Fail Fast, Learn Fast

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Last week, I read a fascinating article on MediaPost about Google’s “planned failures.” The great gift of the internet and digital world, according to the Googlers quoted in the article, is the ability to fail fast. “The price of failing slow is high,” it says.

Google has had tons of failures. Some, like Froogle, morphed into something else over time. Some, like Google Reader, became outdated. Some, like Knol, just died. Many would say that other projects should die, such as self-driving cars or Google+.

Probably Google’s biggest, or at least most well-known, recent failure is Glass. I wrote about why it failed in MediaPost a while back.

Coming up with crazy projects is in Google’s DNA. Some of them work, some don’t – but most failed quickly. Fail fast, learn fast is their motto.

I like to apply the same principle to PPC. Not that I plan to fail, but we all know that not everything we try in PPC is going to work. Some keywords will drive hundreds of clicks without a single conversion. An ad copy variation isn’t going to convert. Some landing pages are less than ideal. Or you forgot to exclude mobile apps in a display campaign (don’t ask).

With even the most egregious PPC failures, though, we should always learn something – just like Google does. Google learned that people aren’t ready to wear weird glasses to take pictures and search for stuff. But you can bet they’ll take the best aspects of that technology and roll out with something else.

That’s what you need to do in PPC. Find the losers and pause them – but then study them to figure out why they were losers.

Found an ad that performed terribly? Why? Was the headline weak? Did it include ambiguous phrases? Was there an unfortunate instance of DKI in there somewhere? Did it lead to the wrong landing page? Use these learnings to fix what’s broken.

I always tell new PPC hires that almost nothing is permanent in PPC. That bad ad, keyword, or display placement can almost always be spotted very quickly – within a day or two if you’re doing your job well – and paused with (usually) minimal ill effects.

I’ll even report on bad stuff – clients need to know why things didn’t work. I don’t generally call attention to outright mistakes, but I do point out keywords that didn’t work or ad copy that didn’t resonate. One such conversation with a client recently led to the decision to create a new landing page that’s more relevant for a subset of client keywords. That’s a good thing! We failed fast and learned fast.

It’s also good to start strong to learn fast. We’ve all had clients who launch in the middle of the month, even though they may have assigned a full month’s budget. I almost never pro-rate the spend. For instance, if the budget is $10,000 and we launch on the 15th, I don’t aim to spend $5,000. I aim to spend $10,000. Fail fast, learn fast. That way, month 2 hits the ground with a fine-tuned campaign, instead of waiting 2 more weeks to learn stuff.

What about you? Do you fail fast and learn fast? Or are you more conservative? Share in the comments!

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Comments

  1. You made some pretty valid points in here. PPC is about testing and finding the sweet spot (s). With search being such a direct response and highly measurable channel, your best option is to review the data and optimize accordingly. Some days are better than others and the data can always tell why, how, when and who.

  2. Good read–I can definitely see why you would rather fail fast (and learn fast!). Informing your client about this and getting his buy-in will be prudent as well. Some clients may not be too comfortable with such an audacious approach to failing, and the last thing we want to impress on them is that we’re a “whatever sticks” type of company when we throw in changing SEO strategies frequently.

  3. Just like in real life. You fail, you learn, become better. 🙂

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