Reverse-Engineering Your Ads: What are Your Customers Trying to Tell You?

by Aden Andrus January 2, 2018

In the world of online marketing, everything seems to orbit around your ads.

What should your offer match? The offer in your ads. What should your landing page content match? The content of your ads. What should your paid search keywords match? Your ads, of course!

And, if you happen to change your advertising strategy, you’ll need to change your lead magnets, landing pages, promotions and sales collateral…to match.

Now, this approach certainly makes sense. After all, why do people click on an ad? Because they resonate with the content. So, if what they get after they click on your ad doesn’t match what you advertised in the ad, they’ll feel confused and frustrated.

That’s not exactly sort of feelings you want to inspire as an advertiser.

However, while the ad-first approach to advertising certainly works, it also means that your advertising campaigns are wholly dependent on your ability to figure out what your audience will respond to—from click-to-conversion. And sometimes, that can be tricky to figure out.

But what if I told you that your customers are already telling you what they want to see in your ads, landing pages and other marketing materials?

Reverse-Engineering Your Advertising Process

As it turns out, your current customers are constantly telling you what they are looking for in a marketing campaign. Every time someone converts on your website, it’s like they are saying “I just found what I was looking for!”

In other words, when someone converts, they liked what they saw on your website enough to actually do what you want people to do on your site (isn’t that the whole point of online advertising?). The only question is, what?

The easiest way to figure out what people want from your advertising is to take a look at the messaging on the top-performing pages of your site. For example, if you are tracking conversions in Google Analytics, you can take a look at the conversion rates of your different site pages by clicking Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages:

Essentially, this report tells you how many people landed on a particular page and then went on to convert on your site. In other words, regardless of how they got to your site, these people saw something they liked on your site and converted.

Interpreting Your Data

Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you are looking at the right conversion goal(s) and taking into account how many visits a given page received, but this report can quickly tell you which site pages were most in line with what your customers want. No guesswork, just data. They came, they saw, and they converted.

Now the question is, why?

At this point, you can start reverse-engineering your advertising. Look at your pages and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the main message of this page? (headline, body copy, images and so on)
  • Why would someone convert after seeing this page? (pain points, selling points, offers and more)
  • How are people getting to this page? (social media, organic search, ads, etc)
  • Who is visiting this page? (in Google Analytics, you can add demographics data like gender as a secondary dimension to get a feel for this.)
  • What makes this page different from other pages on my site with similar traffic volume? (different message, better copy or something else)
  • Where does this page fit in my marketing funnel? (e.g., awareness, intent)
  • How does this page interact with the rest of my marketing funnel? (leads traffic to next part of my funnel/site effectively, for example.)

Once you’ve identified the elements that make a particular page deliver the results you’re looking for, you can then use that information to come up with a great ad (or even fill in some of those other steps, like lead magnets).

For example, if you have a page with a great conversion rate that uses a different headline and hero shot from the rest of your site, you might want to try using something similar in your ads. Alternatively, if your conversion rate is best amongst 35- to-44-year-old men, those ads you’ve been running that appeal to millennial women might not be helping your cause.

In any case, if you’re getting better results from a certain page on your site than you are from your ads and landing pages, there’s a good chance that you can learn something. After all, conversions are your customers’ way of telling you “this worked for me”… and they know themselves better than you know them.

Using Your Landing Pages…to Test Your Ads

When you get right down to it, you don’t really want people to click on your ads. You want people to convert (or better yet, make a purchase). If people aren’t converting, every click you pay for is a waste of money.

With that in mind, why not use your landing pages to pick your ad messaging?

Typically, most people recommend that you match your landing page to your ad and then split test your landing page to test how different versions of your page affect your conversion rate. This time, however, we’re going to flip things around. Instead of keeping the ads the same and testing the landing pages, we’re going to keep the landing page the same and test different ads.

Testing Your Ads

All you have to do is identify one of your top landing pages (or even site pages) and come up with a few different ads that match the messaging of your landing page. Then, set up a split test in your ad platform of choice and see which ad produces the best conversion rates.

Yes, you read that right. We want to see which ads produce the best conversion rates.

Most of the time, digital marketers tend to view the ad experience and the landing page experience as two completely separate entities. In reality, though, your audience only has one intent. They don’t click on your ad and hit an emotional reset button when your page loads. The same needs and intent that got them to click come with them to your page, so if your ad does a good job of putting the right people on your landing page, your conversion rate will improve.

However, most online advertisers see the journey from click to conversion as two separate processes. You click. Then you convert. As a result, click-through rate is usually the measure of ad success (how well does your audience respond to your ad?) and conversion rate is usually the measure of landing page success (how well does your audience respond to your landing page?).

For this test, however, since we’re trying to reverse-engineer our advertising, we’re going to assume that the conversion rate of our landing page is directly influenced by the type and quality of traffic we’re sending to it (for proof that this is a valid assumption, check out this article). So, if our ads send better traffic to our landing page, our conversion rate will naturally improve.

Analyzing Your Results

The good news is, this sort of test is as easy to set up as any other A/B ad test. In fact, you may already be running this sort of test without even realizing it. The trick is to use this test to identify how different ads influence your conversion rate. Ask yourself:

  • How is the messaging different between these ads?
  • Do my ads speak to different audiences?
  • Am I targeting different pain points?
  • Do my ads set different expectations for my landing page?
  • How are my ads preparing people for the content of my landing page?
  • How are my ads preparing people to take the next step toward converting?

Odds are, if you have a landing page that works fairly well, you can improve its performance even more by improving the ads that are sending traffic to it.

Limitations of this approach

Of course, reverse-engineering your ads from your landing page and site content comes with its own set of disadvantages. Conversion data only tells you what worked for the people who have converted; it doesn’t tell you much about what might work for new audiences.

As a result, this approach is most helpful when you have quite a bit of existing conversion data and want to use that data to come up with new advertising ideas.


Online advertising is something of a tricky process. You know what you want to say and who to say it to, but figuring out the best way to say it can be hard.

Fortunately, your current customers have already given you a ton of information on what makes them want to convert. All you have to do is use that data to reverse-engineer an advertising strategy that really speaks to your audience.

By the way, if you’d like me to help you review your landing page and site content and come up with new ad copy, let me know here or in the comments! I’d love to help.

How do you come up with new advertising ideas? What do you think of this approach? Have you tried something similar before?

  • Marketing

Aden Andrus

Aden Andrus

Over his career, Aden has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping Disruptive's internal marketing game. He loves to write, dance and destroy computer monitors in full medieval armor.

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