It’s well established that landing page design impacts many facets of an SEM program's success. While we've previously discussed how to optimize overall design to secure more leads, ensuring your landing page is aesthetically pleasing and clearly articulates your message is only one piece of the puzzle. Before a user even clicks on your ad, various aspects of your landing page are factored into whether your ad is served, the amount of the required bid, ad placement, and, in some cases, ad quality. After clicking an ad, the user flow and prominence of conversion actions impact not only your bottom line but also the bidding insights and optimizations.
Let's dive into each of these.
First, before we dive into landing page relevance, we need to first discuss how Google ranks your ads. Each time one of your ads is eligible to compete in the auction, Google computes an ad rank for your ad and all others competing. The rank your ad receives determines whether it will be displayed, what position it will be displayed in, and the cost per click (CPC). While the exact formula is a closely guarded secret, the key inputs include your max CPC, the ad's Quality Score, search context (e.g. location, device, time, etc.), ad rank threshold (i.e. the minimum bid required for an ad to appear in X position), and the expected impact of ad formats and extensions.
While some of the other inputs are more straightforward, Quality Score is significantly affected by the quality of your landing page. Reported on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the most desirable), landing page relevance and experience are two of the components taken into consideration, along with ad and keyword relevance and quality. Thus, as Quality Score is factored in along with your bid and the other inputs to determine ad rank and CPC, you’ll also want to obtain a higher Quality Score for your ads to both improve their position and reduce CPC, all of which will lead to overall efficiency gains.
Now we can focus on landing page relevance. Imagine you are looking to buy a new collar for your dog. You then search for "skulls and crossbones dog collar" and click an ad. How likely would you be to stay on the site and buy something if you were taken to each of the following pages?
Most people would be more inclined to continue through the conversion funnel in experience A and maybe, B versus C or D. This difference in relevancy would then be reflected in the ad's Quality Score.
Outside of relevancy, page loading speed is also another major factor to consider. What if you ended up on landing page A but it took 15-20 seconds to load? Loading times of more than a few seconds are likely to see marked user drop off, even if all other best practices are followed, resulting in a much lower Quality Score.
While difficult to objectively measure, it is also worth considering how very general landing pages with multiple, branching funnels and calls to action can make insights and optimization more difficult. Take, for example, a company that sells enterprise software. They have determined through analyzing past sales performance that filling out a "Contact Us" form is most likely to lead to a follow-up conversation with a sales rep and ultimately a purchase. However, rather than investing in a streamlined landing page experience that has this call to action prominently displayed, all ads redirect users to the website's home page.
Given the clear benefit to the company for prospective customers to fill out the "Contact Us" form, it would make sense to optimize bidding toward that conversion action. However, all too often, the numerous potential paths for potential customers to get to “Contact Us,” and the competing calls to action on the homepage make that difficult, regardless of the bidding solution used. For example, a user located in Los Angeles searched for "keyword A" and upon arriving at the homepage, clicked through a few product pages and then left. Does that mean that users located in Los Angeles are less likely to convert and negative geo modifiers (i.e. decrease bids by 20% for searched from the Los Angeles metro area) should be added? Or is "keyword A" too broad of a term to lead to many conversions and should be bid down? Or are both actually good targets but the lack of a clear call to action (or too many calls to action) led the user down too many or a less-than-ideal path? By introducing the confounding variable of poor design, none of these questions can be answered with certainty, which in turn, can lead to suboptimal bidding decisions and lost potential efficiency gains.
Conversely, imagine if the landing page for the software company mentioned earlier offered a more tailored experience with some basic product info that related to the ad clicked while clearly displaying the “Contact Us” form above the fold. Any insights related to the keywords, locations, or audiences that have a higher propensity to convert would be more reliable and more likely to lead to an overall increase in performance.
While landing page relevance and quality impacts overall PPC efficiency, there are some areas of PPC that have additional idiosyncrasies -- Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) are a good example.
DSAs, ads which are automatically generated based on landing page content, are a great way to discover additional keyword opportunities and scale creation of highly-targeted ad copy. Rather than requiring you to create a preset keyword list, DSAs instead leverage Google's crawling technology to mine your website for relevant keywords and automatically use them for ad targeting and ad copy. However, as Google typically crawls sites every 2-3 days, frequently changing landing pages can lead to irrelevant traffic and inefficient spend for DSAs.
A common example of this problem, often cited by Google, are daily deals sites. For example, a particular URL that is crawled on Monday may offer a deal on a trip to Europe. However, when a user clicks on a DSA generated from this page on Tuesday, it has been replaced with a trip to Las Vegas. Given that the landing page experience is now unrelated to the ad the user clicked on, conversion is much less likely and often spend becomes inefficient.
While many components go into building a successful SEM program, landing page design is one area that is often overlooked. But as a critical pathway to your site and business, neglecting efficient landing page design will likely cost you leads, conversions and ultimately revenue. Rather than directing users to general areas of your website (like the homepage!), invest time in creating a more relevant, well-designed user experiences. For sites with a large inventory, newer tools like dynamic keyword insertion can be leveraged to make this process less time-consuming.
By making this investment upfront, you can improve your ad's Quality Score, obtain more reliable insights, make better optimization decisions, and understand if particular PPC functionality is appropriate for your use case. And you will also be giving your targets a clear path to entry -- all benefits that will help you to increase efficiency and have the most successful PPC program possible.