Friday, January 11, 2008

How to write effective online ad copy

So if you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know that my posts are a real mix of things. Most common are shorter posts either about something that's just popped into my head, or linking to something great that I've read somewhere (like this one, or this one). Other times I'll go on a bit more about something that really interests me (like this). And finally the other type of post is the completely unrelated rant (the best example of which is this one, which I'm secretly quite proud of in rant terms). I'm going to start doing something new though, and what better time to start than the present? In a nutshell all I'm going to be doing is putting up a few (hopefully) 'useful' posts, particularly related to recruitment. These posts will be a bit longer than my normal sort, and will generally be formatted as 'How to...' They won't be up all the time and I'll make sure to keep my shorter, pithier posts coming too. I know some people who read the blog probably won't be interested in them at all so if that's you I'd appreciate your indulgence, just skip the long ones and stick to the links and quips. If you hate it though and it really annoys you then do let me know! To those who've expressed an interest in posts like this, I hope this is what you were after. Any questions, comments, rants, praise etc all equally welcome, here on the blog or emailed to me - james dot parr at omnirms dot com (of course replace 'dot' with '.' and 'at' with '@', minus parentheses). So, without further ado, here is the first of my 'How to...' posts:

How to…

…Write effective online ad copy

Although there is no exact science to writing online ad copy there are some things you can do to get your ad noticed and read. This document hopefully outlines some of the basics and should give your ad a bit of a head start.

The basics

Simple, concise ads work best online. With so many jobs advertised in such a short space it is easy for candidates to skim over a whole page full and completely miss yours. There is also a suggestion that people make up their mind on whether they want to continue reading what they are looking at on a webpage within seven seconds, so getting them to read on immediately is vital. There are therefore a few things that you can do to give your job the best chance of being considered.

  • Always include the salary, work location and a suitable job title at the top of the ad. Where possible put an actual figure for salary rather than ‘£Excellent’. If they get a car too or a guaranteed bonus, mention that. Candidates will read the ads with all that information before they do one that excludes some of it.
  • With the job title, avoid being too creative. Remember that titles are searchable on boards so they need to be clear, intuitive and understandable. If you want a sales manager don’t ask for a ‘Business Development Co-ordinator’.
  • The first paragraph is the most vital. Most people put company information in the first paragraph. However you can make better use of this paragraph. The first few lines should outline exactly what you want from your ideal applicant. So if you want a Japanese speaker with Project Management experience, put it in the first paragraph. That way candidates will waste less of your time applying for something they’re not suitable for.
  • After that initial paragraph you can then go on to talk about the company (obviously using the company name directly is better where possible), the role and duties and anymore information about what attributes are required.
  • In terms of layout it is about targeting the right audience. If your ad is full of technical attributes and jargon and aimed at IT people then a bulleted list might be best. If however you’re writing an ad for a marketing professional they’ll respond better to a well-written couple of paragraphs.
  • Length-wise, although you may have lots of information to get across (particularly in IT ads) something concise that the reader doesn’t have to plough through is always better. A good indicator is Jobserve’s character limit. 1500 characters should be enough to get everything you want into an ad. Longer ads would again be best targeted at the more creative markets where they are more likely to read than skim.
  • A good sign-off is a nice touch. However there is no need to outline how to apply or include contact details. This will be covered by the job board in the final ad and would also increase the likelihood of inappropriate candidates (and agencies) just firing over an email or picking up the phone without thinking about the job and their suitability.
  • Advert management is also crucial. If you’re getting plenty of appropriate candidates in and need more, then refresh the ad. If nothing or nothing suitable is coming through, then don’t. Instead think about how you could change the ad to generate a better response or better outline what it is that you’re looking for.

The tone of your ad

It is important to get your delivery right with online advertising. Although it is not worth agonising over which prose style you adopt or the usage of ‘who’ and ‘whom’ it is worth bearing in mind that people respond to how you say something more than to what you actually say. Therefore making sure your style is appropriate for your audience should be a consideration.

IT ads are naturally going to be different to marketing ads. Similarly something suitable for a banker is probably not appropriate for a HR manager. Therefore make sure you know who you’re writing for and what kind of audience your client would like to target. Most people are conservative in their nature when it comes to advertising. However recruitment advertising is necessarily different to advertising a ‘brand’. Therefore try not to adopt as traditional a tone in your ads as you see on corporate websites, for example.

Additionally it is important to be aware of any parameters set by your marketing department (if you have one). Marketing people are generally good at selling to potential customers not potential employees. Therefore they will want to see something far more in line with the ‘brand’ they are used to selling. Don’t be afraid to challenge decisions to a degree or to see how many of your ideas you can keep in an ad that has to be reviewed by marketing.

The content of your ad

You should use questions in your ad where possible to make the reader think about the details of the role and their suitability for it. So rather than saying “My client needs a candidate who is a strong negotiator with a good work ethic” a more effective ad would say “Are you a skilled negotiator? Do you strive to be the best in everything that you do?” By asking questions you are engaging the reader and making your ad stand out. This is a simple but underused technique and can be applied to virtually any requirement you can think of (“Do you work well in teams?”, “Are you a talented Java developer?”, “Friendly bright and personable?”)

Also try to make use of strong adjectives (much as you would in a CV) when describing the job and the ideal candidate. Even with the recent guidance regarding age discrimination it is still possible to put together a good ad using phrases like talented, gifted, determined, motivated, professional and so on. Words to avoid are those with age connotations like enthusiastic, vibrant, mature, experienced and so on.

Getting your ad read

There are some things that you can do to make your ad more attractive. Although it’s not always necessary to spend a lot of time on an ad (a helpdesk role doesn’t require masses of thought to get the relevant info in and encourage people to apply) for some ads it is worth putting in that little bit of extra effort in a couple of areas to make your copy stand out from the 20 or 30 others in the search results.

Opening and closing lines are important. The temptation is to lay on some of the more clichéd (/cheesy!) lines and it’s not always the end of the world to give in to temptation! Again, remember your audience. High level managers (particularly in sales, advertising and so on) expect the kind of line that would make others cringe. “If you’re the best then come work for the best” is a line that would put a few people off, but it’s typical big business fare and therefore not out of place in certain online ads. If that sort of delivery seems inappropriate (or just out of character) you can say the same sort of thing but stick to something more straightforward – “This is a great opportunity for the ideal candidate to work for one of the top organisations in the industry”.

If you’re recruiting grads or juniors then something more fun, friendly and light-hearted could be appropriate. A good tag-line also goes down well in ads that need a more exciting tone. Something simple like “Grads wanted!” is effective enough although if you can think of something more creative so much the better. (For the recent graduate campaign Omni ran for Allied Irish Bank we came up with “Want a career in Business you can Bank on?” AIB liked it so much they now use it as the tagline for all of their recruitment advertising across the board.)

Again, bear in mind your client’s tastes. A manager we work with looking for a senior buyer recently turned down the taglines “Buy Buy, Baby” and “Buy low, rise high” but was more comfortable with “Are you buying what we’re selling?”. His comment that they couldn’t get away with ‘something that someone like Coca-Cola would use’ is telling; it is still probably good advice to suggest that you try and push the boundaries as far as is reasonable but watch out for offending the more traditional thinkers out there.

Ask for help

Perhaps the most important point is that there is no ‘perfect’ ad. Different ads work for different reasons and some people just won’t even read your copy no matter what you do. Therefore it’s crucial to make use of as much knowledge as you can when writing your ad. If you know someone (colleague, friend etc) has had a similar role and recruited with some success for it, ask for tips. Re-use ads that work well for you to, changing just the most specific details. Ask for advice on phraseology, steal good ideas for taglines, openers and so on and use your synonym generator on Word to avoid repetition. Cheat, blag, steal and mimic; in the best advertising tradition you don’t need to be an expert to write effective copy, you just need to convince enough people you are.

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Anonymous said...

Good one!


James said...

Cheers Rithesh, glad you liked the post.

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Chrissy said...

Great info. Writing ads people will read can be tough online but your tips really do help! Thanks

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