Anecdotes Will Kill Your Search Ad Conversion Rates

I’ve said before that human beings are very story-oriented.

Most of us aren’t riveted by logic, facts, and data. We like stories because we think in terms of motivations, goals, and struggles.

With that in mind, you might think that a personal story or anecdote is the best way to take advantage of search engine advertisements.

You would be wrong.

Very wrong.

In a review of 14 scientific studies that compared the persuasiveness of various kinds of evidence, anecdotal evidence was found to be the absolute worst choice.

While we as humans might be able to relate to stories better than just about anything else, that doesn’t mean they’re especially convincing.

At least, not in the sentence or two that you can fit into a search engine ad.

So what should you do instead?

A team of researchers explored exactly that with a split-testing experiment. They ran 4 different versions of two different advertisements, and compared the click through rates and conversion rates for each version.

Here are the four versions for one of the two ads, selling a travel insurance product:

  • Statistical evidence: “Buy your continuous travel insurance for just 2.09 euro a month”
  • Expert evidence: “The most flexible travel insurance according to the Consumer Guide”
  • Causal evidence: “Arrange everything now online and all your holidays are always insured”
  • Control condition (no evidence): “Buy your travel insurance at XXX travel insurers”

In the study, they didn’t even bother testing anecdotal evidence, citing the research I mentioned above, which shows that anecdotes are less persuasive than any of the other options.

So which kind of evidence worked best?

Looking at the click through rate, it was a statistical tie between statistical and expert evidence. So if you want to get as many clicks out of your ad as possible, you should either give searchers a number to latch onto, or cite an award or accreditation you have to brag about.

But is the click through rate what you really care about?

Unless you’re just trying to maximize the amount visitors to your site, click through rate alone isn’t actually all that big a deal.

Conversions are what really matter.

And here’s where things get interesting.

Even though statistical and expert evidence got the highest click through rates, they didn’t get the highest conversion rate.

Surprisingly, that honor goes to causal evidence.

In fact, the conversion rate was so much higher that it more than made up for the low click through rate. Causal evidence created more overall conversions than any of the other options.

In fact, none of the other options did any better than the ad with no evidence at all.

So, if you want to maximize things that actually matter, like revenue, causal evidence is the way to go. Unfortunately, it’s also the least self-explanatory.

What is Causal Evidence?

Statistical evidence and expert evidence are easy to explain, and pretty much define themselves. Causal evidence is a bit different.

Causal evidence is all about explanation. Instead of focusing on easy-to-identify cues like a number or an authority, it’s about getting the searcher to understand the point you’re trying to make.

To be more specific to search engine advertising, your advertisement should focus on what clicking the link is going to do for them. In a sense, it’s the most pragmatic of the options. It communicates the value of the product by explaining exactly how it is going to affect the searcher’s life.

When it comes to actually selling things, that’s the kind of argument you want to be making.

Examples

For a few examples of causal evidence, I thought I’d do a few searches and find some examples live in the wild, but I couldn’t actually find any. Surprisingly, it’s very hard to find examples of this being done right.

For example, this ad might seem like it’s using causal evidence, but it’s really just listing a feature:

Why isn’t this causal evidence? Because there’s no discussion of cause and effect. We don’t know why it’s easy to use or fast, and there’s no discussion of how this is going to impact the searcher.

Let’s compare this to the ad copy used in the experiment:

“Arrange everything now online and all your holidays are always insured”

This copy specifically tells us that arranging things now will cause your holidays to always be insured. Here’s the other example they used in the experiment:

“Buy your electronic product here safe with iDEAL and experience no risks”

Again, here we see that buying the electronic product with iDEAL will cause you to experience no risks.

This approach is seldom used. So, instead, I’ve decided to look at a few ads and suggest an alternate version.

Here’s an example:

This one comes so close, but no cigar. The issue here is that the existence of 3D BIM tools doesn’t really explain why this would cause us to have a better building process. Here is what I might have tried instead:

“Use engineering software with 3D BIM tools and communicate ideas visually”

Here’s another example:

This one from Digital Sherpa comes very close, but it would probably be more effective if it were worded something like this:

“Get this free eBook and learn the most important SEO tips”

One more example:

I’d say stick with one point or the other, and support it with causal evidence, like this:

“Choose from the nation’s largest selection and get the fan that fits your home”

It might seem redundant with some of these ads to explain the cause and effect relationship. Don’t consumers already know that a large selection means you will find a better fit for your home?

Of course they do.

But that’s not the point. Consumers aren’t looking for a list of features. They’re looking for a reason to buy something. And that’s not quite the same thing. Don’t ask consumers to make the connection for you.

Spell it out for them.