Design Your Search Marketing Fate

From MediaPost's Search Insider

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."