Why Your Organization Needs a Culture of Testing & How to Make it Happen

One of the toughest things many search marketers face is creating a culture of testing in their organization. While almost any SEM expert understands the value of testing, they may not have the time, the resources, the flexibility or – all too common – management support to make it happen on anything more than an ad hoc basis.

Let’s face it. Testing requires things many executives tend to fear – money and a willingness to fail. Now that search drives so much to the bottom line, many companies don’t want to “mess” with it.

Of course, you would argue the opposite. Because it’s such a revenue driver it’s morecritical that you continually look for ways to improve performance.

A little risk can create a lot of reward. Not every test will succeed, nor will every test fail. But, if executed properly, every test will teach you something.

It’s the job of every search marketer to make sure this happens. So how do you do it?

What is a “Culture of Testing”?

I’m not talking about running a creative test every once in a while or even launching tests reactively to understand why performance is tanking. A true culture of testing is a way of thinking. It means:

  • Embracing and relying on consistent testing to lift your game.
  • Having a true plan that extends months out.
  • Understanding that not every test works and you can learn as much from a failed test as you can from a successful one.
  • Making this part of your mission statement – something that you and everyone on your team are committed to (this one is most important).

It Starts With a Plan


Consider what resources you need – from outside help to internal buy-in – to make it successful. Also think about when you want to run various tests. Not only might seasonality play into the equation, but you also need to make sure that as you run tests, they don’t interfere with each other. Map out a timetable that allows you to build upon one test as you begin another.

Testing: What & Why?

As with anything strategic, it’s imperative you take the time to think about what you need to test and why. It’s easy to get distracted testing hypothetical cases. Often, these are fed by anecdotal feedback, the latest trend you hear at a conference or the newest bright, shiny object in beta from the search engines.

Make sure you’re looking at valid business concepts. This is a great opportunity to endear yourself to your clients and stakeholders. Ask them for business challenges, how they’d like to see improvement in performance, what’s worked or not worked in other offline channels. Not only will you get valuable insight into what to test, you’ll be seen as their partner and someone who’s supporting their goals.

Also pay close attention to the attributes you’re testing and make sure they make sense. Whether you’re running them manually or using technology to manage multivariate testing, plot out a matrix of attributes and then consider the combinations.

For example, you may not want to combine “low cost” and “premium” messaging together. Ad space is limited. Make the most of it, and don’t waste time or money on things that just don’t make sense.

Why Taking a Myopic View of Results is a Mistake

You’ve properly set up and run a test on creative or landing pages, and you dig into the engines or your SEM platform reporting to find out how these tests performed. But what about how the new or revised assets may have performed higher up in the funnel? Did your new SEM landing page generate enough interest to feed better performance through remarketing?

Make sure to look across all channels to see if there’s lift – or even a decline. Even if your “domain” is just paid search, show your bosses how your programs – and the culture of testing you’ve instilled – is raising all boats.

Coordinate With Other Channels

Similarly, when running tests in paid search, ideally each channel is reinforcing the tested message in other channels. Done right, there truly is a 1 + 1= 3 opportunity here.

Have the Right Answers to Your Least Favorite Questions

When a stakeholder asks, “what kind of marketing lift should this create,” don’t be afraid to tell the truth. The fact is you often don’t know, and that’s the reason for testing. You may have ranges you can pull from similar tests, but be careful not to mismanage their expectations.

“I’ve seen as much as a 40 percent lift in ROI” has set the bar in their mind. And if you only achieve a 24 percent lift, what you see as a win may be seen as coming up short in their eyes.

Instead, turn the conversation around. Remind them that what’s important is that you’re testing this, along with a lot of other things, to find out where you should be investing your – and their – time and money.

If the test fails, that’s OK. You’ve learned something to make your next test more likely to succeed and are that much closer to finding a way to improve the account. When they understand and allow you – and even encourage you – to run meaningful tests, you’ll have created a true culture of testing.

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