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Can you ever overdo experimental marketing?

I spend a lot of time talking about getting started on something instead of spending so much time contemplating what to do, and designing the perfect plan. Internet marketing is about constantly experimenting until you find something that works, so the faster you get to it, the better. But I was asked recently if you can suffer from the opposite problem, where you engage in endless activity that later turns out to be pointless or even harmful all in the name of experimentation. You can. And although it’s far less common than the “not getting started” problem, it pays to watch for signs to avoid.


When someone writes a book called “Do It Wrong Quickly,” it goes without saying that that person likes hyperbole. (And then I went ahead and said it anyway.) Of course, I don’t mean you should be trying to do it wrong, but rather that you admit that most of what we try is wrong, and we need to measure the results so we can fix it. And I often tell people to change it, change it, and then change it again.
But there is a time to stop.
Here are three reasons to decide that a particular aspect of a campaign is OK as is, at least for now:

  • You reach diminishing returns. In economics, it’s well-known that you get most of the value of any action when it is first taken, eventually getting to the point that doing more and more returns less and less. When you are tweaking a campaign, and you see that your clickthrough rate soars with a change, but then further tweaking that change shows little improvement or even regression, then it might be time to work on something else.
  • You have bigger fish to fry. Don’t miss bigger opportunities just to perfect a small one. Even if you think that you can dramatically improve a campaign, it’s not worth doing if you are missing the chance to improve another one that drives even more value to your business. Work on the most important things first.
  • Excessive change is sometimes penalized. George Michie had an eye-opening post a couple of weeks back in the RKGblog called “PPC Copy Changes Can Hurt You“—he illustrated several reasons why constant churning of your paid search campaign can be counterproductive. In addition, you could imagine that daily updates to your LinkedIn profile or incessantly changes to your Web site architecture and design could cause feedback to be bad, regardless of the intrinsic value of any particular change in and of itself.

So, experimental marketing is a good thing, but only when it is measured in terms of business value. If your experiments are making big improvements in your most important campaigns, you’re working on the right things. Like any technique, experimental marketing can be abused when it is approached as an end in itself instead of a way to improve business results. I write about this less because I suspect more companies are at the starting line deciding whether to run. What about your company?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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