You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

In competitive paid search, the wrong landing page will cost you money. While choosing the right pages has always struck us as fairly intuitive, we think that’s not the case for most other paid search marketers, given the widespread phenomena of poor landing page choices that we’ve seen. 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.

Because agreement between the keyword and the landing pages is so crucial, we have 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 keywords. 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 leveraging years of experience with what makes a proper landing page.

What we’ve learned from thousands of tests for national retailers:

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.

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.

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.

“Show All” option usually beats “top sellers” in search results for sites that have those options.

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.”

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!

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 look at this last point more closely.

Using Google’s Search-Based Keyword tool I looked for keywords for (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 see it, just six 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 what an advertiser’s search URL structure looks like nor whether those search results are both well-presented and fairly robust.

Keyword and landing page tools may save time versus doing things manually, 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—they will hit the back button and the paid search program will suffer.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Scientist of RKG, a technology and service leader in paid search, SEO, performance display, social media, and the science of online marketing. He also writes for the RKG Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @georgemichie1.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+


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