98% Of Your Paid Ads Are A Colossal Waste of Money [Videos]

bad message match
Stop, go, what? Are you paying money to confuse your visitors? Stop it! Now.

That statistic is probably quite shocking, and it should be. Paid advertising is in a shocking state.

As a remedy for the pain, I’m going to share two very simple and fundamental aspects of successful marketing that a shamefully large number of experienced marketers like you and I are still screwing up.

I say you and I, but that’s just being nice. I don’t screw it up. You wouldn’t listen to me if I did.


What happens when your pay-per-click ads suck?


The costs get so prohibitive that you stop doing it. And no number of free $100 coupons will save your bad marketing practices.

Bad marketing will always fail. But if you’re doing good marketing for a good product or service, yet not quite achieving the success you want, then you will be ahead of 98% of the marketing world by the time you finish this post.

First things first…

Admit it. You’re doing it wrong.

I can hear you now…

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the fundamentals. In fact I’ve got 5 years experience with AdWords.”

Yet despite all of this knowledge and experience, you’re still doing it wrong.

It probably sounds like I’m having a go at you. I’m not. I’m simply sharing the research I’ve done which shows that virtually *everyone* is doing it wrong.


You’re not applying the two pillars of a successful PPC campaign:

  1. Pillar One – Attention Ratio

  2. Pillar Two – Message Match

I don’t care how good you are at AdWords management or ad writing.

If you don’t understand attention ratio and message match, you are doing it wrong, and your ads are under performing as a result.

Just like 98% of all AdWords marketers.

So where did I get this outlandish stat from? I’ll explain that in a minute.

First, some definitions.

PPC Success Pillar #1 – Attention Ratio

Attention ratio is the ratio of interaction points (links) to the number of calls to action on any given page. On a homepage this is typically around 40:1 meaning that there are 39 distracting actions and 1 desired action. A focused landing page on the other hand has an attention ratio of 1:1.

Watch this video where I explain (and demonstrate) what attention ratio is, and how it can impact your campaign performance.

As a recap of the video, take a look at the diagrams below. The homepage is based on Virgin Mobile USA and it has 57 links on the page. If the campaign you’re promoting with your PPC ads is “Promo 2” (highlighted in red) then not only will it be hard to find amidst all the clutter (the attention ratio is 57:1), there are so many competing elements that your prospect will either hit the back button or click on another of your promos.

Attention ratio of a homepage

What’s wrong with them clicking another promo? Surely a sale is a sale. NO. If they don’t interact with the campaign you’re promoting your AdWords statistics will reflect a failure as “Promo 2” wasn’t the one that converted.

Next, take a look at the landing page below. It’s very clear that there is only one thing to do here, so the attention ratio is a perfect 1:1.

Attention ratio on a landing page

Using a campaign-specific landing page for your ad campaigns is the first step to success, but in and of itself, it will only improve the attention ratio. If you don’t improve the message match you will still fail, just not as much.

PPC Success Pillar #2 – Message Match

Message match is a measure of how well your landing page headline matches the call-to-action that was clicked to arrive on your landing page. For paid ads, this is the headline of the ad.

How hard is that?!

It’s not hard at all. Which is why it blows my mind that so many people are missing the boat.

Follow through on your ad’s promise. Maintain the scent. Match the message.

Looking for extra help in creating your ads? Get the message right. Every. Single. Time. Try Smart Copy’s ad text generator today and see the results yourself.

Question 1: What’s the best way to match the message?

Again it’s dead simple. Use a dedicated and focused landing page for your ad. If you point your ad at your website’s homepage you’re doing it wrong. Again.

Question 2: What’s wrong with my homepage?

Your homepage has a general purpose, and that’s to communicate the unique selling proposition (USP) for your brand in general.

A landing page on the other hand, is designed for a Unique Campaign Proposition (UCP). This is an incredibly important differentiation, as you’re going to have many campaigns, each of them with a different agenda, and each of them requiring its own unique headline.

A homepage simply isn’t the appropriate place to send your ad traffic as you can’t change your headline to reflect your UCP without having a big impact on your USP.

Design match (or visual match)

Another aspect of message match is what’s known as design match. If your ad is visual, such as a display ad or a Facebook ad – that has a graphical component to it, you need to follow the design of your ad through to the landing page. The stronger the design of your landing page matches the design of the ad, the stronger the design match will be.


Images are processed in your brain faster than words. Therefore, if the primary visual on your landing page (the hero shot) or a background image, is the same as your ad visual, your visitors will make a quicker connection. Again, this creates confidence that your visitors are in the right place.

An Example of Message Match

Consider the example below.

Your ad looks like this:

Project Management Software Without Deadlines
Remove the fear of deadlines from your projects, and start
delivering as late as you want to. Deadlines are dead.

If this is sent to a homepage, the target headline may look something like this:

Get More Projects Done With Less Management

This is a good headline for expressing the brand value proposition, but it doesn’t match the ad at all.

Result? Bad message match.

The correct headline in this instance would be:

Project Management Software Without Deadlines

Result. It matches the headline (CTA) of the ad perfectly, and thus it’s great message match.

Ding, ding, ding. Got it yet?

Okay. Now you know what it is, and how it works, what does it do for you?

The 3 Impacts of Good Message Match

There are three impacts of good message match:

  1. More successful campaignsSounds overly simplistic to say “more successful”, but when visitors are instantly reaffirmed that they can get what they came for – because the headline matches the link (or ad) they came from – they are more likely to remain on your page.Think of it like an elevator pitch.Your headline is the foot in the door you need to allow you to pitch your product. If it’s a strong match to your ad, your visitor will proceed past your headline and on to the rest of your page content: the elevator pitch itself.This will lead to higher conversions and, as a result, a higher return on investment (ROI) for your marketing campaigns.You heard me.
  2. Better UX (User Experience) means better ad price and positionThe success of your campaign also leads to lower ad prices and better ad positions. This is because Google starts building a history of your success. With poor message match, there will be a higher bounce rate which is interpreted by Google as a poor user experience – which you get dinged for.The stronger your message match is, the better the user experience is – making your account history more positive, lowering your costs.Love the experience.
  3. Less work for OliLess work because I won’t have to work so damn hard and click on so many ads in order to find a good example of message match.#firstworldproblems

98% of Marketers are Doing it WRONG!

Okay, now it’s time to explain that horrible stat.

To explore how well marketers are applying the principle of good message match, I did a simple – albeit tedious – exercise that you should all try.

I clicked on 300 paid ads, and recorded the number that used focused landing pages to present strongly matched headlines.

What I saw was a huge $#^#&$! indictment of the state of online advertising.

To demonstrate, I’ll show you a series of searches that went like this:

Google search »ad click » landing page experience

Remember, a landing page is any page you land on. A good landing page is campaign specific.

Searching for black shoes online

Scenario: You’re going to a wedding and want some black shoes. You’ve heard good things about ordering online so you search for this:

Search for “buying black shoes online”

Now watch this video. Warning, if you are squeamish, you might want to get a barf bucket ready…

Arg, that was awful! Let’s try again, with a more specific search:

Search for “project management software for teams”

That time we at least saw some landing pages being used, improving what I call the attention ratio. But the message match was awful.

What Does GOOD Message Match Look Like?

Now let’s look at some good examples of message match. First up is an example based on a search query of “packaging design”.

One of the paid ads looked like this:

good message match ad

Now the landing page that you are taken to:

good message match landing page


Notice how the headline of the landing page matches the ad headline perfectly. One thing that would make the landing page even stronger would be if the CTA on the ad “Start your new design project today” was replicated on the button on the landing page. That would be a super awesome message match.

What does GREAT message match look like?

A Facebook ad example

Now let’s take a look at a Facebook ad. The interesting thing with Facebook is that it combines copy with imagery, so you have to start considering both message match and design match.

Here’s the ad:

great message match ad

And here’s the landing page:

great message match landing page

This is a very impressive example. The ad headline is matched perfectly on the landing page. The ad subhead is matched perfectly on the landing page. And the wee dude in the ad is matched perfectly on the landing page.

This is how message match is supposed to be done. Well played, RBC, well played.

HOWEVER. Take a look at the landing page in detail. There are still too many things to do.

Count them:

  1. Link: You only pay for what you use
  2. Link: Chat Live
  3. Link: Apply Online
  4. Link: Learn more
  5. Button: Apply Now

Attention ratio 5:1.

To improve this, the different options for applying could be on the next page. And the CTA would be a lot clearer if it was designed to have a strongly contrasting button color.

In Summary

You can see from all of the poor examples I’ve presented that attention ratio and message match are a huge problem for marketers. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Follow the guidelines I’ve laid out and you’ll quickly start to turn your campaigns around and get a higher return on your AdWords investment.

If you have some examples to share or would like me to critique your own ads and landing pages for attention ratio and message match, throw them into the comments.

About Oli Gardner
Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He’s obsessed with identifying and reversing bad marketing practices, and his disdain for marketers who send campaign traffic to their homepage is legendary, resulting in landing page rants that can peel paint off an unpainted wall. A prolific international keynote speaker, Oli is on a mission to rid the world of marketing mediocrity by using data-informed copywriting, design, interaction, and psychology to create a more delightful experience for marketers and customers alike. He was recently named the "The 2018 Marketer to Watch," in the under 46 category, by his mother.
» More blog posts by Oli Gardner


  1. Dion Swift

    Some great info there and definately something that a lot of PPC advertisers get wrong, but it’s only solving half the problem.

    Most PPC advertisers can’t write AD COPY THAT SELLS, and even when they do get the headline right matching it to the keyword they are are targeting becomes another nightmare in itself especially if they are trying to squeeze into a saturated market.

    It’s true landing pages play a part in the PPC advertisers campaign but it’s just one of many factors which can lead to failure or success.

    • Oli Gardner

      Hi Dion,
      Yep, you’re absolutely right. Copywriting is probably the single hardest thing for PPC.

      My point with this post is that before you can even think about the style and content of your writing, you need to be 100% familiar with the fundamentals, so that when you do write exceptional ad/landing page copy – you are in the best possible position for success.

  2. Michael

    Great post!!!! I cannot tell you how many times I see an ad that I actually click on and it takes me to some landing page that is either a generic home page or a poorly designed landing page that seems irrelevant to the ad. I look around for a short bit and when I can’t find what was advertised in the ad I exit. Happens all the time on Facebook ads. What a waste of money.

  3. Michael Peterson

    Oli, Can you build us a landing page for our current site .. We would like to replace our current Google strategies – Email me please

    • Oli Gardner

      Hi Michael,
      At Unbounce we don’t offer that service, but if you have an account with us, you can contact support@unbounce.com and they will be able to recommend some service providers.

    • Finge

      Hi Michael. I can help you out if you’re interested. We build high performing landing pages using Unbounce, Get in touch.

      Oli, fantastic post! Love it.

  4. Steve

    Great topic…excellent examples and it grabbed my attention. Now it’s implementation time.

  5. Byron Hardie

    Thanks Oli. We could all be reminded of the basics of proper UX and Interaction design relating to Calls-To-Action, eliminating distraction, and maintaining the “scent” through the navigational process.

    This should be taken vary seriously because this DOES NOT just relate to PPC ads but web design as well. What is the PURPOSE for the page and what do you want the user to do? Remove or de-emphasize anything that would distract from that objective.

    Nice article!

    • Oli Gardner

      Absolutely spot on Byron. Information scent has always been a staple in the UX world, but sadly not in marketing. Time for a change.

  6. Stephen Murphy

    Well written post, but it relies too much on the assumptions that your methods are hands-down more effective (i.e. low attention ratio better than multiple ctas).

    It also assumes that your target customers all act the same way – one subset might take one click to convert, while others prefer 2-3 clicks.

    I agree with your points logically, but sometimes logic doesn’t prevail when you look at the numbers. I’d love to see real conversion tests that back up these assumptions.

    Good thought provoking material.

    • Oli Gardner

      If people need several clicks then you would use a click-through landing page to push them on to the next step. Your goal with any page should be to communicate just enough to get the conversion.

      Any distractions on your page will water down your intent.

    • Finge

      Hi Stephen. Putting that to an A/B test would give you a fairly quick backup to Oli’s post. He did not write this post based on assumptions ;-)

  7. Priya Florence Shah

    This is excellent advice and I love the way you’ve interspersed it with precise examples that illustrate the points you’ve made. A very well-written and insightful post.

  8. Peter

    Hi Oli,

    thanks for great examples and how people don’t do it properly so many times.

    I am wondering how this works for authority sites where traffic comes from various keywords I have three information products but as you said you can’t sell on the main page.

    Should I give people the choice on the homepage to opt for one of three product sales pages and sell it then there with a high attention ratio optimized sales page?.

    What do you suggest?


    • Gene

      Just make a page for each product. Your landing pages don’t have to do anything with your home page. You can still list all of your products on your home page and not once link to your landing pages.

    • Oli Gardner

      As Gene said, you should still have your products on your site. Whether it’s on the homepage or not depends on how focused your overall brand message is.

      It’s not typical to set up landing pages for organic search, just for marketing campaigns coming from PPC, email, display etc.

  9. David Rothwell

    Excellent post!

    There’s something that comes even before any of it.

    I’ve been managing Client AdWords campaigns since 2005,

    There’s a question I still find every advertiser can’t answer (and is never even asked if Agency managed).

    It’s this: “How much can you spend on AdWords clicks to buy a sale, without losing money?”

    Until a prospective Client can answer that, I can’t and won’t manage their account.

    So I invented a calculator to do it.

  10. Russell

    You are still the king.

    We struggled with this for more than a year, with a 4-5 figure monthly budget. We hired some of the best PPC talent we could find.

    Guess what?

    Not a single one even mentioned anything like this. Twas (finally, got to use that) all about casting the net as wide as possible for as cheap as possible and then hope for the best.

    Oye, Oli, Oye…

    • Oli Gardner

      Thanks Russell!

      Yikes, that sounds like a PPC nightmare. Shows how little some consultants really know.

  11. Clickport

    Great read, thanks Oli! We are managing Adwords accounts for our clients in Germany and I would say, the german market is even worse. At best 1% of the campaigns bother with message match and attention ratio, the rest is a huge mess.


  12. Matteo

    Very interesting read and good (theoretical) advices.
    However, it seems that you’re describing just an ideal world. How often can you apply these LP optimization suggestions in real life? Often there are no resources to do so (time, budget, IT complexity… will all play against you), even if that would be the right thing to do on a long term. I’m not so sure it would be feasible for accounts running a lot of campaigns to have optimized LPs for all the ads (especially for long tail keywords)…


    Oli, can this really be true. Yikes. Anyway, really got a lot out of your presentation. Very informative with great and compelling insights. Thanks so much.

  14. Martin

    so if message match is that important, why doesn’t Amazon do it?

  15. Aqib

    Informative guide explained with best examples, now it’s time to try out this method. I would like to thanks for sharing this article.

  16. Radhakrishnan KG

    Loved it, Oli. Yet another reason to use Unbounce landing pages!

  17. Udy

    Hi Oli, great post.
    My question is whether you have a proof that campaigns who adhere to these two (very important) guidelines, do in fact succeed better?

    • SiteBetter

      I believe that’s the whole point of Unbounce. They test, test and test again. I think if any other scenario were tested and did better than what was stated in this piece, you would be reading a post about that.

  18. June

    I’m going to start matching today, make a 5 day campaign for SWS.

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  21. BorG

    I love the idea of the 1:1 Ratio but I worry that some people just like to look elsewhere on the website to get a feel for the company personality, maybe the ‘meet the team’ page or they may want to read a case study or two.

    Even the different calls to action such as Live Chat, Contact Form, Buy Now button all have their place (in my mind) otherwise some visitors may bounce off the site in search of the CTA they desire.

  22. Garrin

    Can you *please* make these articles printer-friendly?

  23. Vinodh Ramakannan

    Crystal clear as to how a landing page should be designed. Recently started using unbounce and already loving it. Thanks Oli for the article.

  24. Ryan

    Thanks for the great info and I will definitely implement this lesson into my PPC/LP work.

    My question to you is, do we need to tediously create landing pages for each individual ad? I don’t know how else I would ensure content matching.

    • Octafian

      Good question. What’s your experience with PPC/LP since reading this?

  25. Jason

    Is this advice still relevant? I’m a novice, and I’m trying to decide whether or not to follow the recommendations herein – since the post is several years old. I don’t see any companies in my industry using this method, which may actually put me ahead of the curve in my local area.

    Thank you!

  26. Leonardo De Santi

    Great article! I’ve particularly appreciated at the end the stress to replicate the CTA along the page scroll. Something that in my humble opinion is underrated.

  27. Ratko Ivanović

    Great post! It’s actually quite interesting, a marketer is basically a communicator, and a communicator works best when they supply information in a way that the next piece of info links directly to the previous. But people forget this primary concept of communication :)

  28. Bryon Miller

    Interesting read. I’m suprised that advertising works at all. I’ve been using the internet since prior to the WWW going main stream. Maybe it’s because that’s when I started, but I block out all advertising mentally. I pay no attention to it at all, I find it intrusive and I started using adblockers when the ads started to degrade the actual performance of websites and other services. I tried adwords, but not on the display network. I’m selling cookie cutters, my ads pointed directly to product pages for the item that was advertised. The CTA button was a purchase button. The campaign was completely inneffective, a huge waste of money and time. Bing was exactly the same. I’m sure the lack of images was a major detractor to my campaign. But more importantly, I don’t believe many people respond to ads. I am willing to bet that most people asking within their own circle if anyone responds to those ads, the overwhelming majority will say that they always ignore the ads. With that said and the popularity of sites like Youtube with tons of intrusive video ads that show up in the middle of viewing, I absolutely believe the use of adblockers are on the rise like an epidemic.

    Honestly, how many people here reading this article actually respond to ads? I don’t mean doing research to write an article like this, but to actually give a conversion to the website that posted the ad. I can say I have never responded to them and nobody in my social circle responds to them, but we’re from that microcomputer revolution era and perhaps the kids born into the world of high speed internet and mobile devices act differently? I’ve wasted plenty of money on ads, and until someone can guarantee some sort of ROI I refuse to waste the money. You’d be better off with optomized SEO for organic placement IMHO.

  29. Royal Yachts

    Interesting Article. Clearly mentioned about the points to be considered in landing page design.

  30. person

    I wonder how all those hundreds of thousands of people feel that you stole their marketing money by clicking on their ad with no intent to buy but just to write a story?

  31. Johannes Maliranta

    Great post about an important subject I have previously read about in one of your ebooks and listened to in one of your great webinars!

    There is one question I’ve had for some time now about the attention ratio of a landing page:

    You claim that the attention ratio of the homepage example, which was based on Virgin Mobile USA, has attention ratio of 57:1. You count every link on the page and give them the same visual hierarchy and weight, when in fact a large CTA in the best spot, above the fold, has a lot more weight than pretty much any other link on the page. I would argue that if the CTA that captures the visitors eye first and already has the information the visitor came for, they would continue through the funnel from there.

    My question is: shouldn’t the attention ratio be calculated in a different way? As the visitors won’t pay as much attention to every single link anyway.

    I do agree on the fact that a landing page should only contain one CTA and you should pay attention to attention ratio on even homepages. I hate clutter myself both as a designer and especially as an Internet user. I want everything to be made easy for me. Designers should work so the visitors wouldn’t need to.

  32. Albert Garcia

    Hello Oli,
    I am blown out of the water with Unbounce and your professional experience, I have run My own campaigns for over three years and done my own web designs, PPC and SEO, learning on the way and all the time. Last Year I spent over 9K hiring companies to run my PPC and SEO campaigns, Some of them created their own web site version etc, and thus far all have failed. I have currently a company running my campaign and using their own design Web site. it is going slow but seems like its beginning to work. I am advertising in Google and Bing, and Do see that the bounce rate is about 50% in Google and not sure how high in Bing, so I decided to Join Unbounce. I will be finishing my new Landing page design in a few more days and Using the Unbounce principles I have learned in the training. I think my case will be a good sample case for these principles. I will be posting the Landing page soon and would appreciate if you and the friends of this Blog could do a friendly critique and suggestions in how to Improve it. I am taking the training as I am working in the design, once the Landing page is finished I will explain what my business is and the challenges I have and How we go about running the business as well as my experiences before and after. I hope you take the challenge and Help me out to prove your point.
    Thank you,

  33. DWS

    I didn’t read any of that. Too many lists and too many videos that no one will ever click on or care about. Sorry, but the Internet has rewired our brains and shortened our attention spans.

  34. Mighil Puthukkudy

    Can you *please* make these articles printer-friendly? (2)