Digital Marketing, Social Media Measurement

Just What They’re Looking For: Using Landing Pages to Improve Paid Search Marketing

As I write this, hundreds of thousands of businesses are competing to convince people that their Web site is online nirvana – the beatitude, not the band.

But, given all the other marketing tactics available, why has pay per click search marketing gone from nowhere to a $3 billion dollar industry this year, and $5.5 billion by 2009 (according to Jupiter Research)? What makes search so special? It works like a Sheriff Joe chain gang.

You’re fishing where the fish are. If someone takes the time to go to Google and search for “online horse classifieds” it’s a near certainty that person is interested in buying or selling a horse.

Search marketing is hardly a secret anymore, however, and with the flood of new competition for even the most bizarre search phrase (“phoenix coffin sales” has four paid advertisers on Google), search marketing success requires more than a credit card and a pulse these days.

There are many figurative dials to twist to improve your paid search marketing campaign: search term selection, ad copy, bid strategy, etc. Each of these alone or in combination can impact your pay per click results. But these pre-click adjustments are a relatively minor component of your success when compared to post-click factors.

The typical Web site visitor spends a little less than three minutes on a site. The typical Web site visitor coming from paid search spends approximately 20 seconds. This means that the prospects you’re paying Google to bring to your site on a pay per click basis have the attention span of a preschooler after a box of Twinkies and a Kool-Aid chaser. Search engine users know that there are many more links ostensibly about the same subject waiting for them as soon as they click the back button to return to the search results. Consequently, they won’t spend much time surfing around your site.

To overcome this attention deficit problem, don’t send visitors from paid search to your home page or any type of general page on your site. The page that prospects are sent to after clicking a link is called the “landing page” and specificity is the key component. Always send visitors to the most specifically appropriate page that directly addresses their search query.

For example, if you’re bidding on the search term “Etnies blue skateboard shoes” don’t send visitors to your home page. Don’t send them to your main shoes page. Don’t even send them to the Etnies brand page. Send them to a page that is exactly what they have already said (via their search query) they are looking for: Etnies blue skateboard shoes.

Avoid the urge to clutter up your landing pages with different products, messages, offers, and other seemingly informative flourishes. Doing so is the equivalent of the drive-through employee asking me if I want a hot apple or cherry pie with my burger. If I wanted a pie, I would have ordered a pie. Similarly, if I wanted an Etnies T-shirt, I would have searched for an Etnies T-shirt. I want shoes, and as a site owner you’ve got 20 seconds to convince me you’ve got precisely the shoes for which I’m searching.

Of course, many sites do not have existing pages that are of a singular purpose that could be used as landing pages. Here are the critical elements to creating high performance landing pages from scratch:

1. Immediately convince the visitor that you have what they need. If the search phrase is “Phoenix Coffin Sales” make sure the landing page has a prominent headline including that phrase.

2. Include a prominent call to action. The goal of a good landing page is to get the lead, sale, phone call, etc. immediately, without the prospect leaving the landing page.

3. Hold their hand. You’re asking a prospect to quit researching and commit now. Provide testimonials, guarantees and other content on the landing page that reduces perceived risk.

The concept of landing pages may seem Machiavellian, but it’s evolutionary marketing. It would work offline, too, if such a thing were possible. If I was in the market for a brown corduroy jacket (hint, hint) and I could go to the Brown Corduroy Jacket Store without the annoying distractions of passé black jackets, socks, belts and their ilk, the chances I’d walk out with a jacket and an Amex receipt would be pretty high, indeed.

So, faced with increasing competition, spend your resources to customize the post-click experience of your prospects, and you’ll take your paid search program to the next level of success.

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