Using Google Ads to Name Characters

| 9/14/2009 10:00:01 AM

Get out your awesome-nerdy-tech hat and strap it on securely: Robin Sloan, a San Francisco-based writer (and web worker), is using Google ads to select a name for the lead character in his forthcoming detective novel—a cool and fitting experiment for a book funded through Kickstarter.

“I’m trying to craft a central character with some of that same iconic strangeness that makes Sherlock Holmes so appealing,” Sloan writes on “There’s a lot that goes into that, but for now, focus on the name. Sherlock Holmes. It leaves an indelible mark on the brain.”

Sloan spent $40 to take out a series of Google AdWords spots—those little ads that pop up next to any search based on keywords. Each ad included a different potential name and the same blurb, like this: Julie Hanus. She’s the Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century.

A ranking emerged based on the number of clicks each ad received out of the number of pages it appeared upon. His original idea came in at a .21 percent click-through rate, Sloan writes, while a name he’d been most fond of netted a paltry .07 percent.

Sloan admits the exercise was “mostly an excuse to try a new tool,” but he’s also got his eye on the possibilities. “I mean, imagine—this is the sci-fi extrapolation—imagine highlighting a block of text, choosing a menu item called Test the way you’d choose Spellcheck today, and when you do, a little timer appears next to it,” he writes.

“Five minutes later, ding—the timer goes off and you have the results right there, floating over the text. Aggregated feedback from an anonymous swarm of readers: ‘I stumbled here,’ ‘this variation works better,’ ‘this line rings false.’ ”

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