Have you ever felt like an advertising victim? You write the copy, compose the ad, send the check and wait. And wait. And eventually it dawns on you that nobody’s coming. So it’s back to the same old struggle, and you console yourself that you’re sadder but wiser, until the next time…

What if you had a way to completely avoid this disaster scenario? What if you could pay for advertising only when it worked? What if you could determine to a fraction of a cent how profitable a campaign was, and halt it the second you figured out it wasn’t going to pay for itself? And—here’s the truly magical part—what if you could test your advertising messages, continually improving customer response, and end up with surefire ad copy that would work in practically any medium—including face-to-face networking?

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

The magic lamp you just rubbed is called Google AdWords. AdWords is Google’s way of letting advertisers buy their way onto the coveted first page of search results by bidding on keywords—the words and phrases that people type into Google—and showing their ads.

You can open an AdWords account for as little as five dollars and start showing your ads (your web site, your landing page, etc.) within fifteen minutes of setting up your account. You bid on placement in Google’s top listings, but you pay only when someone clicks your ad and visits your web site. This is called Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC). Advertisers specify the words that should trigger their ads and the maximum amount they are willing to pay per click. When a user searches Google’s search engine, ads for relevant words are shown as “sponsored links” on the right side of the screen and sometimes in the shaded area above the main search results.

You can change your ads, your keywords, even your web pages—in real time. (No more staring at a lousy magazine ad wishing you could time travel and fix it.)

Split Testing with AdWords

The AdWords feature I am concentrating on in this article is split testing—running multiple ads at the same time, comparing the results, selecting a winner and writing new challenger ads to try to beat your best. When you master this process, you can’t help but leapfrog over competitors who are still throwing mud against the wall and hoping it sticks. They’re revolving, while you’re evolving.

Split testing is not an AdWords innovation. Direct marketers have been testing customer response rates since Moses got two tablets of commandments. But AdWords represents the world’s simplest machine for getting timely and clear market feedback on your ads. In fact, I titled the AdWords For Dummies chapter on split testing, “How You Can’t Help Become an Advertising Genius.”

AdWords allows you to create two ads as easily as one, and to specify that they should rotate evenly to different searchers. One thousand searches later, five hundred people have seen ad #1 and five hundred different people have seen ad #2. Google automatically tallies the relative effectiveness of each ad by comparing the number of clicks each one receives.

Ad #1 has received twenty-five clicks, for a click-through rate (CTR) of 5 percent, while ad #2 has generated only eight clicks, representing a 1.6 percent CTR. You now know that ad #1 is more attractive than ad #2. Everything else being equal, you can now delete ad #2 and replace it with ad #3. If in the next test ad #3 earns a CTR of 7.4 percent, it becomes the new control (i.e., the one you’ll test others against). You can continually improve your marketing using this simple and powerful interface.

With only slightly more work, you can measure not only clicks but sales, by seeing which of two web pages generates more orders. You can compare two different price points, or guarantees, or shipping options. Every comparison teaches you something. Even if nine out of ten experiments result in decreased results, that one success will improve your profitability.

Reveal Your Networking Magic Words

Once you know what works online, you can now take those headlines, offers, sales copy, guarantees and prices offline and expect similar results. If you want to try a newspaper ad or a Yellow Pages listing, you can now have great confidence that it’s an effective message. You’ll spend money on marketing only when you know that money will come home with friends.

We’re taught to prepare an elevator pitch to make us stand out when we network in person—a question, a benefit, a cute phrase, a rhyme. Most of the elevator pitches I’ve heard are either boring and vague, or cutesy and contrived. A few folks, though, cut through the clutter with precisely the right words: engaging but not condescending, benefit-driven but not a hard sell, memorable but not goofy. Wouldn’t you like to be one of them?

You can test your message using the AdWords split test feature and discover how to introduce yourself effectively at networking meetings. You can also figure out what offer to include on your business card to ensure follow up from good prospects.

In another lifetime (circa 2003), I helped small businesses with online and offline direct marketing. By testing my ads, I discovered that the biggest pain point for small business owners was frustration with cold calling. Not low ROI advertising. Not difficulty paying overhead. Not lack of a marketing system. But calling prospects and not getting through, or getting blown off, or get hung up on, or just feeling lousy about interrupting people who didn’t want to talk to them.

My elevator pitch went from, “I help small businesses connect with their prospects” (excuse me while I gag myself), to “You know how cold calling just doesn’t work anymore? I put your marketing on autopilot so prospects call you instead.”

HOWIE JACOBSON, PH.D., is the author of the newly released
AdWords For Dummies. Free chapters are available online.