Your instincts can only take you so far, so let data take the next step

Alternative title: “What ear wax taught me about being a digital communicator”.

Being creative and having lots of different ideas is fantastic. But as a digital communicator this is not the end of your job. You can relentlessly use data and evidence to improve your work and focus in on the best ideas. Or, in the case of Google Adwords, you can let an algorithm do this for you.

When writing ad copy for pay-per click adverts, it can be impossible to predict which particular variant of a message will be most effective. When writing ad copy on information on ear wax, the following adverts were all very similar, but there was a big variation in clickthrough rates. This allowed Google to hone in on the most effective ad.

Who would have known that “Tips and info on ear wax / Access our expert information / on ear wax and other conditions” (3.54% clickthroughs) would be so much more effective than “Tips on ear wax / Access our expert information /on ear wax and other conditions.” (1.72% clickthroughs)? Your instincts can set up the environment for success; analytics help you focus in and achieve it.

a selection of ppc adverts for information on ear wax

Similarly, for our marathon adverts, my main idea was to produce three main types of copy: one focusing around the challenge itself, another focusing around our organisation’s mission, and another focusing on the attraction of guaranteed places. The data triangulated the best theme and the best wording.

So it pays to be open, to experiment with a range of options, and to go with evidence of what actually works. The eventual success of the London tube map (after someone decided to actually test with users!) is testament to the importance of being humble and testing new ideas.

Creativity, breadth and instincts are important for digital communicators. Take things further by embracing the unknown and using evidence to help you understand things that your instincts can’t handle.

Do any of you have good examples of when data has taken you further than instincts alone could manage? Any good A/B testing stories? Anything counter-intuitive?