Within all marketing and media, and certainly digital, where there are intricate moving but measurable parts, testing has become a mainstay. Because we all aspire to better testing, it’s a study in progress.
Depending on your partners, vendors, systems or tools, much of your testing may be left to your team’s raw imagination, discipline and ability to organize all testing in the most clear-minded way.
Sound testing takes a sense of order and the willingness to pace oneself. It also requires keeping the right creative and account resources on hand, to continually iterate to service the testing and move swiftly on what you learn. Staying this dexterous allows you to keep tuning the efficiency of the performance and/or conversions you are generating.
Testing Beyond The Usual Suspects
At a high level, the tenets of testing in search have long been keywords and phrases (obviously); categories; titles and descriptions; specific messaging and calls to action; visual assets and landing pages. Within these, there are numerous levers to pull along the path to conversion: text, graphics, messaging, organization, and merchandising. But, to keep orderly, the average search marketer tends to keep the grid pretty simple: keyword, creative, and landing page.
It was eye-opening and refreshing to read a recent Marin Software report, from August 2012, “The Search Marketer’s Guide to Creative Testing and Optimization.” This report reminds us, among other things, just how much room we have to test, how many facets — and thus, how much leverage within a given plan. What are the triggers? Imagine these:
- Display URL: the thought that the keyword itself might be this asset, or at least a sub-domain or extension of it
- Symbols: the concept of testing things like trademarks — or even “and” vs. “&”
- Call to action: present in most any search marketer’s test, in many ways, the performance marketer’s ongoing obsession
- Price, discounts and offers: some of the most moveable aspects available for consideration
- USP: unique selling points, benefits, other aspects, subjective, of course, to the marketer’s eye
- Brands: playing with the mention of brands and generic keywords, with which we may wish to associate
- Seasonality: seasonal references and descriptors, as well as timing
In some ways, taking a look at this broader list is freeing and inspiring. But, if you want to venture beyond testing basic assets, the issue of discipline, as mentioned above, is not insignificant.
Discipline & Organization Are Key
The Marin report authors paint the picture well:
“All creative tests begin with a choice, and marketers are subject to a plethora of test elements to choose from. Even at a basic level, creative can be characterized by and tested with functional, emotional or promotional qualities. Functional creative focus on the product or service and provide information such as pricing or features. Emotional creative pull at metaphoric heart strings and attempt to form a connection between the customer and the product or service. Promotional creative highlight discounts and evoke a sense of urgency.“
The ability to exercise discipline — to make a choice and organize the test — is key. But, further, I think about the undertones of subjectivity and emotionality — both for performance marketers looking to hardcode the success formula and brand marketers keen to understand brand affinities of their most responsive audiences.
Considering More Subjective Variables
Is it truly possible to isolate what is the most compelling benefit, within a statement of unique selling points? Any given benefit has more than one aspect, in how it resonates with a consumer — perhaps a practical consideration; perhaps an emotional consideration; perhaps timing or proximity. Same with a call to action — the most sophisticated of which are usually a short but provocative phrase. We can guess at the triggers within; but, it’s a guess.
And finally, there is the matter of the “heartstring,” both for brand and direct response. It matters, but it is nothing if not subjective. After all, it is a metaphor. Running brands, companies and marketing plans, we can easily spend our lives honing our ability to make our consumers’ heartstrings sing. But no two heartstrings are created the same. So, total resolution is elusive.
So, in the end, there is a reality we have to accept. No matter how much the science and mechanics advance, there will always be a softer underbelly to what we do. When it comes to consumers and resonance and action, no level of mechanical mastery can guarantee success formulas to infinity.
We’ve got to make peace with the flux, the constant consideration and the tuning to these undertones. No matter how slick and cross-tabbed the rubric, we’ve got to be OK with the looser aspect of testing — following our gut once in a while, trying a few things, playing with the more subjective elements, and incorporating those trials into the test.
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