How to Create Advertising that Works (Without Spending Money)

So there’s this really snazzy restaurant in town called Maranges*. It’s attractive, the food is awesome, and the service is great. They’ve never really had to rely on marketing because most of their new customers came to them via word-of-mouth. Things were great for awhile. It seemed like they’d always have plenty of customers and their restaurant would always be full.

Along Comes the Great Recession.

2 months later and word-of-mouth is no longer bringing in enough business for Maranges to stay afloat. The restaurant goes from consistently full to consistently empty. People aren’t buying and the owners are getting nervous.

So what do they do? They start marketing.

They’re not entirely sure who they’re marketing to, but they’re gonna put themselves out there.

They start by shelling out a few hundred dollars to join a local networking group. They even offer to host the weekly meetings in hopes that members in their group will try the restaurant out for themselves. Unfortunately for Maranges, the members in their group weren’t interested.

Rick, one of the owners panics.

“We’ve gotta get our brand out there. If people try our food and they taste the quality, they’ll like it. If they like it they’ll come back. We have to get our name out there.”

So that’s what they did. They poured thousands of dollars in to TV, billboards, flyers, and radio ads as they worked to get their name “out there”.

Did getting their name out bring in customers?

Nope. All that hard work and their push to get their name out there failed to bring in a single customer. Their restaurant was still empty and they had nothing to show for their marketing efforts.

Maranges was in serious trouble.

This scenario sounds familiar doesn’t it? The let’s-throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to marketing is alive and well. Thousands of businesses have a Facebook page and no idea what to do it. Companies routinely spend thousands (or millions) on product development without actually asking a potential customer “would you buy this?”

But you’re different. You’re here because you want to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than your own. You want to find your customer’s needs and meet them.

So the Question Then is How Do I Do That?

By asking the right questions! Helpful, actionable questions like:

  • How do we know that people will buy our products and services? If it’s something that people want or need they’re gonna buy it from someone, but why will that somebody be us?
  • How will shoppers respond to our shipping costs, refund policies, guarantees or pricing?
  • Which offer will work best?

“I have no idea Andrew and unless you’ve got a magic 8 ball you don’t know either. Besides it costs lots of money to get that kind of information”.

Reply Hazy, Try Again

Okay so I don’t have a magic 8 ball.

But you can still figure out whether people are interested in giving you money for your wares before you spend a ton of money on advertising.

There’s one business that desperately wants to help you find out. Google. Even better, they’re willing to do it for Free. Here’s how you can use Google AdWords to get the answers you need.

What Kind of Questions Can Google AdWords Answer?

Google AdWords is great for answering “what” and “how” questions (as in how much, how many, or how often). You can use AdWords to answer a large variety of these questions. Here’s a few examples:

  • What do people in my target audience want?
  • what kind of problems are they dealing with?
  • What do they need? Can they get it from me right now?
  • Are they willing to pay for it?
  • Are they willing to buy it from me?
  • Which offer works best?
  • Who buys the most from me?
  • Where should I spend more of my ad dollars?
  • Which design attracts the most attention?
  • Which sites/interests attract the most customers?

A lot to take in right? If you have experience with AdWords you’re well aware of the fact that you can get answers to these questions from people in your target audience. Targeting Fans in Philly? Gamers in Georgetown? Web savvy Wisconsinite? You can present your ads to the exact audience you’re looking for and watch what they do.

Stalker Demotivational Poster

Don't Be That Guy.

But before we get to that part we need to go over…

The Questions AdWords Can’t Answer.

For the most part, Google AdWords isn’t able to help you answer the “why” questions. Questions like:

  • Why didn’t they buy from me?
  • Why didn’t they click on my ads?
  • Why did they buy after I increased my prices?
  • Why didn’t my offer work?
  • Why don’t people want this particular offer/product/service?

If you want answers to “why” questions AdWords isn’t really the place to get them. Analytics won’t help you either (there are exceptions though Kissmetrics is one of them). Now that doesn’t mean that these questions are unanswerable, it just means that you’ll have to get those answers from people directly. If you think about it, that’s good news. You’ve got a chance to sit down and talk with real people – you know, the ones that are actually interested in buying what you’re selling.

His life is now complete

His Life is Now Complete.

Why AdWords is Your Magic 8 Ball.


Let’s say that you want to put up some billboard ads. If you’re creating a one off message then you’re taking a risk that the ad you create won’t accomplish much (raising awareness isn’t a great goal). It’s hit or miss. You could have a winner but odds are you won’t. That’s an expensive risk to take if you ask me.


Now imagine that you’ve run display ads for two weeks. You’re targeting a specific metropolitan area in Philly because your offer is specific to that area. You’ve run a few ads and AdWords shows that one of your offers is a clear winner. So you take that offer and turn it into a billboard ad. If you’ve tested things properly you have:

  1. An answer to your question(s).
  2. An offer/ad that gets results.
  3. Data to back up your decision.

Your billboard decision is based on data instead of feelings or intuition. You’re able to make confident decisions instead of “trusting your gut”. Google AdWords has just given you a cheap way to test your offers on the exact people/demographic you’re targeting.

I could go on and on here, but you get the idea. Google AdWords is a surprisingly handy testing tool when you’re looking to figure out what your customers actually want.

Aren’t You Forgetting Something? Google AdWords isn’t Free.

If Google AdWords isn’t free how can I test this out for free? It’s not like they’re handing out free clicks now is it?

Actually, it’s a lot like that. Google offers coupons to new advertisers (your acccount has to be under 30 days old in order to qualify). If you do qualify Google will apply the credit to your account once you’ve set things up. You’ll have to jump through some hoops to get it but you’ll get it.

Where do I find these Elusive AdWords Coupons?

  1. You can request a free trial comes with a $75 credit. Do this and Google will stalk you all over the internet like a coffee crazed Barista waving their coupons in your face.
  2. Receive the credit when you sign up for 3rd party products and services (e.g. hosting).
  3. And if all else fails you can do a google search.

Note: You’ll want to read the terms and conditions of the offer carefully to make sure that you’re in line with Google’s expectations.

How Do I Run My Tests?

Try to run your tests using conditions that are as close to it’s offline counterpart as possible. So if your ads will run on an LED billboard in the morning, test your ads in that market at that time. If you’re planning on running ads in entrepreneur magazine for 3 months, try to advertise on entrepreneur (or sites like it). Use Split Tester to determine when you’ve got enough data.

Don’t test your offer on a specific demographic (moms), then turn around and present your offer to a totally different demographic (single women) and wonder why things aren’t working. That’s a bad move.

Do My Tests Results Need to be Statistically Significant?

Honestly that depends on your preferences. We’ve found that that it varies but it’s something that we prefer. If you’ve got a lot to lose or you’re taking on a lot of risk then statistical significance is definitely a comforting (and smart) idea. That kind of confidence usually means serious cashola. On the other hand, doing research on the cheap is still doable but may not be comforting or easy for others involved in the campaign to accept. It takes time, it’s not always on your terms, and beggars can’t be choosers.

If you’re working on a high risk project or something you feel must have a pay off with specific conditions, spend some money to get the data you need. You can get statistically significant results without going to the poorhouse.

A $75 Dollar Credit Isn’t Enough to Tell Me Anything Significant.

In some cases this is true. If you’re in a hyper competitive industry like insurance where keywords can run $40 dollars a click, a $75 or $100 dollar credit isn’t going to be enough to tell you much of anything. If you’re looking for statistical significance then tools like Split Tester are quick and easy ways to determine significance.

50 clicks may be enough to be significant. In other circumstances, not so much. If you’re all about certainty then Split Tester is a great way to find out. Again keep in mind that you may need to pay for that level of confidence.

Ya Know, All of This Seems Like Common Sense.

It does doesn’t it? Except for the part where lots of people don’t know about it. A lot of AdWords advertisers simply drop in their keywords, point their ads to the appropriate landing pages, and start collecting clicks. There typically isn’t a whole lot of exploration or testing that goes on ahead of time. Now while it’s not always necessary to do this kind of testing, it’s IS helpful (and profitable) if you know which questions to ask.

This Doesn’t Really Guarantee that the People I Get Are the Ones I Want.

No and that’s a good thing. Let’s say that you’re targeting golfers but you unexpectedly find that your product is extremely popular with moms. That’s gonna require a change in focus. What about if your initial audience (golfers) decide that they hate your product? Now a lot of things have to change. Even if it’s bad news, it’s good news to know. You know?

How to Apply this in the Real World.

EXAMPLE #1: Using Search/Display Ads to Find the Offer Customers Like Best.

James has a new company. He’s preparing to launch an advertising campaign for his new product the roto choppr. He’s not sure what attracts shoppers best, the lifetime warranty on the roto choppr or the 2 year buyback option. He creates 2 text ads and 2 banner ads and runs a test using his AdWords coupon. At the end of the test he sees much to his surprise that customers prefer the 2 year buy back option over the lifetime warranty. He launches his new advertising campaign and leads with that offer, generating a lot of sales in a short amount of time.

EXAMPLE #2: Using Display to Test Ad Copy Before Launching Offline Advertising.

Ron has a new cars website. There are a lot of dealerships in the area but customers mention consistently that they pay thousands over sticker price. Ron wants to show customers how to get the absolute best price for their new or used car. He wants to place ads on several billboards in the tri-county area. He’s looking to get a lot of local attention but he doesn’t want to go head-to-head with sites like

He creates 8 banners with different offers. Using his AdWords coupon he’s able to identify winners. He creates billboard ads using his winners and spreads them out across the county. His billboards generate a lot of local attention getting him a ton of website traffic, email subscribers, and sales.

It’s important to first figure out which questions need answers. Great test results come from the right questions. Sign up for a free trial of AdWords and get your coupon. Once you’ve got that create your ads. If you’re testing offline copy, make sure the conditions in AdWords are as close to it’s offline counterpart. If you’re running your ads in the morning offline run them in the morning online. If you’re targeting fans in Philly offline, target fans in Philly online.

* name changed to protect the embarrassed.

What about you? Are you using AdWords for testing in your business? What’s your experience with AdWords? Share your thoughts or post a rant below.

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