We’ve previously analyzed how Max Weber would PPC, but we focused entirely on his approach towards bureaucracy. Today, we’re going to rethink Max Weber as a PPC, but using his more famous idea, that of the Protestant Work Ethic.

As always with my reviews here, this is an absurdly over-simplified, simple, simplification–yes, that was on purpose–to the point of perhaps even being misleading, so I feel compelled to include this qualification because at least one professional philosopher will be reading this; hi, Andy! The Protestant Work Ethic argues, in short, that Martin Luther’s core protestant idea that, entails the belief that to receive God’s Grace (basically, for God to really like you and improve your chances of getting into heaven) you need to do “good works.” Contrast this with the less-Protestant belief that God just decides, no matter what you do, so there is a weaker obligation to do good works although of course you should always do good works. (No, I don’t mean to imply Catholics believe in not being good; please, I know you do, and I don’t want to spark more Crusades!). Said differently: a group of people who believe that, to get into heaven, you have to really actively do good stuff, they will–well, surprise, surprise!–do a lot of good stuff! And people who believe they will go into heaven regardless of whether they do good stuff or not… well, they’re just a bit less likely to do good stuff.

And this is widely taught to children in American high schools because the US, as a Protestant country, grew wealthy with the protestant work ethic making us a country of hard workers. Some may even argue, too Protestant!

Now, let’s forget the religious implications–still, no Crusades starting today!–and let’s think about Team A, who believes that you have to work very consistently, diligently, focused and obsessive way to for good things to happen to your Google Ads campaignvs Team B, who believes that good or bad things just happen to your Google Ads campaign, somewhat arbitrarily. Which one would you hire?

Before I answer that question, I need to observe: to go back to the religious metaphor, yes, I’m clearly paralleling “God” (in the original, religious version of the Protestant Work Ethic to my PPC adaptation) to “Google.” Yes, because in our PPC world, isn’t Google really just a God, who can declare what he wants and we must obey it, including smoting (is that the right tense of “to smite”?) those he get on his bad side when he wakes up on the wrong side of his heavenly bed for whatever reason that morning? Yup, that sounds like the Google Ads I know! In fact, I’d go a step further and say that Google isn’t just “a God”–one of many, note the “a”–but “the God” in PPC: the others like Bing are minor angels circling around him, not even worthy of the sacred word “God.” Perhaps they’re even the Nephilim, his messengers! In fact, in PPC-land, let’s call God/Google by the singular version of his name (Adonai?) not the plural version (Elohim? Yes, the fact that one of God’s names is a plural in the bible is an endless source of confusion to many!). Googdonai, not Googlohim.

Okay, back on topic: Team A (believing you have to do focused, obsessive good work constantly to get God’s, errr, Google’s grace) vs Team B (believing that God, errr, Google will just randomly determine whom he does or doesn’t like and reward them appropriately). Which would you choose?

Clearly, the answer goes to Team A, every time–so Max Weber indeed would be a good PPC.

But that has to come with a huge qualification: Team B actually makes a friggin’ good point. Google is arbitrary–very arbitrary. In account after account, campaign after campaign, I see so many PPCs doing such great work, and then for unexplained, arbitrary reasons–Google just disables the account, or doesn’t approve the ads (ever) or gives you crazy off-topic traffic or wild search terms or just increase your CPC or decreases your Quality Score, and so forth. No matter how perfectly, to the letter, you follow every single one of Google’s declared rules and suggestions.

So maybe being on Team A doesn’t really matter as much as you think it does? Maybe it’s just not all that it’s cracked up to me. How do you reconcile these two sides?

My response to that would be, in both PPC and in religion and in life: luck actually matters–and you need to create your own luck.

What I mean by that is: God, errr, Google will do whatever the f—- he wants to do to your campaign. And often his motives will be mysterious: hey maybe Google’s just some burning bush saying cryptic words and inscribing laws on tablets (cue the Charlton Heston imagery) and we can’t understand him and he does what he wants. If you’re the unlucky one to be on his bad side–for whatever reason–sucks for you. (And I’ve been there! And it sucked for me!)

But… you do create your own luck. I’m much more sophisticated about these things than I was, say, 10 years ago. And the way, in religion, you have to be sophisticated to understand what your God actually is whispering into your ear, because he won’t say the key points directly (indeed, the holiest of holy name of God is a set of vowel-ish sounds that can’t even be said outloud, and barely even blown outloud)… the same here in the Religion Of Google: Google will give you some rules, just like Deuteronomy lays out endless little detailed rules, Google does the same thing with its rules. Don’t Mix Cotton And Wool In Your Clothing! Don’t Make Your Display Ads Larger Than 150k! So God/Google does outline all the specific little points.

But the Big Stuff? How do you create your own luck? That’s what you have to figure out. In the religious sense, I can’t help you there–go speak to your Rabbi/Priest/Pastor/Imam/Guru/Psychologist/Parent about that. But in the Google Ads/Adwords sense? I can’t tell you–no one can, not even Google will say it directly–but here are some clues that may be fruitful to help you multiply your success:

  • What categories of products does Google want to promote more? Why?
  • What ad types does Google want to promote more? Why?
  • What targeting options does Google want to promote more? Why?
  • When does Google make more money? Or less money?
  • What non-financial objectives does Google have, or not have?
  • Google gives you lots and lots of data. How do you know if that data is real or just smoke like from a burning bush?

In conclusion, I’ve found this general way of thinking very helpful to understand half of Google’s arbitrary decisions–and it let’s me take action to prevent them.

As one example, once I realized that Google profits massively from display targeting that’s completely off-topic (hey, I’m sure Google’s genius AI knows this one impression at this one moment will overwhelmingly likely get a conversion, but it still needs to show your ad 1,000 other times or else it will only make 0.1% of the money, with barely any ads showing!) I moved away from prospecting display audience targeting via Google’s prospecting audiences and moved to managed placements instead.

But the other half of Google’s decisions, the half that even I can’t decipher? Well, that’s still a mystery–and always will be. No matter how wise your sages are, there are some things about how the universe works that not even they will know. (And muuuuch less so a non-sage like myself!)