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December 5, 2006

Landing Pages: It’s All About Relevance

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[I feel like it's very important that I mention Michael Bolton's Love is a Wonderful Thing is currently playing in the background as attendees pile into this Advanced Organic Track session. I...I have no words for that, but I couldn't live with myself if I didn't mention it.]

So, it’s time to talk PPC and landing pages. I wish our PPC guru Nick Guastella was here, because I’m not feeling totally qualified to cover this, but unfortunately his plane doesn’t land for another few hours so you’re stuck with me. You’re okay with that, aren’t you? Please don’t stop reading.

The session was officially called, Ads in a Quality Score World, but a better name would have been, "Be Relevant or Die", because that seemed to be the theme of today’s session.

But what does that mean?

It signals that paid search is becoming more like its organic cousin. Your ads need to be relevant to the keyword and the landing page for them to appear where you want them to on the SERP. Almost as if your ad is acting as the bridge between your page, your keywords and your customers.

When PPC first launched (aka the early GoTo/ Overture years), to get top ranking you simply had to be willing to pay the most. However, that all changed when Google introduced the idea of the Quality Score, a ‘feature’ that has already been implemented by MSN, and is expected to be a part of Yahoo!’s forthcoming Project Panama.

Personally, I go both ways on the Quality Score issue (which I’ve mentioned before).

First, I understand its importance: It reduces the wild auction-ness of PPC, creates a better user experience, generates more qualified leads, and forces advertisers to create more relevant, truthful copy. I think everyone can get behind that. Google has made it harder for people to buy their way into the top, and in essence, put the ‘marketing’ back into Search Engine Marketing. It’s no longer about paying your way into the SERP a la Mark Cuban, and that’s a good thing.

(Don’t worry. This isn’t the death of bid management. Otherwise our Nick wouldn’t have a job. Hmm, he is kind of loud sometimes… Just kidding, Nick!)

My skepticism comes from the fact that the quality score system set up by Google causes artificial CPC inflation, discourages people from tweaking their landing pages (every time an advertiser changes something, the QS is reset!), and worst of all, it sets the engines up as the authority on what makes a good landing page, not users. That makes me uncomfortable.

I understand that it’s very likely that the Google engineers base their own quality judgments off of what users have complained about/ suggested in the past, but at the same time, it troubles me to give them so much control. I think users should determine what makes a good landing page, not the search engines.

Something I didn’t know was that according to one of the panelists, Google has two separate quality stores. One that affects the minimum bid (keyword status) and the other that affects the ad rank. Interesting, I say. I had never heard that before, but maybe that’s because I don’t spend much time hanging around PPC circles.

So how does Google determine your Quality Score, you ask?

In the simplest terms, Google’s AdBot will crawl your landing page looking for various "markers" that they will use to judge whether the page delivers a positive or negative user experience, and whether you deliver what you promise (I need a Google DatingBot). If they determine your page offers a low quality experience, your bid will increase.

To improve your Quality Score, your landing page needs to be relevant. There needs to be a tightness of the relationship between the keyword, the ad and the landing page. If one seems out of place, it’s likely you’ll score will suffer.

At the very core, it’s about matching the right message to the right audience.

You create a relevant landing page by looking at all the little things that together equal big results. That means segmenting your ad campaign using the right channels, campaign types, AdGroups and keywords to address your audience, while utilizing both local and contextual targeting to create the most relevant landing page possible. The more targeted your landing page, the more likely users are to express an interest in it.

Part of targeting your ads includes knowing your audience well enough to know that you’re using the right kinds of words. For example, say I do a query for the term "stereo". If I land on your landing page and am met with technical requirements and specifications I’ve never seen before, I’m going to go running for my back button to find a more Lisa-friendly site. However, if I land your site and your products are grouped by brand, something I’m familiar with, I’m more likely to stick around and navigate through.

Know what your users are expecting to find on your site so that you can give it to them. Know their primary goal (to buy a new stereo), their secondary goal (a stereo that can perform X) and their latent goal (a stereo that can perform X, but can also do Y).

When it comes to Quality Score and Ad Rank, your bids and click through rate are still vital in determining where you show up, but both of these factors can be improved by creating targeted, relevant landing pages.

[Note from the editor: Due to a technical glitch Monday's session reports were delayed a day.]





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