Editor’s note: Nolan Ether is Associate Creative Director at Three Ships Media, a social media marketing firm.

RALEIGH, N.C. – I’ve got a secret to tell you. In fact, it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the marketing industry today. It’s a secret that marketing agencies the world over would do anything to prevent from being leaked. I may even need to change my identity and go into hiding like Walter White after writing this blog.

Are you ready? Here it goes…


That’s right. We’re not all a bunch of Don Drapers, sitting in our corner offices, smoking and coming up with brilliant ideas that are always effective. That may have worked sixty years ago, when people were exposed to brand messages from three television channels, the local newspaper, and the occasional magazine advertisement or billboard, but it doesn’t work today. It also doesn’t hurt that brands back then simply accepted that there was no way to fully attribute their changes in sales to their marketing efforts. Nowadays, though, it’s a much different story.

People come into contact with thousands of brand messages a day through hundreds of channels and technologies. It’s easier and easier to measure everything, and clients want us to use their marketing budgets to make the biggest impact as efficiently as possible.

How do we do it? Simple. We follow the same principles we learned in 3rd grade science class: The Scientific Method.

The scientific method is the process that scientists use to advance knowledge. It enables us to build on previous knowledge in order to learn more about the world we live in.

The basic steps of the scientific method include:

  • Ask a question
  • Do background research
  • Form a hypothesis
  • Perform an experiment
  • Analyze your data
  • Draw a conclusion

Ask a Question

This part is easy. In many cases, your client or company will provide the question for you. At its core, we’re trying to determine which factors and methods lead to the desired outcomes, and which detract from them.

Some possible questions include:

  • “How can we increase organic traffic to our website?”
  • “Why isn’t our landing page converting like we’d like it to?”
  • “When is the best time for us to post on Facebook?”

Do Background Research

Dig into your client’s analytics and see if you can find information that may answer your question or lead you in the right direction. If you want to increase organic traffic, look at the most popular pages and pieces of content on your site. Where is your organic traffic coming from now? Which pages or pieces of content are driving this traffic?

Form a Hypothesis

Use the data and analytics you have found to inform your hypothesis. Let’s say that you work for a financial institution, and your research shows that three of your ten most popular pages and blog posts focus on how to save money for retirement.

What a great insight! It sounds like these few good articles may be working together to build some authority about retirement for your site. Using this information, you may hypothesize that creating more content about retirement will help increase organic traffic.

Perform an Experiment

My favorite parts of 3rd grade were recess and lunch, but I’m pretty sure I remember that in order to get the best results, a good experiment will only test one variable at a time. While this may be unrealistic in digital marketing, it is best to limit the number of variables you’re testing so that you can properly attribute results to these variables.

Let’s do our best to make our experiments at least as scientific as Cookie Monster’s. So, to continue with our example, you’ve hypothesized that more retirement content will increase organic traffic. How can you test your theory? Create some more content about retirement! Make sure that you get a baseline and include tagging or anything else necessary to measure the effects of this piece on your organic traffic. Promote it just like you would any other piece of content, so that you don’t skew the results.

Analyze Your Data

Once you’ve given your experiment the time it needs to get some decent results, take a look. Did the new retirement content get more views than other types of content? Were your results similar to the other retirement content that did so well? Most importantly, did it increase the organic traffic to your site? Did it work, or not?

Draw a Conclusion

What conclusions can you draw from the results of your experiment? What did you learn? Remember, learning what does NOT work can be just as valuable as learning what does. Perhaps the answers you found led to more questions and more ideas for experiments. Great! That’s what it’s all about.

Digital marketing today requires an agile approach. Fail small and fail often. Learn something. Most importantly, use what you learn to do better work every day.

(C) Three Ships Media