In my last post I identified where paid ads display on the different search networks. This time I thought I'd create a brief outline of what the ads themselves actually look like, and explain some of the basic 'rules' associated with each search network.

Basically, all ads include three parts that you see, and one that you don't. The parts that we see displayed include Headline, one or two Description lines, and a Display URL. The part that we don't actually see is the Destination URL, which is not identical to the Display URL. It determines which page the searcher will land on when they click the ad (referred to as the landing page).

Simple enough? Well, yes, and no. There are rules that are applied to each of the ad lines, rules that control precisely just how many characters you have to work with. And the rules vary (although only slightly) across the different search networks. There's another blog post I'll have to put together to help you with writing the ad text. Also, the 'rules' I'm going to outline here are true on the search network. The content ads you see on other websites, may or may not follow these rules. Again, that's another post, but for this post I'm going to keep it as simple as I can.


The appearance of the ads will vary, depending on the location of the ad. The ads in the top three positions (those above the natural results) will appear in two lines with a Headline, above the Display URL and a single Description line:


Ads to the right of the natural results will appear with the Headline above two Description lines, which are above the Display URL:


Google gives you twenty-five (that's 25) characters to work with, including spaces, for the Headline. They give you 70 characters to work with for the Description, and 35 to work with for the Display URL. The Description gets tricky with Google because the Description is broken into two separate lines, limited to 35 characters each. So looking at the ad from in the example above, the description line has 64 characters, but they have to be broken into two lines. Were the ad to be on the right side of the natural results, it would display like this:

Rock Climbing Shoes [19 characters]
Find great gear for mountain and [32 characters]
rock climbing at Mountain Gear! [31 characters] [25 characters]


Again, as with Google, the appearance of the ad will vary depending on placement. The top three ads will display in three lines with the Headline above the Description, and the Display URL on a third line. (notice how the Display URL doesn't appear on the 2nd line, before the Description as it does in Google. But there is a difference beyond this one, and I'll discuss that in a little bit):


Ads to the right of the natural results will display just like they do on Google, with the Headline above two Description lines, which are above the Display URL:


Now for the bigger difference between Yahoo and Google. Yahoo's Headline gives you 40 characters to work with. The Headline in the REI ad reads "Rock Climbing Shoes at REI" - and that's 26 characters. Not so impressive at this point, but you could find a Headline that says "Buy Climbing Rock Shoes Today" which is 29, or even "Rock Climbing Shoes: Ships Free Next Day" which is 40 characters. Another difference is that Yahoo doesn't split the Description into two lines. You get 70 characters total, and they split the lines at natural line breaks for the ads on the right side of the page. At times their automatic line break can look unbalanced, but that is just something we don't have control over.


Microsoft adCenter follows pretty much the identical rules that Google wrote, same number of characters, Description line split into two lines etc, so I won't go in and do any further explanation on that one. However, the ads at the top display differently than on both Google and Yahoo. You'll find the Headline at the top, with the Display URL just to the right on the same line, with the two Description lines just below:


Ads that display on the right hand side look identical to, and follow identical rules as at Google:



So there you have it, a basic description of the 'rules' and screen shots of what the ads look like on the different search networks. The basic thing to remember is all ads have 3 visible components, Headline, Description and Display URL, and the invisible component, a Destination URL which determines the landing page. How many characters each network allows is varied, but only slightly, and it's really not a big deal to figure out the differences.

May 14, 2008

Diana Adams is a Pay-Per-Click Manager, SEO Specialist and all around "get-er-done" authority. Diana helps clients achieve high ROI with their PPC campaigns by providing detail oriented attention to their Pay-Per-Click ad management.

Outside the office, Diana enjoys rock climbing, skiing, hiking and camping, and has tried river kayaking. She and her husband were high school sweethearts, tying the knot 20 years later. They have five (nearly) grown children.


You failed to mention Google's new Display URL policy as the biggest separator between the three engines.

On Yahoo & MSN, they'll allow you to display "" as your display URL even if your domain is really "".....whereas on Google, you can have "widgets" in the display URL but you have to have the "" in there as well.

You're completely correct. There are many details I didn't mention as well, but since this was just a 'basic description' of the lines and not a how to write your ads, I figured I'd covered the basics.

Google does allow for a display URL such as you see used as for the MSN ad, ... Even though if you were to manually type in that URL you will get a page error.

In the examples of actual ads I used, I didn't grab any of the Google ads with longer display URLs. I just searched rock climbing shoes again, and I find (at the moment *I* looked) in the #3 position, and at #5.

Google doesn't allow you to mislead the searchers with a false URL, and are the root URL.

Hope that makes sense. Feel free to comment for clarification.

Thank you for explaining the differences between the different browsers. I would add one note. While Google et al. may allow you to change your display url, it has little value of it dilutes your brand name. If your company name or slogan is your domain name - than as a marketing professional, I recommend that you keep it. Trying to find a fancy display url might get you seen but will it get you customers? I have tried both as a test (remember you can have different versions of your ad) - the ad with the company served to get more response. LB

Lia - I've never specifically tested putting my company name in the display URL, because each of my client's URL does include their name.

What I have tested though is to append the display URL by adding the specific product.

In my screen shot examples (above) of searching for rock climbing shoes, only the ad used this technique, using, although if you do a search yourself, you may well find others use the technique.

I usually (although not always) find that will have a better CTR than the

A couple side notes:
1) If you are going to add the product after the URL, I'd recommend using a dash rather than an underscore for a space between words.
2) You're not always going to be able to add the product name at the end of your URL. Being limited to only 35 characters, if your site URL is long, you're not left with much space.
2a) If you are only one character over, instead of Climbing-Shoes, you might try ClimbingShoes, where you eliminate the dash and capitalize the first letter of then 2nd word.

One of my clients has a very long URL and I'm not able to work the product into the display URL.

Thanks for the comment Lia. :-)


Hi Diana,

We were just about to start our ad campaign and were grateful to find this article. It was an added bonus that it was so relevant to our shoes business. The subtleties you outline make such a huge difference in the visual appeal of the ad. The advice on URL character selection is also pivotal given the 35 char limit. In fact, we use Zappos and now understand how they refine their ads to be more relevant to the corresponding searches.


Owner, Trendy Shoes Shop

YAY Terry!

I'm glad you found the article to be useful for you. However I think rock climbing shoes are far from trendy.... :-P

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Search Engine Guide > Diana Adams > SEM Boot Camp - Paid Search Rules