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But That’s Cheating!

Posted March 4th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

Right now at Page Zero, we’re running a couple of internal ad creative contests, where we throw open an ad group to the expert participation of experienced members of our own team, in an attempt to improve client results with a testing process we sometimes refer to as “internal crowdsourcing.” The idea is to tap into the diverse minds in our company (but coupled with lots of deep experience and extreme competitiveness in this one specific field: generating max ROI on PPC), to discover unexpected variations (genetic mutations, if you will). This is something you really can’t do effectively in traditional media – not in the same way, anyway.

Despite the incredible power of ad rotation in AdWords, most campaigns underperform on the creative dimension. It’s a constant struggle to find that next leap in performance.

Seth Godin had a term for using diversity to stumble on new directions and thought patterns: it’s called mDNA (or “meme DNA”).

We’re closely watching our tests right now… trash talking… watching revenue figures… and eagerly anticipating the mouthwatering dinner that the company (or colleagues) will have to buy us if we win one of the contests.

What’s going on with the winning entries? How about the losing ones? In both cases, massive learning.

A real hallmark of these tests is the realization that almost half the time, someone is attempting some way to win that the others react viscerally to as “cheating.” Although all the ads are well within the contest rules, the client’s parameters, and Google’s editorial and other rules — for some reason, people are coming up with loopholes you just didn’t think of.

Someone picks a different landing page as the destination URL. Someone does something a little different with the display URL. Someone puts unusual (but perfectly acceptable) punctuation in the headline. Someone uses DKI unexpectedly. Someone tries something sneaky to increase the average order value. Someone tells you how to browse the site, because the landing page might not be explicit enough. (Among other things, the latter is a meta-message. Not only does the offbeat CTA help you decide what to do next, it’s also reminding searchers that *this is advertising* about *searching for a product* that is hard to find. Maybe that’s why it works. It both entices and filters.)

And then there are the surprises that break no rules, but didn’t occur to you. Someone uses copy that is a bit more flowery and full of itself than you ever thought would work for what you assumed was a commodity product. Someone speaks to a vanity benefit that you just wouldn’t have bothered to try, because you unconsciously dismissed that as a motive for buying this product.

At the end of the contest, there will be one winner per ad group. And much will have been learned.

Above all, when a half dozen or a dozen professionals enter a really contentious (but friendly) competition to test something, you are reminded of how little testing typically happens when a single person is trying to “run a test” with their own ideas of which elements to test.

And isn’t it amazing that when given a challenge and a wide scope with fairly unrestrictive rules, we create our own mental prison anyway? Subconsciously, it’s all about “Oh, I thought when we meant ‘testing’ we meant try these couple of relatively inconsequential variations, plus one benefit statement we threw into the mix for good measure, and we were just about done.”

Not every second pair of eyes will do much to improve on well tested ad copy, to be sure. Often, new contenders fail. But put half a dozen, or a dozen, highly motivated pros in there and ask them to break stuff for bragging rights and a free dinner – and watch the fireworks. :)

I’m also a firm believer in aligning performance with motivation. And if you can fuse fun, incentives, competitiveness, and plain old trash talking with client performance goals… all the planets and stars align.

Get a second pair of eyes on that? A good idea? Umm, yeah! At least a second pair.

Who says cheaters never prosper?


Is it cheating if we ask you to vote for us (that’s @webmona and @andrew_goodman) in the PPC Associates 2013 Most Influential SEM tournament? Now that’s our kind of March Madness. Vote early and often. We’re in the quarter-finals.

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