Copy is critical on your organic and sponsored listings in the search engines as well as on your ultimate landing pages. It is important on the SERPs because this is what drives tons of "free" organic or paid traffic to your landing page. It is important on the landing page in order to convert well.

One reason search engine optimization (SEO) is so effective is that it can produce higher conversion rates than paid search. This was confirmed in the MarketingSherpa Search Marketing Benchmark Guide (2000-2006), showing average conversion rates of 4.2 percent for SEO and 3.6 percent for PPC.

However, having a good balance of organic and paid search listings in the major search engines will bring you increased traffic and contribute to your marketing effectiveness. To go beyond the clicks and achieve maximum effectiveness, we recommend optimizing your landing pages to the specific objective of your campaign. Landing page selection and creation are vital to the success of both paid search and organic search marketing campaigns.

Landing Page Selection

The conversion rates for an identical keyword phrase can vary radically depending on what type of landing page a search results link leads to. How do you decide if it should be a category landing page or product landing page? The only way to tell is to create different versions and test.

For instance, you could test a single product page versus one that shows multiple products within the same category. Where you could test both pages, A/B split testing is your ideal option, but in instances when time and expense are factors, a sequential test can sometimes suffice. To conduct a sequential test, put up Version A of your landing page for one week, and then replace it with Version B for a week, ensuring that you get enough traffic for reliable results. Note differences in such metrics as unique visitors, sales and conversion rates.

It is important to keep in mind that such tests may not be reliable because they are prone to validity errors from extraneous influences. While a sequential test is more vulnerable to validity errors than the A/B test, it can still offer valuable insights on the relative performance of the two pages. If the results are close and raise doubt, you should verify with an A/B test. When conducting a sequential test, make it brief, control external factors and limit changes unrelated to the test.

Landing Pages for Organic Links

In the early days, most organic links went to the home page. Many of these pages were too general and poorly designed to encourage conversions, resulting in a high bounce rate (users leaving a site after visiting the original page of entry). Since then, most marketers have learned to make their landing pages compelling, targeted and attractive enough to retain visitors.

Savvy marketers have also learned to optimize all the important pages within a site for their target keyword phrases, bringing visitors to specific landing pages based on the search query. To improve your organic landing pages, you need to know why users visit specific pages. You can infer user intent through the search terms used. Start off by identifying the top keyword phrases driving search engine traffic to your site using web analytics such as our PathMaps tool or your web logs and your own site search. Identify the pages used as entry points.

Analyze the keyword phrases to infer the users' goals. Then, check your pages to ensure the copy meets those goals. Modify pages that fail to address your visitors' goals by including stronger copy, better navigation and relevant links to additional information. Ensure that your call-to-action and product links are relevant, concisely written and prominently displayed.

Landing Pages for Paid Search

Every paid search ad needs its own specific landing page because each click costs you money. Therefore, you want to deliver precise, complete information to enhance conversions.

For starters, your landing page must focus sharply on the product or service advertised. Don't include any hyperlinks or other distractions. Prospects coming to your landing page have prequalified themselves. They either want more information or are ready to buy. Be sure to use your keyword phrase on the page. If the term is "Buy Brand X," have a prominently placed button or link that reads, "Buy Brand X now." Design the page with a one-track mind, providing prospects with key benefits and perhaps a few features attractively presented. Don't put anything on the landing page that diverts attention.

Every landing page must be customized; thus, you will need a different landing page for each keyword group. Even if you are promoting complementary products, do not use the same landing page for both. Create a new landing page for each and every product or product group, sending prospects to individually designed landing pages.

Many prospects are just looking for information. They are commonly comparing products or prices. You should provide detailed product information, convincing them that your product is the ideal solution to their quest.

Your call-to-action must tell prospects exactly what you want them to do. If you want them to buy your product, scatter multiple calls-to-action in strategic places within your copy, telling them how to do it ("Click here to buy Brand X now"). If you want them to contact you by phone, list your phone number and provide instructions ("Call us Monday-Friday from 8-5 EST at 1-800-500-2000"). Repeat the number in bold text throughout your copy and again at the end. But be wary of spamming the page. Repetition of your call-to-action only works if you don't annoy the visitor.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Use graphics to sell your product or service. Well-illustrated product pictures sell, as do pictures of satisfied customers or an attractive, welcoming salesperson. Use pictures judiciously to create a sense of well-being and trust. And to avoid FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that scares off would-be buyers, be sure to strategically place "trust" comments, testimonials and seals along the way. Too many visitors leave because though they like the product, they are not sure that you can be trusted to deliver and service their accounts. Trust is a must or your sale is a bust.

Test your landing pages until you find a clear winner. When testing, send an identical ad to each landing page, comparing the conversion rates for each page. Other A/B comparisons might include copy length, layout, image size, call-to-action and pricing.

Good Landing Pages Pay Dividends

Your investment and efforts in optimizing your landing pages will pay big dividends in the form of higher profits and revenues. Don't make the mistake of overlooking the testing and fine-tuning of your landing pages to maximize campaign results.

And remember, organic SEO requires that landing pages be properly integrated into your site and sitemap, or that you exclude search engine robots from indexing unconnected pages.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

November 2, 2006

Bruce Clay is president of Bruce Clay, Inc. Since 1996, has been one of the foremost search engine optimization Web destinations. Services include: tool subscriptions, training classes, site assessments, consulting services, and full-service projects. Areas covered are SEO, PPC, Analytics, e-mail, ad programs, and consulting.

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