Naming characters with Google AdWords
Here's a new trick.
In this book, I'm trying to craft a central character with some of that same iconic strangeness that makes Sherlock Holmes so appealing. There's a lot that goes into that, but for now, focus on the name. Sherlock Holmes. It leaves an indelible mark on the brain.
So, I have a name in mind for this character, and I was looking for a meaningful way to test it out—without giving it away.
That's where AdWords comes in.
Here's what I did:
Created a campaign attached to a bundle of search terms: mystery, detective story, sherlock holmes, noir, and more like those.
Came up with a whole set of names, basically wide variations on a theme. One was my original pick, but I liked all of them. Then, I created an ad for each one, all with the same body text but each with a different name swapped in for the headline.
Allocated a small budget ($40, to be exact) and kicked off the campaign. And wow there are a lot of people searching for stuff on Google. Over the span of 24 hours, my ads made about 100,000 impressions.
So the question—and I do think it's a serious question, insofar as it's a simulation of a decision that will confront many potential buyers of this book—the question is, which name worked?
The results, pixelated for secrecy's sake:
Here's the way I read this: The four names at the top all did about the same. I wouldn't choose a name with an 0.23% click-through rate over a name with an 0.20% just because of that measly 0.03 margin.
But the 0.07% at the bottom? I think there's real signal there. As it happens, the name at 0.07% was one I really liked—but it didn't make the cut. Alas.
My original idea—the name I came into the exercise with—is the one at 0.21%. So basically, I see this as validation: The name works. People don't see it and go "ew" or "meh."
But okay, I'll be honest. This was mostly just an excuse to try a new tool. Any nerd will tell you that tools can provide their own intrinsic rewards. There's an aspect of exploration to it, too: you're pressing out into new tool-territory, learning about what you can and can't do.
This little AdWords test is a first step. Mechanical Turk might be next. I mean, imagine—this is the sci-fi extrapolation—imagine highlighting a block of text, choosing a menu item called Test the way you'd choose Spellcheck today, and when you do, a little timer appears next to it. Five minutes later, ding—the timer goes off and you have the results right there, floating over the text. Aggregated feedback from an anonymous swarm of readers: "I stumbled here," "this variation works better," "this line rings false."
That might sound naive—it's definitely oversimplified—but I think there might be something useful lurking in this particular tool-territory.
So, finally, here's the irony: I'm making a big deal out of keeping this name secret. Functionally, it is secret—none of you know what it is yet! And yet... 100,000 people out there have laid eyes on it. Thousands of Google searchers have seen her name. What kind of secret is that?
Ah, liquidity. Ah, scale.
Sometimes, the vast sea of clicks can be a comfort.