Making decisions is difficult. The more people involved in that decisions and you have more and more opinions that potentially cloud the decision. Add in that the highest-paid persons opinion (HIPPO for short) carries significantly more weight and you could end up making a poor decision.

But what if data could inform your decision? What if you could put the choices in front of real customers and see which one they respond too more positively? You can! And it doesnt have to break the bank or take months.

A/B Testing With PPC

As mentioned above, the idea is to let data do the talking. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is simply the strategy by which you obtain the data. You can use Google AdWords, BingAds, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, etc. as long as you set up the test correctly and measure your results accurately.

Setting Up Your Tests

There are a couple of things you need to know when setting up your tests. First, you need to make sure that the options (the A and the B of A/B testing) are being rotated randomly and evenly. If these conditions arent met you could easily introduce a bias that will throw off your results.

Second, you need to compare apples to apples. This means that if you want to test a phrase in the headline of an ad, the other components of the ad must be identical so that the only variation would be due to the headline. You want both variations running during the same time period instead of one after the other. You control as many variables as possible so that the difference is a result of the tested component.

Lastly, you need to achieve statistical significance. This is a fancy way of saying that you need enough results to make sure the difference wasnt just chance. For example, if I flipped a coin twice and it was heads both times, it would be ridiculous for me to say that this coin only lands on heads. Same with your data. I dont have the time to cover it here, so Ill point you to a great tool here.

What Can You Test?

Most people readily think of testing different headlines or copy via PPC. Thats easy, but you can also test visual elements as well by using display ad units in your remarketing or display campaigns. Just use the criteria above to set up the test and a world of possibilities opens up to you.

Allow me to share a few examples of how you would put this into action.

  • Email subject lines " This is one of my favorites because email subject lines are just like PPC copy. You have a very short amount of space to work with and you have to get a click (or open) right then.
  • Blog post titles " Not sure which blog title is better? Use each one as a PPC ad and see which gets a better click-through rate (CTR). Then you can publish with confidence.
  • Button colors " No visual element is more discussed than the color of buttons. Every discussion on conversion rate optimization mentions it. Well why dont you make a couple of identical banner ads and put a call to action button on them. Then test the different colors to see which gets more clicks. Then plop it on a landing page or your site to see it really deliver the goods.
  • Billboards " If youre going to spend all that money on a billboard and you cant change it once its up, give the copy a test through PPC. Test the image as a banner ad or as the image with a sponsored post on Facebook or LinkedIn or with a sponsored tweet. Make sure that investment has the best chance of paying off.
  • New logo " Why not put your logo in front of some real customers and see how they respond? You can run it with PPC and gauge its performance before youve rebranded everything.

You can test virtually any text or image-based element through PPC very quickly, but how much money is it going to cost? Doesnt have to be a lot actually.

Testing On A Budget

To keep the costs down on these tests, there are a few tricks you can employ. Consider these:

  • Remarketing audiences " These are people whove already been to your site, so theyre well qualified. This helps to keep the results relevant. But this also can reduce your cost because display inventory (on whatever platform) is going to be cheaper than many search term. Ive seen clients paying over $5 CPC on search that can get clicks in remarketing campaigns for less than $1. This is a big cost saver
  • Social media ads " The CPC on social network ads like Facebook is much lower than even display network CPCs on AdWords. Even though the CTR will be much lower, this is a great way to keep costs down. If you need help, here is a free guide.
  • Brand keywords " Again, these are people who already know you, so the results are great, but more importantly, these are some of your least expensive keywords. The high CTR also allows you to see differences in performance more quickly.
  • Informational keywords " Youll be reaching a more broad audience, but seriously consider going after informational keywords in your industry. For example, instead of a keyword like flights to Europe consider a more information search like best time to visit Europe. Since the latter search could indicate several different intents and it higher up the funnel, it will be less competitive and less expensive.


In short, PPC is a great way to A/B test any component of your marketing efforts. It can be done very quickly and provides you with real data on how real customers respond to the different messages/images. Then its not about whose opinion is right or wrong, but which component elicited a better response from customers. It can also be done quite affordably if you put your tests in the right places, so get out there and start testing instead of just guessing!

* Leader image by futureshape