How PPC helps online marketers get effective, quick market research

Intersection of Technology and Research: Online Copy and Pay Per Click Advertising

How online marketers get the best research.

Old-school copywriters had it hard.

Early practitioners of “scientific advertising” (aka – direct marketing) like Claude Hopkins and John Caples were meticulous in their efforts to measure advertising results. Hopkins would often count coupons after a test campaign. The results determined whether a larger advertising venture would be profitable.

Caples was no different. In his Tested Advertising Methods, 5th Edition, the author described the tedious nature the process…

“Long before laser scanning, your editor worked on of the first such systems, at Orbach’s in New York City. Every sales tag had a detachable number key that was manually keypunched, then laboriously – and noisily – sorted by the earliest “programmers.” Twelve of us worked throughout the evening to provide buyers the detailed overnight records they now get instantly at the click of a mouse.”

These fathers of direct marketing painstakingly established the method for effective advertising: testing. They put forth their best efforts on the front end, but only proceeded if the results pointed to positive returns.

21st Century Direct Marketing & PPC

The industry has definitely progressed in recent decades. Marketers no longer enter sales manually into green and white ledgers. In the past ten years, search engines made another leap forward in tested advertising: pay per click or PPC.

Originally started as Omniture, PPC technology was eventually acquired by Yahoo. But Yahoo lost it’s edge to the more data-centric search engine: Google. Since then, Google’s PPC product, Adwords, has come to dominate the pay per click landscape. But that’s another story for another day.

The importance of PPC cannot be overstated: pay per click allows the online advertiser almost immediate access to the pulse of the market. Not only can a business owner know if an idea will be marketable, but they can know what appeal will be most effective in the market. In other words, used correctly, PPC can tell you whether or not you will be profitable in a market.

Hopkins would have given his first million for research like that.

Two Ways PPC Helps the Copywriter

Copywriters are a creative lot. We construct leads and offers in ways that Shakespeare could only dream. But sometimes creativity can kill good copy. Why? Because we don’t know the prospect yet. Think up the best idea with a lead that would hook a marlin and talk to the wrong person, then your efforts will fail.

But now we can know our prospect.

One of the main ways pay per click helps our copy is providing unique insight into the mind of our prospect. For instance, suppose you are trying to launch an investment newsletter. Fear and greed are big motivators in investment publishing – but you may not know which one is more dominant at the time. Sometimes the mood swings wildly. It’s important to pick the right appeal.

You could start a PPC campaign and advertise under the keyword: “investment newsletter”. You test two different ads – one highlighting fear, the other highlighting greed. By using a large enough sample – say 50 clicks for each ad – you discover greed is more intriguing to your prospects at the time of your test. Simply measuring the higher click thru rate (CTR) for the greed ad told you as much. Armed with your new knowledge, you then craft your message with the dominant theme: “Get Your Piece of the Stimulus Pie – Before It’s Too Late”

Having this information could be the difference between success and failure for a new investment newsletter.

A second way to use PPC to help your copy is testing headlines. The Google/Yahoo/Bing triumvirate gives you 25 characters for your headline. If you’re trying to determine the best headline for your sales letter, bid on keywords your market is searching for. Again, measuring the highest CTR will give you a good indication that your market likes one headline over another.

You can also do this for book titles. Tim Ferriss, the ubiquitous author of The 4-Hour Workweek, tested titles before publishing his book. Tim relays his story in this interview:

“Then I ran a Google Adwords campaign, where your ad appears based on keywords that people were searching for. I ran a dozen different ads with a dozen different potential titles as the advertising headline, with the potential subtitles as the ad text. The click-through page was nothing, but I wasn’t concerned with the conversion or cost per acquisition. I was only concerned with the click through rate – which of those dozen headlines was most popular.

So for less than $150 in one week using keywords as a fixed variable, I was able to identify “The 4-Hour Workweek, Escape 9-to-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich” as the most successful title by far.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

PPC: An Essential in the Online Copywriter’s Toolbox

Tested results are gold. Nothing substitutes for market data – not creativity, not guessing. Nothing.

Pay per click gives the online copywriter essential market intelligence. Yes it costs. And yes, it’s time-sensitive. But the benefits far outweigh the paltry sum or the limitations of the medium. With PPC you can know what your market is thinking – before you try to sell anything. Better to let the market tell you how they want to be sold, than to be dashed on the rocks of business failure.