Show Notes:

Another episode, and another Google AdWords legend.

This man has ‘written the book’, his work has been published in the Harvard Business Review, Fortune Magazine, Search Engine Watch – basically, everywhere. And he has been paid by industry geniuses like Dan Kennedy and Perry Marshall to teach his methodologies. 

Listen in, as we get DEEP into your prospects psyche with Howie Jacobson, where you will learn:

– how to tap into your intuition to understand your prospects’ fears, hopes and dreams;

– the objective of the ad copy vs a landing page;

– how to write ad copy that avoids the ‘sea of sameness’.

 You can learn more about Howie at, buy his brilliant book here, and connect with him on Twitter or at his PPC agency.


Philip: Welcome to another episode of the Online Marketing Secrets Podcast. Today, we have an amazing guest. The man is a legend in the Google AdWords space. He has written the Google AdWords Dummies Guide.

He’s being paid for training clients like Dan Kennedy and Penny Marshall. He has written for Search Engine Watch. He’s been published in the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company. Basically all over the place. An incredibly warm welcome to Howie Jacobson.


Howie: Hello, Philip. Glad to be here.


Philip: Thanks so much for your time. You’ve been involved in AdWords for an incredibly long time. How did you get started?


Howie: I got started in 2003. I had been using Overture, which was then bought by Yahoo!. I found it to be a wonderful idea but very painful to implement. Then at a conference in late 2002, people were starting to talk about this new pay-per-click thing from Google, and I gave it a try. I opened my account in January 2003, and it’s been off to the races ever since.


Philip: What was the attraction with AdWords?


Howie: Well, it was a way to find prospects without having to be particularly outgoing. That was the whole attraction of Internet marketing for me in my early years of my career. I’d come from an education background just to say I was a teacher and as a teacher, you just show up and there’s a group of . . . there’s a captive audience.


There’s a group of people who have no choice but to sit there and listen to you. When I went into business there was no more captive audience; I had to go up drum on-drum up business.


I had this phobia of cold calling, I had this terror of being in conversations with people that I would say the wrong thing and I found that I still had that terror when I was writing, but I didn’t have to do anything in real time.


I could write a sales letter over the course of weeks and get it to where I wanted to, and then all I had to do was send people to it.


And what Google AdWords gave me was a couple of lines and some insight as to what people were searching for, and those were the search terms that I chose. And people would show up and respond to my ad copy as if I were suave, confident, charming witty, valuable, none of the things I felt in live conversation. I’ve got to say that was the initial attraction.


Philip: Interesting. How did you get involved with the Dummies Guide? That’s quite a complement. When did the first Dummies Guide come out for AdWords? That was way back in 2007 . . .


Howie: Yes, I was writing it in ’06 and it came out in ’07. I would like to say that they scoured the earth for AdWords experts and chose me, but actually it was my excellent networking.


A guy I know who had written the previous incarnation, which was “Building Your Business with Google for Dummies” was no longer doing that. He and I went to the same chiropractor, and we had a lot of similar friends, and he called me up one day and said, “Hey you do AdWords, you want to write a book?”


I feel like I was in a very lucky position to get the opportunity, and luckily they didn’t just give it to me. They made me do a ton of writing, of proposing, of outlining, so I do feel like I earned it in the end.


Although the opportunity, when people ask “How do I get a Dummies Book?” I’m like, go find a chiropractor. Talk to the other people in the waiting room. I have no idea.


Philip: Good old fashioned networking. So you do a lot of education. Well you’ve been doing a lot of education since then. You’re also co-founder of an agency, so you know the client side of things–Vitruvian?


Howie: Yes.


Philip: What’s most of your focus these days?


Howie: With Vitruvian we’re focusing a lot on online education providers. So people who sell education, whether it’s continuing ed credits, in the IT space, real estate, project management.


We have lots of hobby educators like playing harmonica, water color painting. We didn’t even realize it for a little while, but we stumbled onto a niche of people who teach other people, and who use the online space to attract those people.


Philip: I thought what was interesting about your tag line for your agency. It’s “leveraging the art and science for advertising.” I actually did a talk a few months back with a whole lot of business, and I had two slides: one was of the Sistine Chapel and another one was a whole lot of data, so talking about the mix between art and science of Google advertising, which I think a lot of people over look the art. Would you agree?


Howie: Absolutely. When you say the Sistine Chapel and data, they’re actually the same thing, right? Just seen from two different lenses. So I’m sure if you looked at the Sistine Chapel and you analyzed the architectural structure–you could do it in numerical terms, in formulas–and someone who as a beautiful mind could look at data and see all sorts of cosmic patterns in it.


It’s very important. I don’t know anyone who is utterly brilliant at both, that’s one of the things I appreciate about the agency and about partnerships, where I can look and I see people and someone else can look and they can see bid prices.


I’m decent at the data, but when I was trying to do that as a strength it was frustrating. It gave me a lot of headaches.


Philip: So when we do a lot of training with clients around Google AdWords, and we ask them which area are you stronger in depending on how big the team is and who’s doing what.


Because it seems that I’ve found a lot of the more creative marketing type people get really bogged down in the data because you need so many metrics to look at. What sort of mix do you think it is, between art and science? It’s probably a difficult question, but…


Howie: Yes, well I think it’s at different times, different things matter. I’m a big believer in what’s called open book management, which is really figuring out what are your key numbers, and steering everything towards one or two, or at most three key numbers. I’ve applied that to AdWords.


So there are times when you can fiddle with the throughputs and say what we’re looking for here, our big number is our profit per click, and so at that point you’d want to look at what the constraint on your profit per click.


Is it that your click costs are too high, you can lower them. Maybe your click costs are too low, you’re not getting enough lead flow, and so you’re not generating enough high-end prospects to make those big sales.


So that’s the case where data is really the first pass, where I take a look at spreadsheets and say “Where does it hurt?”


A doctor might give you a blood test, or a battery of tests, and then if they’re sensitive, they would say ‘it looks like your adrenal function is low, so now let’s be an artist, and find out about your life, find out about your thought patterns, and your habits, and your diet and exercise, and your office stress and all that, and come up with a suitable solution.


So I find that data tends to point me in the right direction


So the data points me in the right direction, and then ultimately sales, business, marketing is nothing to do with data. Data has to do with human beings and their desires. So the quicker we get to that–that’s where 99% of the real leverage is–is understanding the beating heart of the market behind those numbers.


Philip: Do you ever talk about with your clients if they have a small team around segregation of duties within campaign management-where someone’s more responsible for the ad copy, but obviously they need to work together, and some people are more responsible for the data and the bidding?


Howie: Well, when the clients I work with personally as a coach tend to not have big teams at the moment. I tend to work with smaller entrepreneurs. With the agency we do that, and we’ve found it really important to put our best people on the best things, and then have them talk to each other.


So the two things we’re looking for is a particular skills set and the ability to communicate it and be influenced by other people’s . . . by other skills sets. Because none of us is as smart as all of us as some cheesy book from the ’90s.


Philip: Absolutely. I find that a lot of people, especially people not that comfortable with data, can get bogged down in the console and the metrics, and they forget that the only thing that your prospect of customer is ever going to see is the ad copy and then don’t focus enough on the uniqueness and really connecting with the prospect with the particular problems that they have, which has ultimately led them to doing the search in the first place.


Howie: Absolutely, and I would just add to that that-when those of us discovered Google AdWords after not being in metric driven or ROI marketing, it’s intoxicating to see all this cool data. You can just get lost in there because it’s such amazing data that we’ve never had the possibility of acquiring, unless we were a billion dollar company with all sorts of data management systems in place.


For the ordinary entrepreneur this data was outside our grasp, and all of a sudden. it’s there, it’s in beautiful charts, it’s in graphs, and it’s easy to see why you could get lost in it.


Philip: In doing my research of you, it seems that one of the things that jumps out at me that’s a little bit different or very appealing about your approach, is you spend a huge amount of time really understanding the psyche of your prospect .


Howie: Yes.


Philip: And I think you build that into a couple of your processes. I think you have a process called checkmate, which is a multi-step process. And when I look at that I’m trying to analyze the different words you use, but really try and get what’s different about this, and to me you’ve got a massive emphasis early on around really having a deep understanding of your prospect. Is that right? Could we talk a little about that?


Howie: Sure, yes, well that’s the whole game. I was very influenced years ago by a Mel Gibson movie called “What Women Want” where the basic premise is he’s a male chauvinist, jerky ad executive, who electrocutes himself and after his accident recovers and is able to hear women’s thoughts.


And all of sudden he becomes this all-star of advertising. Every product he comes up with women say “Oh my God. He understands me so well.”


And it occurred to me that if we understood people that well marketing would be simple. It would be trivial, in fact.


So how do we go about that, especially if we’re marketing online, and don’t necessarily have access to clients or customers, and we don’t know how to talk to them or how to ask these questions and very often . . . my friend and mentor Glenn Livingston talks a lot about there’s things that they know and won’t tell us, and there’s things that they don’t know about themselves.


So part of what the checkmate process does is it invites us to really put ourselves their shoes, and imagine life through their eyes, through their skin, and play with other people to see what sort of what comes up, what other real underlying needs, desires, feelings, fears, what are the objections that are likely to come up? Why is this important? When is it important? What is going to attract them and what’s going to scare them away?


I wouldn’t do this for someone selling a box of paper clips necessarily, but most of the clients that I work with are selling something that’s a little bit high stakes, even if it’s not cancer therapy.


For example, a case for your iPhone, in a certain respect that’s a high stakes purchase, even if it’s only 30, 40, 50 bucks, and it’s a piece of plastic.


Philip: Listening to this, and I’m sure other listeners would be thinking that sounds so obvious, understanding your customer that’s Marketing 101. But no one seems to do it or thinks about doing it and goes my target market is between the ages of 20 and 50, male, living in a certain state, and they want my product.


No one seem to . . . everyone recognizes that it sounds like a good idea, but how the hell do we do it? Can you step us through the process? I know you have quite a specific process on how the hell do we find what they want?


Howie: Sure, it might be useful at some point to go into an example.


Philip: Let’s do that.


Howie: So I don’t know, give me something-give me a product.


Philip: Let’s say a manufacturer of water tanks. So you sell to farmers and households water tanks that capture the rain water and you can recycle water.


Howie: So, first thing we’d go to . . . and this is a combination of making things up, educated guess and knowing your customers and real research.


So the first thing I would do is go to Google and my client would say what’s the main keyword that we’re looking for here? Because all of this is very keyword specific at first.


We want to drill down at every level possible to specificity, as opposed to 30 to 50 year old male, living in Nebraska. So we’re looking for . . . I want their name, I want their birth date, so I used to ask how old are they and when I was doing consultations people would say oh in their thirties. So now I don’t say how old are they; I say in what year were they born.


When they say 1962, then I say so what was the popular music when they were 14? Some people don’t know, but some people . . . well 1976, Billy Joel, and all of a sudden you get a picture of a pimply boy listening to Billy Joel or Michael Jackson or whatever they happen to be listening to when they’re 14, and you start to create a real person.


One of the things that happens to us in business is that we get so caught up. It’s very e-Mythy. We get so caught up in the process that we can lose track of why our business is sacred. Who it serves, who’s life are we making more wonderful or less horrible, through what we do?


I find that reconnecting with that by living in the skin of our prospect, even for a few minutes, my experience is it really energizes business owners to not just market better, but to . . . marketing is just a function of getting the word out. I want to tell people about this. It turns to mission as opposed to a kind of strategic functionality.


So let’s say we’re looking for water tanks, and we look and see what some of the ads are saying, and basically Google is the world’s biggest, smartest computer in reverse engineering desire.


Google knows that if someone types in water tanks, they pretty much know what they’re looking for. The entirety of that entire super computer algorithm is to figure out what do they want to see? What do they care about?


So we can take a look at that and start to imagine someone who would be interested in water tanks. I would ask questions. I would say tell me their name, and you might say Bob. Bob is very popular, Dan is very popular for male names in this process.


What year was Dan born? Well 1973. Tell me a little bit about Dan, where does Dan live? Oh it was Bob. Where does Bob live? He lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Is he married? Yes he has three kids, how old are they? Where did he meet his wife?


I start asking questions you would think are utterly irrelevant and they certainly don’t know the answer in advance. So if I say, how much money does Bob make? Sometimes they know that sort of thing.


They know things that they think are related to their business, but if I say, what did Bob want to be when he was eight? What is Bob’s secret guilty pleasure? What’s something Bob ashamed of that he’s never told anyone? Stuff like that. What kind of dog does Bob have?


Philip: So I guess . . . sorry to interrupt, someone listening now well-I’m making these up these answers up.


Howie: Yes.


Philip: And how do I actually know, and why are these relevant?


Howie: Yes.


Philip: I take it’s about the mindset, so you’re training your brain to think more like your prospect, so when you get to the more purchase-orientated questions or the desire that’s actually made them search in the first place. You’re much more in tune with what their thinking. I take it that’s the objective.


Howie: That is definitely one of the objectives. So one thing is I want to get people’s intuition flowing, because very often they don’t come out with bad answers.


I was reading about J.K. Rowling, and her process in creating the Harry Potter series. Apparently she has file folder and file folders thousands and thousands of pages-maybe 20 times more written material than ever made it into the book, about each character–character studies, of Serious Black and his childhood and all sorts of stuff that never made it in.


But because she had all that, she wrote something that was always consistent. Even if we can’t see it, it’s there. So when I thought if I ask what kind of dog Bob has, they never say a Pomeranian. They’ll say Coonhound.


There’s something even in that answer that helps them articulate something that they intuitively know about Bob. People almost never create characters by blurting things out that aren’t internally consistent.


It’s a way to exercise your intuition muscles, it’s a way to stop saying I don’t know, because very often as marketers we want to say something–well I don’t know.


The question is if you did know, if you had to guess, and our guesses . . . we have a lot of data inside us from being in business, and just being alive that we can’t access rationally.


Very few people can access rationally, but this is a way to start loosening those flood gates.


Philip: So I take it that many business will have more than one target market, right? You would isolate one target market, and do this process thoroughly for that one particular market and then move onto the next market.


Howie: Right, and there’s times when you want to have completely different avatars. You choose your keyword and you start creating your avatar and you can choose two completely different keywords.


Let’s say water tanks or drought prevention are highly different, and you may discover that the two people are really different. Maybe drought prevention is a farmer, where as water tank is just someone looking to save money on car washes.


You may discover that they have a lot in common, you may discover that it’s the same avatar at a different point in the search continuum.


Philip: So can I ask how you . . . some of the generic keywords it’s difficult to know the intent or the target market behind that. So let’s say Melbourne lawyers, right? It’s a pretty generic term.


It’s a high purchase intent term, but you don’t know if that person is . . . you don’t know much about that person based on that search term.


Howie: So that’s where I would go into what I call the matrix, which is a way of looking at the Google AdWords, the Google search results page, and seeing what’s there and coming up with something that attracts your target market.


So first of all even if you could everyone who typed in “Melbourne lawyer”, you probably wouldn’t want everyone. There’s only a small segment of people that you’re looking for, and that will differ for everyone, whether they’re DUI, or labor law, immigration law, real estate, so you don’t want everyone.


One thing you can do is create ads that disqualify by specific qualification, So if you’re a real estate attorney, and some of it’s in Melbourne lawyer, you can say Melbourne real estate lawyer, and then you’re not going to get the clicks for all the people looking for criminal defense.


Another thing you can do there is . . . so someone does type that in and you have to decide if that’s a worthwhile prospect to get to your website. What is that person looking for and then we can go through the process and see what are their other options on this page.


So it will probably be, if we look at that page you’ll see a lot of find a lawyer listings–find lawyers type in your zip code, look for lawyers here.


You might have one or two firms that are advertising on that because they have a marketing budget and they hired a company whose not accountable to results, but just look you’re on page one for Melbourne lawyers, right? If you want to be on that page–I’m trying to figure out why you would. . .


Philip: Those terms as well also end up being incredibly expensive, because anyone with two brain cells is going to go, if I’m a lawyer I’m going to target lawyers Melbourne or lawyers Sydney, those keywords are incredibly expensive.


Howie: Yes, yes so you want . . .


Philip: And the intent is so mixed as you say. There’s five hundred different types of lawyer services, why not target those particular types of services rather than the head keyword?


Howie: Yes, so that one thing this process is not going to make you better at advertising where you shouldn’t be advertising.


Philip: You have a very structured approach of analyzing the Google search result pages, and I think it’s important to emphasize this is your starting point. You don’t recommend people go do all their keyword research and start setting up ad groups and then come write ad copy?


You recommend the first place you go, is you do a search for the keyword, you do a print screen and literally print that screen out on paper so you’ve got a record of it, and then you start analyzing in detail all the ads that are on that page.


I think you also recommend analyzing the organic results as well, don’t you?


Howie: Yes, yes there’s no reason not to. I got to this from reading books on behavioral economics, specifically Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational”. It talks about the concept of context, that as human beings we don’t make decisions based on every possible input.


If I walk into Starbucks, I’m not thinking about can I best spend this $4.95? I could donate it, I could repair the lock on my office door, I could buy a latte–we just think in terms of the menu at Starbucks.


The Google search results page is serving a similar purpose. It’s limiting our choices to everything we see on that page. So that’s why I think when we’re trying to say something, we’re not speaking in a vacuum we’re actually positioning ourselves against everything else.


And what you see almost always when you look at a Google results page is what I call the sea of sameness, everything looks the same, so someone looks at that and say how on earth am I supposed to decide?


And yet when you go to a Google results page, if you’re like most people, you’ll bring up the page and within three, or four of five seconds, you will have clicked away to something, and you’re not a speed reader, but something catches your eye.


The thing that resonates with you the most, the thing that sparks some feeling of confidence, some feeling of this person understands me, some ember of hope is flamed in your breast and that catches you even without you thinking about, it or recognizing it consciously.


And that’s what I want my clients to be able to do with their ads, and the only way to do that is to connect the dots of what is in my prospects’ heart and what are they seeing on this page and how can I be more relevant, more hopeful, more confident, more kind, than anything else they’re seeing.


Philip: Can I ask why the avatar, building up the customer profile that you called the avatar, why that’s not step one?


Howie: Yes, because it’s harder than the . . . logically it is step one, but I found . . . here’s what I found, when I taught people to go through the matrix process, which is extremely simple, by the way.


Anyone can do it themselves by making a list of what goes in a good direct response ad. So I just had nine or ten columns, like what’s the offer, what are the features, what are the benefits, what’s the voice, what are the keywords in the ad, what’s the offer–stuff like that.


You just go through and you don’t even think or analyze, you just look. Here’s the offer in this ad. Let me write it down on a piece of paper. Here’s the benefit from that ad. Let me write that down on a piece of paper, and at that point you come up with a table that has gaping holes in it.


And my experience is before we do any avatar work, when they’re looking at that piece of paper and having gone through the process of parsing this big search results page they immediately start saying, “Oh my God. No one’s saying this, no one’s speaking to this group.”


So it immediately gets people thinking about who this isn’t talking to, so that leads into the avatar work with a lot more confidence, and that’s the only reason I do it that way.


Philip: I’ll provide a link to this ad creation matrix in the show notes, because I’ve got it in front of me right now and it’s a great sheet.


You’ve got a couple of things that I think are little bit unique to you, so I’ll just go through them quickly. The URL just for reference point, then you have a column for the offer, so each ad on the page you’d be filling in the one row, right?


Then you’ve got the features and you’ve got your benefits, then you’ve got your call to action and some of these might be blank right, because many advertisers don’t have a call to action.


Then you have a couple of interesting ones. One is reason to believe. Can you explain that a bit?


Howie: Yes, that one is uniquely mine ever since I stole it from Doug Hall, who wrote a book called “Jump Start Your Business Brain”, and reason to believe is basically a colloquial way of saying “why would anyone believe you?”


Is there credibility here? So for example, some of the best ads are entirely reason to believe ads, so they’ll have one hundred seventy five reviews with an average of five stars–that’s huge.


Or they’ll be the top ad with four site links under it and immediately, it’s like seen on TV. People look at that and say they must be credible. Look at them they’re at the top they’re so big, or a brand name, or been in business for 53 years, or award winning, or even words that can suggest reason to believe.


That’s what it means. Like, does anything here have credibility? Nobody knows anybody online, it’s all a crap shoot. Is there anything in these words that would give someone confidence?


Philip: I think people have . . . so words like top quality and customer focused are at the other end of the spectrum, you know what I mean?


Howie: Yes.


Philip: Those are the words that I find that have just been bastardized and have zero reason to believe, people are trying, but no one believes that sort of stuff. It needs to be really specific, doesn’t it? It needs to be a fact of some sort that you can back up.


Howie: Yes, it needs to be something that you couldn’t cut and paste and put the same line under all your competitors. If anyone is going to advertise, “we don’t give a toss about our customers”, then customer focused would be a very good phrase, but unless everyone is doing that I would stay away from it.


Philip: Then you have another interesting column after reason to believe in, and that’s big difference.


Howie: Yes, again that’s something I borrowed from Doug Hall. It’s a great book, and he has his three: real reason to believe, he calls it dramatic difference, and I would’ve called it dramatic difference, but I didn’t have enough space on the header column, and the other one is . . . he calls it the overt benefit and I call it the big benefit.


So the dramatic difference is how is this ad different from all the others? I don’t know if you remember when you were a little kid, maybe elementary school class, they would’ve given you a bunch of objects in front of you on the table and said divide these into two groups, and maybe it was a bunch of buttons, do it like metal buttons and plastic buttons or buttons with tow holes and buttons with other than two holes or big buttons. There was any number of ways you could divvy it up.


So for me the big difference is if you were to create two groups, one with this ad in it and the other with all the other ads in it, what would be the distinguishing characteristic? Very often that’s the hardest to fill out, because you’re like, “Wow, there’s no difference what so ever.”


But sometimes you’ll see one. Like everyone else is selling call for a consultation and this person’s offering a free guide to help you choose, so that would be an example of a big difference. If the only person who offers a guarantee, that would be a big difference. Very often that’s mostly blank.


Philip: This is great. I’m loving the structure of this table because it forces you to fill in all the blocks. Often we actually do a print screen and then use color highlighters to highlight the different types of benefits. So if everyone is talking about price, we’ll color that pink throughout the ads.

Then if everyone’s talking about the same call to action, we’ll color those green so we can see the similarities and the differences between all the ads. I think this is a much more structured approach and it’s got a couple of extra areas that I think we’ve overlooked.


Howie: I’m going to steal your color coding because I have a bunch of highlighters that I never use and I really like being able to see it visually, and then the entire page can tell a story.


Philip: Yes, exactly.


Howie: So it’s as if you say what’s the theme of this page. The theme is you don’t care about quality, you just want it cheap, and you want it now, right?


Philip: Yes.


Howie: Very often that’s the thing.


Philip: Absolutely, yes. So we’ve done a very detailed analysis of the results page? We’re very clear on exactly what our competitors are offering and what they’re not offering.


We move into the avatar, which we started talking about, so we had a couple of example questions. Can you keep going along the avatar and how you get in the psyche of the-your target market, particularly around the service that you’re offering? Or the product that you’re selling?


Howie: Yes, so what I do in the checkmate groups, which I can do individually with people, but I find it’s more fun with a group of three or four others, none of whom knows anything about your business.


We’ll just ask a bunch of random questions about your avatar, and you’ll be squirming and you’ll have to come up with it a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog and his wife’s name is Cheryl, they met at his first job, and then we’ll shift into questions about the search itself.


So you’re looking for a water tank. Do you have one now? Yeah I have one. I have some rain barrels that are only fifty five gallons. I’d really want something that was five or six hundred, Oh really? How come?


Then a bunch of questions specifically about the search, about what the requirements are . . . what made you want to look right then? Why did you even do this search today? Well my neighbor just got one, or I saw the farmer’s almanac and it looks like we’re going to have another dry summer.


Take all that and ask our client to write a diary entry as their avatar.

Dear Diary–and I give them a bunch of prompts that they can use or choose one of their own, like, I’m really frustrated that or if I could only or nobody understands how important it is that I or I really wish I could or I want more than anything is.


And whichever one they want to start writing a diary entry as if they were about to sit down and do the search and at the moment they were going to type in the keyword they lifted their hands off the keys and wrote in their diary about that search.


What that gives us is the context, like, what triggered it, because it’s very often useful to speak of a trigger in the ad. So for example, if I saw a page of weight loss ads and some of them said for July weddings, or look good in a bikini, or for that reunion depending on the month or drop two jean sizes, where the trigger there is you walk to the closet and you reach up and you put on these jeans that you aren’t worn in a while and all of sudden you realize that they’re not your jeans anymore.


Understanding the trigger, understanding the criteria, and then playing with the language. By writing a diary entry you often come up with words and phrases that you would never write as the advertiser, because you’re putting yourself in the other person’s shoes you’re allowing the emotion to flow a little bit.


Philip: What about if there’s multiple answers, because now we are getting very specific, and I guess I’m really frustrated that I’m going to come up with whole lot of things. How do you then get to the next level of ultimately writing your ad copy? You’re going to come up with a huge variety of different objections and different frustrations–you’re creating a lot of data I guess.


Howie: Yes. So we’re not worried so much about the objections when it comes to the ad, it’s rare that I focused ads on objections. I see that the purpose of the landing page is to answer objections. The purpose of the ad is to make the promise the person most wants to hear and will believe.


So I’m focusing on benefits, I’m focusing on an offer, and also there’s another column on the matrix called voice, which I think of if I say the word “doh,” everyone immediately hears Homer Simpson. So if I write “doh” in the ad, at the end of an ad, a line of the ad, people hear that whole ad and Homer Simpson’s voice.


And by putting things in question marks you can have, you can give an ad voice, you can make it caring, you an make it snarky, you can make it challenging, you can make it frightening, you can give it all sorts of voices. We’re all emotional beings and respond to emotion.


You can also . . . another rick that I love to use is to put the headline in quotes and the headline is then something that one of your happy customers has said or maybe something that they said before they bought from you or something that comes right out of the diary like, “I don’t know if I need a bigger water tank,” however you’d get that down to 23 characters including the quotes.


Wife says, “No ugly water tank,” that immediately catches someone’s eye and not just the guy specifically who argued with his wife abut she wants azaleas, and he wants a 600 gallon camouflage tank.


Philip: That’s great. I think that hopefully it’s starting to hit home with the listeners. Your statement that you made a couple of minutes ago around the purpose of the ad copy, I think you said “to make the promise the person most wants to hear and believe.”


I think anyone who’s doing Google AdWords should be typing that up and sticking that above their computer. That really sums it up, doesn’t it?


Howie: I think so, everyone . . . here’s the thing, when we’re marketing we very often get into a defensive posture. We worry about how do we get them to stick to our site. It’s as if these people have absolutely no desire to do anything and we’re forcing them.


When someone comes to a search, they’re driven by a huge engine of desire, and they don’t want you to fail, they’re not rooting for you to write a bad ad or show them a landing page that makes them puke.


When they see an ad they do a search, they want to see the answer, and when they click on an ad they want you to succeed, they’re not rooting for you to waste their time. By aligning ourselves with their desires, we can make the process one in which we’re really respectful of where they are and how much it means to them.


Philip: Now Howie, we don’t have time to get into all nine steps of your checkmate process. Did you have any other super tips regarding ad copy that you generally believe work quite well, just any rough rules of thumb?


Howie: Well, I would say look at the ad copy of your competitor ads and do something different.


Philip: Absolutely. In terms of strong calls to action, keywords in the ad copy which seems to these days be an interesting one, because it used to be best practice, but now that everybody’s doing it coming back to your point that you just made, you’re not going to look very different if everybody’s putting the keyword in the headline and you the exact same thing.


Howie: Yes, I would try to say try to get away with not putting the keyword in the headline telling a story. You made need to put the keyword in the headline if you end up with a poor quality ad.


Google said this isn’t what we thought it should be about. There are constraints that you have to play within, but if everyone else has the headline water tanks and you have something called “green lawn in August”, that’s going to get a lot more attention.


Philip: True. Very true. Howie, you’ve been involved with AdWords for longer than most, I was about to say longer than Google, but that would probably be true as well . What do you see changing in the industry? Do you see things getting a lot harder?


Obviously a lot or people we speak to were doing AdWords three years ago and the cost per click was half, things were just so much better back then…What do see as changing and what do you think is happening in the next year or two?


Howie: When I started it was the Wild West, so nobody knew what they were doing. Anyone who stumbled upon a good direction or people like one of my teachers, Perry Marshall, who could clearly see the system in its entirety as a new form of a very ancient marketing practice. We’re able to come in and clean up.


But as more people have gotten in . . . what happens is any market, any medium tends towards break even for the first sale. Something else that’s happened is that almost all the cool tricks that we used to be able to do that would give us an advantage are now either best practice or they can be done by a machine. Google is constantly changing things to make it easier for more and more people who don’t have to know anything.


The goal shouldn’t be to a genius at this really complicated system, and that’s where headed, so we now have enhanced campaigns that are taking away some of our-those of us who know how to juggle knives are upset that Google is now giving out plastic knives that everyone can juggle, so that competitive edge is going away.


So ultimately where Google is going is you’re going to tell Google, hey I sell flowers I’m at the corner of fifth and Main, I’ve got these kind of flowers go find me customers, and that’s the only thing you’ll have to do and the system will just work so well and have so much data that no two flower shops will have an advantage by being better at AdWords.


So that means the competitive advantage, the place where you have to look, shifts to somewhere else, it shifts your website, it shifts to who cares more about their customers. It comes down to ultimately emotional intangibles, and dare I say spiritual elements, where we all know of a shop-we don’t understand why they’re doing so well, but the restaurant is always full, there’s a an air about it, it’s grooving.


My daughter just got a job part-time selling popsicles at a popsicle store in my hometown of Durham, and it’s a really popular place. More popular than you would think for selling popsicles. They’re in the community, they buy things locally, they have attitude, they’re funky, and it’s a cool place that cares.


People pick up on that vibe, and ultimately that’s–all this AdWords stuff that we’ve been dancing around for ten years is going to fade in importance as Google makes it easier and easier to get on board, and we’re just going to be back doing our businesses and whoever does the best business is going to win.


Philip: Just listening to you talk it becomes so apparent to me that the place in all these-in the process of managing AdWords campaign the place you’re going to get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of the time you invest is the stuff that we’ve just been talking about. The deeper level you actually understand the psyche of your target market, that’s where the money is.


Howie: Yes, and that’s something you can outsource guidance on, but at Vitruvian Way when we work with clients we try to feed back that information. We’re looking for clients who are hungry for data and analysis we can provide so they’re the ones who become smarter about their market, not just us becoming smart about their market because that’s really . . . you mentioned it ant the beginning our tagline, “leveraging the art and science of the”…whatever it is that we do.


The leveraging is really the important bit, because ultimately AdWords is still a small place. It’s not the place you’re going to find most of your business for most businesses.


What’s beautiful about is it’s a great testing bed, you get quick reliable feedback, and you use that to get smarter everywhere else. That’s what we really encourage our clients to do.


Philip: So Howie, if people want to find out more about you process, your checkmate process where can they do that?


Howie: Well, I can set up a link and send it to you. You could post it.


Philip: Sure, we’ll link to your properties. If people are listening, what’s your website?


Howie: It’s and the agency is, which I think we chose when we were drunk, because it’s hard to tell people how to go there directly. V-I-T-R-U-V-I-A-N,


Philip: It’s not a bad name, if you Google it or any variation and you’re going to find it.


Howie: Yes, I just wanted our tag line to be because was taken.


Philip: Why did you want Vitruvian?


Howie: Vitruvious, the Vitruvian Man is the famous pencil drawing by Leonardo DaVinci of the man inside the rectangle inside the circle. To us, it symbolizes the art and science.


Philip: Beautiful. Howie, it’s been a very stimulating chat. I’m sure the listeners really appreciated some of those insights. We’ll post links to your website and to the checkmate process for people who want to discover more. Thank you so much for your time.


Howie: Thank you, Philip. It’s been a great pleasure.

By Philip Shaw

Learn about our Adwords Training & Management Solutions.


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  • Mark Vozzo says:

    Hey Phil, you mentioned in this podcast the following:

    “Philip: I’ll provide a link to this ad creation matrix in the show notes, because I’ve got it in front of me right now and it’s a great sheet.”

    Can you please provide the link (or email it to me) as I’m keen to see it?

  • Philip says:

    Thanks for reminding me Mark, added as above. Cheers, Phil.

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