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3 Best Practices for Avoiding SEM Ad Fatigue With Examples

November 30th, 2023 | 6 min. read

By Kim Kovelle

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A man wearing hypnosis gimmick glasses stares at his phone screen, a victim of ad fatigue

As humans, we naturally ignore repetitive stuff. Things can quickly become “background noise.” It’s like getting “highway brain” along long stretches of unchanging freeway scenery.

This applies to search engine marketing ads too. SEM ad fatigue is real. Whether those ads are text-based or designed with images, people tune out if they see them too many times. Worse? 91% say ads are getting more intrusive. They’re now even able to block them out — literally.

SEM ads are a powerful marketing tool, but making them effective requires variety, compelling messages and not overserving them. It’s a balancing act we understand well at Zoe Marketing & Communications, where we’ve delivered digital marketing for 15+ years.

Here, we give an overview of what ad fatigue is and deliver three ways to avoid it, including:

  1. Updating ad copy and visuals
  2. A/B testing and refining your audience targeting
  3. Using ad schedulers and monitoring campaigns regularly

After exploring these solutions — including good and bad examples for each — you’ll better understand how to prevent SEM ad fatigue. And you’ll be able to explore your next steps.


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What ad fatigue is and what the stakes are

Ad fatigue is a phenomenon that occurs when people see the same ad too many times. It’s similar to repeatedly hearing the same song or eating the same food. We get tired of it.

Best case, folks start to tune the ads out. Worst case, they’re actively turned off by them.

The bottom line, though, is your prospects start to lose interest — even if they found your ads appealing the first few times. Ad fatigue can lead to:

  • Decreased engagement, including fewer ad click-throughs and conversions
  • Increased costs as ads’ effectiveness drop
  • Audience irritation, which can damage your reputation long-term

The good news? 83% of people agree not all ads are bad, a HubSpot survey found — but 56% say the ones they see “insult their intelligence.” Ouch. This means there’s both hope and room to improve our ads to avoid that dreaded ad fatigue (and annoyance).

3 best practices to avoid SEM ad fatigue

So let’s focus on some solutions for digital ads created with Google Ads, in particular.

Bypass SEM ad fatigue by updating your ad creative, refining your A/B testing and targeting, and scheduling and monitoring campaigns.

1. Update ad copy and visuals 🎨

SEM can include text-based ads or display (image-based) ads. Periodically refreshing both styles’ text and design elements can reengage people who might be zoning out.

🎨 How to do it

  • Alter the wording, tone and visual components of your ads
  • Experiment with shorter, punchier, compelling writing
  • Try new CTA (call to action) language, such as “Buy Now” or “Don’t Miss Out” 
  • Tweak the message to highlight a new aspect of what you offer
  • Use AI tools like ChatGPT to generate copy ideas
  • Change your ads’ color scheme periodically
  • Align your changes with current trends or seasonal events

🎨 When to do it

Ideally, these refreshes should happen every 30-60 days — 90 days at absolute max. This keeps your ads dynamic and more likely to capture and retain your audience’s attention.

🎨 Example: A college prep program

Say a high school focuses on college prep, even allowing students to earn an associate’s degree. Let’s look at a few change approaches that shake up language and consider seasons.

  • Designed display ad, version 1
    • Main copy: “Accelerate Your Teen’s Future With an Associate’s Degree Today”
    • Image: A focused female Black high school student in a science lab
    • Call to action: “Learn more”
  • Designed display ad, version 2 (30 days later)
    • Main copy: “Seats are Filling Fast! Fast-track your high schooler’s college success.”
    • Image: A smiling male Asian American graduate student in cap and gown
    • Call to action: “Enroll now”
  • Text-based ad, version 1 (early spring)
    • Headline: “Boost SAT Scores Now”
    • Description: “Prep for college success with college-focused SAT courses.”
  • Text-based ad, version 2 (early summer)
    • Headline: “Summer College Prep”
    • Description: “Get ahead of the game. Use vacation for academic growth in tailored prep courses.”

2. A/B test and refine your audience targeting 🧪

Tweaking your target audience and testing different images and words go hand-in-hand. This means adjusting the people you’re trying to reach and your “creative” to avoid oversaturation.

🧪 How to do it

  • Segment your audience by interests, behaviors, demographics and location
  • Use Google Ads’ built-in settings to adjust your targeting parameters
  • Use Google Ads’ A/B testing tool to compare different ad versions
  • Test variations in headlines, descriptions and visuals
  • Analyze performance data to identify the most effective ad elements
  • Continuously refine your audience to ensure your ads reach the most relevant viewers
  • Consider using AI tools for insights into audience preferences and behaviors

🧪 When to do it

These adjustments are an ongoing process, but in general, keep an eye on factors including:

  • Click-through rates (CTR) drop: If your CTR average falls below a certain percentage, it’s a cue to adjust (1-2 % is a general benchmark, but it may vary by industry).
  • Conversion rates drop: Again, tweak if they dip below your usual or industry standards.
  • Cost per acquisition (CPA) rates increase: If the cost of acquiring a customer exceeds your set budget or average, it's time to refine.

🧪 Example: Home improvement company

Let’s consider a home improvement business trying to reach clients in two regions. Here’s how they could segment those audiences and tailor their messages to each.

  • Audience segment 1: Homeowners interested in kitchen renovations in Chicago
    • Targeting criteria:
      • Homeowners
      • Men and women ages 35-55
      • Household income of $150,000+
      • Interested in home decor and renovation
      • Located in the Chicago metropolitan area
    • Samples of designed display ads
      • Version A
        • Main copy: “Revitalize Your Kitchen with Custom Designs”
        • Image: A sleek, modern kitchen renovation
        • Call to action: “Discover More”
      • Version B
        • Main copy: “Elevate Your Cooking Space with Style & Function”
        • Image: A family enjoying a newly renovated kitchen
        • Call to action: “See Our Work”

  • Audience segment 2: Homeowners looking for exterior makeovers in metro Detroit
    • Targeting criteria:
      • Homeowners
      • Men and women ages 40-60
      • Household incomes of $100,000+
      • Interested in landscaping and exterior design
      • Located in suburban areas around Detroit
    • Samples of text ads
      • Version A
        • Headline: “Elevate Your Home’s Exterior”
        • Description: “Achieve the curb appeal you’ve always dreamed of with premium exterior makeovers.”
      • Version B
        • “Home Exteriors That Give Peace of Mind”
        • Description: “Enhance your home's security and energy efficiency with top-tier exterior solutions.”

3. Use ad schedulers and monitor campaigns regularly 🗓️

Planning ahead is essential, and Google Ads’ built-in features can help you schedule and monitor your campaigns.

🗓️ How to do it

  • Analyze audience engagement data, like click-through rates (CTRs) and conversions, by time of day and day of the week to find the best times to show your ads
  • Use Google Ads’ built-in scheduling tools to automate when your ads display
  • Monitor key metrics like how frequently ads show up for people and their CTRs
  • Adjust your campaigns based on performance trends and data analysis
  • Tap into AI tools for predictive analysis and trend spotting
  • Keep tabs on market changes and audience behaviors and pivot quickly as needed

🗓️ When to do it

Regular monitoring and scheduling are essential. A few guidelines:

  • Check your campaigns at least weekly for any necessary adjustments
  • Plan and schedule campaigns 30-60 days in advance (possibly earlier for seasonal or event-specific campaigns, to allow better optimization)

🗓️ Example: Custom jewelry retail store

Finally, we’ll explore how a custom jewelry store retailer might schedule, track and tweak their campaigns. 

  • Scheduling sample 1: Peak shopping times
    • General frequency and timing: Schedule ads to run more frequently on weekends and weekday evenings to align with higher demand times.
    • Special occasions: Increase ad frequency during key periods like the lead-up to Valentine’s Day or the holidays, when jewelry purchases spike.
    • A/B test: Rotate different ads (e.g., one highlighting engagement rings, another custom necklaces) during peak times to see which drives more engagement.
  • Scheduling sample 2: Targeted promotions
    • Limited-time offers: Schedule ads promoting exclusive offers or collections to run intensively over a short period, like a weekend.
    • Geographic targeting: Select specific geographic areas during local events or festivals where jewelry purchases may be more likely.

  • Monitoring sample 1: Checking in after 30 days
    • Review performance metrics. Look at click rates, conversion rates and overall engagement.
    • If results are good, consider strategies to maintain momentum, like increasing ad spend or extending the campaign’s duration.
    • If results aren’t as good, reassess the targeting, ad creative or offers. Tweak to better align with customer preferences and behaviors.

  • Monitoring sample 2: Checking in after 60 days
    • Do a long-term trend analysis. Evaluate the campaign’s performance over two months, focusing on trends in sales, customer acquisition, and ROI.
    • If it’s successful, explore opportunities to expand reach, such as targeting new demographics or geographic areas.
    • If it’s been challenging, try more significant changes, such as overhauling ad design, redefining the target audience or revising your product focus.

Next steps to overcoming SEM ad fatigue

While SEM ad fatigue is a widespread phenomenon, luckily, it’s also an avoidable pitfall. 

In this article, you’ve learned the power of updating ad copy and visuals; A/B testing and refining your audience targeting; and using ad schedulers and monitoring campaigns regularly.

And, as you saw in the examples, it can also take a lot of time and tweaking.

Looking for some support? Talk to us. Zoe Marketing & Communications can help put your SEM ads into action and help you avoid ad fatigue. In the meantime, dig deeper and find out:


Download Your Digital Ads Guide

Learn how digital ads can help your business, including the tools, techniques and strategies to create successful campaigns.

Kim Kovelle

As Zoe Marketing & Communications’ content manager, Kim Kovelle brings nearly 20 years of writing and editing experience in metro Detroit. She has strong roots in community journalism and a knack for making complicated topics make more sense.