Product management with Google AdWords

4 December 2008

You can’t rely on people’s response to your advertising to manage your product — but as one of many inputs, perhaps it could be valuable. Can part of the product management role be taken over by aggregating data from carefully-targeted Google AdWords campaigns?

There have been some interesting recent discussions on the topic of product management. Like most startups, Resolver Systems doesn’t have anyone with the job title “Product Manager”, but the role is filled, mostly by me and my co-founders. We look at the software, talk to clients and to potential clients, read spreadsheet blogs, and try to synthesize all of this together to work out where development of Resolver One should go over the next weeks, months, and years.

This works surprisingly well; we’ve produced something solid and reliable that clearly fills a real gap in the market. But the other day I was looking at the first results from a new Google Adwords campaign, and noticed something interesting — something that may well be standard practice for people who’ve used this kind of tool for longer than I have, but was a bit of a revelation for me.

The way we’d structured this campaign was to identify the ten things we thought were most interesting about Resolver One, and then to create an Ad Group inside AdWords for each. “Ad Group” is Google’s terminology for a set of advertisements that all share the same set of keywords (among other things). So, for example, we had an Ad Group to cover Resolver One’s programmability, with keywords like “programmable spreadsheet” and “code in spreadsheet”. When Google spotted these keywords in a search, it would know that it could present its user with our ad, which said something like “a new, easy-to-program spreadsheet – download the 14-day trial”.

These ten Ad Groups had been running for a day or so, and I checked out the numbers – and saw something interesting. The number of clicks each ad got often went against my intuition about the product. I would have thought that the ability to convert a spreadsheet to a program would be much more interesting than the fact that you can build spreadsheets that are better protected against layout changes. But the number of clicks says quite the opposite!

To put it another way – by having an Ad Group per feature, and then ranking the Ad Groups by the number of clicks they received, I was able to get an instant market survey telling me what people thought about our different features. For less than £50 (I’d not budgeted more for this phase of the advertising), over 300,000 people looked at pages including our ads, but more importantly 350 clicked through on a specific feature, “voting” for more work on that feature!

I think this is a great new input to the product management process. Obviously building what people know they want is only part of creating something great; it’s as, if not more, important to build stuff they don’t yet know that they want, even if you then have to spend time and effort persuading them to try it out. But if you have ten ideas and want to know which is most popular, a £50 AdWords campaign can tell you an incredible amount very quickly.

So, the question is… if you were starting a new company tomorrow, would you think it ethical to start advertising before you started coding, just to see which features to focus on first?

4 thoughts on “Product management with Google AdWords

  1. Kamil Dworakowski

    Why do you think that the ad text makes more difference than the keywords? I imagine that one set of keywords might give better results than another thus making the user less likely to even look at the adds in the first place.

  2. giles Post author

    Hi Kamil!

    Why do you think that the ad text makes more difference than the keywords?

    Sorry, I don’t quite understand where you’re getting that from. They both vary together – that is, if you enter keywords that match a given feature then you get the ad that describes just that feature.

    I imagine that one set of keywords might give better results than another thus making the user less likely to even look at the adds in the first place.

    You may be onto something there – but the click-through ratio was pretty constant. Some ads just got more clicks because people searched for the relevant keywords more frequently. Certainly something to look out for, though.

  3. Nixta

    I’d be concerned less with the ethical aspect of it than by getting caught up with the results as a driving factor in product design. I know plenty of managers who would leap into the trap of doing just that.

    Essentially you need to make certain assumptions about the data provider here, and you are then interpreting the results based on those assumptions.

    For example, perhaps you’re assuming that the 300,000 views are suitably matched by Google? You’re giving them keywords that help Google determine if you’re of interest to the search, but you’re assuming that the correlation Google creates is relevant. In other words, it’s something of an unknown. For example, I know that the ads I see both in my e-mail and in my google results often are very very tenuously related to the trigger text. You frequently have to think for some time to even work out the correlation, and even then it might be very tenuous.

    Of course, the 350 people that clicked on the results probably narrow down the margin for error here, in that they’re probably looking for something Resolverish. But they could be bored, drunk, nutjobs, or unable to understand what they’re reading.

    Again, that’s unlikely in the case of Resolver, but nonetheless worth bearing in mind.

    I guess that could all be entirely boiled down to: Identify the unknowns here, which in itself would be an interesting exercise and probably quite valuable.

  4. giles Post author

    Nixta – you’re quite right that letting unfiltered feedback drive design would be extremely dangerous. The important thing is to work out what kind of questions to ask, and how to filter the responses.

    The best way to filter out responses caused by weird keyword matches is, I think, to work hard at the wording of the ads so that they are as unambiguous as possible, and then to only count clickthoughs – not page views.

    As you say, there are always going to be a lot of people who click pretty much randomly despite that, but perhaps the trick is then to use some other way of filtering them – perhaps the ad takes them to a “sign up for the beta” page, and you only count the people who actually do sign up?

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