5 Ways To Fail Fast Using Paid Search

Let’s face it. Nobody ever learned a valuable lesson from success. Sure, succeeding feels great, and we can often look back at success and credit a number of meaningful contributing factors. I love it, we all do.

In fact, our society and culture celebrate success to such a ridiculously high degree that we forget that the real knowledge and wisdom come from failing, not from succeeding. The key to making failure work for you is to fail fast – as quickly as you can, in fact.

I was reading an article recently that talked about the HP TouchPad. The what? Exactly. HP built and released this tablet in the wake of the hugely successful iPad release. It flopped.

But rather than struggle to gain market share with the device, HP promptly killed it. A failure, yes. But that failure would have cost exponentially more had the manufacturer continued to throw valuable resources at this effort. And, in the process, HP learned some valuable lessons about the tablet computing space.

In fact, the failure led the company back to an increased focus on the imaging business rather than computing hardware. Conversely, there are numerous stories of companies that didn’t fail fast enough and it cost them dearly.

Think about the recent digital transformations of music and photography and the companies that clung to old business models because that’s what they knew best.

So, how do you fail fast?

The first thing to do is to learn to embrace failure in its many forms. Many people confuse this with lowering our standards or expectations in outcomes, but that’s not what I’m suggesting here. I’m not recommending that we become careless or lax in our execution.

On the contrary, I’m insisting that we relentlessly pursue the most effective way to deal with failures when they inevitably do turn up. Acknowledge them, examine them carefully, work through them efficiently, and move on with the new experience and knowledge that you’ve gained from them.

The fact that failure is valuable plays right into the hands of search marketing. If you think about your key metrics – conversion rate, for example – we’re all failing at an alarming rate on a daily basis. Good retail campaigns have a conversion rate of anywhere from one to three percent.

That means that in a well-performing campaign you’re failing 97-99% of the time. And that’s success!

But rather than obsess over the conversion rate itself, we should be looking deeply at the drivers of success and failure and what we can learn from them.

In this spirit I am listing some tips to help you fail fast in search marketing:

1.  Set Up A Testing Budget

Let’s say ten percent of your total PPC budget. Use this budget to test new targeting options, keyword expansions, display network settings, retargeting, new bidding strategies, whatever. Most of these tactics will fail. Perfect!

2.  Build A Testing Calendar

This will help you with the ‘fast’ part. Set a hard deadline, either financial or time-based, to try each new tactic. Stick to the calendar. Move quickly. If a test is dragging out beyond the deadline, kill it and move on to the next.


SEM Testing Calendar

Keep a Testing Calendar and Stick to It

3.  Analyze Your Tests

On your testing calendar set aside time to analyze the last test as you’re launching your next one. This part is critical – it’s where you learn from your failure.

4.  Record Your Findings

Build a document that details your learnings. Maintain it. Keep it alive. This is your ‘best practices’ document and it’s wisdom. It’s what you have to show for your experience. Use it as a playbook for launching campaigns, trying new tactics, and documenting your analyses.

5.  Spread The Wealth & Keep This Process Going

Show others in your organization how much your experience is paying off. Get everyone used to the idea that failing fast is the most direct path to success!

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes on success and failure.

First, from Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player alive:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

And, from Thomas Edison, one of the foremost innovators in US history:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is Vice President, Marketing at Move, Inc., parent company of Realtor.com and other significant real estate-focused web properties. In this capacity, Roth oversees Paid and Organic Search, Affiliate, Mobile and Social Marketing for the Company. Prior to his arrival at Move, Dave was Sr. Director of Search and Affiliate Marketing at Yahoo!, Inc.

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