With nearly half the world’s population using social media and search engines now, these platforms have become a nonnegotiable part of any martial arts advertising and marketing strategy.

Of those 4.5 billion people, most are on Facebook and Instagram, and most use Google as their preferred search engine, too. While there are other large social media platforms and search engines, those three dominate nearly every local market, so they are most likely to be useful to you as a martial arts school owner.

Since these ad platforms change rapidly, this article will focus on the evergreen strategy parts of crafting effective search and social advertisements instead of a step-by-step setup and management tutorial.

Google Search Ads

Google search ads work on a Pay Per-Click (PPC) model. You write a short advertisement with a headline and description element, and you tell Google which keywords you’d like that ad to appear against when someone searches for those keywords. Google then calculates the relevance and quality of your ad and offer based on the ad itself as well as the landing page it links to. From there, Google determines which place you show up on the search results page — or if you don’t show at all.

Keywords & Quality Score

Keywords are words or groups of words used to make up a search query for a search engine to find results for. Some keywords are technically different but roughly equivalent to one another, such as spelling errors, spelling variants, and phrases that rearrange word order. Google’s tools, such as Keyword Planner, will still show some of these variations, but will assign them all the same estimated search volume because it doesn’t consider them different keywords. Other keywords look nearly the same but have slightly different search intent, yielding different search results, and thus Google considers them separate and will often show different search volume estimations.

A quality score is a relative metric used by Google to help decide where your ad will place on the search results page. The score takes into account your ad and landing page and assesses how relevant and useful it will be to searchers over and against the ads and landing pages of other advertisers running ads on the same keywords.

Preparing a Campaign

Google search ads begin with good keyword research. Before ever crafting ad copy, be sure to first visit Google’s Keyword Planner tool and put in as many relevant search keywords as you can think of. Then, choose the option to generate more keywords and limit the geographical “fence” to your service area (this part is crucial; you need to know what people in your area are searching, not the whole nation).

At this point, you might be surprised. If you live in a big metropolitan area, you’ll likely have some terms with decent search volume to work with. If you live in a small area, however, you might find few keywords with search volumes, sometimes none. That doesn’t mean nobody in your area ever searches those terms; it just means they search so infrequently, and in such few numbers, that it never registers on Google’s search volume estimations.

Anecdotally, it appears most areas see a demand for after school program keywords during the late summer and early winter months. Test for seasonality and adjust your strategy accordingly. For some school owners, search ads will be worth the investment; for others, it won’t.

The Headline

The headline is critical for differentiating yourself from the other ads, the organic results, and gaining interest. Write something interesting but that also makes clear what it is your ad is offering the reader. But it also needs to be concise because you’re limited to 35 characters. In the case of the martial arts, use the name of your style in the headline but frame your headline in a benefits-oriented and emotion-stirring way.

For example (benefit/emotional words italicized for emphasis):

“Take fun Jiu Jitsu lessons”

Rock-solid confidence thru Karate”

Description Copy

Take the promise from the headline and expand it to 90 characters. You don’t need to be super clever: just explain your service in a way that makes the benefits to the reader even clearer. Don’t say anything spammy because it will diminish your quality score or get your ad canned.

Finally, make sure there’s a strong call to action, such as “call now.”

Ad Extensions

Search ads sometimes allow you to add “extensions.” Extensions include phone call buttons, deep links to pages on your website, prompts to message through Google, and others. For the purpose of martial arts ads, it’s probably best to use the phone call extension whenever you’re able.

Facebook & Instagram Ads

Social ads are scalable in ways that search ads aren’t. Firstly, you can interrupt people no matter what they’re doing instead of being beholden to specific search queries. Secondly, you can pay more money to have it shown to more people.

If you can dial in your target audience and a copy/creative combination that drives traffic and conversions, you can pump as much money into social ads as you can afford and reap the same success at that economy of scale.

Facebook and Instagram ads can all be managed from the same place, which is really powerful to you as a martial arts school owner.

Targeting

Targeting is a critical step in your social advertisement campaign. If you skip it, you will waste hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars on misdirected placements. 

Facebook allows you to target demographics along the lines of gender, age, occupation, geographical area, and interests. While it’s difficult to pinpoint what interests you should target for your town, you should always have these two targets in place on any campaign you run for your martial arts school:

  • Service area (limit ads to only show up within your service area)
  • Target age (e.g., if targeting parents to sign up children, 26-46 is a good range)

What interests or pages you add, if any at all, will be up to your own local market research. Something like “martial arts” is broad enough that you might have thousands of people in your town that like it, which will leave a big enough audience; but choosing the fans of a local shop probably won’t.

Ad Copy

A great ad will meet you where you are and show you a path of transformation into the person you want to be. As early as possible, you want to tell your reader the benefit that your martial arts lessons offer them. Common benefits include increased confidence and self-esteem, discipline and focus, fitness, and a positive lifestyle community.

There’s a tried-and-true formula that copywriters have used for decades called AIDA, which stands for

  1. Attention
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action

Attention is self-explanatory, and it chiefly involves an eye-grabbing headline. Think of the clickbait headlines you see out of tabloid websites (and even some regular news articles). Interest is about adding some additional information that maintains the initial pique to their attention made by the headline while introducing the problem and solution that you offer. 

Desire is about showing the reader what his life will be like, how much easier and abundant it will be, if he were to purchase your solution. In the case of martial arts, you could paint a picture of the martial arts lifestyle: confident, competent, focused, calm, and equipped to conquer every aspect of your life. Finally, action is simply to ask for the reader to do something. In the case of your ad, this looks like a click to the landing page, fill out an instant form, or reach out through messenger.

One of the easiest hacks you can use to get your audience’s attention (other than good creative, of course) is to address the people directly in your town. For example, you could say, “Hey Townsville moms!” at the beginning of the ad copy. People are very sensitive to information that is close to them and their identities, especially their own towns. Maintaining interest there is explaining what you can do for their children, concisely and powerfully.

One of the best ways to create desire in an advertisement is to tell stories. For martial arts, these need to be true stories — preferably about your own students’ journeys, but the story of a well-known figure could work in a pinch, too. A story needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. What this means in narrative terms is that your story needs to show how a problem hampers the life of the protagonist, and, through martial arts training, emerges victorious on the other side of that problem.

Picture Creative

The picture you choose needs to be clear and high quality, firstly. Images that show students in the middle of action, during a class, with smiles on their faces, tend to perform the best. Do not use images of negative faces or scared or menacing people.

Facebook has strict guidelines on using text inside of these ad images. Whatever you use, make sure it’s oriented at grabbing attention. Let your ad copy do the selling instead of trying to summarize it all in your image text. That said, what text you do include in the image needs to be related to the ad itself and not simply attention-grabbing for its own sake.

Video Creative

Video ads are by far the most effective and engaging ads you can run on Facebook and Instagram. As humans, we are visually oriented, but especially oriented toward visuals in motion.

With video ads, you also want to capture martial artists in action. There are professionally made videos available — like those provided at Dojo Muscle — but shooting your own could be just as effective with a little knowhow. As with good ad copy, good video ads will show a student struggling with a problem martial arts can solve, and then through training, find the solution to that problem.

Landing Page

Most people are focused on the advertisement itself, to drive clicks, but don’t focus as much on the landing page they’re funneling traffic to. This is a serious mistake: one of the reasons campaigns fail is because bad landing pages don’t convert all the paid traffic directed there from the ads.

It’s for this reason that you should put a lot of effort into your landing pages. The copy needs to be persuasive and properly structured, with calls-to-action (CTA) prominently displayed throughout the page. It’s possible for you to learn to do these things yourself, but if you have the budget, it’s worth hiring a professional copywriter to write your landing page copy for you. 

It’s also worth considering using a video version of the written copy to help maintain engagement and magnify the effectiveness of the page. Think of it as an extension of your social media ad creative.

Lastly, make sure the landing page shares the “spirit” of the advertisement, that it answers the questions or fulfills any “promises” it made. Advertisers call this “ad scent” and it’s important because if your landing page feels too different from the ad that sent people there, it will feel like spam and cause a high bounce rate. It’s also important because, like Google, Facebook does its own estimations of your ad’s quality based by comparing the ad to its landing page, among other data points.

An afterword: you can run effective ads that never leave Facebook. While most owners I’ve heard of use their own landing pages, you can be just as successful without one. Just choose to run “lead” ads in Facebook’s business manager suite and have them fill out an instant signup form in-app or prompt them to reach out straight through messenger.

Email (or SMS) Follow-up

Regardless of what kind of campaign you run, the follow-up is critical. With an online advertising campaign, you can easily automate email and SMS follow-up sequences from the initial landing page signup.

Also, irrespective of the type of funnel you create to support your ad, your advertisements should always ask for direct action to click through, sign up, or purchase. For more information on how to construct a powerful ad-to-email-list funnel, read our article on direct-response marketing here.

Conclusion

Search and social media are a necessary part of your marketing strategy in the 21st century, especially social media. Because Google, Facebook, and Instagram largely dominate in those fields, we focus our attention on those platforms to run ads on.

For Google, remember these tips:

  • Research hot relevant keywords in your area
  • Create an attention-grabbing headline
  • Clear description copy with a strong call to action

For Facebook and Instagram ad copy and creative, follow the AIDA structure:

  1. Attention. Create an attention-getting headline, especially one that calls out the town your audience is in.
  2. Interest. Explain the benefits of the service you offer.
  3. Desire. Tell a story about how someone real was able to overcome their problems through your training.
  4. Action. Tell your reader to sign up, call, or purchase.

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Published by Josh Peacock

Josh is a lifelong martial arts fanatic, taekwondo 4th dan, BJJ player, writer, and marketer. In addition to helping martial arts school owners market their gyms more effectively, he also holds an M.Ed. in teaching & learning and has a passion for improving martial arts instruction.

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