Category Archives: Direct Response

Improving the response rates in every direct marketing medium: Print, Online, Direct Mail and Broadcast

Survey of marketing tech types finds ROI strongest for search and internal email tactics

A recent survey has shed light on what one breed of marketing professionals are perceiving as good bets in terms of measurable return on investment (ROI). The tactic leading the pack is email, sent to an internal — or “house” — list. This is hardly surprising, since it is a relatively low-cost way to announce new products and deals to customers and prospects. What is more interested is seeing how both organic search marketing (i.e., search engine optimization) and pay-per-click (PPC) search marketing are viewed by these same executives compared to other tactics. Here is the full run-down:

Perceived ROI by tactic, from 3,000+ search marketing pros

Considering the search-centric executives surveyed (these were 3,186 “in-house search marketers or agency executives,” as reported in‘s ROI for Select Marketing Tactics according to US Search Marketers), it’s not surprising both are regarded highly. Both are deemed as “Good” investments in respect to the return they typically provide by one out of every three respondents, and another third (34% total) considered one of these two tactics “Strongest” in terms of ROI.

This would be a glowing assessment of search when compared with other tactics, if only PPC weren’t also deemed as “highly variable” by 28% of respondents. Considering how much control one has on the risks and rewards of PPC, this makes me wonder if that measurement isn’t the voice of a minority who either hasn’t conducted a PPC campaign or hasn’t done it properly.

The booby prize goes to online advertising (“banners, etc.”), deemed “Low Value” by 43% of the group. With opinions of online ads being this negative, is it any wonder ad networks are scrambling to sweeten the kitty with more behaviorally-focused targeting?

What is your response to these numbers?

Four secrets to online video demos that break sales records

A friend of mine got his start in marketing as a carnival pitchman. He would travel the country, selling electric blenders from a dusty demo booth. He was good. Really good. He once told me that a key to success on a highly competitive midway was being sure to gather a large crowd. In carny lingo this is called building a tip.

The web has replaced the carnival back lot. Search engines, online ads and other techniques do the job of building a tip. And once a visitor arrives at a site, today it’s often a video that gives the pitch.

I was blown away recently by just such an online pitch. It was for Jawbone, a noise-canceling Bluetooth cell phone earpiece. Below is a link to the site, where you can watch the full video:

Jawbone Video Demo Page

If you’re like me, you were immediately sucked into the demo. That’s a key to a good pitch. Lead strong, without ever overdoing it and scaring your tip away. Here are three other things this video does right:

  • Feature a pitchman (or woman) — Selling is always one-to-one, whether it’s to a throng of carnival revelers or to thousands of isolated web visitors. Similar to other direct sales media, such as direct mail, you cannot achieve record-breaking sales success online unless you are persistent in hammering away at the value of the product. A disembodied voice-over cannot make the necessary level of personal connection.
  • Use drama — People buy things because it makes them feel good. There is pleasure in finding something that can improve a life. Whenever possible, illustrate dramatically how your product can do this. On the midway, my friend would chew up nuts and bolts in his blender. It was a loud, suspenseful, almost scary way to demonstrate power and durability. Then he’d replace the metal blender carafe for a glass one and cram it with fruits and vegetables — pits, stems and all. In what seemed like an instant he had made fruit smoothie samples for the audience, further showing the machine’s power and versatility. My friend made this device seem almost magical.
  • Build to a strong finish — Selling is ultimately about theater. That means you should follow the same story arc most commonly used in entertainment. Bring your audience’s interest to a crescendo. Work their emotions until they cannot imagine what will happen next, and are hanging on every word and new development. Then make sure they understand that when your pitch ends, they are expected to take out their wallets. If you’ve done your job right, they will!

Ironically, last month I stumbled across this YouTube video. It’s for a high-powered blender, not unlike the kind my friend sold back in his pitchman days. This video breaks all of the rules of a good demo. I’m not surprised that one and only comment left at the bottom of the video reads as follows:

The Vitamix may be a good machine. But there is no way I’m paying $400 dollars for a stupid blender. I don’t care how good it is. If I had Bill Gates money I wouldn’t spend that much for a blender. I’m sure there’s a machine out there that’s just as good with a much nicer price. And I’m going to keep searching until I find it.

Ouch! Sorry, Vitamix. While showing all the tricks that this blender can perform, you failed to sufficiently build its value. You’d never survive a day on the midway.

Sponsored SMS bulletins show promise

New media consultant and columnist Steve Smith speculated recently in MediaPost that we will soon be receiving many more sponsored messages with our cell phone’s text bulletins. These text bulletins, also known as SMS messages, are the 140-character packets that helped Justine Ezarik rack up a 300-page AT&T cell phone bill. (She reports that Twitter and the SMS feature of Facebook were the biggest culprits. Each message sent and received was separately itemized.)

The good news is these messages will be extremely targeted, and are “opted into” in exchange for the content received. An example cited by Smith is NASCAR race updates, sent to the 200,000 subscribers to this branded program. He explains that if a supermarket chain would want to target those interested in NASCAR, “There is enough mass there to net perhaps 80,000 users in a general geographic region.”

That’s enough to make quite an impact. Especially since response rates are impressively high.

Although the initial calls to action must be quite brief — 20 to 80 characters — the extremely targeted nature of the messages helps response. A “response” is usually hitting reply, to receive a full (up to 140 characters) expansion of the offer and a URL to click on. This graphic , provided by the MoVoxx site, helps illustrate the typical process:

How InTxt by MoVoxx works

Alec Andronikov, who is the managing partner of MoVoxx, says that of the many billions of SMS messages sent each month, somewhere around 500 million of them are some kind of publisher-pushed alert. And each could conceivably be sponsored. Smith continues:

Right now, [Andronikov] claims about 3.5 million uniques with sports, travel, dating and newspapers comprising the largest content categories. … Andronikov claims a response rate of 2.5% to 4% on the SMS ads.

That means a hypothetical, regionally-based supermarket chain running a NASCAR promotion could get their entire message in front of at least 2,000 fans (80,000 recipients of the initial, sponsored message multiplied by a 2.5% response rate). If the offer is compelling enough, this can win the chain hundreds of new customers.

The ability to target consumers by age, gender and zip code — as well as areas of personal interest, as implied by the content to which a consumer subscribes — promises a way to take the junk out of junk text messages.

Through testing we’ll soon see whether these campaigns “have legs” — whether they can generate enough of a return on investment to make them a smart, new marketing tactic.

Growth of out of home ads reflects our fragmented media consumption

Physicists tell us the universe is ever-expanding, a concept that can make the mind reel. Advertisers trying to reach their target audience know this feeling well, as media alternatives continually fragment and multiply. One solution: Forget about media as we would ordinarily think about them and look to the places your market congregates as the medium itself.

I’m only a recent convert to the power of out of home advertising, but that only seems to make me more of a zealot. Here are three examples worth filing away in your new media mental database:

The reach and creative potential with out of home are a couple of reasons it is growing when other media types are stagnant or shrinking. According to the OAAA, revenue for out-of-home advertising so far this year has increased by 7.9% (within a rounding error of the growth seen last year, and the year before). This projection for 2007 is based on spending in the first six months of the year. The graphic below shows prior growth.

Growth of out of home this year is projected again at roughly 8 percent

All of this is great news for brands that want to make a difference. There are many ways to truly involve consumers — some quite high tech, some that are extremely “out there,” and some that are frankly both. It all makes for an interesting ride with plenty to see and do.

Boost web conversions by greeting search engine visitors with unique content

How often do you come across an account of the same new, breakthrough idea from two different sources within 24 hours? That happened to me this weekend, and even if I had just seen it once I would have found the idea extraordinary. First, I read how Offermatica provides a content management solution that helps with multivariate testing of offers and copy. From what is learned, customized content can be delivered in real-time, based on behaviors. Offermatica CEO Matt Roche describes a novel application of this tool in a MediaPost blog interview:

[With the client site,] when someone comes to the home page [from a search engine] we know nothing about them, so they get the home page. What if we repeat the keyword that they searched on to get there, just show similar information? That increased the conversions. We repeat your keyword so you have a connection. Then we install affinity targeting that says when you go to the drums section and come back to the home page it will show you more drum offers. It increased the conversion rate in double digits on all the categories where we did category affinity.

The emphasis was my own. Double digit conversions?!? What a great trick.

Then I read Todd Friesen’s piece describing the same technique, in the July, 2007, print edition of Online Media, Marketing and Advertising (OMMA — and yes, it’s also a MediaPost publication). Phrased a different way, it suggests the same brilliant strategy:

… Did you ever notice how most brand traffic lands on your home page? Even product terms that contain branded verbiage often get a home page ranking ahead of a product page. Most home pages are pretty generic and usually run creative speaking to a straight brand message or weekly deal. How do you refine that on the fly to positively impact conversion? With a good multivariate tool, it’s relatively simple.

Some tools have the ability to recognize a search engine referral and identify the search term to define the creative displayed in the marketing modules on the home page. SEO managers then populate the “hero image” with a product related to the search and then load the complimentary products into the secondary marketing modules.

It is standard practice to do something like this with pay-per-click ads. We create customized landing pages that repeat the keyword phrase used in the search. This idea extends that landing page mentality to organic search results.

There is conjecture that the radio was invented in several places around the world at the same time. I suspect there will be similar arguments as to whom originated this simple and elegant way to improve the user experience for people arriving from search engines. All I can say is, I’ll glad I learned about it at all, so I can begin testing it with some of my clients.

Any readers who are already using this technique?

Does effective direct mail tap into the subconscious?

As I write this I’m looking at a sample of a mailing I developed for a client in the mid-1990s. Designed for a major college textbook publisher, it promoted five psychology texts with titles such as Lifespan Development; Fifth Edition, and Human Development Across the Lifespan; Second Edition. The technique used in this piece is proven to boost response. It relies on a thoroughly researched phenomenon that these same psychology texts might have even mentioned in a chapter on the subconscious.

So you’d think the recipients of this mailing — all heads of psychology departments — would be immune to the ploy. They weren’t. This mailing, like the one produced before it for another text, broke sales records for the client.

This reminds me that we are all human. Which means poets still understand us better than scientists. We may think we know what makes us tick, but the fact is, our full operating instructions are yet to be published. We’re still discovering our secrets, and some of them are real corkers.

Marketers, for better or worse, are watching each new chapter of these psychology texts as they are written. We’re following this research with rapt attention. At least I — for one — can barely tear myself away.

Although the technique I’m about to describe has been well-documented, I’m going to posit a theory for why it works that I’ve not read elsewhere, and it could blow your mind. It certainly did mine, when I “connected the dots” and realized the clinical research that has been done on consciousness since the ’60s may have accidentally collided head on with a direct response trick-of-the-trade.

Direct Response Is Darwinian

Whether or not you subscribe to Darwin’s Origin of Species, you have to agree that in matters of both bacteriology and direct response, natural selection is real. Direct marketers “kill off” test mailings that don’t do as well — in fair competitions — as existing (“control”) mailings. In a similar manner, mutations of bacteria don’t get the resources that they need to reproduce when competing against existing, superior strains within a shared host. Both are examples of survival of the fittest.

I can’t speak for bacteria with authority, but I can about direct marketing, and this mailbox meritocracy means pieces you would guess should be as extinct as the dodo bird remain to sell another day. They survive because they are oddly, inscrutably effective in the return on investment they generate.

I’m thinking specifically of mailings that have such things as stickers that the reader must remove and affix, or cards that must be pulled from their perforated moorings and returned, or those clear, tinted plastic windows that must held to the eye to unscramble a message. All of these techniques require reader participation. Why do they survive? All of them use up valuable resources. None of these gimmicks are cheap to produce and distribute.

What if typical response rates for your offer are 2 percent? That means the response-boosting technique you test must get an incremental “lift” that pays fifty-fold its overall cost just to break even.

Do you remember the Publishers Clearinghouse mailings? Tightening sweepstakes laws and changing demographic trends have made these mailings less common — and some would say those that remain are a public scourge. But these mailings used the same technique that I used with that textbook mailing, and are still used for many other mailing categories.

My wife used to call the Publishers Clearinghouse mailings “grown-up busy boxes” — they required the tearing off of stamps, the moistening of them, and the affixing of them. Sometimes there were dozens of stamps. There were also other enclosures that readers needed to get a pen to fill out, for “another chance to win.”

It was all so much work! And so much expense!

In direct marketing there is a constant imperative to “cheapen the package” with every new version of a mailing you produce and mail. But the expensive complexity of tactile involvement (as I’ll call this henceforth) remains, because response rates always outweighed the cost. Why?

The Subconscious As Unruly Child

Some theorized, even before there was research to back it up, that our hands have a closer connection to our subconscious than to our conscious mind. It kind of makes sense. It’s not our “thinking” brain that allows us to win tennis games, or public debates. In most cases, the person who over-thinks — or insists on using conscious thought at all — loses.

So could the tactile communication used in many direct mail pieces be seducing our subconscious minds? Could this technique be sweet-talking our subconscious, at our mind’s “back door,” while our conscious mind is blithely keeping vigil out front?

Experiments that began 40 years ago suggested this very theory, when they discovered that signals from our brains to our hands to consciously move them actually showed up after the movement had been accomplished. Here is how the groundbreaking research, spearheaded by Benjamin Libet, was boiled down in a review of his book Mind Time: The temporal factor in consciousness by Steven Rose of New Scientist Magazine:

The core of Libet’s findings can be simply summarised. If I sit on the edge of my bed and decide to wiggle my toes, the brain processes necessary for the wiggling to occur begin about half a second before I am aware that I have made the decision. Libet finds this troubling; if the brain processes precede my sense of having made a decision, what part does my conscious decision making play? Who indeed is the “me” that does the “deciding”?

This is a classic research finding, but one that remains unchallenged — and unnerving! Where is free will in this equation? That question was posed anew by neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran MD, PhD in an episode of RadioLab, an outstanding science podcast series by National Public Radio.

When I’d first read about this work, I wondered why direct marketers weren’t jumping up and down with glee. They knew that their tactile engagement technique often worked against all odds, like ungainly bumblebees that aerodynamics engineers insist cannot fly but persist in doing so.

Here was our explanation!

Our subconscious minds reach the mailbox milliseconds before our conscious minds do. Once there, they tear into the mail and pretend to do our bidding. Until, perhaps one or two times out of a hundred, they pull a minor mutiny. They respond.

What happens when the conscious mind catches on? Interestingly, in research where subjects are actually watching their own brain scans, as their hands act unbidden, they invent reasons for doing what their hands just did. “I meant to do that all along!” they announce with a certainly that is belied by the timing of their actions. If anything, they simply invented a plausible rationalization.

Mr. Grabby In Room 415

Those who have brain injuries sometimes experience this more explicitly. I had read of these stories, but six years ago saw it for myself. Days after a dear friend had a stroke, his numb arm and hand rebelled. “He” grabbed objects (and passing nurses!) to his conscious mind’s horror.

Is it possible that the conscious mind — even in a perfectly healthy person —  is like a parent who wheels his child through a grocery store? With the parent oblivious to the child, the pair wend their way through the aisles. It is only when they arrive at the check-out that the embarrassed father sees the items in the basket that he never dropped in there, and rationalizes to the clerk why he’s purchasing them. “You can never have too many Animal Crackers!” he says as he stacks them nervously on the check-out belt.

The difference is we’ve been living with this unruly child our whole life, and our bodies have set some limits on what the kid can get away with (or thus goes Libet’s theory). This half-second-later override avoids a world of anarchy, where far too many nurses are groped. But this audacious behaviour of the subconscious is permitted — and instantly rationalized into something actually “intended” — enough times to boost the response rates of mailings that invite tactile improvisation.

Do we all have a Mr. Grabby waiting to help us open our mail? I invite those of you in the direct response industry to pipe in. Do you have an alternate suggestion?

What playwrights can teach about strong ad copy

Playwrights listen to the way people talk. The best of them turn this spoken music into something more than the merely authentic. They use it to convey a higher truth (even if the play simply makes us laugh; or maybe especially if it does). So what about ad copy — be it online, on a printed page or whatever?

Must jarring authenticity go out the window as the “polish” of professionalism is applied to an ad? This week, Roy Williams made an eloquent case for sparing some of the polish that can water down an ad and sap its power.

Williams even makes reference to a wonderful statement in the first chapter of a book of his — a book I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for a fresh perspective on advertising and marketing. Right there on Page 12 of The Wizard of Ads are these “Nine Secret Words”:

The risk of insult is the price of clarity.

Think of this the next time you review a proposed ad that is a little too jarring for your comfort. It could be bad, or unwise. This is always possible. BUT, it might instead be the most effective marketing investment you make this year.

Advertising legend David Oglivy once wrote that the ideal copywriter is “half killer and half poet.” I don’t know any professional killers, but I do have my favorite poets. Most of them, from what I’ve read about them, would be about as welcome in “polite company” as a paid assassin. Or a brilliant playwright, for that matter.

Could it be that this untamed, feral quality in art is something you should be looking for in commerce — in your next online ad, perhaps?

Out-of-home and into phone: Spectacolor HD boards add a mobile component

It was announced on Wednesday that a new type of digital billboard, Spectacolor HD, will be capable of presenting dazzling video and graphics. But eye candy is as cheap and ephemeral as the name implies. Where is the power to really engage a consumer? I got my answer in the fleeting, fifth paragraph of this BrandWeek article:

The Spectacolor HD board also promises to take the transformation of the outdoor medium one step further to engage the consumer through interactive features. Using mobile phones, passersby will be able to listen to audio for the board, play games on the screen, send text messages or download audio and video files.

Those who visit DigitalSolid regularly know that I get particularly excited by the prospect of ads with a mobile phone component. In prior posts I’ve discussed the direct marketing implications of standard digital ads, as well as the print-to-mobile promise of ShopText.

So you know my priorities.

I believe the news about Spectacolor HD that will have the biggest impact on us marketing technology types is the ability to push content to consumers for them to keep and share. As with the other examples I’ve discussed, this will truly use all of the marketing power of a digital ad.

How would it harness this marketing power? Well, what if, from this billboard, you could download a podcast to your cell phone — for instance, a song with a branding element or offer presented at the end, or a walking tour narrative? Or even a “treasure hunt” set of instructions? (Think Geocaching — a fast growing hobby for the GPS enabled.)

This would give your brand a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. It could be listened to multiple times and shared with others who haven’t seen the digital billboard. This is huge if the campaign is properly crafted.

But the billboard being discussed in the BrandWeek article is an exotic, rarefied animal. It will go up in New York City’s Times Square, at 47th Street and Broadway.

Most digital billboards will be on the sides of teeming freeways, where viewing time is brief, and the opportunity to download something, based on the range that Bluetooth grants you, is minimal indeed. Too bad there isn’t a way to pass information to a more far-flung group — a group of people who must stand still long enough to receive it.

Yours Free To Download (Just Wash Your Hands First, Please)

Should the meme of downloading from digital ads become more commonplace, I know of just such an audience. They are standing as I type this, gazing at digital ads all over America. I’m referring to the men in public restrooms equipped with digital, ad-serving monitors.

These units have always struck me as too clever by half. For one thing, they are positioned on the wall above a urinal mere inches from the viewer’s nose (I hope!). That makes ignoring the ads it flashes all but impossible, but it makes focusing on said ads just as difficult. And these ads have never promised me anything of value.

What if these same monitors were equipped to send the people in the restroom (hopefully after they’ve washed up!) the same goodies that were heretofore only available to New York tourists? 

Once you’ve stopped chuckling, think about the valuable mobile marketing you could accomplish by designing and executing a campaign that people receive by using any cellphone equipped with both Bluetooth and an MP3 player. It’s not so farfetched a future to imagine.

Ironically, these audio media may be delivered by a digital display ad. In an odd way this makes perfect sense.

And hopefully, by the time all the other moving parts are in place to make this advertising feasible, there will be more types of public spaces available where digital ads are displayed.

In the future, I would hope these campaigns wouldn’t be relegated to the type of room polite people excuse themselves to visit.

Testing uncovers 6 keys to landing page success

Landing pages are expansions of ads. Every banner, email offer or sponsored listing worth its salt points to a single, hard working page. What sort of work do these pages perform? Selling, plain and simple. But to succeed, the approach to designing these pages is neither plain nor simple. Tools like Google Website Optimizer allow you to test for yourself. These automated systems help you discover exactly what combination of components works best at converting your page’s visitors into customers or qualified leads.

But what components do you start testing? And what factors should you be paying attention to as you get started?

Luckily, a lot of testing has already been done, and their findings tell you a lot about the complexities of the human mind. Here’s an excerpt from a wonderful report from Marketing Experiments:

Landing Page Performance Elements

Through extensive research, Marketing Experiments has identified six essential elements that affect landing page performance:

Friction — [This is] caused by elements of the page that require a prospect to do extra work and increase the likelihood of abandoning the page due to fatigue or irritation. Incentives such as bonus gifts or special offers can make the offer feel more worthwhile and encourage the visitor to continue.

Visitor Motivation Level and Type— [These] are factors that influence how many will remain on the site or bounce off. The nature and level of visitor motivation is essential to what landing page attributes will prove to be the “stickiest.” If people really want something, they’ll put up with more friction.

Value Proposition — How quickly, clearly, and effectively the landing page conveys the site’s value affects its ability to move visitors to the next step and not abandon the site. [The authors call this level of abandonment the “bounce rate.”]

Anxiety — All visitors arrive at a site with an initial level of anxiety caused by their perceptions of the relative risks associated with the site, the company, and the product.

Credibility Indicators — You can improve click-through and conversion by including page elements that convey trustworthiness through credibility indicators such as awards, privacy policies, certifications, testimonials, and longevity statements such as “serving the needs of ___ for more than 15 years.”

This report also has an excellent exploration of when to use short versus long copy. Happy testing!

ShopText promises to make print ads more useful for impulse purchases

The promise is scintillating: You’re paging through a magazine or newspaper, or you encounter an out-of-home ad (even, perhaps, a digital billboard), and you decide you simply must have that product. You type a six-digit short code into your cell phone, send the number a text message with a keyword, and after a verifying second text is received and replied to, your product has been ordered.

The consumer wins by getting the product, and the marketer wins by fulfilling what may have been a passing whim. It’s the QVC network without ever going near a television or talking to an operator.

That is the promise of ShopText, as described in a recent New York Times article.

This technology’s potential audience is substantial. Everyone is aware of how ubiquitous the cell phone has become in our society. But what may be surprising to many is the fact that two out of every five users has sent a text message from their phone. According to recent M:Metrics statistics, 39.2% of cell phone owners send a text message at least once a month.

Now imagine that you are paging through a newspaper and you see something about the latest Harry Potter book — the one that is being pre-sold now, and will be delivered in the early summer. And then let’s just say that you’re a huge fan of the series, and want to see if Harry dies in this concluding volume. And finally, let’s say for the sake of example that once you’ve pre-registered with the ShopText site, all you need to do is send out a text message, directed to the short code “467467” (think of short codes as cell-phone-specific mini phone numbers). The actual text message would be easy to type because it contains only one word — “Potter.” Done! That’s all you need to do to lock in your pre-release book and have it mailed to you when the official release date arrives.

As you may have already surmised, this is no idle example. It’s exactly what I did, about four hours ago. The purchase took less than a minute. Time will tell if I become a satisfied customer, and even a repeat user. But since I really did want to lock in a copy for this new book, but kept forgetting to do so, this service fulfilled a real need that I had.

What are the implications if this mobile purchasing system fulfills lots of other people’s needs, and truly catches on?

Well, imagine trade shows where you can have samples and brochures sent back to your home or office (on the vendor’s dime of course). Or you could “buy” free or nearly free samples that you read about in display ads. These samples could be of just about anything — from cosmetics to pet supplies.

I find this incredibly exciting.

Watch this space to find out how this new consumer experience turns out for me. In return, I promise you I will be as objective as possible. Oh, and I won’t blab about Harry’s fate, if my copy arrives before you have a chance to read it yourself.

I am boldly going on record now, though, to make two predictions about future purchases:

  1. If this quick, convenient way to purchase on impulse lives up to its promise, I definitely will be buying lots of other things this way 
  2. Regardless of the above, Harry will be buying the farm

You read it here first.

Google Optimizer puts a potent tool in any marketer’s hands

Until this week, the options for marketers who wish to test landing pages were unappetizing. You could create home-grown A/B tests, or you could turn to an online testing system offered by companies such as Offermatica or Vertster. The first option was slow and cumbersome, while the latter was yet another layer of campaign management. Google changed all that with the release on Tuesday of their Google Website Optimizer.

The Eisenberg brothers, authors of the web marketing bible Call To Action, define a landing page as “a specialized page designed to induce the shopper who responds to an ad to make the purchase.” Once you’ve paid for a click that brings someone to this page, you’d better be sure to maximize the odds of a conversion. That’s where A/B split testing comes in. Using the original page as your control, you create a statistically reliable test with a second, similar page.

The test’s hypothesis is this: That the test page, which has slightly altered  content such as headline, body copy, offer or pricing, will not improve response.

Running both pages in equal numbers proves or disproves that hypothesis. If the test page does out-pull the control, it then becomes the control, and you pit something else against that. And so it goes until you’ve explored all combinations of variables or the campaign is over.

Life was simpler for direct mail  and direct response print marketers, simply because of the time and cost restraints of that medium. You needed to test, but the number of test variables was limited by the slow feedback loop and the cost of split testing using ink and paper.

But if you’re running an online ad — one that generates hundreds of clicks a day — you’d be crazy not to be continually testing something. All the time.

Online marketing shifts the constraint away from the medium itself and squarely onto campaign management. In my experience, a majority of marketing organizations simply cannot manage the level of testing that they could or should be doing for a given campaign. Those who are loathe to test are spending more for every conversion they generate.

Google has stepped in to help. Although their new tool doesn’t address the “expertise void” in testing (and they recognize that, as you’ll read in a moment), the Optimizer does promise to make the automation of testing within reach of just about any marketing organization.

According to product manager Tom Leung, it enables advertisers to “receive up to 10,000 versions of a web page.

“This tool lets you have one page, add a few Java scripts and
then when visitors hit the page, there are different combinations served.”

If the Optimizer is anything like Google’s other recent web marketing game-changer, Google Analytics (which is the refined suite formerly known as Urchin), this will be a direct response marketer’s dream.

The Website Optimizer is free to marketers using Google Adwords. Because A/B tests require experienced content professionals to get right, it is no surprise that Google has created a legion of Optimizer Authorized Consultants. The list of consultants will be growing (hey, Google, you have my information — call me, babe!), but now includes Optimost, EpikOne and Future Now, the company that published Call To Action. Now why doesn’t that surprise me?