PPC and the Curse of Knowledge

How do you judge how ‘obvious’ a particular nugget of knowledge might be?

On one hand it’s pretty easy to intuit a general sense.

If you’ve come across an idea frequently, it’s reasonable to assume that others in a similar environment have come across the same idea at least enough times to have taken it on board…

But the binary state of ‘knowing’ or ‘not knowing’ something yourself, disproportionately influences our perception of how widespread the knowledge of that thing is among others.

It’s called the Curse of Knowledge:

“a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with others, fails to disregard information that is only available to themselves, assuming they all share a background and understanding.” (Wikipedia)

Sidebar for those interested in such things: a notable experiment demonstrating this phenomenon was carried out by Elizabeth Newton in 1990. Participants were divided into 'tappers' and 'listeners.' Tappers would tap out a well-known song on a table, and listeners would try to guess the song. The tappers predicted that the listeners would guess correctly in 50% of cases. In reality, listeners only guessed correctly 2.5% of the time. The tappers, knowing the song, couldn't quite grasp how unclear it was to the listeners, merely hearing isolated taps.

You may know where I’m going with this…

(then again you may not!)

The unchecked assumption that others share your background knowledge is a serious risk in marketing.

Let’s look at two places it comes up to the detriment of marketing efforts – one in landing pages, and one in ad text.

Landing Pages

In PPC we often use the most relevant page within a website to the product or service we’re promoting in the ad.

This has always been well advised, and makes total sense.

But the content of the landing page in question must be tailored not just to the most relevant topic, but also to the state of the user’s understanding. Tailor the landing page to the intent of the user – as determined by the search term they’re using, with sensitivity to what stage of the funnel the user is in.

A common mistake is to send users to the most relevant inner page without carefully considering whether it actually stacks up as a landing page for the uninitiated.

Often inner pages – specific to a particular service or product – have been designed with a view to providing ‘further information’, where the user is assumed to have already passed through the home page, become familiar with the seller and the general offering, and now navigated onwards, having already decided on the relevance of the site.

These inner pages then lack the immediately persuasive text and imagery required of a landing page.

A couple of examples from a quick Google:

Car services site.

Home page: Imagery, list of brands covered, prominent explanation of services offered, prominent CTAs (and it could do with some work… but it ticks these boxes)

Specific service page – Motorcycle Wheel Refurbishment: Not much.

Commercial Cleaning site.

Home page: Home page: ‘over 35 years’ credibility play, social proof, video.

Specific service page. Laundry Services: Not much.

For any page to which you direct users, remember to review its potential impact as the very first thing the user will see of your site, and your credentials.

Does the page immediately clarify what the advertiser does/offers and why they’re a good choice? If not, choose another page, or fix it.

Ad Text

As an advertiser (brand campaigns aside), your ad text needs above all to clarify what you offer, followed very shortly by an exposition of why your offer is compelling.

But the most compelling framing of ‘what you offer’ differs vastly depending on the background knowledge of your market.

Say you’re selling a mobile phone. With any given campaign, are you targeting:

– a (rare breed of) user who doesn’t know much about mobiles at all (think of the outdated lingo they might still be using… (‘car phones’?)

– a typical adult, who knows plenty about phones (spends 1/4 of their waking hours using one) and wants to know about how many megapixels the camera boasts; how many gigs of RAM it packs; how long the battery lasts…

– a bona-fide phone nerd, who pays attention to more esoteric features of the model, e.g. ‘Smart HDR’ or ‘Dual Sim’. Features that may be of little interest to the more casual phone user.

The answer should shape your copy.

And if you sell multiple products with slight variations, consider whether your ad for a particular variation is targeted at users who are aware of those distinctions that are so familiar to you… or targeted at users looking at the product from ‘outside’ the whole set, for whom the common features are likely to be much more pertinent.

Again, know who your audience is, where they sit in the buying journey, and keep in mind their likely level of background understanding.

Only then can you present your information in the right way to move them forward in their decision-making process.

With the way the Google Ads has changed, and the rise of highly-blended, black box campaign types, it’s not often we talk about the problem of knowing too much in PPC.

But while the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ lurks in the shadows of PPC, through the Blessing of Awareness, we can turn the pitfall into an opportunity.

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