This one time, in 1978, I tried to get a date for the 8th grade Valentine’s Day Dance at my junior high school. Acting like the marketer I would become, I first selected my target market of girls I was interested in, based mainly on their demonstrated ability to spend twenty minutes in my company without getting grossed out or offended.
Have narrowed my market, I next chose my medium. Face to face was out of the question, as the only way to get one of these girls alone would be to shove her in a janitor’s closet and wait until passing time was over. And obviously I didn’t want gaggles of girls talking about me in school (that’s probably why I wore the paper bag over my head for all those years, come to think of it).
So the medium would be the telephone. One night, about two weeks before the dance, I purloined the corded phone in my parents bedroom, locked myself in my room with a phone book, and prepared to begin my first foray into outbound telemarketing.
It wasn’t going to be pretty. I was cursed with limited sales experience and a rather dubious product: three hours with me in a school cafeteria doing the Bump and the Hustle to what we knew even then was some of the worst music ever created. Not to mention the obligatory slow dances.
So I knew I would have to practice. Luckily, by this time I had expanded my prospect list to include several dozen girls who didn’t even know I existed, and therefore could hopefully be counted on not to have any predisposition to say no to my suggestion of a date.
I found the first phone number and tried to dial. As my shaking finger punched the last digit, I realized with a shudder that I had no idea which girl I was calling. A man’s voice answered, "Hello?"
"Urggly," I said.
"Hello?" he repeated. I began to panic – I had to do something.
"Um, hi, is there an 8th grade girl at this location?" I stammered through the asthma I had just mysteriously acquired.
"Who is this?" the voice demanded, in a somewhat hostile tone, I thought.
At that point, as I hung up, I remember feeling distinctly grateful that Caller ID would not be invented for another decade or so.
I obviously needed a plan. I wrote a script, complete with openings crafted for any eventuality: phone answered by Prospect, by Prospect’s parent, by Prospect’s sibling, by answering machine, by random burglar, etc.
I practiced that script in the mirror for several hours. Then I returned to the phone and started dialing. This time I took note of the name, as well as the phone number. Prospect #1, Ilene, a girl who went to my Hebrew School and was therefore morally obliged to pretend to tolerate me, at least when her parents were watching.
I dialed six digits and then hung up before I could consummate the call, certain that my opening line of, "Hello, is Ilene there?" was going to be a total bomb.I crossed it out and wrote, "Hi, may I speak with Ilene please?"
But that seemed too formal. "Hi, is Ilene there?" seemed to convey the right tone, but I didn’t approve of the cadence. And so on…
Long story, well, long, but not as long as it might be: I didn’t make a single call. I procrastinated by drinking water, doing my social studies essay three days early, brushing my teeth several times, and even gargling once. I think I might have actually practiced my violin at one point. Finally, exhausted and ashamed, I returned the phone to my parents’ room (they were glad to stop tripping over the snarled cord at the top of the stairs, and were grateful to be back in contact with the world), caught the 11pm rerun of M*A*S*H, and went to bed.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I’d like to share the second color strategy to AdWords and online success: testing and tracking.
You see, no matter what your online conversion rate, the success of your telephone close, or the effectiveness of your newspaper advertising, if you aren’t routinely testing different approaches and measuring results, you are leaving the lion’s share of business on the table.
Mail order companies have known about testing and tracking for almost a hundred years. And it was a well-kept secret, largely because it was a tremendously difficult endeavor. If you wanted to test two different headlines in a newspaper ad, you had to figure out a way to get half of the papers to show one headline and the other half the second headline. Major logistical nightmare. And then you needed a way to determine which customer saw which ad. Also not easy. And then you had to keep track of the results using a paper spreadsheet or ancient punch-card-eating mainframe.
In the old days, testing was for the big boys only. And those who did it accumulated unbeatable advantages over their competitors. Their major task was to beat their control, to discover the new approach that was even better than their current best one.
For example, here are two headlines for a correspondence course in correct English (at this point, you’re probably wishing that I had taken this course):
- The Man Who Simplified English
- Do You Make These Mistakes in English?
Headline #1 was a failure, while Headline #2 was a smash hit. Interesting, huh? (This example, and the one that follows, is from John Caples’ book, Tested Advertising Methods, 4th Edition.)
How about this pair, for a hair growth tonic?
- 60 Days Ago They Called Me "Baldy"
- f I Can’t Grow Hair For You in 30 Days You Get This Check
Which one did better, #1 or #2? Before you answer, consider that both headlines were considered strong enough to run by some of the smartest, most experienced, highest paid advertising copywriters in the world. (Keep reading for the answer.)
If these copywriters couldn’t tell, then how can you or I expect to find the perfect headline, offer, photo, story, price, guarantee, proof, testimonial, etc. to sell our online goods and services? There’s no way, unless… unless… unless we could find a way to run our own tests, and figure out the results.
Enter (trumpets blaring) Google AdWords. With AdWord, you can test in minutes or days what used to take months. You can figure out for dimes what used to cost tens of thousands of dollars. You can test ads, landing pages, order forms, email sequences – everything about your online sales process. And it’s easier than calling Ilene on the phone and asking for a date (in my experience).
You see, that awkward segue brings me back to my Valentine’s Dance Sales Failure. I failed, not because I called 45 girls and they all told me to get lost (that would come later). No, I failed because I never did anything. I had several approaches, and it’s certainly possible that at least one of them would have worked. But because I didn’t try anything, I didn’t learn anything. So when the 9th grade talent show/social rolled around the following year, I was no better equipped to get a date than I had been the year before.
If you’re just serving one web page to all your visitors, you’re not learning. You’re not improving. And online, if you’re standing still, you’re falling back. Because at least one of your competitors has gotten their hands on AdWords For Dummies (you knew this is where I was going, right?).
Look at them, pouring through Chapter 13 right now, learning all the tricks of split testing using AdWords. They’ve discovered how to cheaply and easily test different domain names for their site. And they’ve learned how to automate the process, so they’re seeing test results that tell them exactly what to do next.
Headline #1 did much better than Headline #2 in the hair growth example. Give me a Google account, $10, and AdWords For Dummies, and I can give you a headline that can double your sales almost instantly. Better yet, you get the book, do it yourself, and who needs me? I’m still trying to get Ilene on the phone.