Creativity · The Secret Of Systems

Confessions Of A Lapsed Adwords Jockey.

I admit it, I was a marketer. A few years back, I met a young man on a train and out of politeness asked him what he did for a living. What surprised me about this smart young man’s response was that he cowered back into his seat in shame! The effect I had on him could not have been more forceful had I threatened him with a large club with nasty looking spikes poking out of it.

It took thirty seconds for the penny to drop. Pennies don’t take long to drop when you understand what drives fear.

“You’re a marketer, aren’t you?” I asked. His scared little face peeped out at me from its metaphorical mousehole. When I said that I was a marketer too, he visibly brightened. Marketers, as a breed are easy to spot: they are all defensive about their work, mainly because they can’t explain it to others. That’s why they’re ashamed of the work they do: if it doesn’t make any sense to them, how can it make any sense to anybody else? But then, I could explain what it was about, and was proud of the fact.

Anyway, for the next few minutes we had something of a chat – which was all we had for before he left the train at Amsterdam Sloterdijk. I discovered that his work involved lots of staring at paperwork.

Obviously part of the system, then. Obviously well paid to do it.

But that’s marketing for you. If you can get into the system, it’ll look after you in the way systems will: it’ll treat you like a cog in a machine. Without another thought. Everything about you will be determinable on the basis of cost. It doesn’t help with one’s self-esteem though. But then, that’s why most people prefer to stay at home watching the telly.

Well, so much for the generalities. At the time of the story, I was an Adwords jockey: Google’s algorithm underpinning it was a lot more dynamic than it is today. That doesn’t mean you can’t refine it now, it does mean you really have to work at it – and I mean really work. Brain work, the kind of thing you need if you’re going to reverse-engineer the German Stadtsanierung for yourself.

Adwords As A System.

Adwords is the algorithm – a computer program – that made it for Google: it is a system that is directly linked to its search-engine algorithm. Put in a search term, say, ‘Pizza’ and you’ll get the search results plus a few ads. Advertisements being the outward side of the marketer’s comfort zone – think of it like a bubble with ads pasted on the inside surface of the bubble and you’ll get the idea.

In my day there were ads running down the side of the search results – the search results being what the searcher was actually wanting when the search term was entered. The little blue ads were very easy to miss, and if they were standard advertising they largely were. Well, that’s standard advertising for you, isn’t it?

These cave dwellers are marketers because that’s what they were brought up to do and they know no different. Well, Adwords put that straight – and with one or two ingenious little tweaks that Google added to its algorithm its advertising revenue was blasted into near-Earth orbit. Since its search algorithm was the best around, and by and large, it still is, Google was assured a huge segment of the search audience along with the revenues it generated.


PPC is pay per click. In Adwords you don’t pay in the way you pay for a roadside hoarding: for that you pay and take pot luck. It is usually luck, by the way, and they are a lot less effective as advertising than Adwords. With Adwords, you pay by results, and boy can you get some results from Adwords! Now bear in mind that the ads have to compete not only with the other ads, but the carefully – or not so carefully worded results that appeared in the search column on Google’s results page. It doesn’t matter: you’re only paying per click, so you don’t really need to bother about how many times your ad’s been seen, it’s the clicks that count.

The click through rate – as it’s called in the jargon – that is to say, out of every one hundred times the search term has been entered, you got so many clicks and this is expressed as a percentage. A reasonable click-through rate would be between 1.5% and 2%. In fact, anything over two percent is considered rocket science.

Because getting better results usually means tweaking little known features in the enormous, unwieldy and unfriendly Google Adwords interface. You can imagine that I didn’t take to that very easily.

It was the genius of Perry Marshall that put me right on this (1). He’d nailed it in terms of Adwords and he laid it on the line: you need your ad, you need Google’s system and you need a page on your website that will appear when someone clicks your ad. You can imagine that the simplicity of this argument caught my attention.

What he was suggesting was that if you want to exploit the Adwords system to its maximum, it isn’t the system that you’re primarily interested in. Albeit that I must warn you that a modicum of knowledge is essential if you are not to lose a substantial amount of money. (2) So you do have to deal with the bramble patch that Google’s nitwit software designers left us in their wake.

The choice facing the searcher: a good ad will meet his eye and tempt him.
The choice facing the searcher: a good ad will meet his eye and tempt him.

The Most Important Part Of A System.

It’s not the system, it’s what you put into the system that makes all the difference… put rubbish in, the system can’t do anything save organize that rubbish in the way the system was designed to. The better it organizes stuff, the better the thinking that designed it.  The point here is that if you put uninterested customers in the front end, all that will happen is that they are spurted out the other end organized, but no more interested than they were at the start of the process. It has to be added that low quality customers – uninterested ones – are mostly uninterested for the same reasons. The higher the quality, the more diverse they become – in a clear contrast to mechanical quality that is in terms of accuracy, where accuracy in production means the products become more and more commoditized. In advertising, we’re not dealing with physical objects but humans who can not only think, but can make decisions for themselves. The less willing they are to make a decision for themselves, the more homogenous, the more like a commodity they become. The less willing a person is willing to make a decision for themselves, the less they will express of their character.

Thus advertising has to appeal: if you’re selling pizzas, try this neat little tastebud teaser:

PizzaHouse $5 Flavor Menu.
Buy Two Or More Of Our Flavourful Favourites For $5 Each.
Swift delivery –  Hand-spun crust – Great deals on our website.

Note the lack of exclamation marks and all the standard glitz of the usual pizza marketing brochure. Adwords stripped everything bare! Never mind that: if you were hungry, looking for a pizza, which would you choose? The above ad is a little restrained, and they don’t do the Domino’s Pizza trick from the 1970s: “delivered to your door in 30 minutes or your money back” which rocked the pizza industry to its foundations. Plus it was copyrighted so nobody could copy it!

So, how about this for the mind of someone whose tummy and tastebuds are straining at the leash:

Tastebuds ready for a Pizza?
Tasty sizzling salami bubbling with cheese.
Let the pepperoni explode on your tongue. Hand made with love.

Okay, so I wasn’t selling pizzas; but if I were, I can tell you from experience that this ad would get around 10% click through rate. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on my ability to refine the segment I was advertising to. Ten percent isn’t bad when the experts managing the software can squeeze two out of it. You see, it all depends on what the searcher is looking for and why. Advertising has to be tempting, doesn’t it?(3) A software expert looking at the brochure will be struck by the colours and the images… but all he can translate to Google is the wording. The first Adwords ad for Pizzas is a case in point. If you are going to use a system, you need an imagination. There’s no other way about it.

Well, that’s why I got reasonable click through rates running around 10-15%. An expert would tell me that this was just a fluke, a one-off. Let them believe what they like: this was my money that I was spending on advertising and I wasn’t going to waste it in the way they were. That’s plain daft. Or ignorant. Make your choice. These guys waste billions. In fact, it was Claude Hopkins who opined that the amount of money wasted on advertising would easily pay the national debt. Albeit that I’m not so sure that advertising wastage even on American levels could do that today; it would still take a large chunk out of it. Nevertheless, the money spent on ordinary advertising would still be better spent paying off the government’s debts than speaking to people’s backs.(4)

The difference was that I was using the system. I wasn’t pandering to it, tickling it with kid gloves in the way a software engineer would: I picked the thing up and slammed it against the wall to show it who was boss.

The Other Side Of The Coin.

Because all my marketing focussed on the customers, not on the needs of the seller. If you are to use a system effectively, you must make sure that it is tailored to those who are most likely to buy your products – now, or in the future. The Adwords system just pushes them through without any regard for their quality. Hence the tragically low click through rates experienced by ‘comfort zone’ marketers who like gazing at their navels. Any marketing that is worth the money – and if you’re in business, a good marketer will improve your profits substantially. Increasing profits by 100% in the space of a year is far from uncommon for a top class marketer – the marketing will focus strictly on the client. The person who is buying. The first thing the marketer needs to do is to steady the nerves of the poor business owner who is seeing all his favourite ads pushed to one side.

Because if you put quality into the system, it will organize it in exactly the way you tell it to and you will get quality out. The problem is that you can’t know what tempts them to click in the first place. The businessman with forty years experience will tell you how to judge his prices… he hasn’t a clue about what tempts his customers.

The point here is that nobody knows what will tempt that section of the market that are being targeted. That’s not the point, and the point of hiring a marketer was to find out what it is. The sad thing for the businessman is that there’s literally nothing he can do about this.


Remember that the purpose of this investigation is to find out something. This is the test, and the idea was first dreamed up by the legendary Claude Hopkins. In the 1890s. There are too few marketers who truly test things – and as the infamous Glenn Livingstone said, “most marketers test two things twenty times; you want to test twenty things twice.”  And see which floats to the top.

Thus we have three to ten Adwords ads and three to five landing pages. A landing page being the page the person who has clicked is sent to. In many cases this is simply the boring homepage that doesn’t say anything sensible – but that’s plain daft. Or ignorant. Take your pick.

A good marketer will be able to spot potential differences in behaviour and be able to focus on one or other aspect of the emotion that triggered that response. Whilst this sounds Pavlovian, we’re not talking about ringing a bell here to try and train customers as common, ineffective marketing will want to brand their logo: what we’re trying to do here is to find out what rings the bell in the mind of the person who clicked the ad. Without any kind of force or coercion. This is crucial, and takes away all the power the businessman has – and usually wants. Anybody who wants control in any shape or form, even to the tiniest extent, is acting against themselves because humans are free to come and free to go. You have been warned.

Discovering what tempts them is is a matter of waiting for the results. It is a common experience with well written ads and landing pages for one ad or one landing page to generate as much interest as all the others put together. In fact, if it doesn’t give this kind of result, you’re not writing your ads properly – or you’re stuck firmly in the jaws of a commodity market. Which is death anyway, so you might as well stop advertising, close your business and sign on the dole. You’ll be happier and the market won’t notice your disappearance anyway.

There is nothing the businessman can do about how their customers react. He has no control over what it is that tempts his customers. Naturally it will have to do with his products, here we are speaking about genuine marketing that looks at one or other aspect of what tempts a customer to buy one or other of the products on offer.

The only way to find out is to take a risk.

No different from engaging in conversation with others and asking the occasionally risky question. Their answer will tell you more about the way you asked the question than it does about them. But then, that’s why people don’t ask risky questions… that’s why we have management speak. They say nothing, and thus take no risks… and nobody says anything back. Nor can they improve their business when they hold this no-risk attitude: the only way is to take risks. Measured, calculated risks that are affordable in the circumstances.

And there’s no better way than to use Adwords. If your ads and website are sufficiently clear, one of those possible paths will bring more profit than all the rest put together. Find this place where the synergy lives and your marketing will literally explode. There’s no other way to describe it.

The Disconnect.

Nobody can tell which ads will do well and which pages on the website will bring the best returns. If the businessman says that it is his website or his blog, he is stating that his readers must either agree with his short-sightedness or go away. That’s how to get a 1.5% click through rate. It’s also the best way to waste a colossal amount of money and effort on marketing. Communicate to yourself and reckon the things you say will speak to your friends and nobody else.

My problem as a marketer was that the ones who understood their customers were already heavily overbooked (6) and so didn’t need a marketer. Those who did, only wanted to tell their marketers how to fail and then grudgingly pay them… or give them a good kicking.

The Dangers Of Poor Marketing.

I have spoken with many businessmen and many communicators, and on the whole they make one huge mistake: they think of their business or their blog or their website as their property. This in real terms is the businessman gazing at his navel and imagining he’s talking to the audience who are sitting in wrapt attention as he mumbles to his tummy. They give their attention because they are employees and would lose their job if they didn’t. A customer can go elsewhere…

Which is a very real danger. A small, smart startup can swipe five percent of a bigger company’s customers using a well crafted advertising campaign – and there’s nothing the bigger company can do about this. The competition advertised in a way that pleased the customers and they wanted what was offered. One small startup raking in profits from high quality customers. One large business with ten percent of its profits wiped out overnight. And all because the businessman was talking to his navel. Oh, and there is no relationship between the number of your clients and your profits. There is a direct relationship between the quality of your clients and the size of your profits though.

Enter the dangerous marketer: these people will challenge the businessman in private. They will ask awkward and sometimes even offensive questions: the more the businessman can accept this the better he is at business. Not only that, that the marketer can employ the information thus gathered to forestall any unexpected customer migrations. (5) Any defensiveness of any kind will tell the marketer that the business has a problem. I assure you, it’s how it works.

What I Learned From Adwords And Marketing.

Giving the customer a choice is what makes marketing hum like the rumble of a powerful eight cylinder engine. Without them, you might as well throw the keys out the window and walk backwards through the rain. It’s not sensible, but that’s because most people are not actively feeding their system: they’re only tickling its empty tummy to see if they can encourage it to lay a golden egg or two. Feeding it a little quality never enters their heads…

I learned a lot about genuine, human psychology. The stuff that academics shy away from because you can’t measure it with a ruler, and any other idea they have will need a complex statistical analysis. But that’s what you get if you’re studying a commodity: results that are unclear. In psychology, like marketing, if the results aren’t startlingly clear, you’ve missed the point. I learned that psychology was astonishingly simple, and knowing this meant that I was able to determine a person’s defences in very short order. People who question this are those who haven’t been able to fathom the concept of the comfort zone – but that only means that they are in one way or another, defensive. Protecting their comfort zone. True humiliation follows when I have been able to determine what it is that they are trying to defend – and tell them about it. It’s the easiest way to lose friends and make enemies.

The other important thing I learned was the reality of ‘the disconnect’. No person can know how their thoughts come across: it is always something one must ask them about. The better class of conversation will always be a matter of discussing what has been said in a meaningful way; that is to say, they take a risk. These may not always be the most pleasant of conversations, but I will tell you this: you will never regret the things you learned. Well, unless you’ve something to hide, that is. Because poor conversations avoid taking risks and use excuses of one form or another to avoid having to. That is to say, they are all trying to hide something from each other. Usually something that everybody else can see and doesn’t really take much notice of. To the person whose comfort zone depends on hiding this truth away from themselves (because they cannot hide it from the world) they will withdraw from conversing easily.

In our day and age, the former is rare, but a delight (7); the latter is all too common and my response to someone who is unwilling to converse is that I usually have a book that I can read instead. Just look out for the differences and you’ll very quickly find just how rare true conversations are in our day and age.

But then, that could be said of true marketers. Or, for that matter, true businessmen.



(1) Perry Marshall
(2) One gentleman was advertising jeans online. Cost per click at around $3 per click at the time. He pushed the button to start the campaign and went out to lunch. He got back a little late, just over an hour. He found that during his lunch, he’d spent over $50,000 on advertising. Because he hadn’t set an upper limit on his spend! Thankfully he did make a profit on the deal, but by all accounts, it was a logistical nightmare. I will add here that a modest Adwords account will spend around $100,000 a month – but will have the business logistics to support that kind of spend.
(3) Temptation is dealt with in more detail on my private blog, for obvious reasons.
(4) The most expensive advertising on the planet is the first ad of the Superbowl TV coverage. It’s also the point at which there is the maximum strain on the US sewerage systems. Why corporations want to advertise to people who have closed the door behind them is something I will cover in an upcoming post.
(5) Van Os organic beef is as good an example as any. His business is well run, his animals are as happy as any can be and his customers love it. But then, he has a passion for his work that really shows, a passion he willingly shares with his customers. He is a clear contrast to the Bio-Dynamic farm 400m down the road that is losing money faster than it can raise donations – but they aren’t interested in farming, leave alone their customers. They were more interested in what Rudolf Steiner had to say in his lectures – which was something of a problem for their customers if they wanted to buy anything else than quotations. Not that this worried the anthroposophists one jot. You can meet the successful Mr. van Os here: http://
(6) See ‘Leeks For Dinner’ for an explanation of how people react to a commodity market when they themselves aren’t interested in anything but the cost.
(7) See ‘When My Heart Sings‘.


5 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Lapsed Adwords Jockey.

  1. Great post. I must confess that some of it went over my head, but is interesting to learn a little bit about psychology being used in business.. or not used, as you point out! Do you still work in marketing? I do feel, however, from reading your post, that i understand a little more about the way in which you conceptualise the comfort zone. The last three paragraphs you have written are very interesting to me, and have made me think about my head in a better way I think. The problem with going through scizophrenia is that you start to see your head as ‘special’ lol and not in a good way. I am currently trying to stop this practise, because I am realising that other people’s minds work in ways which are similar.. maybe I have finally “recovered”! The comfort zone seems to be the place where nothing unsettles you; I suppose the important thing which distinguishes how flexible and open minded people are is- what is it which unsettles you. If it is something which will hurt you, through no fault of your own, then you are justified in staying away from it surely. But if it is something which will hurt you, only because your ego isn’t allowing you to acknowledge it, because it might challenge you on some level, then surely that would be something to spend time coming to terms with, and thus trying to alter your perceptions, because they might be limited.
    “I learned that psychology was astonishingly simple, and knowing this meant that I was able to determine a person’s defences in very short order. People who question this are those who haven’t been able to fathom the concept of the comfort zone – but that only means that they are in one way or another, defensive. Protecting their comfort zone. True humiliation follows when I have been able to determine what it is that they are trying to defend – and tell them about it.” I agree with you on this, to a degree. Because I think that sometimes, the mind itself almost works against the individual to keep them in the comfort zone- when the feelings that are provoked on leaving it are extrememly intense.. working past that can be so astronomically hard, or it can be impossible. Perhaps this is because the head has systems and defense mechanisms which kick into play when the pain that could be caused is perceived to be insurmountable. Because the comfort zone is also just your head! Or the things that are your own experiences; which is, really, all we can ever really know. Being defensive is being sensible, or ‘playing it safe’- which I can say with certainty is maybe the wisest thing to do.. if you play with fire you are liable to get burnt, and the scars can take years to heal. But this is all coming from my very cautious view point atm, and I cannot work out if my head was unusual in how fast it imploded when it did, or whether other people have that potential as well. Because on the flip side, I do think a person should work to be aware, when to play it safe, and when to push themselves out of their comfort zone and consider things which might alter their world view. Consider things which may be unsettling at first, but could lead to greater understanding.. It is a balance, between knowing which things are worthy of leaving the comfort zone behind, and when are moments better spent firmly within it. Because unsettling concepts and ideas have a habit of playing on your mind, and the consequences or ramifications of something which initially seems benign can, over time, lead to larger revelations or changes in thinking. Thanks for this post it’s very thought provoking.. lol in fact you’ve just triggered another blog title for me! There goes the editing for another day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Blimey! Where to start???

      Firstly, I’m glad that you can begin to encompass the concept of the comfort zone. Well, you do have direct and conscious experience of it, don’t you? Now the hard part for me is to work out what it was you were doing when ‘under the influence’ of Schizophrenia. I’m still trying to get my head around that; perhaps a read of your book will help there (big hint!!).

      The comfort zone is paradoxical, as you’ve discovered. It is both comforting – and everything outside isn’t anywhere near as nice. Hence the challenge of working outside it.

      Now, you go on to say, “Because on the flip side, I do think a person should work to be aware, when to play it safe, and when to push themselves out of their comfort zone and consider things which might alter their world view.” Well, that’s all well and good… if like you and me, we accept our challenges. That goes for a rare one or two others I’ve met too; see “When My Heart Sings” No matter: the point is that in one way or another, these people all have the ‘keys’ to that which lies outside their comfort zone. In other words, they know they’re not always right.

      The problem is that for many, they just can’t see this. Which brings me to the subconscious and its nature: it is literally and figuratively invisible. There is no way on earth that it can be determined in any shape or form. Is it not right for such a person to imagine themselves to be correct – and everybody else to be wrong? After all, that way it’s easier to dismiss the challenge, isn’t it? The problem arises when one of them is so right that it hits a nerve…

      … and all hell is let loose.

      I said something by way of a comment on a gentleman’s blog – that he didn’t moderate (he’s the kind who needs to keep a firm control on all conversations – ahem) – and it pointed to a historical fact in relation to this practice of his not allowing people to discuss things freely. He reacted as though he’d been stung by a hornet!!! He reacted almost immediately with an email (something he’s more than reluctant to do in normal circumstances) to say that it was unfair and unkind of me to say such things about him.

      But when someone’s so ensconced in their comfort zone that they are happier not talking… it takes that kind of comment to get a response from them. In short, the harder it is to get a response from a person, the thicker the skin of their comfort zone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm I guess, this goes hand in hand with ignorance is bliss… lol I will always be someone for whom the truth is the goal, or- my truth, is the goal. I can handle being told that I’m wrong, and I think I’m fairly self-aware, to the point that I know what are my trigger issues, or the issues that are likely to get me tetchy when mentioned or brought up. It is people who are not self-aware in the least, who I look at with curiousity. I wonder what it must be like to not be painfully self conscious of how every word, and movement may be coming across- to be free of that sometimes debhilitating sense of self awareness seems like something fairly amazing. I am working on it. My schizophrenia, and what it was/is- I think mainly faulty psychology- psychology which didn’t let me grow up in a stable, self assured way. So I was more likely to think I was doing something wrong than something right. I had a massive imagination, and not too much self confidence; I was kind of running on empty when I got ill, not really having a sense of positive identity, but trying to get by whilst pretending.. I think there were lots of factors which came into play. LOl my book is more about the things I feel have been important to my recovery, rather than an actua description on account of my illness.. although I would love to write a book on what it all means. I also have plans for a piece written to paranoia, and what that is all about 🙂 Fun topics, lol I maybe need to start writing some fun fiction at the same time, just to keep me balanced a bit!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So what was this ‘faulty psychology’? After all, that really is a topic that runs through this entire blog. Isn’t it more a case that it’s not a case of it being faulty – but it being our latest challenge to discover the truth?

    There are those who have such a challenge in life because they had led themselves into a blind alley. There are those who have such a challenge because they can scale the vertical wall that stands at the end of a blind alley.

    As to paranoia, it’s an extension of one’s inner fears – aided and abetted by an unfettered imagination. After all, we see around us our fears portrayed: it’s how our subconscious works – and is an extremely subtle concept to become aware of. Such fears can inspire the imagination, which if not restrained by reality, will run riot.

    So let us get one thing straight: your search for the truth, that is to say, your search for a reality that you can harness your conceptual powers (part of which is your capacity to imagine) was actually that which healed you. All you need do now is to sweep up the mess it left in case there’s anything worthwhile that you missed.

    As to fun fiction, my own book has no end of funny stories – the contrast to the tragedy is thrown into a starker contrast thereby. A contrast made a little more harrowing by its never being stated outright. Humour is a very powerful tool. But this is to use humour to a different end than you are thinking of.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s