2 Non-Obvious PPC Split Tests

This article by Howie was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

Split testing is fueled by curiosity, by wonder, by knowing that you don’t know something. Some gap in your understanding of your prospects’ psychology and outlook is potentially responsible for lower than desired marketing performance. The more profound your curiosity, the more useful and powerful your tests become.

Here are two examples of profound questions (what I call “deep curiosity”) that can be operationalized in PPC split tests. There are hundreds more; I share these to jump-start your own deep curiosity about your market and their relationship to the problem you solve and the particular solution you offer.

1. What’s Their Primary Motivation?

All animals, humans included, are biologically hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain while expending as little energy as possible. These three motivations (pleasure, pain, efficiency) mix together to form the heart of every search, every desire, every fear, and every problem we want to solve.

For most of us most of the time, one of the three motivations predominates and defines the search for us. Let’s take three different searches related to vacation planning. Someone searching for “comfortable airplane seat” is looking to avoid pain. “Fun family Disney vacation” seekers are looking for pleasure. And “pack like a flight attendant” signals someone whose prime directive is efficiency.

But what about search terms that are less obviously motivated by one of the Big Three? How about “airplane seat guide”? Is that someone:

  • Looking for a great seat with lots of leg room so they can recline and watch DVDs while sipping red wine and eating pretzels (pleasure)?
  • With irritable bowel syndrome who needs to sit in the aisle close to a large bank of bathrooms (pain)?
  • Who wants to sit near an exit for speed of disembarkation, or who desires priority access to the overhead bin so they don’t have to check a bag planeside (efficiency)?

If I were in charge of search advertising for or, I’d be very curious about which pitch would resonate most strongly with the most searchers. My split test might include the following three headlines:

  • Better Seats Mean Better Flights
  • Avoid These Seats At All Cost
  • Best Seats For Business Travel

The winning ad then informs the landing page, the value proposition, and everything else about the message. If you let Google AdWords run split tests by choosing ads with the most conversions, you may end up running all three ads in a single ad group and let Google funnel the traffic to the most appropriate ad.

If your main search terms represent multiple motivational possibilities, keep the Big Three Motivation Test in your split testing arsenal.

2. What’s Their Metaphor?

Did you notice the metaphor that I used in the last paragraph? I referred to an “arsenal.”

If you already think of marketing as a form of war, then you probably didn’t even notice the word; you skated right on by it. But if you see marketing as a dance or a courtship, then the word “arsenal” probably rubbed you the wrong way. It may even have caused some readers to tune out the rest of this article.

The previous paragraph is rife with metaphor. Reading involves physical motion like “skating.” Words can physically irritate or “rub” you. Reading is auditory, not physical.

The words we use provide clues to the way we see the world and various aspects of it. We are generally unconscious of the metaphors inherent in those words, so we don’t notice when those words represent a view that clashes with the metaphors of our market.

In “Marketing Metaphoria, Gerald Zaltman has identified seven of what he calls “deep metaphors”; universal ways of looking at the world that serve as filters and guides to people navigating various challenges. I can’t get into all seven metaphors in this article, so I’ll choose two and apply them to the “airplane seat guide” example we’ve already explored.

One of the deep metaphors is Journey. Obviously, an airplane ride can be a journey: a trip from Point A to Point B with the potential for adventure along the way. Some people like the thought of adventure on a journey. They might be the ones who pack light, laugh at contingencies, and hope for the serendipitous and unexpected.

Others who see their upcoming trip as a journey might want anything but adventure. They want a smooth flight, no delays, no inconveniences.

But Journey is only one of the seven deep metaphors. Another one is Container, meaning something with boundaries that serves to exclude and isolate and protect.

Someone viewing an airplane ride through the Container metaphor might see their seat as a protective bubble, keeping them safely apart from screaming babies, kicking toddlers, and demanding passengers. They might view their carry-on luggage through the same lens; a protective bundle of all their important possessions that must remain close at hand.

There’s a more negative slant on the Container metaphor in this case: something too restrictive and confining. A seat that’s too small, or a window seat that requires gymnastics to reach the aisle, or the entire plane as a flying coffin from which there’s no escape in case of disaster.

A couple of Journey headlines:

  • A Seat To Speed Your Way
  • The Right Seat Is Like a Shorter Flight

And a couple of Container headlines:

  • Your Seat is Your Sanctuary
  • Don’t Be a Flying Sardine
  • The Most Dangerous Seat

Again, try writing ads that use words to evoke different metaphors. You can combine metaphors with motivations to capture the positive and negative takes on those metaphors.

While focus groups and in-depth studies of your target market might be beyond your budget and time frame, simple PPC split testing can provide market insights that allow you to connect deeply and powerfully with your prospects. All that’s required is a willingness to think, wonder, and ask.


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