The Art of Writing Killer Inline Text Ads to Build Email Circulation

Turning portal readers into email subscribers with text ads


 For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

This short story, allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway to settle a bet, is the soul of brevity, yet is has the power to evoke curiosity and emotion.

It should serve to inspire every modern direct response copywriter.

Why? Because at no other time in history has the ability to write very short, succinct copy been more valuable.

 “Melts in Your Mouth…Not in Your Hand”

This headline, written more than 50 years ago by the legendary Rosser Reeves, created so much appetite for M&M’s chocolate candy that they had to build a new factory to meet demand.


Fast forward to today: Billions of dollars are being generated on the web with small text ads — perhaps as much as $100 billion annually. The type of text ads I refer to now are not the ones paid for in Pay-Per-Click, but the ones we use on our own websites for audience development are just as important – and the focus of this post.

It’s true. In the new world of digital marketing, text ads have now surpassed display ads as the most effective and widely used online advertising medium.

High-design, long-text, hard-to-produce display ads are dead. Less is more. Short-attention-span text ads work.

Text ads are the new control.

The result: Copywriting now reigns supreme. If you want a click, or if you want someone to download a product in exchange for their email address, even if it’s free, you have to work for it.

How We Use Inline Text Ads / Text Includes Online


Although a text ad could refer to any ad consisting of text, we’re currently referring to those that are part of your conversion architecture. These ads are placed in the dead center of all your posts and invite your website visitors to download a free product that will get them on your email list.

All Mequoda Systems incorporate inline text ads in their posts, which point readers to a free downloadable product that is aligned with the topic of the post.

To save time in writing new text ads every day, Mequoda Systems clients have a plug-in we developed called the Mequoda Text Include Manager, which allows operators a one-time set up of text ads to use in multiple posts. These ads aren’t recognized as such by Google because there’s no ad code, which means it can’t be blocked. When Google reads the page, the copy is part of the page just like the rest of the article.

Since most reading this aren’t Mequoda clients, you can ask your own developers to come up with a plug-in or workaround that builds in this same functionality. One WordPress plugin available that offers basic text ad functionality is WP-Insert.

The key is to have a free downloadable product for each category of your portal. That way, your text ads will always promote a free download that’s on a similar topic to the portal post they’re reading. For example, below is our text ad for this category:


The Art of Writing Inline Text Ads


If you’re selling anything online, or trying to build an email list, or just expecting people to click on your social media links, you must become an expert at writing text ads that attract reader attention, communicate a succinct message, and persuade the user to take immediate action.

And you must do all that in a very limited number of words. The harsh discipline of writing for a very constrained space forces you to produce the best work you’ve ever created.

Writing text ads is not particularly difficult. But it is different from what you may think … and it is a rare skill.

If you’ve been trained in a traditional ad agency, where display advertising was the norm … where copywriters reported to art directors … you’re in for a surprise.

If you were trained in long-form direct response copywriting, you have a new skill set to master.

The inline ads that drive millions of dollars in product sales are text ads. They’re generally a captivating headline, a couple of lines of benefit-laden body copy, and a call to action — the same as Google AdWords.

The same goes for building an email list. The text ads that drive millions of email subscribers are also text ads, in the same format.

The same skills needed to write an inline text ad in an email newsletter or portal post are those you need to write a 95-character Google AdWords text ad, or a 140-character Twitter message, or an effective, 40-55-character email subject line.

As with any online ad that you want someone to click, there are three basic rules:

1. Don’t give everything away in the ad. Is your text ad sufficiently intriguing to prompt the recipient to click your link? Or do you “give away” the entire take-away in the text ad, diminishing the subscriber’s incentive to download your free product?

2. Don’t trick subscribers into clicking your link. Mystery is a good thing, but make sure not to cross the line of “tricking” your readers into clicking your ad for a download that’s not in line with what you’re promising them. The email text ad is not creative if it prompts the recipient to click your ad, but subsequently disappoints, confuses, or worse, alienates the user.

3. Keep the download relevant to the category you’re publishing in. If your free download is about kayaking, don’t publish a text ad with copy solely about fishing, even if the download is about using the kayak to get to the fishing venue.

The Successful Investor, a savvy Mequoda operator, uses text ads flawlessly. Inside each editorial article, they include text links that bring the reader to an RCLP. The text ads are inserted one-third through the article (hence the interruption). They are also aligned with whatever category that the article is in. The key is alignment; you want the report being given away and the article to be aligned, which works best with an automated text include manager.

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Many of our clients are also replacing freebie text ads with paid product text ads once a known user returns to the site. Here is an example of a paid ad from Cabot Wealth Network, and we love the graphic treatment that draws your eye in.

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As part of our basic SEO best practices, we tell publishers to create a new text include ad for every free download they produce. The secret to writing them is that there isn’t any one secret: test, test and test again.

Some sources for your text ad may come from copy that’s already in your landing page. For example, when our How to Use Contrast Pricing to Increase Subscription Revenue handbook came out, I used its landing page to come up with these five text ads:

  • The only guide to subscription website pricing based on real case studies is now available. Download now.

There are no formulas or special tricks other than playing with your copywriting technique and seeing which one gets the most clicks and downloads.

For every free download you create, come up with five different text ads you can use in your articles to provoke downloads. Use tracking codes on each of them and find the three that work best, then add two more until you narrow down which reigns supreme and then stick with that one.

If you’re looking for more advice on building a bigger audience using the Mequoda Method, please schedule some time with our Chairman & CEO, Don Nicholas today.

    Amanda M.

    Hi Jennifer, I think you’re confusing our definition of text ads. As explained in the article:

    “Although a text ad could refer to any ad consisting of text, we’re currently referring to those that are part of your conversion architecture. These ads are placed in the dead center of all your articles and invite your website visitors to download a free product that will get them on your email list.”

    Hope that clarifies things.

    Jennifer M.

    If you’re such an expert on text ads how come you never mentioned classified advertising even once?


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