Landing Page Magic and My Two Cents

Before I delve into the magic multiplicative power of landing pages, let me provide a timely comment on the latest lawsuit filed against Google, by SearchKing. Every marketer who engages in organic search engine marketing (SEM) hoping to improve traffic levels knows that over time, search algorithms change, as does the tolerance of search engines for reverse-engineered manipulation techniques. Are things like search engine inclusion, PageRank (a Google term), and position rights or privileges?

All sites are equally subject to the algorithms, as well as the deliberate or arbitrary exclusion or inclusion policies of the search engines. This suit reminds me of Mining Company’s dispute with Yahoo a few years ago, when Mining Company (now About.com and owned by PRIMEDIA) wanted Yahoo to list each of its subsites separately. Yahoo eventually started listing the sites individually, because it made sense for Yahoo searchers.

Are search engines different than other sites? Can we envision the New York Times site being asked to change editorial policies? It seems like something happens when you are a search engine; suddenly links, inclusion, and position feel like a right. To make analogies outside of the Internet space, if a city builds a tunnel and fewer drivers take the bridge and pass a billboard, can the owner of the billboard sue for decreased value of the ad space? What about the guy who sold gas at the last gas station before the bridge? Could a newspaper sue AOL because increased online usage damaged its business? Just my two cents.

Now, let’s uncover the magic of the landing page. Clients often ask me how their competition can place such amazingly high bids in the CPC search engine marketplaces. Some of the main reasons why your competitors may pay high CPCs are:

  • Competitors are not paying prices based on rational business rules but on emotions.
  • Competitors have determined that getting visitors to interact with their brands and sites is of high worth; hence a high CPC is warranted.
  • Competitors with similar site conversion processes have determined that customers acquired from these sites have a high immediate or lifetime value, so will invest more in acquisition.
  • Competitors are working with similar cost-per-order (CPO), cost-per-action (CPA), and return-on-investment (ROI) objectives and financial constraints, but their Web site landing pages have higher conversion rates.

As marketers, we may not have the ability to change our lifetime value formulas or our organizations’ willingness to pay for experiential branding. However, we have some control over landing pages.

The first thing the searcher sees after clicking on your paid or unpaid search engine link is your landing page. How that landing page performs is one of the keys to a positive ROI from search marketing.

High ROI on an SEM campaign hinges on achieving the right mix of pre-click variables and post-click conversion behavior. Pre-click variables such as search venue, position, and offer/creative have an impact on post-click behavior. But even with those variable optimized, there is huge room for campaign ROI improvement.

The next place to look for ROI improvement is the landing page and the site. For example, if your existing conversion to sale ratio is 3 percent and your allowable CPO (what you are willing to allocate in marketing spending to get a sale) is $30, then you can afford to pay only $0.90 CPC in the venue that provides that conversion rate (conversion rates on the same keyword change by venue). The $0.90 maximum bid may not give you the volume you want, leaving you in a poor position at Overture or a low average position in Google’s AdWords. Now imagine that a change to your landing page, site structure, or shopping cart process changes conversion positively. At a 4 percent conversion rate, your campaign can now be adjusted to pay as much as $1.20 CPC and still be at your target CPO. At 5 percent, you can afford up to a $1.50 CPC.

Imagine all the campaign flexibility an increased conversion rate delivers. How can this landing page magic be accomplished? What variables on a landing page and site will influence your particular type of visitor? Places to start include copy, product images, merchandising, color, visual use of brands, site navigation, shopping cart ease of use, pricing, alternative conversion paths (e.g., collecting a name in case the buyer is not ready to buy, or leading the buyer through testimonials or continued selling/education), and a host of other things.

Copy is critical both for the search engine listings and the landing pages and can drive that free organic traffic that is oh so wonderful. Noted search engine copy specialists include ClickZ’s own Nick Usborne, Heather Lloyd-Martin at SuccessWorks, and Jill Whalen of HighRankings.com.

Sometimes conversions for the exact same keyword can vary dramatically depending on whether the landing page is a category landing page or product landing page. For example, for the keyword phrase “cat toy,” I can think of many types of landing pages that would all be acceptable to the engines — some with a single product, some with multiple products, and others listing cat toys by category. What’s the perfect landing page for your traffic? Only testing will yield the answer.

Optimost has a technology solution that will automatically rotate visual, design, and copy elements, constantly testing for the best conversion rate. Other practitioners, like my fellow ClickZ columnist Bryan Eisenberg, look at many elements of a site, from buying processes and messaging to breakdowns in the sales process or navigation/flow of your site.

Perhaps your site is simply ugly and turns off visitors visually. When considering a redesign that includes a publishing or e-commerce platform, consider one where changes to product templates, category templates, and navigation are fairly easy to make. That way, if you find an improved landing page, you can roll it out globally or in appropriate sections.

Marketing always has room for improvement, and as long as the cost of the improvement justifies the investment, that improvement should be made. Make sure you have an internal or external data collection infrastructure that allows you to measure appropriate data, including pathing, exit pages, and conversion. Finally, put that data to work. Use your improved landing pages to maximize sales while maintaining ROI.

Happy landings. Email me any success stories or challenges you are facing with your site, metrics, campaigns, or landing pages.

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