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Design Your Search Marketing Fate

What's the most overlooked secret to running an effective search engine marketing campaign?

Web design.

The more effective your website is in converting visitors to buyers (or leads, or members, or whatever metric you judge success by), the better your search campaign will be.

Some marketers are extremely adept at building an effective web presence and then using a search program to take that to the next level. Such marketers carefully craft landing pages to match keywords for paid search campaigns, and they ensure their sites are easily navigable when committing to natural search optimization.

Then there are the others. They'll link to their homepages in a keyword buy, even if there are different pages on their site that reflect the ad much better. Or the landing page will be so cluttered that once users get there, they will become so confused that they'll either gun for the "back" button or close the browser out of frustration.

Remember these visitors are potential customers who have just come through your door. Giving them an unwelcoming web experience is like a retail store hiring someone to push incoming shoppers out on the sidewalk.

Here are some common problems with landing pages, along with examples of what works and what doesn't. These sites were all found by clicking on paid search ads through a number of different search engines.

Landing Page Offense #1-Directionless: These sites are characterized by having too many places to go. Then bring to mind a Dr. Seuss rhyme from Oh, the Places You'll Go! "And IF you go in, should you turn left or right. ... Or right and three-quarters? Or maybe, not quite?"

What Doesn't Work: Searching for "school supplies" in Google brings up an ad from a store promoting teacher supplies easily enough. The site offers supplies at the top of the list, but there's a visual overload of 27 links to choose from, along with tabs on the top and side.

Role model: Home Depot hit one out of the park in response to an MSN search for "riding mowers." The page that comes up has a very clear message, "Create the ride of your dreams with John Deere," with a crisp photo of various mowers--a perfect match.

Landing Page Offense #2-Visual Overdose: A picture's worth a thousand words, but it helps to have a few words on a site. Some sites are so artsy that you have no clue where to go.

What Doesn't Work: One of the top landing pages (via a Google search for "shoes") at a fashionable shoe brand's site is so artsy, my eyes blurred looking over it. The two calls to action - "Shop" and "Sign up" - are nestled in the side, and I couldn't even click on them directly; they bring up additional menus.

Role Model: Searching for cheese via Teoma, I found a tempting ad for the Ideal Cheese Shop (idealcheese.com). The copy drives it home. Look at the top product, "San Jaoquin Gold-Fiscalini Cheddar." It's such a romanticized name (even if it should be spelled "Joaquin") that I'm already thinking of what Chardonnay to have with it.

Landing Page Offense #3-Breaking Promises: The keywords people search with indicate their wants. The ad and related landing page are designed to satisfy the searcher. The site must fulfill what the ad promises, or else the visitor departs disappointed.

What Doesn't Work: Searching for "chairs" in Google, I was intrigued by a "fantastic value" on "name brand furniture" in the paid listing. Then I went to the site and was confused. Part of the page had mentions of chairs, and other parts didn't. The ad merely linked to the homepage, instead of a page that could have specifically met the search criterion.

In another example, searching for "servers" in Espotting offers a major computer retailer's ad, but clicking on it provided no reference to servers anywhere.

Role Model: Hunting for an MP3 player via Ask.com brings up a Radio Shack ad that points to a site with most of what I want to know. There are pictures of seven different MP3 players with a brief description and prices, so I can choose based on brand, style, or cost.

Bottom line: By and large, the main goal of search engine marketing isn't just to get eyeballs, which can be easily purchased by the millions if the budget's big enough, but to convert visitors into buyers or subscribers. The search campaign gets you in position, and then your website follows through. Or, to quote Eminem: "This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo, you better."

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