HOWTO use Google AdWords to prototype and test a book title

Here's a fascinating case-study on how Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, prototyped and tested various titles and covers for his book, by buying various Google AdWords (for the title), and sneaking dust-jackets onto various business-books at the local Palo Alto Borders and watching how people reacted to them (for the cover).
He took 6 prospective titles that everyone could live with: including 'Broadband and White Sand', 'Millionaire Chameleon' and 'The 4-Hour Workweek' and developed an Google Adwords campaign for each. He bid on keywords related to the book's content including '401k' and 'language learning': when those keywords formed part of someone's search on Google the prospective title popped up as a headline and the advertisement text would be the subtitle. Ferriss was interested to see which of the sponsored links would be clicked on most, knowing that he needed his title to compete with over 200,000 books published in the US each year. At the end of the week, for less than $200 he knew that "The 4-Hour Workweek" had the best click-through rate by far and he went with that title.

His experimentation didn't stop there, he decided to test various covers by printing them on high quality paper and placing them on existing similar sized books in the new non-fiction rack at Borders, Palo Alto. He sat with a coffee and observed, learning which cover really was most appealing.

64) The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Thanks, Tom!)


  1. This is a neat idea for optimizing one’s book title and jacket, but I’ve been made curious about the actual content of Ferriss’s books. I went to his website and almost everything about it squeals at my bullshit detectors. Half his posts talk about making your life hyperbolically amazing—Perfect your body! Get well rested on just 2 hours of sleep per day! Buy round-the-world plane tickets without breaking the bank! Be the most productive person ever!—while the other half talk about advertising—essentially, how to manipulate people to your maximum financial advantage. I haven’t read any of his books though, so I can only judge from the teasers and summaries he has on his blog. Can any of his readers please comment on whether Ferriss is more like Michael Pollen, or Tony Robbins?

  2. So thats what you do in your 4-Hour workweek: Trick suckers into buying your useless book. Don’t worry about content. Spend your 4 hours tricking boingboing into advertising your book. Profit! ;-)

  3. Having read the book, I didn’t like the central message which basically is that you can outsource everything you do including making money and live the life of Riley on the other side of the planet. The man got rich by drop-shipping food supplements to bodybuilders and now proclaims that the way forward is not to produce something of value, but to test market junk, to say “fuck you” to your suppliers and to your customers and then to hire a couple of Indians to do the dirty work for you.

    It reads like a manual of how to become an asshole, and it preaches the attitude that stripped most of the developed world of the capability of producing value.

    On the positive side, mr. Ferris didn’t get a cent of royalties from my reading his book.

    1. I know people who have structured their lives around a similar model. they buy dilapitated tropical wood houses from desperately poor people in the third world and then re-sell the materials to the ultra wealthy in the west as “exotic” decorator materials for their faux-rustic cottages. all the actual labour is outsourced. and yes, they are assholes.

      1. So, you know people who purchase dilapidated homes from the desperately poor, apparently offering a price they find appealing, and so putting money in their hands they otherwise would not have had. Then they provide short term jobs for people in the area? That’s cool. As sympathetic as I am, I can’t say I’ve personally done that much to help people in the “3rd world”.

  4. Using the New Arrivals section at Borders to surreptitiously test your book covers is dishonest.

    Not only are you using their resources as a non-customer, but you are depriving other authors of the chance to sell their books by covering them up.

    I like gaming the system as much as the next person but this is just crooked.

  5. Don’t intend to read it (sounds like so much “self-improvement” lit out there containing the circular logic of becoming rich by becoming a self-improvement author/guru, with some pyramid scamming and trick marketing perhaps thrown in the mix).

    On a side note, somehow that book jacket replacement trick reminds me of the facehugger in Alien…

  6. While the idea was interesting, and creative, I agree that it is generally dishonest and unscrupulous. The book itself, as has already been mentioned, is so much white noise in a sea of white noise, teaching the reader nothing of value, while shamelessly self-promoting the author as “Mr. Amazing Man”, capable of doing anything and everything, and indeed having already done most of it. For someone looking for constructive means to better themselves, while it offers up a few ideas if you are able to take them and turn them into something more positive, using the techniques at face value in the book is probably not going to get you anywhere but fired and broke.

  7. Ferriss is #1 on my ‘separate the message from the messenger’ list. 4HWW has some good info, Pareto Principle/Parkinson’s Law style, but he’s just… kind of slimy. He reeks of marketing and used-car salesman and is comfortable playing fast and loose with the truth. What most of us call, you know, lying.

    When first coming out w/4HWW, his bio repeatedly stated “Cage fighter in Japan, vanquisher of four world champions (MMA).” [You can still see it here – ]

    Being a fan of MMA and having lived in Japan for a while [7 out of the last 11 years] and never having heard of him, my bullshit alarm went off. Whereas his bio implies professional fighter who won championships, the truth of the matter that he eventually copped to was that he’s trained a bunch of places in martial arts & MMA [good for him – that’s actually kind of awesome] but by “vanquished” he actually means caught some guys in submissions while training in the gym. Maybe. Without naming times, places or names. And considering training in the gym is wildly different that a real fight. All of it a far cry from what’s implied. [And the time-frame he was there, Japanese fight orgs, with one exception, used rings/not cages, but that’s a niggling digression…]

    It’s that kind of thing that that permeates his work. And some of his tips & tricks in 4HWW outright recommend lying. There’s almost a pathological sense of deceptiveness to some of his stuff.

    That being said, I’m going to probably pick up his next book on exercise/nutrition hacks, because he’s an engaging writer who digs into to some interesting ideas and concepts, and it’s subject matter I like. Just need to remember to read everything of his with a huge grain of salt. Cause he’s kind of a liar.

  8. Perusing the TOC shows that he has figured out a way to learn ‘any language in 3 months! ‘
    That lie has been selling well for a long time.

  9. Whenever you hear Tim Ferriss make an outrageous claim, it will usually show out to be a half-truth or sort-of-truth. If you try to follow his business advice to the letter you will essentially end up with the losers at the infamous Warrior Forum, so don’t. It’s not as simple as he claims, because the methods require both experience, luck and low morals.

    But I actually still like the book, because it explores some interesting ways to think of life and work, which I think are quite valuable. The question is pretty much “how can I make more money when I sleep?”

  10. I have to agree with Rob, above. The book actually contained some good tips for working efficiently (some strategies for avoiding multi-tasking, for example, which all research shows is a bad way of trying to do things), but there was a bit of a pervasive “slime factor” in the book.

  11. There’s a person in the UK who only works a few hours per month. Basically he’s cornered the market in the trading of an exotic metal. He was on the radio a while back and has written a book i think with a similar sounding title. It took him over 10 years to get to this position. I wish I could remember his name or the title of his book.

  12. the point that is fascinating here is not about the book, but about the search-based alternative to traditional marketing research concept testing. there is a new digital world that marketing research needs to embrace.

  13. I tested the following comment on Amazon sites around the world to ascertain the most author/reader appealing version; here’s the outcome:

    The author is an insightful genius in a gold sexual banana hammock. My home-made robotic steam-powered arm typed this message on a vintage Russian typewriter named “Zombie”, but now the Canadian rights organizations legislated to stop you procreating with George Lucas. Let me show you how to circumvent that!

  14. I bought and read the book on the recommendation of a couple different friends. It also set off my bullshit alarms early on, but that did subside eventually. Most of the criticisms above are true, at least in part. But I still found it to be a valuable book with lots usable information and ideas.

    Fortunately, it turns out that only a small portion of the book (perhaps 10% or less?) is about ways to make money. It’s mostly about how to use the time and money you do have more effectively. I doubt anyone other than the author could take advantage of every detail in the book, but most people could derive benefit from at least a bit of it.

    Yes, you could say that gaming the system is the overarching theme of the book. In fact, I’d say the central thesis is this: the system doesn’t respect you and will gladly use as much of you as you give it for as little compensation as possible; here’s how to show the system the same courtesy. And while that doesn’t mesh perfectly with my worldview, there is much in there that does.

    I’m self-employed as of this summer and am not trying to only work half a day a week or travel the world full time, but I am trying to work as effectively and efficiently as possible and the time spent reading that book has already been paid back in spades. So even if Ferriss is indeed the cocksneeze that many assume him to be, he more than earned whatever royalties he got from me.

  15. And of course this “game the system” outlook is pervasive in the good ole 40-hour week world as well… Banks are finding trying to game the system with mortgage foreclosures over the past year may throw us all into a longer recession… But at least they paid out their bonuses…

    Where is the book we REALLY need right now: “The Honest Living: How to have everything you need and a few things you want without crushing the dreams of others or being a prick.”

  16. I really appreciate BoingBoing commenters. Only place I know where the commentary is often better then the content of the blog post. In the first three comments I got a deconstruction of Mr. Ferriss’ MO, his blog and his book. All in under a minute.

    I had heard rumors that Ferriss was mostly full of hype and the commentary confirms he’s not worth wasting time on.

  17. So, the message is that you can squeeze lots of reward out of a little actual production by putting all the extra effort into promotion and marketing?

  18. Gosh you guys trashed Tim Ferriss so thoroughly it’s as if he didn’t even have a chance. I read the book and it has a huge number of helpful ideas. Ferriss is worth the time. He may break rules but we don’t have to follow his every word. He is definitely not a jerk. I would say he is a smart guy who is still young and perhaps a bit cocky. I expect him to mature to the point that he would not obscure another author’s book with a faux cover.

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