HomeBlogHow Dopamine Can 3X Your AdWords CTR

How Dopamine Can 3X Your AdWords CTR

Author: Margot Whitney
Last Updated: December 4, 2022 | Paid Search Marketing

Whether or not you’re a scientifically educated individual, you are likely familiar with the celebrity of neurotransmitters, dopamine. Perhaps you recently experienced it when indulging in a pint of ice cream or a glass (or bottle) of wine – no judgement. Dubbed the “Kim Kardashian of molecules” by Vaughn Bell, dopamine is in the driver’s seat when it comes to human behavior.

Adwords CTR


According to Science News writer Bethany Brookshire, “Increases in dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens occur in response to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And dopamine signaling in this area is changed during the course of drug addiction. All abused drugs, from alcohol to cocaine to heroin, increase dopamine in this area in one way or another.”

Wait, so what does this have to do with AdWords? Well, we need to re-coin the phrase “sex sells” to “dopamine sells” because as dopamine spikes we become motivated to act; whether that be clicking, purchasing, or consuming, appealing to spikes in your buyers’ dopamine levels will increase their chances of completing a desired action.

How Does Dopamine Work?

Robert Sapolsky, neuroendocrinologist and professor of biology at Stanford University, studied a flock of monkeys to understand how dopamine works. The monkeys were introduced to three elements:

  • a signal = a light
  • work = pushing a button 10 times
  • a reward = bananas

Each monkey was trained that once the light goes on they must push the button 10 times in order to receive a banana. The team of scientists hypothesized that dopamine would spike after the reward was received, but the opposite occurred. Dopamine actually spiked when the signal went on and the work ensued, which shows that dopamine is more about the anticipation of pleasure than pleasure itself.

AdWords CTR graph showing how dopamine effects the brain


An even more fascinating result occurred when an element of uncertainty was introduced. By only giving the reward 50% of the time, dopamine spiked through the roof! Uncertainty seems to heighten anticipation!

AdWords CTR graph showing how dopamine spikes when uncertainty is introduced


How Can You Use Dopamine to Increase Your AdWords CTR’s?

How can we use this knowledge to impact ad CTR’s (click-through-rates) in AdWords? Well, the formula is simple: combine the two elements of anticipation of a reward with uncertainty to yield insanely high CTR’s.

AdWords CTR


Check out these two examples from WordStream customers, which each generated over 10,000 impressions and CTR’s as crazy-high as 45%. Yes, almost half of people who saw it clicked it! But what do these ads have in common? They both combine the elements of building up anticipation to a reward (a discount for their products) as well an elements of uncertainty (including “ends soon” so shoppers learn they may miss out on these hot deals if they don’t act fast).


AdWords CTR example of ad customizers

2 AdWords CTR Dopamine Hacks!

So how can marketers scale this across all ads? Limited time offers and sales promoted in ads are only going to yield actual return if the clicker is directed to the sale advertised. Otherwise marketers will be stuck with an expensive AdWords bill with no new shoppers to prove its worth…

Hack #1: Ad Customizers

Introducing ad customizers! Ad customizers are no longer a “new” feature; they’ve been around for a year plus, yet many advertisers are still failing to make use of these powerful urgency-creating, dynamically-updating snippets of code. Ad customizers work by updating your ad in real time without having to move a muscle. Whether it be counting down to a one-time sale, promoting a recurring event, or running a limited-time discount, there is so much you can do to create urgency, anticipation, and uncertainty with your ads without having to manually update them day after day.


AdWords CTR example of ad customizers

Hack #2: Combine Ad Customizers with Call-Only Campaigns

An even greater hack to spike dopamine while yielding conversions faster? Combining call-only campaigns with ad customizers. Genius, right? For those of you unaware, call-only campaigns cut out the leakiest part of the conversion funnel: the landing page. These campaigns are solely for mobile, replacing the headline of your ad with a clickable phone number directing to your business. Since phone calls are 3X more valuable the website visits, this is a great way to ensure you talk to leads while they’re hot!

As ad customizers spike your readers dopamine through the roof, call-only headlines will act as a means of spurring your searchers to action even faster and leading them even further down the funnel. Wouldn’t you rather have leads get directed right to a sales rep rather than having to nurture them through a tedious string of form fill-outs, emails, and other touch points?

To sum up, if you want to increase your AdWords CTR’s and PTR’s (phone-through-rates) make your searchers anticipate something while still leaving a bit of mystery in the mix. Ad customizers and call-only campaigns will help automate this process as well as allow leads to connect with you faster.

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Meet The Author

Margot Whitney

Margot is a content marketing specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking.

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