A few months ago, a customer who runs search advertising through Google Adwords asked, “Why do I need a special landing page if I’ve already got a website?” It’s a great question, and one that exposes an inconvenient truth about search advertising — it’s simple, but it’s not easy to use it successfully.
No doubt you’ve heard of Google ads, and if you run a business, small or large, someone has suggested you use Google ads for marketing. Search advertising can be cheaper than print or broadcast, and Google actually measures how many times and ad is shown and how many times somebody clicks.
In my experience, the landing page part of the search advertising equation is rarely discussed.
In case you’re not used to the lingo, a “landing page” is the web page where you end up — “land” — after you click an online ad like a Google search ad or one of those ubiquitous display ads for LendingTree.com (at least they used to be everywhere).
My Baby Boomer brain compares a landing page to a bricks-and-mortar storefront. After reading a newspaper ad or watching a TV commercial that inspired us to go shopping, our generation visited the advertiser’s store. If the store was attractive, well-kept and prominently displayed the product that was advertised, we made the purchase. It helped if the price was prominently displayed and it was easy to find the checkout counter.
A landing page has the same function.
- It’s attractive and easy to read.
- It displays the product that was advertised.
- It makes it easy to check out or purchase the product.
That’s the “gee whiz, that makes sense” answer to the first part of the question, “Why do I need a landing page?” What about the second part, “… if I already have a website?” It’s true, your business website should be an online version of your storefront (if you have a physical business address.) And if your website is perfect, you already have pages within your site that will serve as excellent landing pages. I could write a series of blog posts about building a perfect website, but that’s for another time. For now, if your website is perfect, raise your hand: you’re excused from the reading the rest of this.
If your website is typical, the odds are against your ads and your landing pages aligning for the best possible success. Google has taken that “gee whiz, that makes sense” list and baked it into the platform. If your landing page content is relevant to the content in the ad, the ad will appear higher on the search results page and you’ll pay less for each click on the ad.
Let’s say you’re a financial planner and want to advertise your estate-planning services. If your ad mentions estate planning and your landing page talks all about estate planning, Google will favor your ads with higher positions and a lower cost per click. If, however, your estate-planning ads link to your financial planning home page, which also talks about wealth management, investing and retirement planning, your estate-planning service information might be lost, or at least harder to find amid all the other information. Google, and potential clients, will be disappointed.
‘Displaying Your Product’ with Keywords
Now we have to dig deeper and look at how Google “knows” whether your landing page talks about “the product that was advertised.” The answer, of course, is that Google looks for keywords. Does the page specifically use the phrase “estate planning” in the page headline and in the text? Does the text include other keywords people are likely to use when searching for information about estate planning — wills, inheritance, trusts, etc.?
Here’s the main point. When the keywords in your landing page text and in your ad text match the keywords you bid on in Adwords, it’s as if the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. It’s the Age of Aquarius, baby.
Here’s a real example, which took me less than 10 minutes to find, of a law office falling short in its choice of a landing page for its Google Adwords campaign. Here’s the ad: “Competitively Priced Divorce Lawyer in Pittsburgh. Call Us Today!” Clicking the ad takes the reader to the firm’s home page, where divorce law is listed among many areas of practice. The better choice for a landing page would have been this page, which outlines divorce-related services but focuses on just one related keyword, Pittsburgh divorce attorney. Other related phrases, mentioned just once each are “divorce your spouse,” “failed marriage,” “file for divorce,” “dissolve a marriage,” and “irretrievably broken.”
Even so, the keywords on that page don’t quite match the keywords for which the firm is bidding. A little research on SpyFu.com tells us the firm bids for these top five keywords: “cheap divorce lawyers,” “divorce attorney pittsburgh pa,” “divorce attorney pittsburgh,” “child custody legal advice,” and “divorce lawyers pittsburgh.”
Notice that the most prominent keyword phrase on the potential landing page, “Pittsburgh divorce attorney” is not matched exactly in the top 5 keywords on which it bids. “Divorce attorney Pittsburgh” is close enough in my book, but this firm should include some of the other keyword phrases on its landing page. (In case you’re wondering, this also would be good SEO advice.)
So, is it OK to use an existing page on your business website as a landing page for your Adwords campaign? Clearly the answer is yes, it’s OK sometimes. But that decision needs to be made after considering what information should be on the landing page. If an existing page contains all of the information you need, go for it. If it doesn’t, you’ll either need to revise the existing page or create a new page, unique to your search ads and the campaign.
Making it easy to check out
Search ads are most effective when they are used to encourage action. You want the ad clicker to buy, subscribe, read, enter a contest or somehow engage with your business and your products. To draw that action out of your potential customer, the ad and the landing page must work together. If the pages on your website don’t encourage action, you will be better off designing landing pages specific to your ad campaign.
Appropriate “calls to action” would be a button that says “Buy Now” and links to a checkout page, or a an e-mail form that is completed with a “Subscribe” button. It could even be a prominent phone number or prominent directions to a store if a visit is the action you want.
Let’s say you run a local furniture store and want to advertise a Labor Day week sale on easy chairs. Instead of just sending ad clickers to your living room furniture web page, create a landing page with photos of the chairs on sale, include the discount prices, make sure the phone number is prominent and include a map of the store location. Keep the landing page focused on a single action — shopping for an easy chair.
Some experts advise against linking landing pages to other pages within your site. There’s a middle ground. A landing page should have navigation to your home page, but if possible, avoid full navigation to other parts of your site. Keep potential customers focused on one thing. If they want to explore the rest of your site, funnel them through the home page.
How can you tell if Google thinks your campaign has reached “Aquarian” status? It uses a metric called “quality score.” The score uses a 1-to-10 scale, with “1” being the worst score and “10” the best. When you’re in your Google Adwords account, Google will display the quality score with your overall campaign results and with each keyword. If you’ve bid on a keyword that shows a quality score of “1,” that means Google doesn’t believe your landing page is related to that keyword at all. You can either stop bidding on the keyword or, if it’s relevant to what you’re advertising, add it to the landing page.
Quality score is important because it can also help determine where your ad ranks on a search results page and how much you pay per click. Above all else, Google values relevance when delivering both search results and search ads. So, when two advertisers bid the same for a particular keyword, Google will favor the advertiser whose ads are more relevant to the search term. In fact, a highly relevant ad with a low bid may even rank higher than a less relevant ad with a much higher bid.
I know this has been a long answer to a short question. But without an easy-to-read, product-oriented, action-driving landing page, an online advertising campaign (yes, this applies to Facebook ads, display ads, Bing ads, too) will not reach its potential. I think it’s so important that when someone considers any online advertising campaign, I recommend starting first with the landing page. Then you can build the ads and the keyword bids around it.
If you want to read a little more, here’s Google’s explanation of why landing pages are important.