After reviewing dozens of ads from readers across the country, a few trends in unprofitable ad design emerged. And now, I present them here.

Crime #1: No headline. Look, 80% of your ad’s effectiveness (that you’re paying for, by the way) is in its headline. A headline is “the ad for the ad” and commands an importance not approached by any other element in your ad. Your company name isn’t a headline. A cartoon of a guy in a truck is not a headline. The “oldest, biggest, smallest, newest, fastest, mostest” anything is not a headline.

A headline is a strong, clearly stated benefit for the customer. Without one, your ad suffers miserably with all the other losers. With one, you stand out, get read, and get called. Isn’t this why you’re advertising in the first place?

Crime #2: Bad layout. The yellow pages reps love to center vast blocks of text and change typestyles about every third word. Here’s my three-word advice: Don’t do it! Experts in human comprehension have many “don’ts” in ad copy layout: Don’t exceed 7-10 words to a line. Don’t center over three lines in a row. Don’t put smaller than 14 point type in a reverse block. Don’t have more than 8-10 words in a headline.

Crime #3: Dull, pointless copy. Most of what I saw were mere “menu listings” of services, generally laid out in some nonsensical fashion that lead absolutely nowhere. A staggering 86% of the ads I reviewed didn’t contain one complete sentence.

Crime #4: No call to action. If you’re not going to ask people to call you in some compelling way, pull your ad and save your money. There is no need, at any time, anywhere to pay for an ad that has no call to action.

Crime #5: Bad and costly waste of space. Hey, I’m a marketer; bad use of space means bad return on investment. Pictures of condensing units, oversized multiple logos, and absurd clusters of pointless phrases means your ad is just too much trouble to wade through. There is a logical order to all things. Your most expensive, year-long ad should certainly be among them.

Solution: Create a powerful headline. Punch up your copy. Get a compelling call to action, and lay it out so normal human beings can actually follow it. Then, and only then, will your yellow pages ad reach its potential.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. For a FREE critique of your Yellow Page Ad, readers can fax their Yellow Page ad to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.