Google AdWords Case Study – Improving Landing Page Quality
Google AdWords has recently revamped it’s quality scoring system for landing pages. The change affected a small number of sites. However, those sites saw significent changes to their min CPCs (minimum amount one must pay to have an ad displayed).
One of these accounts went from minimum CPCs of $0.03 – 0.15 to $10.00. After a site redesign, account overhaul, and some other work, the min CPCs are back down to previous levels. Here is the case study and changes that fixed the account, and the resulting impact on conversion rates.
The original state of the website:
- Sign up for an email newsletter
- The email sign-up process was an email address and a name form
- No external links throughout website
- No internal links through out website
- Each page was a ‘one page wonder’ or ‘sales letter’ page
- The website used many of these pages to split test conversion rates, copy length, and copy writing techniques
- Each landing page was an island to itself. To a visitor, the landing page was the entire website
- No contact page
- No about us page
- No sample newsletters
- No additional ‘authority’ content
- Each page was a sales letter written to entice a visitor to sign up for the newsletter
- The page lengths were from 250 – 3,000 words long
- The pages were grammatically correct, no spelling errors. Excellent copy
- There were no ads or AdSense units on the page
Google AdWords Account
- The Google AdWords links were dynamically served through an ad serving program (to test conversions)
- The account used several thousand keywords (and many single keywords – this was done on purpose for volume)
- The account had a 2+ year history of a good CTR.
- A conversion was defined by a visitor submitting their name and email address to sign up for a newsletter
- The conversion rate was around 8%
The site had a low cost per conversion, and many conversions per day, so from an advertiser standpoint it was a good website.
The site had a good conversion rate (8% +), so from a searcher standpoint, it was a good website from a visitor perspective.
The minimum cost per click rose significantly ($0.03-$0.15 to $10.00), so it was not a good website from Google’s point of view.
Note: The site had no organic rankings, didn’t need organic rankings, and each page was a page rank 0 (which could be due to all the URLs being dynamically served).
Google documents leading to change
In order to determine what to change, we first had to study both Google search documents and Google AdWords documents.
The first document examined was Google AdWords Site Guidelines. These were the relevant points from that document that pertained to this situation:
- Try to provide information without requiring users to register. Or, provide a preview of what users will get by registering.
- Openly share information about your business. Clearly define what your business is or does.
- Most internet users are concerned with understanding and controlling how websites use their personal information. In order to build an honest relationship with them, providing clear answers to these questions on your site is a must
- Develop an easily navigable site.
To me, this translated into:
- Show a sample newsletter (i.e. any other content)
- Create an ‘about us’ page (and call it exactly that in both the link and URL)
- Create some sort of navigation for the website
I then refreshed myself with the Google Webmaster Guidelines. I debated quite a bit over ‘Submit a sitemap’ because we’re using a lot of split testing so this part of the guidelines “Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content” we’re going to be broken over and over due to the fact we’re testing. After all, this is about PPC not Organic rankings.
In the end, I decided not to use a sitemap mostly because Google is still assigning quality score by domain and not by page. Once they move the quality score to page, if I go with a site map, what will happen is it will only be linked from the additional navigation pages (more about this below) and not from the individual offers page.
The Domain Structure Changes
The first issue to consider was the conversion rate. To create new pages and a navigation structure was to give multiple pathways through the site, which would hurt the pure focus of collecting the email address. As anyone who has dealt with many sales letter pages (or dedicated micro sites specifically for PPC) knows, the more links away from the sign-up page, the worse the conversion rate becomes.
So, first we duplicated all of the pages to a Google specific folder. Yahoo Search Marketing and MSN have no issues with the landing pages, so there wasn’t a need to add these components for those engines. The only pages that needed to be changed were for Google visitors.
The Page Structure Changes
A short About Us page was created. It was a very basic page about the goals of the newsletter (so the keywords on the About Us page were in the same semantic theme as the AdWords keywords) and a brief history of the company. Again, the link anchor text and URL incorporated ‘About Us’ to ensure the bot would understand exactly the page’s concept.
A Contact Us page was created. Due to spam considerations, we went with a form contact page. However, we also wanted every page of the site to be about subscribing to the newsletter. So, instead of going with a pure open text for the subject line, we went with a drop down choose option. Some of the options contained ‘Questions about Keyword Newsletter’. This kept the focus of the site towards subscribing.
In addition, I felt it would ‘feel’ more like a real business if an address appeared on the website. Due to Can Spam requirements, every newsletter being mailed includes the business’s location, so after discussing the options with the advertiser, I decided that putting the actual business location (in a normalized format that would be read by a spider as a typical address) could only help the domain quality.
This was going to be a tricky one as far as conversion rates go, and will be one of the major testing points going forward. There seemed to be two choices of how to incorporate a sample newsletter and additional content into the website.
- Create a preview pop-up box within the sales letter which housed the content. This way, one would not be taken from the sales letter page. (Note: this pop up would be an HTML link and not a JAVA pop-up to ensure a bot could follow the link and read the content).
- Put within the navigation structure (below) a link to sample newsletters or to older newsletters
- Note: This website is not looking for organic rankings. Hence, adding the additional content of past newsletters had not been a priority. In addition, the newsletters were not time sensitive material, and often older issues were reused in order for new subscribers to ensure they understood some of the basics about the topic.
The first decision was to attempt to make the sample issue (if one chose to look at it) help conversion rates. So, we took the first couple of paragraphs of the best articles and put them in the issue with a ‘subscribe to continue reading’ link). The goal was to give the bots some great opening content. We used semantic relationships of the root keywords to create the titles for these articles which were directly related to the AdWords keywords for quality score and broad matching purposes.
The second decision (spanned from the first as we’re using it for conversion rates) was to put it in two different places on the website. The first was within the sales copy. In this way, the sales copy would have a link to additional content for the bot to see inline links. This link created a pop-up box of the sample so one was not taken away from the sales letter.
Adding a Navigation Bar
At this point in time, I felt the website was ‘fleshed out’, due to:
- The business had a history in the ‘About Us’ section
- There was a way for a visitor to send feedback and ask questions in the ‘Contact Us’ section
- The website had additional content in the form of ‘Sample Newsletters’
The question was: How does this get linked throughout the website?
This was the most difficult decision to make. Where does one add a navigational structure to a page when one doesn’t want anyone to leave the page or click on any links?
However, where the bar is placed could also alter the bots perception of a page (is it buried at the bottom of a page, or is it at the top in front of the visitor). And then the other consideration, do we add it in the HTML at the top of the page, but use CSS so the visitor sees it somewhere else?
In the end, this placement is being added to the testing variables of the sales copy. So, essentially, the testing variables are the copy (and copy organization) and the navigational layout. For the default page, the navigational bar is an 8pt font at the bottom of the page.
The AdWords Account
I did not want to call Google and have them re-review the page. Too many people at Google know me personally, and I wanted the page’s quality to be adjusted on it’s own merit without my interference. In addition, it’s a friend of mines page and not mine – so this account is not linked to any of my MCCs.
The first thing I did was change the URLs only within the ad server. Essentially, this meant that Google was redirecting visitors to the new pages (remember, the old ones remained unchanged because of the other search engines). Due to these pages being within the same domain, the ads and all TOS issues were OK.
Google didn’t update the quality score for the AdGroups.
I then changed a few of the keyword URLs wondering that if I bypassed the Ad Server and went directly to the pages, Google might find the new pages and update the quality. Another day went by and nothing happened.
Next, I added a new ad. I didn’t want to adjust the old ads and lose history. My thought was that if a new ad was created, they would have to review it and that would trigger a new review of the landing page.
The next day, the min CPCs were $0.04-$0.12. Even lower than before the changes!
Seems something is working for Google now. However…
What About the Conversion Rate?
Was it a good change?
The conversion rate dropped over 1%.
Is it still profitable?
The next trick is going to be testing how to get the conversion rate back to where it was while still maintaining the ‘need for quality’ on AdWords.
I don’t think user satisfaction has ever changed. Just the perception of options has changed.
Google AdWords still has more quality traffic than any other PPC engine. It is essential to use Google AdWords effectively to bring the most quality traffic available to your website. The trick is ensuring Google thinks your page will assist their visitors in finding information (remember, the act of searching is a hunt for the answer).
To improve your quality score, go through every line of Google Site Guidelines and ask yourself:
- Am I following this guideline?
- Could I make this guideline better from a user’s standpoint?
- Can a bot tell I’m following this guideline?
Once you can confidently say you are following these guidelines, your quality score should improve dramatically.
Google is idealistic about how well they treat their users. This happens to be a point I completely agree with them on from a business perspective. User satisfaction is more important to their long term goals and success than advertiser satisfaction. This doesn’t mean Google doesn’t want satisfied advertisers, it just means that if there’s a tie between interests, I believe they will side with the user in every instance.
When evaluating your website, pretend your are a random web visitor and think to yourself: “Does this website answer all of my questions before I have to give up my personal information?”
When the answer is “Yes”, it’s time to check your quality score and see if Google AdWords agrees with you.