2012 is coming to a close. Thankfully, the world didn’t end and SEO didn’t die. But that’s not to say that this year wasn’t a challenging one. Beyond all of the Panda/Penguin algorithm updates, unnatural link slapping and knowledge graph expansions, these are the key lessons I learned in 2012.
1. OK is simply not good enough
Standing still, or settling for something that is just OK should never be an option. If that ever becomes the case, then it’s time to pack up and move on.
As search marketers we always need to be innovating, adapting and pushing for more and better; be it relevant and effective content development, optimized page mark-up, or the integration of search and social techniques. This is the rule, not the exception, if we are to stay ahead in this ever-changing landscape.
2. Don’t let reputation cloud your judgement
In this industry, there are many well-known and talented agencies and personalities. But don’t let the reputation of an agency or person make you believe that you’ve found the instant, perfect client-agency partnership. Sometimes there may be a mismatch of cultures, other times there may be a mismatch of size and scale; you may find you are too big for a small agency to serve effectively, or you may find that you are too small for a big agency to really care about.
Make sure you test the waters first, before jumping straight in. If all goes well, then scale it up. If things don’t work out, then don’t just hang about hoping that things will get better. Sometimes it’s best for both parties to go their separate ways.
3. Trust your instincts
As search marketers, we are lucky to work in a very data-driven environment. Decisions are always clearer when you have supporting facts and data. However, some situations call for decisions to be made where data is lacking, fuzzy or even non-existent. Curiously, I’ve found this to be the case more-so this past year. In such cases, it is important to trust your experience and instincts, and never sell yourself – or your program – short.
Here’s to a happy and successful new year to you all!
When launching a PPC program, do you build out custom landing pages for your paid search campaigns? It seems to make sense, right? Just build a landing page and stick a response form on it, just as you would for any of your Email or demand generation campaigns. Piece of cake.
Here’s the problem: With demand generation campaigns, such as Email, there is a clear call-to-action – whether it is to download a whitepaper, sign up for a webinar, or register for a conference. When someone reads that Email and clicks on a link, they already know what they’re signing up for. With search, it isn’t always as clean-cut.
So before you start investing time and money into those landing pages, here are a few things to consider, including why you may find more success by sending searchers to existing pages on your website.
1. Scale of Program
It is easy enough to build custom PPC landing pages for small-scale paid search campaigns. In an ideal world, you might have a custom landing page for every possible search query. Unfortunately, PPC campaigns don’t stay small-scale for long. Many of us cover tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of keywords, spanning countless adgroups.
If you are in the lucky position to have a significant number of dedicated web developers (or a big budget to pay an agency who has a significant number of web developers), then you might be ok. However, it’s more common than not to only have a handful of developers who also happen to support several other departments within an organization.
Program scale and resources are an important consideration when deciding whether, or how many, custom pages you build out or not.
2. State of Website
A website should help all visitors accomplish what they need to, regardless of how they got there or their intent. Of course, this ideal state is extremely difficult to achieve and often companies will find their websites in varying degrees between bad and perfect.
When choosing a PPC approach, it is important to consider the depth of your website and how built out the user experience is. If you have a small site with a handful of generic pages, then it probably makes sense to build out some focused landing pages for your PPC campaign, whilst you continue to make improvements to your site.
However, a well-built out site should be designed to cater for all types of visitors regardless of how they got there — including visitors coming in from search engines. If you are smart, you will understand the common paths people take through your site, and be continuously testing the performance of your pages, including those conversion-focused pages that help visitors along the path to purchase. In cases like this, you may find better success in sending paid search traffic to existing pages on your site, as long as you are appropriately matching your keywords to the right pages.
3. Company Objectives
Company objectives will also play an important role in your approach. Ultimately, all companies are here to make money. But some companies are all about the short-term sale or conversion, whilst other companies better understand the importance of a longer-term approach to customer lifetime value.
Short-term Conversion Focus
There is nothing wrong with going after the short-term conversion. The trouble starts when marketers try to force an action upon a visitor when there is a mismatch between the intent of the search query and the landing page you take them to.
As an example, when someone searches for a generic word such as “camera”, they could be looking for any number of things. Perhaps they are looking for lessons on how to use a camera; or to find out about different camera brands; or compare different camera models; or maybe they are just looking for an image of a camera to use for a school project. The point is, there isn’t an easy way to tell what a person’s intent is from a generic query like this.
Therefore, taking these people to a landing page with a response form to download a guide about shutter speed will not meet the needs of the majority of searchers. Expect expensive clicks, high bounce rates, low conversions and a bunch of pissed off visitors who would rather watch the Bieber movie than click on one of your listings again.
User Experience Focus
Last week, there was a tweet from a SES San Francisco session that said, “Instead of landing pages think about really great experiences”.
I do believe that if you get the user experience right, then everything else will follow. In the case of PPC, it’s easy to test. Do head-to-head comparisons of custom landing pages and existing web pages. I’ve seen existing web pages consistently outperform custom pages (with one call-to-action) by more than 4X for generic search queries. Continuous testing can help you further refine your pages and make them perform even better.
Summary: Custom Pages or Existing Website?
Often you will find that it isn’t a simple black and white choice between using your existing web pages or building custom pages. Most likely, you will see best results by using a hybrid of both methods. Some key things to keep in mind are:
- Build your website to provide a good experience, regardless of referring source
- Continuously test and refine your web pages to achieve the best results
- Utilize these pages on your website for your PPC campaigns, particularly for the more generic queries
- Build custom PPC landing pages where searcher intent is very specific, or when there are gaps in your website that don’t specifically address a search query