The Sticky Goodness of Testing Book Titles with Google AdWords

Tim Ferris

Tim Ferris wrote his highly popular book, “The 4 Hour Workweek, about how to become one of the NR (the New Rich), back in 2006.  But rather than relying on his or his publisher’s intuition about a catchy book title, he decided to test it with the public instead.  He tested multiple titles using the Google AdWords serach marketing tool and used the winning title for his book.  He placed Adwords text ads, varied the titles, and chose the title with the highest click-thru rate.  He admits “The 4 Hour Workweek,” wasn’t his favorite, but understood that it had strong audience appeal.  His potential audience decided his title, which is now also his brand.


Marci Alboher & Tim Ferriss  on authors@google

John Graham-Cumming performed similar testing for The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive, which he describes as “a travel book for nerds.”  The book launches in April, 2009.  His experimented tested three ads.  The winner was A Voyaging Mind.  In this case his publisher, O’Reilly, overruled this title and substituted its own.  Mr. Graham-Cumming is undeterrred; he is sold on the power of this kind of experiment:

It seems to me that Google AdWords could readily be used for other such experiments: it’s cheap, it’s simple to target your experiment based on keywords so that you can choose the type of people exposed to the experiment and by setting up random display of a set of ads you can try out variations of an idea easily.

Obviously book titles are just one possibility. What other things could be tested using Google AdWords?

basic-adwords-account-structureThere are many ways, of course to test book titles.  This strategy is useful, however, in that it can help identify untapped niches in markets.  So what is the basic process for using Google AdWords to test the title of your book?   Here’s a regrettably brief flyover:

  • Open a Google AdWords account and set up your campaign.  Before starting, I highly recommend spending some time in the Google AdWords Learning Center to get familiar with the many features of AdWords.
  • Set up an ad group that consists of groups of appropriate keywords based on your keyword research.  Google provides robust keyword research tools which can indicate search volume over specified time periods and suggest related keywords.  This research is valuable in and of itself for learning more about the needs and desires of your audience, as well as discovering new audience segments.
  • Link each adgroup with an appropriate landing page and assign each adgroups with 2 or more compelling text ads (see diagram at right)
  • The headline of each ad should be the prospective book title.  The other two lines of text are devoted to messages appropriate for the subtitle fo the book.
  • Once you have completed these tasks, Google will provide you with total impressions and click-through-rates for each ad.  Total impressions relates to how many individuals were exposed to your ad; click-through-rate  (CTR) indicates the percentage of individuals who actually click on the ad.  A good click-through-score indicates that your title somehow engaged people who were searching for information related to the keywords in your ad group. 
  • Test for a few weeks and then select the title that achieves the high CTR.

The cost of a campaign is directly related to the cost-per-click (CPC) and the total number of clicks for each of your ads.  Your CPC is influenced by the maximum cost per click you specify when setting up your ad groups, the competitiveness of the keywords you are using and your ad’s quality score.  Quality score is determined by the relevance of your ad to the keywords and the content o the landing page.  The total number of clicks will be driven by how compelling your ad copy is, as well as the position of the ad in search results pages.  You can control your ad spend by giving Google a maximum daily budget to work with.

google-adwords-logoThe use of search marketing tools like Google AdWords to test book titles and marketing messages is that you get objective data to back up yours or your publisher’s  intuition about what is “sticky” and what is not.  The relatively small cost of this testing can have a big payoff in increased book sales.  No doubt this data willl hold some surprises for publishers and authors who have relied on “gut instinct” when it comes to coming up with book titles. 


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