Gamified Design Thinking for Google Ads and PPC Marketing Performance

Dan Burykin
6 min readAug 6, 2019
  • Design thinking supports an ongoing experimentation + optimization process
  • Communication is the only way to maintain people system collaboration
  • Performance starts from the efficient setting of team roles

Have you ever thought of outsourcing services or remote freelancing as a performance game? Last September I started bidding on my first freelance platform. I was lucky enough to spend the next two months helping a leading local digital agency to develop its PPC marketing outsourcing. Another fantastic experience I had because of PeoplePerHour during the following January and February was providing Google Ads (AdWords) training in Barcelona and Lisbon as an independent contractor on behalf of Google LLC and Teleperformance Corporation. This lets me apply most of my 10+ years of experience in marketing, IT and organizational consulting. In my opinion, the performance of outsourcing or remote freelance collaboration requires the following three competencies of everybody involved:

  • responsibility (commitment capability)
  • expertise (and its competitiveness)
  • communication skills

There are three parties of an outsourcing or remote freelance collaboration: the Customers, their Expert Performers and the Service/Product Experience between them. The last one is, for example, a PPC marketing platform, like the Google Ads (AdWords) solution. What’s more, these three roles can be compared with the Scrum team roles in terms of project management methodology. While Scrum was originally about software development, most marketing product and service companies apply this set of Agile principles to their workflow. This means that Customers become Product Owners and Expert Performers become Scrum Masters. Who is the development team? It is exactly the Google Ads (AdWords) experience, which includes the following: this Google Ads IT product by itself, it’s ongoing development by the Google Ads dev team, as well as the clients flow of the Product Owner’s business, generated by the PPC ads budget and its Scrum Master’s accounting:

Working with marketing communication solutions like the Google Ads (AdWords) Experience or with the most of the other PPC marketing platforms are, as a freelance platform or marketplace, also a performance game, as their core is based on a bidding auction, scores, etc. The best way to improve your PPC marketing performance is to structure the way you actually think (the design thinking) and play (a gamified system). In other words, the performance trick of a PPC marketing experience is to perceive its process as if you are mastering a gamified system.

The approach I follow is an integration of design thinking and gamified communications. I recommend it to those who would like to be both freelancers/consultants (Scrum Masters) and business representatives (Product Owners) at the same time. A common case is when you own your personal brand as a consultant. Another possibility is that you are an independent expert who owns a more populated business system like an IT startup, agency, education center, manufacturing business or e-commerce site.

Let’s look in detail to see how we can deliver efficient Google Ads (AdWords) performance. The most common design thinking cycle consists of the following steps:

  1. Empathize with what do people do, why do they do this, how they perceive the environment, what their values are and what their emotional and physical needs are.
  2. Focus on putting to words (by writing, drawing, etc.) the exact problem you are solving
  3. Generate ideas via brainstorming (or simulate it by yourself in a roleplaying dialogue)
  4. Select the idea by voting, prioritizing, etc.
  5. Prototype the idea as a draft, mockup or pilot event
  6. Test a design to get feedback and repeat the steps

This basically describes a unified package for any thinking process. As we concluded above, AdWords is a structured interaction with certain features of a communication game. But this isn’t only how an AdWords account manager or, for example, a remote freelance consultant see it. As I said earlier, the Google Ads (AdWords) solution is obviously gamified inside out by its creators from the very beginning through a bidding auction, ads and ad extension rotations, a number of different smart automation, tons of optimization tools, interface screens and analytic features, etc. How can you continuously prioritize and set each of them the right way? What if to think about a business you are advertising and its potential customers as if they were a communication game for you or your client and the players involved? This makes us think of how games are designed, or what gamification framework might be the most appropriate. Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in his famous Coursera ‘Gamification’ MOOC (massive open online course) apparently relies on design thinking too by offering a look-alike version of gamification design framework:

  1. Define business objectives. What is the purpose of gamification? What are the end business goals and the intent to achieve them in a gamified way?
  2. Delineate target behaviors. What are the typical behaviors of your players? How will this help your business and communications with its customers?
  3. Describe your players. Are your players’ prospective customers of your online store or trainees of your online course? What taxonomy might describe your typical players? Does the most classic Bartle’s taxonomy or are other modified you’ve gleaned from market research?
  4. Devise your activity loops. What are the specific triggers and their elements in your gamification system? How will they motivate your players and provide feedback to them? How will the system engage new players and let others move further?
  5. Don’t forget the fun. Why would you say that interacting in your system is fun? What are the intrinsic rewards it delivers?
  6. Deploy the appropriate tools. How would you describe the deployment of your system? How is its development connected to the previous steps?

Now we need to use the design thinking concept as an iterative strategy of structuring the features and options galaxy of the Google Ads (AdWords) experience. Setting the initial roles will help to shape them into your own management and optimization technique. This will differ significantly for each specific ‘performance game’. However, let’s imagine the most generic one (and one that doesn’t have too much of my own biases). These roles would include the following:

  1. Act as a representative of the advertised business (Product Owner): a marketing plan and inventory capacity (keyword planner forecast), landing page or website experience, campaign type, goal and structure, conversion cost, value, and attribution type
  2. Reply as (or ask) a dedicated PPC marketing expert (Scrum Master) about: ad groups, targeting, keywords, negative keywords and cross negative keywords, matching, CPC, CTR, quality score
  3. Think as if you are a dedicated PPC marketing expert and then as if you are the client’s business representative to brainstorm (or do so within your team of Scrum Master and Product Owner): Copywrite/rewrite (design) ads, set ad extensions, adjust campaign and ad rotation settings
  4. Plan the test: adjust the budget plan and expectations or results (e.g. campaign, ad group and keyword bid simulators), choose the initial hypothesis to test
  5. Run the campaign with a test budget to check the hypothesis from the previous step
  6. Run the campaign and provide ongoing optimization. Optimize the campaign and run it with a bigger budget. Make more frequent and more detailed changes. Consider an automated bidding strategy, simultaneous test campaigns via draft and experiment features by starting again from steps 2, 3 and/or 4. Analyze all the specific reports like View Through Conversions, Multi-Channel Funnels data from Google Analytics, etc. as a means of getting feedback on the current business model and its objectives.

To sum up, freelancers and outsourced teams who systematically research and optimize themselves as efficient communicators are worth being considered as reasonable providers of performance-related services like Google Ads (AdWords) and PPC marketing platforms. If this is the case, you are not really hiring them, but negotiating a space for mutually efficient collaboration.

I’m Dan Burykin, the Free Call Tracking creator and a top-rated marketer. Together we are Top-Rated Team — an international group of independent Google Ads and MarTech pro. Each of us has been setting up and optimizing paid traffic for eCommerce, B2B and B2C lead generation in the United States, Canada, UK, Germany and Ukraine for over 10 years.