Hello Failure My Old Friend: The Way of the Optimizer

By Tad Miller | Sep 25, 2013
More Articles by Tad


Admittedly, I drive my wife absolutely crazy.  I’ve carried my work habits home to my domestic life.  I like to say that I am not a “Plan A” type of guy.  Whereas she is absolutely a “this is ‘The Plan’ and I don’t care if I have to personally force the world go with my plan and make it bend to my personal will – it’s going to happen that way” type of person…which almost always works because her knowledge and instincts are dead-on right.  But essentially, we don’t approach things the same way.

Early on in my professional life I started out as a high school social studies teacher and basketball coach.  I put meticulous planning into my lesson, practice and game plans.  I quickly discovered that whenever you are dealing with kids, that a monkey wrench can quickly be thrown into the way you “planned to do it” – which can completely derail your success.  I kept finding myself making contingency plans in advance (Plan B, C & D) and then just rolling with what works best.

I also discovered in coaching, that I was really pretty good at making adjustments on the fly with strategy.  I could find the opposing team’s weakness, figure out a plan to exploit it and implement it.  I was especially good at doing this after the first quarter of games. Sometimes these tactics lead to slow starts that don’t pan out so successfully early on.  But it’s not like I’m a boxer getting knocked out in the first round.

Enter Search Marketing

Major league baseball players fail to hit their way on-base 75% of the time.  Search marketers, depending on what they are trying to accomplish for their customers, would be ecstatic to have a 25% conversion rate (or a 75% failure rate if you’re a glass half-empty type).  In fact, I’ve had situations where well over 98% of my clicks or site visits didn’t result in the desired conversion action, and clients were very happy that things were going so well (those 2% resulted in huge sales).  How many jobs can you fail 98% of the time and be viewed as a great success? It’s not surprising to start out a new Pay Per Click Advertising campaign from scratch and not have immediate success.  But, the great thing about all of those failures is that there’s a lot of data associated with them that allows you to learn and make adjustments.

Optimization on Failure Metrics

Lots of people like to just focus on where success is when trying to optimize.  I think focusing on failures can be just as effective, and sometimes more effective.  After all, there’s a lot more failure to work with than success in terms of working data. Failure metrics are just like success metrics when it comes to keywords.  Eighty percent of the failing clicks are typically dominated by only 20 percent (or less) of the keywords you are advertising on (the 80/20 rule).  Once you figure out where those big failures are, you can:

  • Eliminate those clicks completely
  • Minimize exposure on those clicks
  • Determine why search intent doesn’t seem to be meshing with your landing page on those keywords
  • Design a custom landing page experience just for those failing keywords

Day by day, click by click, performance improves.  It’s typical for us to have clients that see incremental performance improvements.  I ran the numbers on one client recently that showed their likelihood of conversion success to improve 125% since we started working for them.

I’m Not Failing. I’m building a Remarketing List

It’s no secret that we love LinkedIn Advertising at Search Mojo and the power it gives online marketers with demographic targeting that’s perfect for B2B marketing.  But the same basic data sets for success vs. failure apply.  The overwhelming majority of clicks do not convert into leads or sales. But hold on: those ad clicks from LinkedIn are all super targeted.  The ads will only show to people on LinkedIn that fit the exact targeting options that we choose.  These people are the perfect audience and just because they didn’t convert this time, doesn’t mean you have to give up on them. Setting up Google Remarketing lists specifically for those demographically-targeted LinkedIn clicks is the perfect way to keep marketing to that ideal audience on the Google Display Network, and if you have a large enough remarketing list you can also do it on the Google Search Network. You can then build ads specifically customized to that demographic audience and landing pages geared in the same way.

Optimizing vs. Being a Failure

The difference between being a failure and optimizing is pretty easy to figure out.  Failures keep making the same mistakes over and over again and never learn from their mistakes.  Failures also take unreasonable and huge gambles from which they can’t recover.

The optimizer plays it safe enough to not get knocked out early, looks at the data and then has the flexibility to make the moves that will lead to success. Experience obviously plays a big part in Success vs. Failure.  I have frequently said that the reason businesses hire experienced workers is because they want to pay extra for someone that has experienced and learned from most of their on-the-job failures on some other company’s dime. If you are learning from your failures, you have a knowledge-base that allows you avoid future failures (especially with tactics that are “all or nothing” gambles).  Those tactics eventually become best practices that others you work with who are doing the same thing can adapt.  Until they don’t work…then back to the data…Lather – Rinse – Repeat.

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