8 — The “sous vide cooking” query in the DISCO dance.

Learn the steps to
the dance.

The goal when advertising to information seekers is to take them through the stages without them ever having to leave your website to continue the dance.

The Anova ad above is a good example; their landing page provides all the information I need to know about sous vide cooking and gives me reasons to purchase their equipment from their website.

Some informational queries do not have a path that may eventually lead to a conversion, and those are usually very obvious. When in doubt, test. If you can lead a few people from the discovery stage to the conversion, the rest is only a matter of learning to lead the dance better.

Takeaway — Sell to people who are looking to buy and provide information to people who are looking for information. Search results allow you to figure out whether a search query is commercial or informational; your ad should meet this very basic intent.

Selling vs TeachingFig. 9 — Selling vs teaching.

Phase II – Content
Answers to surface questions

Now that we know if a searcher is looking for information or not, we need figure out what they need to learn in case of informational queries and the best offer that would lead them to a conversion in case of commercial queries.

The goal of this phase is to take note of all the proposed answers so you are aware of all the information users are exposed to, because it is very likely that those are the answers they seek, and thus the answers you should promise in your ads.

For sous vide cooking, these are the topics discussed:

  • Definition: What it is and why it’s used.
  • Taste: Comparison with traditional cooking.
  • Difficulty: How easy it is to try it.
  • Price: How expensive is the equipment.
  • Techniques: Different ways of accomplishing it.
  • Safety: Safety of plastic bags and risks of low temperature cooking.

These are the subjects people want to learn about when typing the query. They are the subjects matters that I would test in my ads if I was to compete.

Additionally, each page will have something unique to offer that is of value over other search results. It’s important to note that too. Sometimes it’s the brand, sometimes it’s format, sometimes it’s the tone, sometimes it’s the content itself. Whatever it is, it’s important to understand what makes each page unique and worthy of reading over another.

Here’s a quick analysis of the first 5 pages for the informational query “sous vide cooking”.

Search result Uniqueness
1. Wikipedia Known information brand
2. ModernistCuisine Expert opinion
3. Lifehacker Detailed pros & cons
4. Anova Vast array of recipes
5. ChefSteps Step-by-step process

Fig. 10 — What’s unique about the content in the top 5 results for the
informational query “sous vide cooking”.

Find what’s unique and different about each page.

Conclusion — For this informational query, people want to learn all facets of sous vide cooking and expect to find expert opinions, detailed pros & cons, recipes or step-by-step instructions.

Now we have some information to attempt writing ads.

With what we have learned already, they would read something like:

  • Sous Vide vs Traditional
  • The pros & cons of sous vide.
  • Plus a vast array of easy recipes.
  • Sous Vide Made Easy
  • Low cost techniques in clear, easy
  • to follow, step-by-step process!

We can come up with a few dozen other variations by simply combining the topics with a unique proposition.

With this alone, you can outcompete the majority of your competitors.

For the commercial example of “sous vide cooking equipment”, here’s what the pages contain:

  • Multiple items reviews: Reviews of top products.
  • One item review: Review of a particular machine.
  • Alternatives: Those that don’t require special equipment.

It’s very straight forward and commercial queries usually are. In this stage, it’s all about reviews and the pages try to best assist a user into making the best buying decision on what to buy.

Each page still has something unique to offer.

Search result Uniqueness
1. CooksIllustrated Professional reviews
2. TheSweetHome In-depth reviews
3. Amazon Known ecommerce brand
4. SeriousEats Amateur review of one item
5. MolecularRecipes Buying advice & alternatives

Fig. 11 — What’s unique about the content in the top 5 results for the
commercial query “sous vide cooking equipment”.

Don’t skip
this step.

Conclusion — It is very clear that what all these pages offer for this search query are reviews, comparison and buying advice. At this stage, the user is shopping around for options and does not yet know which to choose from, but soon will.

If I were to compete for this search query, my job would be to show the user that I have made the research for them and that I can best help them make the right buying decision.

Ads would sound like:

  • Top 10 Sous Vide Machines
  • The best sous-vide machines and
  • their affordable alternatives.
  • Sous Vide Machine Reviews
  • In-depth reviews of sous vide
  • equipment by professional chefs.

Here again, we can come up with a multitude of variations by combining a topic with a unique proposition.

Takeaway — The content in pages returned by Google contain clues into what searcher want to learn about or what they need in order to purchase. To compete, you’ll need to match this surface need.

How to teach before selling
Fig. 12 — Teaching before selling.

Phase III – Comments
The manifestation of the dominant deeper
underlying need

The previous steps are good enough to compete. However, in order to win, you’ll need to go beyond and understand why the question was asked in the first place.

It’s one thing to know what to teach or sell, it’s another to know exactly why the search happened on a deeper emotional level.

In this last step, everything comes around and the light begins to shine on what is really going on in the searcher’s mind.

Think of it like a restaurant. The search results and their content are a menu of options; the comments reveal which options are important to searchers and why.

Sometimes, none of the item on the menu are relevant enough to the user and you’ll know what the questions to be answered really are and why. This was the case in the “rated R” example I shared in my last article.

In 1943, a psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow described a hierarchy of human needs, represented by the pyramid below.

Maslows Hierarchy Of NeedsFig. 13 — Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Graphic by TimVanDevall.

Use Abraham’s pyramid to understand what’s going on in comments.

We’re not going to have a course on psychology and I’m not qualified to give one, but these fundamentals help understand our deeper goals when we do stuff.

A certain word, or a certain angle tapping into these fundamental needs are the means to connecting to searchers on a deeper level.

When reading comments, it’s important to identify the original comments and replies. The original comments are about people expressing their appreciation or dissatisfaction with what they’ve read and if they have additional questions. The replies are just replies.

For “sous vide cooking”, there are only two pages that show comments but in both of them the majority of comments are about “do it yourself” home setups for cooking sous vide and how to try it with tools that are easy to get a hand on.

There’s a general consensus that sous vide provide superior results. People are overwhelmingly looking for and asking questions about home setups that don’t involve expensive or special equipment and be able to enjoy the quality of this cooking technique at home.

The next major concern that appears in the comments are safety concerns. People ask questions about the safety of plastic bags or if low temperature cooking really is safe. The need for low cost options as a financial concern is also a revelation of safety for the wallet.

So then… Self-actualization is the first need and safety is the second. They like cooking great food and want to take things to the next level but want to do it inexpensively and while not harming their health.

The thinking then, can be described as follow:

Fig. 14 — What searchers are thinking when searching
for “sous vide cooking”.

And… voila!

This is the closest approximation of the psychology of the “sous vide cooking” search.

Having discovered this, the ads write themselves…

  • Perfect Sous Vide Steaks
  • Smell, taste and savor perfection.
  • The best steak you ever made!

The ad above caters to the self-actualization need, we’re promising what they’re looking for: Perfection! Bring in the senses and hint at a recipe (as we discovered in phase 2) for an enhanced effect. I’m hungry for a steak now.

  • Sous vide on a budget?
  • How to test sous vide cooking on a
  • small budget while staying safe.

This one plays on the low cost techniques and safety concerns together.

  • Is sous vide really safe?
  • Could the wrong bag or method ruin
  • your health? Read expert analysis.

This one plays fully on the safety concerns and promises expert opinion (as we discovered in phase 2).

Takeaway — When you read the comments, you start to understand exactly what searcher are thinking when they search. Use Abraham’s pyramid of needs to clarify the deeper underlying need.

You can write many more ads out of this research…. but there’s still more the method which I’ll leave for the next article.

You never know which ad is going to strike a chord harder than the other, and that’s why a framework for writing ads is very handy. I call it “Charisma” and it deserves it’s own article.

Remember how it starts and where it ends.

It’s a trilogy. Find the rest on our blog. Charisma coming soon…

This was Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read the Intro and Part 1 of the trilogy. Stay tuned for the final.

I hope this has been valuable to you. This method has evolved over time and it continues to evolve as I hone my craft.

I invite you to have your own take on it and customize it to your own needs. So long as it works. Results matter.

If Freud were still alive, maybe we could even attempt at helping him answer the question that eluded him.

Follow The Yellow Guy
Download, print and refer to the flowchart
before writing ads

Empathy Animated Flowchart

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Dowload GIF (Animated), PNG (Transparent), PDF or JPG in higher resolutions and use as you wish. No restrictions.

Q & A
Questions and objections
you might have

How much time should this take?

Take as much time as you need to complete the process. It is not uncommon for me to spend hours doing research. When I botch the process, I end up with underperforming ads. When I follow the process is when I get my breakthroughs.

Does it really work & what are the expected results?

Highly performing ads in terms of CTR are the foundation to great quality scores, which in turn reduce acquisition costs. The method above is the exact same method described in detail that I’ve used in writing the few ads I shared in my previous articles.

How do I implement it on thousands of keywords?

Start with your top 10 keywords at first. What you will learn, you’ll be able to apply to the rest of your campaigns. It works like a domino, if you get those first few wins, the next are easy to accomplish across the acount.

I don’t have a relevant landing page for the ads.

You don’t have to when you start. When I’m doing my research and testing ads like crazy, I do not care at all what’s on my landing page. The goal is always first to understand users, their intent and the psychology behind the search. Once that’s accomplished, I get into matching the landing page to the best performing ad.

I can’t find enough comments for my query.

First, go beyond page 1 of search results and see if you can find something there. Next, use search modifiers like “blog” or “forum” with the search query. For sous vide cooking, I’d try “sous vide forum” or “sous vide blog”. It’s less effective but can still be valuable. When there’s really nothing, then you’re allowed to stop the research at Phase II.


Questions received by email and comments

How much improvement in CTR do you see on average?

It is not uncommon for me to double or triple the CTRs on ad groups that trouble me with low Quality Scores. There’s more to the method that I will share in the next article.

When doing this, you have to be testing new ads aggressively and it can often be on the 10th or 20th variation that you get a break through.

The process above has allowed me to shorten the time I get to the breakthroughs and when I stumble I redo the process over and over again.

How much improvement in CPA do you see on average?

I get good reductions in CPA when I manage to make big leaps in quality score that come from doubling or tripling CTRs. I wrote a bit about it here.

Increasing CTR in turn increases QS which in turn increases Ad Rank and so it allows me to bid lower (sometimes dramatically) and thus reduce my avg. CPC while getting more traffic. It usually results in an increase in volume of conversions as well.

That’s all before I even use what I’ve learned in the process to redesign my landing pages. When it comes to landing page conversion rate increase, the value of this research takes on invaluable dimension.

What is a good average CTR for an account, can I get 35%?

There’s no such thing as a good average CTR for an account, it all depends on your market and keywords. The more specific your keywords are the higher the probability for getting high CTRs. Here’s a great article from Brad Geddes that talks about this in more detail.

The problem that I often see is low CTRs on keywords that are quite specific, and the result is always poor QS. The way I gauge if my CTRs are great or not is by looking at my quality scores, if they’re great then CTR is great, if they’re low then I have improvements to make.


If you have more questions that I haven’t addressed, let me know and I’ll add them here.

Please retweet.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Which lesson in this article really hit home for you and how are you going to use it to write better ads or content?

About Christian N.

Chris is one of the two-man team that founded Tenscores.com, he wrote his first PPC ad in 2007, fell in love and hasn't stopped ever since.
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  • http://brianjackson.io/ Brian Jackson

    Yet again, another awesome post Chris! Added to Buffer. Also I just gave you guys a mention in my recent post. http://brianjackson.io/ways-to-optimize-your-google-adwords-campaigns/ Got me some love for Tenscores :)

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      Nice post. Tip 19 is my favorite, of course ;). Just retweeted it.

  • Ivan Beemster

    The Q&A is really valuable, as it hints at a hands-on method to put the theory into practice. Sweet article!

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      Thanks Ivan. Are you going to put it into practice? If you do, I want to know your results.

      • https://lijndiensten.com Ivan Beemster

        That’s a deal (as soon as summer and vacation have passed). If you have any more heuristics, best practices, reading tips or pitfalls the novice AdWords psychologist should know about, I’d be glad to hear!

  • http://www.bryancasson.co.za Bryan Casson

    My non-branded Ave CTR is most of my accounts is 35%, but I am no Larry Kim :) I am just a nobody that works hard for CTR and Conversion rate :)

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      That’s impressive. Sounds like you don’t need my advice :)

  • Ashok Patidar

    Amazing article. If you have great campaign structure, keywords and landing page s but no great ads, you’re gone. Unfortunately, I am sort of time to play with so much awesomeness of ads. Still your tips helps be go green. :)

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      We’re working on an ad tool that will make it easier to write and test great ads for people who don’t have the time. Signup to our newsletter (blog home page) to be notified when it’s ready.

  • Kevin

    Great read as always but begs the question Chris “Have you improved your software and more importantly your customer support?”. I was a believer but gave up after 2-3 week responses to simple questions about your software. Good Luck.

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      Hi Kevin, I’ll be honest with you, we still have some improvements to make. 2-3 week response time however surprises me, I personally look over or directly answer all customer support emails. If you’d like to give it another try, please email me: chris at tenscores dot com and I’ll personally make sure your experience with our tool and support is better than it was the first time.

  • Monica

    Wow! Thank you! Love the article!

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      Thanks Monica.

  • Owlbear

    A very interesting and well written article, thanks so much Chris! Learnt a lot here and passed it onto our adwords guy as well. He’s now glued to the screen as well!

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      Awesome! Ask him to share the new ads he writes.

  • James

    Another great post Chris. I’d love to hear your opinion on what to do once you’ve got an ad that works for you with a high CTR, that your competitor then outright copies word for word. What’s your approach to dealing with that?

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      I’ve never had to worry about that. I never stop testing new ads so it’s usually hard to keep up. There’s one thing your competitor can’t copy: it’s your domain name. The domain name is the 2nd most important part of the ad (it’s probably why Google made it the second line instead of the last a few years ago), sometimes it’s more important than the headline itself (I’ve tested this). Your competitors will never have the exact same ad as yours because of your domain name.

  • Rodrigo

    Magic… Still waiting for Charisma. All this happened to me once by chance i guess, and you made a method out of it… Really great

    • http://tenscores.com/ Chris

      Thanks! :) Charisma coming soon.

  • Pradeep Nair

    Excellent posts, really enjoyed “Selflessness” & “Empathy” articles. Waiting for the post on “Charisma”

  • http://probenw.com Susan Wakeman

    Superb article!!! Very impressive.