Royal Flush: Making Landing Pages Pay Off

This week, I’m in Las Vegas for the event, moderating a panel of smart people discussing perhaps the least-considered pieces of the SEM (define) machine: landing pages. That we’re in the gambling capital is appropriate, because in many ways that’s what advertising is: playing the odds and hoping for a payoff. The good news is, as a marketer, you don’t completely rely on fate to bring you success. Especially with search, you have a high degree of control. The bad news is nobody comes around with free cocktails.

Place Your Bets

Advertising has always been a math problem, in which you continually figure the ratio between purchases of your product and total purchases in your category: Pepsi to total soft drinks, Explorers to total SUVs. The advertiser’s work is an attempt to increase the numerator in these equations; advertising is effective when your share goes up. Simple enough, right?

Search advertising puts this equation front and center. You see both factors in the equation: the number of searches on your chosen keyword and the number of clicks you get. OK, these numbers aren’t complete. The number of searches for “SUV” doesn’t equal the number of people in the market, but for the purposes of a focused campaign, it’s good enough.

However, getting a click only costs you money. It doesn’t make you money. JupiterResearch continues to see click-throughs as the primary measure of a search campaign’s success, and that’s troubling. If a campaign manager only looks at click-throughs, she’s bound to have trouble really understanding the spending’s benefit.

Hold ’Em or Fold ’Em?

This is why landing pages are so critical. The money you pay for the click is the ante, the money you spend to get in the game. The landing page is what you do with the cards you’ve been dealt. As a great philosopher once said, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

What cards have you been dealt when a searcher clicks through your text ad to your landing page? You actually get some pretty valuable information. But you have to know it’s coming, and be prepared to act on it. Let’s look first at the hand you’re dealt. Here are some data that come with a search-ad clicker:

  • Date and time. Is it important to know when a visitor comes to your site? Potentially. If you’re selling DVDs, for example, you may decide to highlight different offerings in the middle of the night than in the early morning. This isn’t necessarily data that’s delivered with a searcher but rather a function of the server tracking its activity. If you have a wide range of products, time of day or day of the week may be a good way to start breaking up your inventory.
  • Referring engine. You can see which search engine a particular click comes from. Some search marketers have found searchers from different engines behave differently on their sites. Perhaps one engine sends researchers, while another sends buyers. From looking at that information, you may decide to send these people to unique pages.
  • Keyword or keyword phrase. This is probably the most valuable piece of data you get from a searcher, and it can have a profound effect on your success. You can get the actual keyword or keyword phrase searchers used to find your ad. This is especially important if you have either a large number of keywords all pointing to the same page or broad matching turned on to help you capture long-tail keywords. Slightly different keyword phrases, such as “DVD player” and “portable DVD player,” can connote a significant difference in what the consumer is looking for. If you can be there with appropriate content, you have a far better chance of getting the conversion.

Playing a Winning Hand

You’ve got your cards, your chips, and that silly green visor. Now, how do you actually play cards? With landing page optimization, you must do a little work to receive the clickstream data from the engines. You need some functionality on your site to capture the data and do something with it. You can get this either by creating the scripts yourself, working with your analytics package, or consulting with a specialty landing-page-optimization agency, such as Offermatica.

This will help get you deeper into the game, but you need to apply your own smarts to win. Think about the landing page as an ad, not just a Web page. If you know more about visitors’ motivation, you can find ways to creatively deliver on their needs. This is a fantastic opportunity for interactive agencies to supercharge search campaigns.

There’s a real benefit to this, too. If you’re like most search marketers, you’re concerned with rising click costs. Do the math. If you’re more successful at landing conversions, you get more money to compete for top spots on high traffic keywords. Winning at conversion can spark a cycle of success where you can move up in rankings. This will deliver more leads and, hence, more conversions. It could ultimately cement you in a very profitable position and protect you against aggressive bid tactics.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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