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PPC Landing Pages: Choose Wisely

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

{My SEL Post from yesterday in case you missed it}

In competitive paid search, the wrong landing page will cost you money. While choosing the right pages has always struck us as fairly intuitive, the widespread phenomena of poor landing page choices tells us otherwise. It isn’t that paid search managers have lost their intuition, its that they’ve turned landing page choices over to the same machines that pick their keywords (“KW”).

Because agreement between the KW and the landing pages is so crucial, RKG has always put tremendous time and thought into their development. Ours is a human-centric process that involves sharp people working from the landing pages backwards to pick the KWs. We built proprietary tools to speed the process and build out comprehensive lists, but it all starts with our analysts using good judgment, knowledge of language, and years of experience with what makes a proper landing page.

What we’ve learned from 1,000s of tests for national retailers:

  1. The Platinum* Rule: Landing pages should reflect the depth of the user search. The goal is to show the user the widest selection of product that responds to her/his search, and nothing more. Someone searching for “Oxford shirts” should not land on the homepage, unless Oxford shirts are all the advertiser sells; but just as important: neither should they land on a product page even if it’s a best seller, unless it’s the only one the advertiser carries.This is the controlling rule, all others are subservient to it.
  2. Product pages are great landing pages for product-specific search terms. Nothing else should land on a product page. The notion that “closer to the shopping cart is better” is just dead wrong. If more than one product responds to the search then the landing page must reflect that, otherwise the user’s impression is: “This is the only one they have.” You might think ‘they’ll realize we have others and sniff around,’ and some will, but too many will hit the back button and look elsewhere for a broader selection.
  3. Search results pages usually beat sub-category pages on more general searches, but only if the site has robust search results. Be particularly careful about sending “everything” to the search results pages, as synonyms and misspellings often aren’t handled well by internal site search boxes.
  4. “Show All” option usually beats “top sellers” in search results for sites that have those options.
  5. Creating a special landing page can make sense if your site “forks” on gender or something like it. Someone searching for “North Face Jackets” may be looking for men’s, women’s or kid’s options, and on many sites there is no page that provides that nice set of options. Search results may be the best choice, but creating these “path fork pages” can be very helpful. Onlineshoes handles this beautifully for “merrell shoes
  6. Test templates rather than individual pages. Very rarely does an individual landing page get enough traffic to generate statistically significant test results in a reasonable amount of time. Testing the concept of sub-category vs search across all relevant pages provides actionable information that credibly applies to all the individual pages. Intuition is not a substitute for testing, but it certainly provides a time-saving short-cut to the right answer!
  7. Robots pick lousy landing pages. We sometimes supplement our own tools with other Keyword research tools, but do so cautiously. Our analysts find that they need to change the landing pages from those suggested ~70% of the time. Those who take the easy route and just post what the robot spits out are losing money.

Let’s take a look at what I mean by #7

Using Google’s Search-Based Keyword tool I looked for keywords for Landsend.com — not one of our clients…yet :-)

The keywords themselves were predictably dangerous: “7 jeans”, “thinsulate”, “shearling”, but I’ve already blogged about that, and the new tool does do a somewhat better job of screening out the junk.

The problem with respect to landing pages is that the tool picks product pages for general search terms. For the phrase “moccasin shoes” Google chooses this page, when this one will generate a much higher conversion rate. That sub-category page could be tested against a search results page, and the results might be interesting, but the SKU page is certainly wrong.

Here are the first 20 Keywords suggested for Land’s End with the type of landing page and my assessment of how likely that page is to be the best choice.

As I saw it 6 of the 20 Keywords were the both the right Keyword and the right landing page. Not so good.

To be clear, I don’t fault the sharp folks at Google. Trying to determine the optimal landing page often requires judgment, and the judgment here may defy algorithmic solution. As I mentioned, search results pages often produce the highest conversion rates, but there is no way for Google to determine a) what an advertiser’s search url structure looks like; nor b) whether those search results are both well-presented and fairly robust.

Keyword and landing page tools may save time over manual labor, but used indiscriminately — as they often are — they hurt conversion necessitating lower bids and a smaller program.

Many have found it hard to raise conversion rates for retail websites through site design changes. Multivariate testing is often a long series of null results. However, choosing the right landing page is a different issue.

The landing page responsive to a search result matters less in its design than in its content. If the user isn’t exposed to the right content — however it may be arranged — s/he will hit the back button and the paid search program will suffer.

* “Gold” is already in use

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Comments
12 Responses to “PPC Landing Pages: Choose Wisely”
  1. Marc Adelman says:

    George,

    Happy Holidays you, your family and the RKG family! Great post. The traditional SEM view is that keywords, adtext, and landing pages are the smallest individual working, non structural pieces of a search campaign. Viewing KW, adtext, and landing pages as separate pieces or objects may not give us the best insight into the true factors of performance. Viewing the KW-Adtext-landing page combination as the smallest working piece or object, piggy backs on your notion that “there is no bad KW”. If one focuses on creating the most relevant relationship between KW-Adtext-landing page , instead of building tons of kws and trying to match ads and landing pages, one might build a quicker baseline of positive performance and have less clean up after launch – (not a typo of lunch).

    Seen from this point of view, Google’s Search-Based Keyword tool does a poor job, as you mentioned, creating the KW-landing page relationship. I agree that one might be better off using search urls for all of these kws from this tool (at least the good ones), since it would be hard to find a predictive factor to indicate when the tool might spit out a poor, non relevant KW-landing page relationship.

    You mentioned, “Keyword and landing page tools may save time over manual labor, but used indiscriminately — as they often are — they hurt conversion necessitating lower bids and a smaller program.” I couldn’t agree more.

    It is a decent tool for someone starting with a blank canvas, but not the tool to build the best predictive match between KW and landing page.

  2. Marc, so good to hear from you! Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful commentary.

    I did almost rail against some of the other KW choices the tool made for Land’s End on the grounds that they don’t have a competitive chance. “Women’s handbags” for example. Land’s End has three…they’re not going to get far with that selection on that KW. Then I thought: ‘uh, didn’t I write recently that there were no bad KW…?’ I suppose I could fall back on the old line that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” but I also didn’t want to cloud the larger point that the combination of KW and landing page really matters and is handled badly by machines left to their own devices.

    Happy holidays to you and yours, Marc!

  3. I love platinum rule. I’ve got my own extra bit: echo the searcher’s words back to her in a big H1 headline on the landing page.

    Example: searching for “oxford shirt” and the headline will be “Oxford Shirts”. A searcher for “buy oxford shirt” will see a headline saying “Buy Oxford Shirts”.

    I also use your “use humans and not robots” rule in this. So the headlines will actually say “Oxford Shirts” (plural) even when the searcher is looking for the singular. The headlines are rules-based rather than just echoing the searcher’s words verbatim.

    The rules are set by a human, of course :-)

  4. Ben says:

    Thanks George,
    Great post with really interesting Tips. I’ll check them on my web site

  5. SEO Cost says:

    Nice post, as always. One of the best article for landing pages… it covers both organic and Paid search..

  6. Thanks for the kind words, folks!

  7. Rex Dixon says:

    Just wondering if you did any A/B Testing that you could share on our site – A/B Tests – http://www.abtests.com/ ? We’d love to see some PPC a/b testing examples that the testing community could benefit from.

  8. Hi Rex,

    We do tests all the time, but keep the results confidential as our client has paid for those findings.

    George

  9. Rex Dixon says:

    @George – That is too bad to hear. I don’t believe we have any PPC test results on our site currently.

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