Is AdWords + landing page still a viable validation tactic?

I’ve just set up my first Unbounce landing page (email address capture) and an AdWords campaign to drive some traffic to it. It ran OK (albeit with a terrible CTR) for a few days, but is now suspended on “usefulness” grounds.

An email from their support indicates that they object to it being a teaser page, essentially saying “go and build the product, then we’ll let you advertise”.

I’ve seen plenty of examples of startups testing the water using this technique, so I’m wondering whether this is a recent policy change on Google’s part, or whether I’m just the victim of another clueless ad reviewer.

Does anyone have any recent experience confirming/refuting this?

Why don’t you try Facebook Ads instead?

I expect I will at some point.

My product idea is very much B2B though, so (from my limited current understanding) I’d expect AdWords to be a better bet.

I am quite surprised Unbounce would do that. I have always preferred setting up the page on my own on Amazon S3. Maybe you can try that.

Setting up a proper targeted Adwords campaign is in itself a complex science and your returns probably depend on that. It would be pretty hard to get it right in the first try, imo.

Frankly, I haven’t seen a better validation than talking to customers and their problems related to what you want to build. Signups may seem encouraging but are of no value if they don’t have any intention of buying.

Getting people to talk is pretty hard and that’s why you probably need to tap into your network, cold call and hustle before you do anything else.

PS: I don’t have any successful product under my belt, so it is possible I am talking out my a** but four months of building something useless tells me the vanity of X signups we got before starting.

Sorry, I didn’t make it clear in my initial post - AdWords suspended my campaign. Unbounce has been great so far.

I’ve spent a couple of months interviewing 1st and 2nd degree contacts in my network. The problem is I’m starting to think the majority of them are the wrong demographic so I’m heeding Ash Maurya’s words about acquiring interviewees via the channel you expect to eventually market from.

Can you elaborate on the experience you had attempting to validate this way?

I worked it out this way. I thought of hypothesis about a problem that people might have and work out non-leading questions. For eg, I am building analytics software for content marketers and I asked them how they measure their efforts, ROI and their writers.

Most of them told they used spreadsheets and manually mined and synced data from GA to Google Sheets. I am still trying for more validation and interviews but this pretty much sounds like a pain point - “a manual process”.

The great thing about interviewing is that when you ask about their process you always get to re-adjust your assumptions and get better idea about what problem to solve.

I am not doubting startup advice you have read and I am sure it is great but there are so many factors involved that each advice needs to taken with grain of salt. There are so many advices that contradict with each other and that should not be surprising. Products have succeeded in thousand ways and if you go into their details, everyone’s story might be different. I think makers need to figure out on their own what works for them.

Hi Tom,

I’ve got to say that I’ve never believed in the Adwords + landing page approach as a business validation strategy.

I would suggest that you go talk directly to 30 people. Note that this isn’t an e-mailed survey, it’s a face to face or phone call discussion with the customers you think fit the profile for your product.

When you interview potential customers ensure that you confirm that:

  • Your audience exists (if you fail to find people to talk to there’s your first problem!)
  • They have the problem I think (I can describe the problem in their terms and they acknowledge it)
  • They would search google to find a solution to their problem, and as part of this learn what they would search for
  • By all means show them an example of the landing page, and get their feedback
  • You ask more detailed questions about your offering and how it meets their needs get more detailed feedback about the nuances of how you need to solve the problem for them

Schedule interviews in batches of 2 - 5 so that you can evaluate and refine the interview questions for the next batch. Repeat until you’ve got at least 20, but ideally 30 interviews.

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Totally agree it’s not a good strategy to use in isolation. I’ve been interviewing people in addition to this - about 20 so far.

My main problem is that my interviewees so far have a skew towards jobs in larger companies and working with fairly similar system architectures.

I’d like to branch out and talk to people in other demographics, and I’d also like to start figuring out which marketing channels might eventually scale (my network definitely won’t!) so the point in the AdWords exercise was to a) figure out if search is a viable channel, and b) get some email addresses from folks acquired that way and ask them for interviews.

It sounds like a wise strategy but depending upon what market your software will serve, you can also try posting on relevant forums like Hacker News, Product Hunt, Warrior Forum.

I don’t believe in customer interviews. For starters, they’re not your customers. They haven’t given you money yet. Anything they say is suspect because they have no stake in it.

Second, I don’t believe people actually know what they want. They might know what they’re “supposed” to want, and they might have an idea of what they think you want them to say they want, but my personal experience has been that people are completely unreliable at predicting their own needs and desires ahead of time.

Interviewing people regarding a potential product is more likely to get you a lot of polite nods and vocal affirmatives than any real, actionable data, IME.

How people behave when there’s nobody watching, and nobody to take cues from, however…that’s a different story. For that reason, I would recommend the “landing page” approach.

Bear in mind this is coming from someone who spent three years trying to do product and only managed to make about $2k. YMMV. :slight_smile:

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Face2face or phone interviews are a bit over rated in my opinion. They work very well, but until you ask the people to pay you may get mixed signals. Most people are trying to be polite and support you, that’s the main reason they accepted to talk to you on the phone while you don’t have any product.

Things are changing when you are approaching as a sales person not as a guy who is struggling to start his own business and needs help. However, using this approach you’ll get many rejections.

A thing that I tried once and I should try it more is doing interviews over chat with partial anonymity. I saw that people give more straight to the point and less “polite” answers, even though you can’t see their face or hear their vocal tonality, the words are much accurate, probably because they don’t have any reason to filter things out with an unknown guy from the internet.

Anyway, until people are paying, any type of interviews mean almost nothing.

Google has had rules against using AdWords for email harvesting and thin content sites for at least 3 years now.

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@buggy - thanks, this is what I suspected. Guess I’ll seek other sources of traffic while I’m pre-launch.

Interesting diversity of views on here about validation. It seems that a number of you have had false positives from the validation strategies you’ve tried.

One question - has any experienced any significant false negatives? Low traffic/conversions on a landing page or lukewarm interviews for a product that ultimately succeeded?

I agree that it is pointless to ask Customers what they want but I think it is beneficial to ask about how they do things. Your customers most probably don’t know a lot about tech, so they are unaware if they even have a problem or not.

Take example of Dropbox. Before it came I remember people use to upload files to gmail for cloud storage. I never thought there could a solution for this but I totally loved Dropbox when it came out.

Shubhamjain, that is an excellent point. And it’s interesting that you use Dropbox as an example.

When Dropbox launched and immediately became A Thing™, I was completely perplexed. I remember saying things like “this is a non-product!” and “why would anyone pay to use this when we have FTP?!?”

Can you imagine if the Dropbox folks had included a bunch of people like me in their validation interviews? Not good.

Now that I think about it, this might explain a lot about my own experiences in launching products, hmmm…


My experience is that Adwords policies are enforced by poorly trained subcontractors:

It is a while since I looked at their policies, but I am guessing they misunderstood your landing page as something more dubious.

Unfortunately there is no right of appeal. But you could try adding some more content (maybe a video) and asking them to re-review it.

Good luck!

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Thanks for the advice. My colleague suggested something somewhat similar - “contact us through this form and we’ll build you one bespoke”.

I found your thread on the subject after this started. Quite unbelievable. My experience so far has been pretty consistent with yours - neither of the people I’ve spoken to so far seem to have much of a clue.

I’ve switched strategies for now, driving some traffic from my open source project’s site, and this seems to be working much better. I’ve actually collected a few email addresses this time, which is more than I accomplished in the 4 days my ad was running.

It is very poor that a company as rich as Google can’t or won’t properly train and monitor the staff/contractors who enforce its policies.

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Agreed. And not at all in keeping with the public image they try to portray.

I find it odd that I get treated worse as a paying customer than when I’m the product being sold.

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