Paid search ads are one of the most effective ways to generate traffic from people who are in the market for what you’re selling and ready to buy now – or in the very near future. These are some of the most valuable clicks you’ll generate from all of your marketing efforts; well worth paying for if you know how to turn paid traffic into paying customers.

Before you can do that, you need to get people to click on your ads in the first place.

So what makes people click on search ads? Well, agency directory service provider Clutch seems to think it has the answer in its latest report. Here’s our summary of the company’s findings and our own input on the key points.

Key findings from the case study

You can read Clutch’s Search Engine Marketing: Why People Click on Paid Search Ads report in full for yourself if you want to see everything the company has to say about its insights. We’re going summarise it all for you here, though, and let’s start by listing the key takeaways from the study:

  1. More than three-fourths of people (77%) are confident they can recognize paid search advertisements.
  • Three-fourths of people (75%) say paid search ads make it easier to find the information they are searching for on a website or search engine.
  • One-third of people (33%) click on a paid search ad because it directly answers their search query.
  • About four times as many people are more likely to click on a paid search ad on Google (63%) than on any other search engine – Amazon (15%), YouTube (9%), and Bing (6%).
  • People are most likely to click on text paid search ads (49%) instead of shopping/product listing ads (31%) and video ads (16%).
  • More than one-quarter of people (26%) click on a paid search ad because it mentions a brand they are familiar with.
  • The primary reason people click on YouTube and Amazon search ads is that the ads mention a brand they are familiar with (33%).

Source: Search Engine Marketing: Why People Click on Paid Search Ads report by Clutch

There are some interesting insights in there for sure but let’s take a closer look at each of them, consider how accurate they might be and see what you can take away from the study.

Almost 80% of people can recognise a search ad

This one is particularly interesting after a highly-publicised report, published by Ofcom in 2016, suggested that 50% of people can’t tell the difference between paid search ads and organic results in Google.

Keep in mind that this report was published back when paid ads in Google Search had those bright yellow “Ad” labels hanging to the left of the destination URL. This has since been changed to green, matching the destination URL and creating a far more subtle ad.

As incredible as might be to think that half of Google users can’t spot a paid ad when they see one, a more recent study from VARN (Jan 2018) told us that 57.5% don’t recognise Google Ads when they see them.

Source: VARN original research

Despite all this, we now have Clutch telling us a very different story: that, in fact, 77% of people are confident they can recognise paid search ads.

So what are we to make of all of this?

Well, for one thing, findings like these highlight the limitations of interviewing a small focus group and assuming their answers are representative of the majority. But the question we would rather as at this stage is: does it really matter if people know they’re clicking on an ad or not?

And this brings us to the next two findings in Clutch’s report.

Ads that answer user needs add value to the search experience and generate more clicks

Clutch tells us 75% of people believe search ads make it easier to find information online and this is a far more telling statistic (assuming it’s reliable). What’s particularly interesting here is that the respondents in this study said that they themselves feel ads add value to the search experience – and this brings us to the really important thing.

Paid search ads that directly answer search queries are the most likely to win the click.

Source: Search Engine Marketing: Why People Click on Paid Search Ads report by Clutch

None of the reasons listed above are related to whether people know they’re clicking on ads or not – it all comes down to the quality of the ads themselves. Are you answering search queries effectively, making the most of brand mentions and creating compelling titles and descriptions?

Are you bidding more on mobile because you know users need to scroll further down to reach the organic listings?

Above all, this takeaway brings us back to the core essentials of creating great ads: addressing user needs.

As Dan Shewan writes for WordStream:

“Nobody clicks on an ad because they think, ‘Wow, what a cool ad.’ They click ads because they want to accomplish something and solve a problem. To this end, one of the most effective copywriting strategies at your disposal is to mirror the user’s goal in your ad copy.”

People turn to search engines because they’re looking for something and ads that address these needs are always going to win clicks ahead of those that don’t.

Are Google users more likely to click your ads?

Another interesting insight from the Clutch report is that almost four times as many people are more likely to click on a paid search ad on Google (63%) than on any other search engine – Amazon (15%), YouTube (9%), and Bing (6%).

That Bing figure is especially surprising and certainly not something we’re seeing in CTRs for our clients on Bing Ads. Yes, CTRs can be lower but this depends on a wide range of factors – the industry each client is in, how much search competition they face on Bing, who their target audiences are and all kinds of campaign performance settings (location targeting, device targeting, etc.).

Smart Insights published a great study on search engines last year that includes a lot of info about how CTRs are affected by different factors. This will give you an idea why blanket Google users being that much more likely to click don’t really add up.

Generally speaking, we do see higher CTRs from Google Ads but not by the kind of margin suggested in Clutch’s report. It’s also worth mentioning that clicks are significantly cheaper on Bing Ads although you often have to work a little harder to ensure your ads are generating valuable traffic.

What can we take away from this study?

As we say, there are some interesting insights in that Clutch study but there isn’t a great deal that we can take away from it and use to create more clickable ads. Many of the findings are contradictory to previous studies carried out by other organisations although one of the key points does at least echo the idea that you should answer user queries and address user needs.

In a study like this, we’d like to see more emphasis on the following areas:

  • Audience research: You’ve addressed user needs and targeted the right keywords.
  • Messaging: Your ad directly offers the solution to what users are looking for.
  • Compelling: Your ad copy delivers your message in a compelling way that encourages users to click.
  • Visibility: You bid enough for your ad to get seen and optimise your bids to show them at the most profitable moments.
  • Campaign settings: Knowing how to make the most of targeting, ad extensions and Google Ads settings to maximise campaign performance.
  • Analytics: Knowing what your account and campaign data is telling you about performance.

Instead, we’ve got some interesting data from the study but only practical reason telling us why people click on an ad is that it answers their query directly – which is hopefully quite obvious at this point. The simple answer is this: if people can see your ad and it offers what they’re looking for, you’ve got a good chance of winning the click.

Which means you first need to know what your target audiences are looking for (research), craft a compelling message that shows them you have what they want (ad copy) and then make sure they see your ad (bidding, targeting and campaign/ad settings).