The “help us choose the next Simple Programmer book cover” poll I ran a couple of weeks ago surprised the heck out of me.
When the smoke cleared, one of my *least* favorite covers was the one our audience rated the highest.
The second place finisher wasn't one I personally liked all that much either.
The first-place finisher featured the book title in black text on a white background, augmented with a photo of a compass (to convey the idea of “charting your course”).
The second place design was white type on a black background, with this squiggly line that vaguely hinted at “upward growth.”
They're both pretty good designs, but nowhere NEAR as attractive as *my* favorites—which got stomped.
I'd also had a pet theory that took a beating:
Often including a person in an ad will increase response.
A couple of the cover designs featured photos of my business partner John, who wrote the book.
Our audience ranked all of those near the bottom too.
However, there's a HUGE difference between asking someone what they like and *measuring* what they actually respond to.
Would the covers our audience voted up also catch eyes on the virtual bookshelf at Amazon?
To find out I hopped over to Facebook and created 10 different ads—one for each of the different cover designs we were considering.
Except for the thumbnail of the book cover, all 10 of ads were identical. Same copy, same background behind the books.
I did the same thing on Google AdWords, creating 10 different “display” ads that would run on sites all over the Internet.
I set the ads up to display to developers who are *not* already part of our audience.
The goal here was to see which of the cover was the best “thumb-stopper.”
In other words, as people were scrolling through their Facebook feed and browsing the web, which cover would stand out the most from all the other noise and distractions?
Once the ads started running, an interesting pattern emerged almost immediately:
All of the light-themed covers (black text on white background) got SLAUGHTERED.
Of the 10 covers I tested, the four white ones got virtually no clicks or interest—including the one that our audience claimed they love the most.
In hindsight that makes perfect sense.
Facebook (and most of the Internet) has a black-text-on-a-white-background theme.
So those covers blended in rather than standing out.
Since Amazon is also mostly black-on-white like this, it's likely the same will hold true there.
After a couple of days I killed the 6 worst performing covers, including all of the white ones, and let the remaining 4 slug it out for another week.
None of these really ran away with the victory.
But two really stood out as consistent strong performers.
One was a dark-background version of the compass cover.
The other featured John's headshot—which vindicated my instinct about including his photo.
We still have a couple of days left to decide which one we'll go with.
Since they were neck and neck, we'll probably use the one with John's mug though as a “celebrity branding” type of play.
It would be hard to go wrong with either though.
And that's the real value of going through this process.
We quickly eliminated the weakest options, even though they were the most aesthetically appealing.
And we're left with a cover that will help us make more sales in the long term.