Friday, July 20, 2007

How to Adjust Your Landing Pages For Search

Does your website have a home page? Ok, that's a stupid question but because of the preponderance of use of search engines in browsing the web, home pages are just not the same as they once were. A site can now have multiple home pages depending on what search query was used to end up on your website. Is your website ready?

I was reading a great article on Imedia called Websites: The Secret to Landing Pages and Shopping Carts by Joseph Carrabis who pointed out a great point: Landing pages for visitors that enter your site from a search engine must also serve as home pages. "Joe" (if I can call you that) believes that when users search for something in particular and enter your site, the content should be centered around this topic which would form a mini-site or microsite (a subset of the greater website). Joe states: "Thus, the entry page that focuses on a specific car or hand lotion or food item or whatever must also serve as the "homepage" to a microsite. This microsite may be one, two or at most three pages within a larger website system..."

These new home pages (or "side pages" as I call them) should be very specific and geared to the search query that led them to that page. The content should be easy to follow and the user should be able to quickly decide if this company can help them or if they need to try again. If the company is of interest, it should be fairly easy to request for additional information.

Joe inspired me to see if companies are gearing their websites around search and if they are creating these new types of home pages. I've used Google and randomly chose the search query "software integration". I've selected a few of the paid search results from this search and reported my findings below.

Search Landing Pages (Side Pages) That Need Improvement

I've learned from my research that marketers need to distinguish between different types of landing pages. There are the landing pages that companies use to drive people to from emails and direct mail and there are landing pages used for search results and other forms of online advertising. There really are different best practices for each of these.

Let's look at the first example from my search on "software integration" from BEA Software:

I've highlighted the areas in the image above that I felt are important. Here are the positives:
  • The headline and copy is crisp and concise. The web visitor will know after a few seconds if this is something that they are interested in
  • It's easy to request additional information and all that is required is to fill out two fields to complete the web form.
The main drawback of the page is that the copy is geared to someone who visited this page from another page on the BEA website or from a BEA email. The first line says "Thanks for your interest in our white paper for developing the organization & governance plan". That doesn't make sense coming from a Google search query! I never expressed interest in this white paper. BEA seems to have re-purposed this landing page and the result is a poor one.

What if I was interested in something else from BEA? Now what? Unlike an email landing page where you're typically driving someone to a very specific action (such as signing up for an event), search results landing pages are different. While the visitor should be driven to a certain action (such as requesting additional information), additional options should be included to allow for browsing other areas of your website (like a home page but coming through a side door and hence why I call these side pages).

In this case, the web form was very short and probably worked. However, a web form may seem obtrusive to someone who just came in from a search engine. Before someone divulges personal information, you need to earn that trust and providing valuable information first without first displaying a form may be a better way to go (I'll let you determine this from your testing).

Here's another example from Agilent:

This landing page does a few things right. It has a call to action right at the top which outlines how to purchase the product and has a good first paragraph that summarizes the product. The problem is that there is too much extra text on the page. For example, there is a "What's new" section. If this was setup as a real microsite, the "What's New" section would be on a separate page. This main page should focus on outlining the features of this solution in a clear and concise way while providing options to the web visitor to explore additional information on this product.

Search Landing Pages (Side Pages) That get it Right

The following search landing pages are worth looking at perhaps mimicking. The first example is from Cisco:

The content on this landing page gets right to the point and it starts with a great headline. Using bulleted points also helps the reader quickly scan the page.

What I like even more about this page are the call to action options that it provides at the end of the copy (but without the need to scroll on a typical monitor configuration). If you're ready to download the product, there is a section that says "I'm ready" and if you're not ready just yet you can select the "I'm interested" registration. The fact that it spells this out for you and uses clear images to delineate the two sections is extremely cool. That way, Cisco is accounting for two types of visitors - the serious and the non-serious. In addition, Cisco has provided the top-level navigation if this page doesn't satisfy the users' needs.

The last example from my research (excuse the pun) is from a company called Adeptia:
This was another good example of content that is clear and concise. In addition, I liked how the product name was highlighted at the top of the page which allowed those web visitors that already knew the product name to go to that page. For the rest of us, the page provided examples and benefits of the product while providing call to actions such as viewing a demo or case study without the need to scroll. The page also allowed you to browse other areas of the Adeptia website to view their other solutions.

Landing Page Conclusions

Here is a summary of my findings:
  • Keep the content clear and use headers and bullets to break it into chunks that are easily digestible.
  • Only provide content that is directly relevant to fulfilling the desired action on the page. If you have additional content that is related to the product or service, consider providing a link to it (for example, updates to the product)
  • Call to actions need to be viewable without scrolling
  • Provide multiple call to actions. Since people are coming from a search engine, you don't know if they're in the final stages of the buying cycle or just at the beginning. The Cisco example provides for both scenarios.
  • Consider not placing a form on the first page that a web visitor sees when coming from a search engine. If you do, keep it short.
  • Allow web visitors the opportunity to browse other areas of your website. As mentioned above, search landing pages (side pages) are side doors to your content. These are people that are not coming through the front door but may have randomly happened upon your site. If your call to actions don't appeal to them, allow them the opportunity to view other areas of your website.
I hope you have found this informative. Feel free to use the term "side pages" and be sure to continuously test and optimize your landing pages to get the best results.

Chad H.

PS: I want to apologize in advance to the companies listed above for spending their valuable marketing dollars and for my abusive click fraud.
PPS: You can take this concept beyond paid search to organic search - are your pages fully optimized to drive web visitors down a certain path?


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Combining Direct Mail with Your Online Marketing Efforts

Many B2B marketers today are either slashing their direct mail budgets or drastically changing the focus of these campaigns to make them more targeted. MarketingSherpa in conjunction with KnowledgeStorm have released a recent study that demonstrates that direct mail is still relevant.

I like to read a white paper on actual paper!

If you think waaaaay back, there was a time when all newsletters and white papers were sent by mail. I actually remember those days (hey - it was only a decade ago). Then there were the transition years in the early part of the decade when some of your customers and/or prospects still had the option to read your materials offline so you provided this option. Many companies still have this option but most don't. Why did we stop doing this? Most likely the answer is cost as well as the belief that everyone reads and has easy access to email. Your online materials are also more easily measurable. So why should we even think about going back to the "stone age" of direct mail?

Why Direct Mail?

Because there is demand for it and it produces results! The MarketingSherpa study indicted that 44% of survey respondents would choose to receive a white paper by direct mail if the option existed. Instead of just having your online visitors sign up to receive a white paper or e-book online or by email, why not provide the option of having it mailed to them if they select this option? You can use some fancy Java Script to make key fields such as address, city etc... appear on the landing page if the "snail mail" option is selected.

As another idea, send the individual an email in a few days after they registered to receive something in the mail to indicate that they should get ready to receive the white paper by mail. This is a good way of maximizing your direct mail investment and increasing response. Some people may forget why they received the direct mail piece when it eventually gets to them. Here is something to think about - include a picture of the sales rep for that person's regions on the email and also have it on the cover letter of the white paper that they will receive. How is that for personalization?

The other great thing about direct mail is that it's visible outside of your computer. This means it can get passed around an office, be put up on a bulletin board etc... etc... Depending on how good the content is, people may keep your materials around for years - something that typically doesn't happen with the online versions. You can also include a cover letter and additional offers to continue the conversation and move the prospect further along the sales funnel.

Question: How do you make direct mail easy to execute without burning your budget?

Automation of Direct Mail is the Key

If you're a smaller business and you get minimal leads, this is typically a non-issue. You are typically happy to get the leads and you can do this fulfillment yourself. You can also manually decide if the order is worth fulfilling.

If you're a bigger business and you're thinking about going this route, the one thing you don't want to do is create too much additional work for your team. What you need to do is to automate this process so that you can easily send out direct mail pieces in a "just in time" format. You may even want to restrict who is sent a direct mail piece. For example, what if you could automate the lead qualification process to automatically determine if the individual was qualified to receive a direct mailer? If they weren't deemed suitable, you could send them an email apologizing and saying that you're unable to send them a direct mail piece at the moment. I'm thinking off the top of my head here but there are many possibilities with the goal of sending the right people, the right information at the right time so that you maximize your marketing dollars and convert more leads into opportunities and eventally sales.

In terms of automation, your form capture tool could be linked up directly to a mailing house which would take care of the printing and mailing. Again, these are further ideas to explore. You would also want to ensure that that you could track the success of these campaigns. This may include tracking those individuals that follow up by calling, emailing, or visiting the site.

I hope this gives you something to think about!

Chad H




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