What scares you about digital marketing? If you’re like me, it’s the unknown. The idea of spending thousands of dollars on a campaign without knowing whether or not it will work. In this article, we’re going to discuss pre-testing, or the act of testing and optimizing a campaign before its launch. We’ll show you why there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

The Three Stages of Pretesting

The first step to any AdWords campaign is keyword testing, and we can (and should) do this without ever intending to make a sale. You don’t actually need a highly-optimized landing page to start building a group of keywords that have a CPC that leaves room for profitability and then optimizing a number of ads that deliver high clickthrough rates.

Once you’ve got keywords and ads that are performing at 4 or 5%, and you’ve confirmed that this traffic is generally good traffic by observing the Search Terms Report and deciding that you’re getting legitimate queries, and you’re getting traction (capping your test budget every day with plenty of room to grow), you can move on to the second phase of testing.

Concept Testing is the process of testing your big idea – the original concept – with no ancillary copy or images. When we concept test, we put the concept in plain English on paper and see how it changes attitudes, perceptions, or behaviors. We can do this cheaply and effectively with AdWords at a few dollars per click depending on how narrowly you’d like to focus the target market that receives your campaign. Typically, for a very niche campaign with a large budget, it’s worth paying more per respondent to narrow your audience down to more qualified searchers in the concept testing phase.

In its infancy, a concept test is two parts – first, the Ad Text on your AdWords account (which you should have already started locking down previously). Second, headline on your landing page. Now, it’s worth noting that we don’t want to write great copy in this testing phase – just restate the basic keyword and searcher intent. It’s worth noting that conversions will necessarily be lower during this phase than they will be after the site is launched, so avoid making your “conversions” too complicated. Typically I like to just use a large button (ideally pointing to another landing page on my site) rather than even a simple email signup form. Under this model, one click = one conversion. Test different concepts until you’ve found something that earns 30, 40, or 50% clicks.

Usually, between 100 and 200 searchers is enough to identify whether or not the concept is good enough to drive action. That makes this sub-$1000 test a crucial part of your marketing effort if you’re intending to use it as the cornerstone of a $10,000, or larger, campaign.

Creative Testing ensures that the visuals and copy that are being rolled out with your campaign are convincing your target of your concept. At this point, we’ve already ensured that the concept we’re testing is effective – but are we communicating that through the advertisement? We use many of the same methodologies that we used during concept testing, and the cost to implement this test parallels the concept test. A creative test is slightly more expensive than a concept test because several versions of creative must be developed in order to identify which is most effective at communicating the message.

Typically creative testing is done on a platform like Unbounce. If you’re reading this, you may already have some knowledge of the creative testing modus operandi. In fact, chances are you skipped the first two (equally important) stages of testing and jumped straight into Unbounce A/B tests.

Putting it all together on an AdWords campaign means we can spend a few hundred dollars developing a keyword-creative-sales fit to ensure that your expensive upcoming campaign will meet its goals. But as much as we fear the unknown, the three tests outlined above can provide the data most marketing professionals need to see their campaign as a treat, rather than a trick.