Strengthen Your Core: Paid Search Landing Page Best Practices Part 1

In the always changing world of paid search, it’s easy to get wrapped up in new ad extensions and betas to the point that we begin to lose sight of the foundation of search. However, without the right keyword, smart bidding, relevant ad copy, and appropriate landing pages, even the snazziest visual sitelink won’t convince a user to convert.

So, let’s go back to the basics, lay a solid foundation, and strengthen the core of our campaigns, just in time for the holiday shopping season!

Ten years ago, the tried-and-true keyword-bid-ad copy-landing page combination worked largely the same way it does today (although the SERP itself has changed quite a bit).

In this post we’ll revisit the importance of choosing the right landing page and tricks of the trade to keeping your users engaged after they click.

Once your foundation is laid, there’ll be plenty of time to add all the bells and whistles that you want. Until then, let’s take a step back and look at one of the key components of a successful paid search program.

Landing Page Selection 101: Pretend You Are The Customer

Some basic background thoughts to keep in mind: you’ve been shopping on the internet for years now, so think about what you would want to see on a landing page after you click on a link. Think about the search query and the types of results you would expect to see, or would want to see, in order to make the best shopping choices.

Let’s start with where we are in the shopping funnel timeline and the types of keywords associated with that level of detail in the search process. If we’re just starting our shopping for “women’s clothing”, we need to be prepared to land our users on a more general page that would provide lots of women’s clothing options, highlighting all of the areas that the website can satisfy -- from shirts and pants to accessories and outerwear.

If a website sells both men’s and women’s apparel, there is usually a dedicated women’s menu choice (a category-level landing page) which should showcase a page designed specifically for this level of shopping. We would expect to see choices for all of the various types of women’s apparel, presented in an aesthetically pleasing way, along with clear ways to navigate to the next level of specificity.

In the example below, this women’s category-level landing page would be a strong choice for the keyword “women’s clothing”. Choosing anything more specific (the shirts page or the footwear page, for example) would restrict the user to just that particular clothing item. If the user isn’t savvy enough (or worse … too lazy!) to navigate up one level on the website, they might just choose to bail out on it altogether.

And that’s what you’re looking to avoid (site abandonment), first and foremost, because you’ve already been charged for the click. You need to make the best of it, and give the user the best chance to convert on that click.

Now let’s say the user enters the shopping funnel timeline already knowing that she needs a new sweater. So we’re working with “women’s sweater” for our keyword now. She may not know what type of sweater she’s looking for, so we’ll want to show her some choices.

We now have the option of using either the “Sweaters” subcategory-level landing page, or a website search results page for “women’s sweater”. Which one you choose to use depends on several factors, some of which are:

  • The number of products on the page
  • Whether top-sellers are featured on the page
  • The ability to sort or drill down to more detailed choices

In the example, below, the search results page returns a larger number of products than the dedicated women’s “Sweaters” page (235 vs. 74). However, the filtering is only for sizing options, which doesn’t seem like the most important filter option at this stage of the selection process.

But when looking at the dedicated women’s “Sweaters” page shown below, we see a large enough selection of choices and, most importantly, the ability to drill down to the type of sweater (cardigan, crewneck, turtleneck, hoodie, etc.), or even the fabric (cashmere, cotton, wool) that it’s made of. These choices steer the user in a meaningful direction, and make it easier for them to get to their purchasing goal.

Website search results pages can be your friend, too, though. This is especially true when we get very far down the search funnel and have a more targeted, long-tail search query or keyword. Two of the more common choices for these keywords are to land your user on a product page or a search results page.

Let’s say we are now looking at the keyword “cotton striped bath towel”. We could easily use a product page like this:

But why limit your user to just this one product if you also sell other options? Maybe they don’t like that particular stripe pattern or the color selection. If there are other options to choose from, show them!

So a search results page like this, below, would probably be a more useful landing page, one that has a greater chance of converting.

Something to be aware of when you use search results pages is the possibility that you are presenting your user with too many choices without the ability to quickly drill down. There are websites out there that have (literally) thousands of striped cotton bath towels in their search results (no joke).

This can be quite overwhelming, and even paralyzing, when thrown at the user, who may be short on time, patience, or both. Research shows that giving shoppers too many pictures can overload them and cause them to delay their purchase.

The need to make timely, informed decisions intensifies even more during the holiday season. Shoppers are more likely to feel overwhelmed and to abandon product-heavy pages, especially if the selection is not very relevant to what they’re searching for.

When possible, consider taking a more targeted approach to choosing landing pages: favoring products that are specific to the keywords driving to that page, over a wider assortment.

Let’s imagine the search results page for “cotton striped bath towel” produced only three towels fitting that description. If you were considering using a broader landing page showing all cotton bath towels because it gives the shopper more options - don’t. To save the user from option overload, it’s better to stick with the highly relevant landing page with less inventory.

Choosing the right landing page means finding a happy medium where keyword, assortment, and ultimately the end user, are satisfied.

Promotions and Landing Pages

Landing pages are crucial to the success for any promotion that an advertiser might be running, and should provide a seamless experience, consistent to what a user saw in a paid search ad, or any other marketing activity for that matter.

For example, if an advertiser runs "Free Shipping over $99+", they want to ensure that the banner re-enforcing that messaging is visible on the landing page, in particular when a promo code is needed, as users might otherwise fail to see the offer.

Similarly, the advertiser also wants to make sure that the promotional banner carries through as the user is navigating on the site. Whether or not to include the promo code banner on the shopping cart page might depend on your strategy, however, it might be beneficial if you are focused on improving shopping cart abandonment rates.

Holiday or promotion-specific landing pages can also be an interesting strategy to pursue. They can be particularly helpful for holiday specific searches like “back to school supplies” or “father’s day gifts”, and offer additional opportunities for landing page testing.

For example, during back-to-school season, you may want to consider sending users that are searching for uniforms or backpacks to your specially created back-to-school pages to encourage cross-selling and to offer “one-stop shop” solutions. While mom or dad's initial intent may have been to purchase a new uniform only, after they've seen the new backpack and other essential back-to-school gear, their shopping cart may end up larger than before.

Still, it’s important that whatever landing page you use, it still directly addresses the keyword the user searched for, so create specialty landing pages accordingly.

Conclusion

If there is one tip that we would like you to take away from the ideas we outlined, it would be to put yourself in your costumers' shoes. The search query is a great signal to understand where in the purchasing funnel the user is at the moment, and it allows us to give the right landing page experience. However, a “set it and forget it” approach will not make an advertiser successful in the long run - stay tuned for our thoughts about landing page audit and testing best practices.

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