Six Unfortunate Landing Page Errors (And How to Prevent Them)

Directing searchers who click on paid search listings to custom landing pages is among the oldest and most established tactics in paid search marketing. And yet it's clear that too many marketers (and/or their agencies) continue to fail to get this basic task right.

I know, I know; nobody's right 100% of the time. Errors can creep into even the best-constructed campaigns, especially when search listings are linked to dynamically generated pages hosting products that churn quickly through a merchant's online stores. A product URL that was there when the campaign began may or not be there tomorrow. The problem, of course, is that if you have a high-trafficked keyword and are paying top dollar for clicks, even a small error can rack up enormous costs over a period of a few hours. Here are a gaggle of landing page issues I've noticed recently while shopping for musical instruments. You really can't afford to have any of them in your paid search campaign:



1.     Landing page that fails to load. This fatal error is (thankfully) fairly uncommon. Directing a user to a page that fails to load (or loads everything except for the product or brand the searcher is looking for) represents both a terrible waste of money and a major blow against a merchant's image. Catching broken links is an easy matter that the search engines will test for you in advance when you set up your campaign. What's more complicated and labor-intensive is ensuring that links don't drift as products cycle through the store. Automation can help here by creating a feedback loop between store inventory and paid search listings.

2.     Generic landing page that blocks browsing by brand. If searchers click on an ad advertising Fender Stratocasters (a popular electric guitar) and are transported to a general area in which different brands of electric guitars are mixed in, and can't view any Stratocasters above the fold, they won't easily forgive the merchant if there's no easy way to get to the item they actually sought. Forcing users to retype their query into a search box or navigate back up the taxonomy tree (e.g. going from guitars/electric to guitars) is asking far too much of them. If a merchant is advertising Fender Stratocaster guitars, but wants to expose users to other competing items in order to maximize the chance of an up-sell/cross-sell, this merchant should at least provide navigational links to a dedicated "Fender" area.

3. Landing page that's too specific. If I click on a search ad for "Ibanez Guitars on Sale," my expectation is to be greeted with a timely list of available Ibanez guitars in stock and for sale, not a specific Ibanez model that the merchant is pushing as part of this sale. Unless I'm responding to an ad for a specific Ibanez model, I'm most likely not so far down the buy funnel that I'm going to hit the "Add Item to Cart" button anytime soon. There's nothing wrong with letting searchers know that merchants are discounting a specific model, but merchants must ensure that searchers are only one click away from browsing all your Ibanez guitars, and this link should be clearly visible and easy to click on.

4. Landing page totally unrelated to what any reasonable searcher would be interested in. Here's where the dreaded Demon of Disambiguity rears its hideous head. The mere fact that I'm searching for Taylor Guitars doesn't make me a prospect for the James Taylor Guitar Songbook, and there's a world of difference between a Fender Jaguar guitar and a 4-wheeled Jaguar that happens to have fenders. A couple of strategically placed negative keywords would have handled errors like these, which are created by the injudicious use of broad match types.

5. Data-driven landing page requiring further user action. One's heart must go out to the search managers at auction sites, where millions of products churn through auctions each day, and the search team must somehow manage to make sure that shoppers aren't being directed to delisted products. Still, it's a major drag when one is shopping for a good, used Guild guitar, sees a juicy search ad enticing one to "bid on a Guild Guitar now!" and is plopped down into a page where there are hundreds of Guild guitar picks and other accessories but actual Guild guitars are hard to come by. The issue here is the default sort order employed by the auction site that suppresses higher-priced items below the fold. Yes, sophisticated auction users know that they must toggle the sort order from "Price + Shipping: Lowest First" to "Price + Shipping: Highest First" but it's still a recipe for frustration.

6. Landing page that's just a home page. I thought we as an industry had stamped out this error years ago, but it still crops up from time to time. The only time you should ever direct traffic seeking specific answers to a general home page is if your site only has one page. ‘Nuff said.

2 comments about "Six Unfortunate Landing Page Errors (And How to Prevent Them)".
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  1. Scott Brinker from ion interactive, inc., January 25, 2010 at 2:26 p.m.

    Great article, Steve.

  2. Karri Carlson from Leadtail, January 25, 2010 at 2:47 p.m.

    Hey Steve,

    You're so right - landing on a page that fails to deliver on the link's promise still happens, far too frequently, and can cost the merchant much more than a few wasted dollars.

    I wonder, though, is it fair to lay the blame solely on the landing page? Part of good paid search execution is understanding the relationship between link and landing page, and the other part, as you noted, is having the skills and expertise to target effectively.

    It seems like a classic case of the chain being only as strong as the weakest link (or landing page)!

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