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The Left Brain Of Paid Search Ads: Parameters & Limitations

As we’ve learned through this column, the three basic building blocks of paid search marketing are keywords, ads, and landing pages. For the next few posts, we’ll be focusing on the ads part of the equation. Next week, we’ll discuss the right brain of search—the creative side—but, first, you need to know the left brain’s parameters and restrictions of the medium.

Ad parameters

Ads can contain 25 characters for the title, 70 characters for the ad text and 35 characters for a display URL (all including spaces). On Google and Bing, this is displayed on four lines: a title, two lines of ad text (each with 35 characters), and a URL line. However, the format may differ on Google partner sites and other engines. For example, Yahoo combines the 70 characters of ad text into a single line rather than two. In each of the engine platforms, you will find an ad preview tool to see how your ad renders in the system.

For the most part, the engines do not allow unusual spellings, repetitive words (“We’re fast, fast, fast!”), double exclamation points or other visual gimmicks unless they are specifically part of your business name, and even then you’ll need special permission from the editorial team to use them. You can’t bold or italicize the font, but any keywords that were in a search query will automatically be bolded in your ad text. As well, the ad cannot contain any offensive or inappropriate language, be a duplicate of an ad in the same ad group, or use any general, non-specific call to action such as “click here.” You can use “buy direct” or “order today,” but the engines are on record as not being very warm with generic calls to action.

Display URL and landing page

Your display URL is what’s shown at the bottom of your ad, and doesn’t necessarily have to be the exact URL of the landing page the ad links to. However, your display URL must be very closely related to the actual domain of the destination URL. This policy originated to clean up some of the issues caused when scammers tried to fool users into thinking an ad represented the official site of a product/service because the display URL was the target company’s homepage. When a user clicks on an ad, the landing page must be working and not serve any pop-up ads.

A word about editorial approval

Don’t ever assume your ads are fully compliant and that they will breeze through approval. The engine teams are strict with the editorial approval process on your ads. Just know that it make take some engines several days to approve your ads so get them in early if you have a special, time-sensitive promotion to ensure that they’ll be displayed at that time. One of their main concerns is to have ads that are grammatically correct with proper spelling, spacing and punctuation. The ad space these engines are leasing out to your company is very valuable and they want to ensure that only high quality advertisements are displayed.


The engines can deny your ads approval simply because they are not relevant enough to your keywords or business. I’ve personally never had this issue, but it’s clearly stated that they have the final say and can withhold approval if they feel the relevancy isn’t there—especially if the ad could mislead or create the wrong impression with the user. The landing page must also be relevant to the ad text or you can be denied editorial approval.

Trademark terms

Currently, Google is the only of the top engines that allow advertisers to bid on competitor branded terms to trigger ads (in other words, you’re allowed to bid on trademarked keywords). However, none of the big three allow advertisers to use trademarked terms in the displayed ad text itself. The grayish area here is that it’s a self-moderating platform so a trademark holder has to file a grievance with Google to get them to pause ads using trademarks in their competitors’ accounts.

Note: if you are working with a company for the first time on their paid search campaign, make sure you have some sort of permission to use their trademarked terms. I’ve had the displeasure of launching an entire campaign only to have everything paused because I hadn’t filed the paperwork from my client to use their terms.

Prices, offers, awards, claims, etc.

The engines are very aware that some bad apples may try to scam their way to paid search success. If your ad includes a price, special discount or “free” offer, it must be clearly and accurately displayed on your website within one or two clicks of your ad’s landing page. Prices in your ad text must be accurate but can also apply to bulk purchases. If your ad text contains competitive language regarding other companies, specific support for this claim must be displayed on the landing page for your ad. You can offer support for your claim in a variety of ways such as a chart or table that compares the features and/or prices of your product versus your competitor’s product or a competitive analysis discussing why your product is superior.

If your ad contains the comparative or subjective phrases “best” or “#1,” verification by a third party must be clearly displayed on your website. Third-party verification must come from someone or some group unrelated to your site; customer testimonials do not constitute third-party verification.

Specific product/service issues

There are specialty categories of products and services that have their own type of editorial guidelines. For example, products such as tobacco, firearms, gambling, drugs, escort services and even fireworks are either strictly limited or prohibited on search engines. Some of the grayer areas include pharmaceutical manufacturers not being allowed to specifically mention the name of a drug without specific permission. If you’re handling an ad campaign for an industry that could be at all on the radar for these kinds of editorial issues, check with the engines before you start to make sure you stay compliant.

Sensitive issues

In doing research for this post, I found a Google AdWords “sensitive issues” policy that I didn’t know existed:

“To ensure a positive user experience and high quality standards in the advertising we provide, Google may disapprove ads relating to subjects that are deemed to be sensitive issues. Sensitive issues are usually identified in response to exceptional global events that cannot be predicted and therefore are not outlined here.

Events that may affect our sensitive issues policy include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Tragic occurrences
  • War/conflict

Ads for news sites and charitable/relief/aid organizations are generally permissible under this policy.”

Some of these rules may seem a bit Big Brotherish for a capitalist system, but ultimately, these ads run on Google’s pages and they’re certainly allowed control over what runs on their sites and network. What’s important for a search marketer is to know what the rules are and try to craft the best ads possible within the given parameters. Bottom line, keep your ads focused, relevant and professional. If you think there might be some editorial conflict at all with the industry which you’re working in, check with the engines individually. For example, Google has a specific department that can talk you through political related advertising on its platform.

Now that you know the rules, next week we’ll actually go into some of the right brain creative side to ads and begin the fun part of writing our own.

This week’s question: “What do you think are the most important things to remember when creating paid search ads?”

PPC Academy is a comprehensive, one-year search advertising course from beginning to end. Starting with the basics, PPC Academy progressively explores all of the varied facets of paid search, and the tactics needed to succeed and become an advanced paid search marketer.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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