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How to Test Your Google AdWords Campaigns

When it comes to online advertising, you don't have to fly blind. Get the basics on testing your Google AdWords ads.
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In their book Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, online advertising and Google AdWords experts Perry Marshall, Mike Rhodes and Bryan Todd offer information thatwill help you get more clicks from Google for less money, convert more visitors to buyers, and make your online business more effective than ever.In this edited excerpt, the authors explain just why you need to test your ads to make sure they're working.

Imagine that a company named Generico Housing Insurance Inc. wants to build an ad campaign to promote its new insurance coverage for egg damage caused by bored teenagers. Which approach do you think will get the company more new signups?

1. HiPPO Selection. The graphic designer develops four ads with very differ­ent visual styles and reveals them at the next board meeting. The presi­dent of the company takes the role of the HiPPO (“Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”), a term coined by Google Analytics expert Avinash Kaushik. The image in design No. 2 makes him laugh, and the color scheme reminds him of the new curtains his wife just picked out, so he chooses that one to run online, in print and on TV.

2. Street Selection. The graphic designer develops four ads with very different visual styles. A market researcher is paid a large sum of money to go out on the street and ask people at random to rate the ads, asking them which one they find most attrac­tive, most likely to create trust, most likely to appeal to older people, and so on.

If you’re thinking both approaches seem a little shaky, you’re absolutely correct. It should scare you that a large proportion of businesses still develop their ad campaigns using these methods. Marketing then becomes a lottery. If you fail, you blame it on the designer. If you succeed, you conclude that HiPPOs or random disinterested strangers know best how to choose a winning campaign.

It should be obvious why the HiPPO selection is a bad idea. No single individual, no matter how experienced they are, can perfectly predict the performance of an ad campaign. But the street selection approach is also flawed: It’s one thing to voice an opinion about how pretty an ad campaign looks; it’s another thing entirely to actually be motivated to buy. Most folks on the street don’t know the difference.

There’s a third way. It’s inexpensive, easy to set up and as impartial as you’ll ever find.

We’re going to use the Google Display Network (GDN). We’ll use live, real-world market research on advertising styles, then plan our online strategy based on concrete numerical results.

Let’s say the marketing department at Generico has decided to go with the GDN method to test its campaign. They create two display ads. The copy in both is identical; only the images are different. Ad No. 1 shows a house being egged by teenagers. Ad No. 2 shows a pretty home with a nicely dressed, attractive family standing out front. The call-to-action in both is to click through to the website and request an insurance quote.

At first, Generico has no way of knowing which ad will generate more quotes. Doesn’t matter; Google will show the ads to a few thousand people, and within a week or two, there’s a clear winner. Generico now knows which image to use as it invests more advertising dollars in its website, GDN, print ads, business cards and even TV commercials.

This works because we’re measuring actual physical behavior in real time, not just verbal opinions. People are clicking their mouse and filling out forms ... or failing to. When they see the Generico ad online, they have no idea they’re participating in a split test. They’re simply responding based on whether the ad triggers them to want insurance or not.

GDN is never a branding exercise, and it’s never opinion polling. It’s observing your target market making live decisions and learning what excites their interest or leaves them cold.

Don’t waste thousands of dollars creating huge portfolios of advertising and marketing collateral. Spend just a few hundred dollars up front testing ads and you’ll know which images, color schemes, headlines, and calls to action give you the results you want.

Our colleague, David Bullock, has given us a great verbal rule of thumb for testing ads and marketing campaigns:

"First test forests, then test trees, then test branches, then test leaves."

Test the big difference-making stuff first. Go after finer points later. How far down you drill will depend on your patience for this kind of work and, of course, your budget.

In this scenario, the “forest” is two things:

1. Your headline, hook, call-to-action, offer or guarantee.

2. The overall aesthetic design of your ad: color schemes, styles, layout and tone; bold versus subtle, traditional versus modern, serious versus comic, masculine versus feminine, young versus old, and everything in between.

Let’s say you plan to test images of people in your ads. Try different ages as well as both genders. Right off the bat, that gives you four variations: older men, older women, younger women and younger men. Which one will your target market respond to? After a few thousand impressions, you’ll know.

There are so many different things you can test:

  • Image style: high-resolution color photo, black-and-white classic, hand-drawn picture or even no image at all.
  • Text formatting: color, font, size, bold or italic.
  • Dominant color: Different colors and different levels of light or dark will evoke wildly different moods. If you’re carefully targeting sites on GDN to show your ads, think about what color schemes will make your ads stand out on the page rather than blending into the background.
  • Call-to-Action: Ideally this should be prominent. Even better if it’s in the form of a button. Your entire ad may be clickable, but if you feature a boldly colored button, people will click there more than any place else on your image.