Every now and then, I’ll look at a contest and think, that makes no sense whatsoever — that losing ad should have won!

Then I’ll stop to think about it, look through other contests to see if I can find any patterns, and the answer will pop out at me. This contest is one of those stumpers that required that kind of reflection:

Really, if you think about it, the losing ad is a much stronger ad, as it has:

  • A more engaging headline written in the language of the customer
  • A larger, bolder promise of benefit
  • And an explicit “what to expect” call to action promising immediacy of results

How could that go wrong? How could that lose to what reads like a bland and relatively week ad?

And then two factors hit me between the eyes:

  1. Scent Trail
  2. Buying Stage

Scent trail means “what exactly were the search terms and search intentions of the prospect and how well does the ad match those terms and intentions.”

If the actual search term was for “Transport Reviews” orr “Auto Transport Reviews” then guess which ad REALLY has the better headline…

Right! The winning ad’s headline provides an exact match for the search terms and search intentions, while the losing ad fails to use the actual search terms AND botches the intentions.

And searcher intentions brings up buying stage. Because if you’re intending to search for reviews on auto transport providers, you’re probably not READY to get price quote because your intention is to figure out:

  • Who to use
  • Who NOT to use
  • Who might be worth paying a premium to if you want to baby your car

And if those are your intentions, then you’re not yet ready for a price quote.

So again, looked at from that perspective, which ad is REALLY the stronger ad? Yup, the winning ad is the stronger ad — strong enough to power a 317% increase in Click-Through Rate!

No, this is great analysis AFTER the fact. Great because now you can look at your ads in terms of buying stage, and maybe test out some winning variations.

But perhaps the real lesson is that if you’re not actively testing ad variations written by writers with fresh eyes and solid training, then that super strong, effective ad you think you have could be just as underperforming as the losing ad in this contest…