The Magic of Google Adwords

Vincent Van Gogh once described the silence of midnight as “being more alive and richly colored than the day.” Through his paintings, he captured the depth and silent chatter of nocturnal life. The activity within search engines runs silent and runs deep. Search engines are rich in communication; we need only to listen for it.

We all understand the value of a search engine’s click-stream to any site in pursuit of conversions. But through the use of Google Adwords, we might also leverage random search activity to test words and phrases that get the best response from people.

Adwords features a rotation setting that allows you to put two or more phrases into rotation in order to measure which gets the most clicks–and conversions. Because online search activity is fairly random, the rotation of ads serves as a good randomized test.

I got the idea to use Adwords to test subtitles for our catalog cover while reading Ian Ayres’s recent book, Super Crunchers. One of our companies,, sells aftermarket Jeep parts and accessories through catalog and Internet. Within our organization there were two camps divided on which phrase best expressed to shoppers the type of products 4WD sells: one group favored “Jeepers’ Guide” and the other, “Jeep Parts.”

Instead of letting the decision come down to the will of egos, we agreed to let customers decide.

We created a Google Adwords campaign targeting at searchers using keywords like “Jeep accessories,” “Jeep tops,” or “Jeep bumpers.” Searchers would see one of the ads, evenly rotated in with each impression. (For this test, we specifically excluded all keyword searches that contained both “Jeep” and “parts” in the search phrase). We made certain that all the ad copy was common, save the title, which was the subject of the test.

We launched the campaign on a Friday, and by Monday we had enough impressions to base our conclusion. With just under 55,000 impressions over the course of a weekend, we saw a 24% higher click through rate for the phrase “Jeep Parts” over “Jeepers’ Guide.” What’s more, “Jeep Parts” experienced a substantially higher conversion rate: 1.5% compared to 0.4%.

Clearly, “Jeep Parts” resonates in the mind of the customer. (We also measured “Jeep Parts” against one other phrase, “Gear to Get You There,” and the results were even more striking in favor of “Jeep Parts.”)

Google offers another free tool called Google Trends. Google Trends compares multiple search terms and measures which one gets the most search activity—furthering indicating what’s on the mind of the shopper.

In the new world of analytical measurement, we find that using traditional intuition alone–without the benefit of analytical validation– is losing out to statistical certainty. Intuition about words or phrases that best capture customers’ attention is subjective and limited by one’s experiences and senses.

Intuition, though, is how the process begins–someone with practical experience advances an idea–but conclusions about how to proceed must be tested with analytical measurements. Intuition can coexist with statistical thinking when each is used cooperatively.

Van Gogh also understood the human experience. He paid many of his bills–as for a meal in a restaurant–with a bank check, ornamenting each one with a drawing. Each check was unique.

The artist wagered with himself that the recipient would find a higher intrinsic value in a check personally engraved by a celebrated painter than the amount owed. Van Gogh enjoyed a lot of free meals.

Kevin Rourke is director of e-commerce and Internet operations for Transamerican Auto Parts.