Quick question: how do you think of your landing pages?
- (a) As part of your site.
- (b) As part of your ads.
When you reflect on it, the answer probably should be a little of both. For most online marketing campaigns, landing pages are transitional — a bridge from the ad to the site, or to some specific conversion goal, such as signing up for a white paper.
Yet in many organizations, the way landing pages are actually created and managed is more like choice (a), as if they were part of the site. They’re deployed in the same server environment, someone in IT must plug in any code for tracking or optimization, and the life cycle is processed like any other page of the site. It goes through different hands than the execution of a new search engine ad.
There should be coordination between the people creating the ads and the people creating the landing pages, but there isn’t always as much as there should be.
When landing pages are run this way—more like the site and less like the advertising—a natural drift occurs between what people see in an ad, or the context in which they see it, and what they experience after the click.
This drift happens because the cycle of new ads being created proceeds much faster than the creation and deployment of new landing pages. Companies end up with a large number of varied keywords, vehicles, and ad creatives, but a relatively small number of landing pages.
The Long Tail of online advertising collides into The Short Tail of landing pages.
The result: some ads might align with the landing page they point to, but others not so much. In those cases, where a respondent’s expectations from an ad fail to be delivered upon by the landing page, your online brand takes a hit and your conversion rate sags.
Trying to “optimize” those handful of landing pages—hoping to find the best possible headline, image, body copy, etc. on each—only helps so much. You’re still stretching, to paraphrase an old adage, to have a few pages please all of the ads all of the time.
The antidote to this “landing page lag” is to shift your thinking and management of landing pages to be more a part of your advertising. Choice (b).
There are two aspects to this shift: creative and operational.
Start with the creative.
Most ads on the web have a very small canvas. For instance, text ads in Google give you a 25 character title, two 35 character lines of description, and a 35 character display URL. Search marketers have done wonders with those 130 characters, but it’s still a mighty small box. Imagine if all artists were constrained to painting on 3-inch Post-It notes. No doubt you’d get some amazing Post-Its, but isn’t it better having more expressive formats in the world?
Display ads have more creative freedom, to be sure, but they’re still a relatively narrow slice of a presentation. Interactive ad formats keep appearing as one way to extend the scope of such ads. But it gets tricky because there are lots of good reasons to keep ads “under control” in the pages where they’re placed.
By treating the ad and the landing page—or even a multi-page landing experience—as part of the same creative whole, however, you can respect the boundaries of the original ad placement while opening the door to limitless possibilities after the click. The key is to change your perspective on landing pages: these are “advertising landing pages,” not “site landing pages”.
You create the pages when you create the ads. You match them very tightly—The Long Tail of ad placements now corresponds to a Long Tail of landing pages. And you view the ad as simply the first step of the experience, a window into one continuous sequence that has been fluidly designed and executed.
One analogy, albeit not a perfect one, is direct mail. The outside of the envelope—or the outer shell of a die-cut mailer—has limited creative real estate as well. Its mission is to compel you to look inside, sort of the physical world equivalent of winning the click. But inside and outside are almost always designed together. Physically they are part of the same marketing object.
Building landing pages as part of the advertising brings a similar kind of unity to the pre-click/post-click divide in online marketing.
Let your imagination run with ideas where the ads are starters to very specific post-click experiences, where the landing page doesn’t have to immediately rush for the close but can expand the dance with the respondent in more engaging ways. Rich media and interactivity are yours to employ in innovative ways.
To break from the conventions of the past, think of these as Landing Pages 2.0.
Operationally, what’s required is a structure that puts the power to create, deploy, test, and analyze landing pages in the hands of the people creating and executing your ads.
One approach is to set up a separate server environment just for your landing pages, controlled independently on its own subdomain such as click.yourcompany.com. This way your landing pages are still under your domain—important for Google policy, brand building, domain-level cookie tracking, and domain-based web analytics. This becomes your “landing page sandbox,” where new landing experiences can be built without interfering with—or being slowed down by—the operational overhead of your main site.
If an agency is running your search marketing or overall online advertising, they should be able to take over landing page production and deployment under their umbrella.
If your advertising is managed in-house, you have several choices. You could have your IT department partition a section of your existing site infrastructure or set up a separate “site” just for the landing pages. However, this may still slow you down with internal processes if you aren’t adamant about speed. An alternative is to use a software-as-a-service solution to outsource your landing page sandbox, which you can then manage purely as a marketing service through your browser.
Your goal: you want it to be as quick and easy to launch a new landing page as it is to insert a new Google AdWords ad. When you can create a brand new ad with a matched landing page in less than 30 minutes, you’ve attained the speed to execute an end-to-end Long Tail strategy.
Another way to accelerate your landing page creation is to have your graphic design team make a set of templates for different types of page layouts that you can quickly assemble together and plug in content. Share a library of logos and stock photography, forms for data collection, and legal fine print, so you can reuse common elements while focusing your energy on the bold ideas specific to new ad/landing page combinations.
Again, while you want to maintain high brand standards in your pages, you also want to make it fast and simple for a marketer who is not a designer to produce a quality landing experience for a new microcampign.
These creative and operational changes don’t seem too radical, do they? But they can transform your online marketing worldview.
Advertising landing pages—instead of site landing pages—are a fresh way to think about both your advertising and your landing pages. Once you have these two pieces running in closer synchronization, you’ll take both to the next level.
Scott Brinker is the president and chief technology officer of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He blogs regularly at http://blog.postclickmarketing
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.