How Landing Pages have transformed PPC traffic
Since the original specification for the world-wide web was drawn up in the 90’s by Tim Berners-Lee there is, remarkably, a ghost still haunting the Internet. It’s called the “HOME” page; we’ve all heard of it, we naturally assume that the page we land on when we click a link is the home page. The Internet has changed and gone are the days of arriving on a web-site looking for an index. We now live in a time poor world where we rely on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing to serve up good suggestions for where we go to next. They do this by indexing all the pages on the Internet (15 billion at the last count) and offering you one or two suggestions then they sell the rest of the space to companies willing to short-circuit their search algorithm.
These short-cuts, or PPC adverts as the world knows them, are pretty canny – they are often on the right track and in most cases make a fair stab as serving an advert appropriate to the search phrase you used. Ace; and what a business model as it will nett over £20bn in 2010 for Google alone.
One of the neat things about Adwords is that they don’t actually have to go to the home page. No, the advertiser can actually send the visitor anywhere they want. Over the last few years a special approach has evolved around providing neater landing zones for these (paid-for) visitors.
The first generation of thinking on this subject was to take visitors not to the home page but to a deeply-embedded page on the site that was more relevant to the search phrase. For example, a search for “laser hair removal” on Google could be sent to a product page talking more in-depth about laser hair removal. This worked. Typically, onsite conversion rates were 30-50% higher than sending people just to the home page.
They had flaws. This deep-link page actually has 2 sorts of audience now so needs to be designed to deal with both. The first type of visitor is the one that arrives directly from a PPC campaign, the second type is someone who has wandered around the site and found the page themselves.
Quite clearly, these two different audiences need two different styles of writing, content and actions. This mean’t creating pages that couldn’t have a focus on one type of visitor. The deep-link page was the first exposure for first-time visitors, the first time to impress them (5 seconds?) and stop them hitting [BackSpace] whilst for seasoned browsers they were well into the site and be prepared to give more time and effort to read the contents.
In early 2004 conversion rate experts were looking to improve on this and we saw the appearance of dedicated landing pages. These were designed with the single purpose of capturing the first time visitor and getting them to engage a little more so they would read further. Big, bold headlines and USPs around the search term were the order of the day.
As these pages became more sophisticated they got better at matching the search terms to the perceived need of the visitor, often reflecting the search term back into a series of bullet points. This is really the early foray into personalised marketing.
As the internet in general is more trusted, site visitors became comfortable leaving information on web-sites far earlier in the sales cycle. So we saw data capture forms and Buy-Now buttons starting to appear on these landing pages.
Compared to conventional deep-link pages these dedicated landing pages were a universal success. Typically you would expect a well-written landing page to convert 50% more visitors than deep-link landing pages.
There were a few other distinct benefits of using dedicated landing pages:-
1. The pages were lightweight, typically less than 50k in size and this reduced page-load time helped conversion rates greatly.
2. Google’s interesting policy of “rewarding” a higher position to landing pages that have greater relevance (quality score) meant that the landing page could be built with this in mind to further reduce the cost of Adword campaigns.
3. Campaigns could be run based on geo-based information such as Google local terms and search terms that included geographical references. Better geo-targetting produces better results.
4. Testing these landing pages was easy, you could easily create a raft of different landing pages and test them side-by-side. Even new campaigns could be raced against existing “banker” (proven) landing pages.
5. Companies could now create hundreds of landing pages for different scenarios, different times of day and different seasons. Personalisation was the key here. If you could segment your PPC traffic then you could segment where they landed the therefore how they were treated.
6. De-cluttering the landing pages was easy, traditional navigation items could be moved off the the page to generate a highly-focussed environment using an aggressive Choice Environment.
7. Reporting on success of landing pages was (on the face of it) simpler.
They did, however, suffer from being a one-trick pony. If the page didn’t work then the limited other navigation choices available can cause the visitor to [BackSpace] off the Landing Page and back to Google. Alternatively the visitor would find the odd link to “visit Main site” and then be dumped back on the home page or a deep-link page. The visitor may subsequently convert but it’s pretty unusual to track this conversion back to the Landing Page unless you have a visitor-centric web platform (ED: hey, you could try VITES…that would allow you to do that).
Enter the 4th generation of PPC Landing policies. This rolls-up the benefits of single-focus Landing and Deep-link pages. The entrance point from PPC traffic is largely the same as dedicated landing pages but this page is supported by a number of other pages; all focussed around converting the visitor. There are two main approaches used in the creation of Landing Microsites.
Conversion support microsites
These are designed around a single conversion objective, such as acquiring an email address and name. The supporting pages are created to address any of the classic barriers to conversion and vary widely from market to market. Typical barriers to first-page conversion can include:
1. Uncertainty that the site is right for the visitor.
2. Fear that leaving information on the site might start a spam cycle.
3. Unreadiness to move along the sales cycle at this time.
4. Concerns about the reputation and quality of the company operating the site.
5. Time to complete the conversion process.
6. Inappropriate call-to-action that is not relevant to the visitor.
It’s not just barriers that need to be covered; the visitor may simply not have enough information about your organisation yet. For example, they may not know whereabout you are and how far away you are.
In supporting the conversion the additional pages must address the relevant issues and attempt to bridge the gap between thinking about converting to converting. As the needs in each sector vary wildly I won’t go into detail about how you might address the supporting pages. If you want to have an informal chat about how to go about uncovering the issues and how you might address them then please do give me a call on 0845 051 4228 or email me.
Critically, the page needs to be interspersed with opportunities to convert; not everyone will need to read the whole page before they are satisfied that you are not a spammer.
Cascading conversion microsites
For many organisations there are various different levels of conversion and furthermore very few organisations have a 1 step sales process. This raises the possibility of attempting multiple conversions in and around a microsite. The simplest way you can visualise this is; imagine taking your existing web-site and strip out all the pages and content that are NOT designed to convert, then add back in the supporting pages as found in a conversion support microsite.
By way of example, your organisation’s conversion points may consist of:
1. Sign-up for special offers/newsletter; requiring email address only.
2. Find a place/venue/office/clinic/park; requiring a postcode only and maybe an email address.
3. Request information; requiring name, address (if physically posted), email, inside leg measurement and gender.
4. Book an event/meeting/space/place/call. This would typically require a great deal of information.
5. Contact us; maybe only needing an email address and a message.
6. Call me back; would require a name and a telephone number.
Each of the above conversion points gathers different data, raises different questions with the visitor and has different outcomes. In the example above I would suggest the most valuable would be 4 and the least valuable would be 1 or 2. Certainly, the visitor motivation difference between them is great and could be addressed using a cascade conversion approach.
Knowing that visitors become more predisposed to leave information the longer they interact typically you would want to start the microsite with the lightest touch conversion, maybe a simple sign-up should be the primary call-to-action. There should be links to other conversion pages but the key here is getting the visitor to interact early on and it’s easy to leave an email address to sign-up for special offers.
The next stage is to cascade the next conversion points into the back of the previous one. What this means in real terms is that the thanks page for the first conversion is the second conversion point and in turn down the line ending up with the last thanks page as the book an event/place. However, the system you use to deliver the cascade pages must be able to remember what stage the visitor is at since many will return again and again as they don’t convert on first visit.
So what we have now is a process whereby the visitor is nudged gently along the sales cycle with ever increasing momentum. By the time they are converting on the last stage they are mentally conditioned to simply move along to the next stage.
The future of conversion zones
What does the conversion of the future hold for us? In the short-term we will see wider adoption of cascading and supported micro-sites but what comes after that. Peering into the crystal ball I can see the some of the following:
1. On-advert conversion; the ability to convert the visitor without visiting a web-site – the conversion tools and process will be provided by the ad network provider.
2. Automated conversion; centrally storing visitor information is already happening (Facebook login?) but lets see that rolled out into a simpler conversion process…[click here to get information using your Facebook account]. One click, conversion done. This won’t be limited to just social networking, the growth of OpenId and other centralised passport systems will make the whole process of conversion simpler for the man and woman in the street, maybe at the expense of technological complexity for organisations.
3. Death of PPC, hello PPA. Clicks are becoming increasingly meaningless in the Internet world; much like website hits of the 1990s. What matters is conversion and some networks are already moving to acquisition-based pricing which involves the ad network in conversion. Pooling of these skills will generate an ad industry focussed on conversion and not on clicks. Coming soon.
4. Whole of life journey. As web personalisation takes off we’ll see the emergence of totally personalised web-sites; tailored around the needs of the visitor. This will, in essence, kill off traditional landing pages/zones and replace them with highly targeted and focused web entities built around the individual needs of every visitor. Nirvana, and available now at a cost; contact us to find out more.
Originally published by Martin Dower as 4 articles in 2009. Brought together and updated for 2011.
- Good lessons in 250 A/B tests (connected-uk.com)