The Complete AdWords Audit Part 14: Landing Pages
“If you look at a good PPC account and it’s not converting, in 99% of cases, the landing page is the problem.” – Brad Geddes
“Most websites don’t have a traffic problem… However, every website has a conversion problem.” – Bryan Eisenberg
In other words: if all you do is work on your PPC campaigns, but no one is obsessed with converting the traffic you’re paying for, then yes, you too have a problem. And it’s probably the single largest reason why your results aren’t what you want them to be.
So it’s about time we dive into landing pages and conversion rate optimization in this series. A topic one could easily write a book about, as in fact some of the brightest minds in digital marketing did.
That’s why I’d highly encourage you to read the books and blogs below, even if you’re ‘just’ a PPC marketer. Because as such, you already have great insights into your audience’s interests and what ad copy they respond best to.
So why stop there? You have to enter a URL in those ads anyway. Why not make sure it’s a URL that delivers a great experience?
- Brian Massey – Your Customer Creation Equation
- Chris Goward – You Should Test That
- Peep Laja – How to Build Websites that Sell (Kindle)
- Tim Ash – Landing Page Optimization
Why you should get obsessed with conversion rate optimization
I couldn’t have said it better than Conversion Rate Experts in their classic article 5 reasons to get obsessed with conversion rate optimization: “When your conversion rate increases, suddenly you can afford to advertise in other media (online and offline), which makes your company much more robust.
This can create a “virtuous circle” of benefits for your company, and a vicious circle for your competitors.”
This is very true and in the end, all companies will either be in the virtuous circle on the left or in the vicious circle on the right. It’s hard to stand still while your competitors are moving.
I imagine you’d rather be in the circle on the left? It’s a great way to keep your job as well by the way.
Another illustration from this same article shows the multiplying effect an increased conversion rate can have on your bottom line:
The example above shows how a 50% increase in conversion rate (e.g. from 2% to 3%) can increase profits with 500%.
After reading the above you’d expect that advertisers would invest at least as much in converting their traffic as in getting people to their site.
Sadly, according to Bryan Eisenberg companies typically spend $92 to bring customers to their site, but only $1 to convert them. I can only hope this ratio applies to all your competitors and not to you.
What’s the average conversion rate?
It seems that average e-commerce conversion rates haven’t really increased the last years. Most e-commerce websites still convert just 2% to 4% of their traffic (and just 1% – 1.5% of their mobile traffic), while lead-gen and other industries convert between 4% and 10%.
But in a way, these industry averages don’t matter. It doesn’t even matter that Amazon prime members convert 74% of the time. What matters is that you keep doing whatever you can to increase the conversion rate and profit from your website and your campaigns. It’s the only way to survive in the long-run.
And just in case you still think that your 2% conversion rate is good enough, the visual below should help you (or your boss or client) get into action and ask yourself “What are we not doing right with all the blue people?”
Taken from Avinash Kaushik’s newsletter: The Marketing Analytics Intersect #14
Building the PPC & CRO Business case
Let’s say you have a PPC campaign running and you’d like to estimate what the benefits would be of improving your PPC campaign versus improving your landing page versus doing both.
You call 2 experts (each charging $150 / hour) and let them have a look at your campaign and landing page. Based on this, these are the estimates (no guarantees obviously) they give you:
- PPC expert: for 6 hours of work I expect I can realize a 15% increase in CTR (creating more granular ad groups, add ad extensions, write better ads), a 5% decrease in CPC (thanks to higher Quality Scores) and increase your conversion rate by 5% (by adding non-converting terms as negatives).
- CRO expert: for 12 hours of work I expect I can realize a 25% conversion rate uplift. This should be achieved by improving your landing page, based on a thorough analysis and optimizing your page’s value proposition, relevance and clarity, while getting rid of conversion inhibitors.
Assuming impressions and average order value (or lifetime value) stay the same: whom would you hire, or would you hire both?
To help you compare and quantify the benefits of such optimizations, I created a Google Sheet (inspired by a table in Chris Goward’s ‘You Should Test That’ book) that you can use to easily create your own PPC vs CRO vs both business case.
You can find it over here (feel free to share): http://bit.ly/ppc-vs-cro.
You’ll find 2 sheets in this file: one for lead-gen advertisers with a CPA target and one fore e-commerce advertisers with a ROAS target:
All you have to do is make a copy and fill in your own numbers and estimates in the colored cells, all other cells will be automatically filled and calculated based on your inputs:
- PPC Impressions: the number if impressions the optimizations apply to. So not only looking back, but also all the future impressions that will profit from your optimization efforts.
- PPC CTR: the current average CTR that you (or someone you hire) intend to improve.
- PPC CPC: the current average CPC that you (or someone you hire) intend to improve.
- Conversion rate: the current average conversion rate that you (or someone you hire) intend to improve.
- Average order value (e-commerce only): the current average order value. Even though it’s possible to improve the AOV with CRO, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume AOV stays the same in all scenarios.
- Optimization investment in $: both for PPC and landing page, you fill in the dollar value of your or someone else’s time that will be spent on optimizing your campaign(s) and landing page(s).
- CTR improvement: fill in the relative uplift (percentage) in CTR that you expect to get from PPC optimization.
- CPC improvement: fill in the CPC decrease (percentage), if any, that you expect to get from PPC optimization.
- CRO improvement: both for PPC and landing page, fill in the relative uplift (percentage) in conversion rate that you expect from the optimizations. Obviously, the uplift from PPC is expected to be lower (if any) than from landing page optimization.
What you will often find is that investing in improving your conversion rate delivers a multifold improvement compared to optimizing your PPC campaign.
But don’t quit your PPC job just yet, because the most impressive number by far, is the net improvement of doing both at the same time.
If you manage to increase your CTR and conversion rate, while decreasing your CPC simultaneously, the combined effect is much more than adding up the improvements of each individual optimization.
Once you (and your client or boss) start realizing (and experiencing!) the huge potential of improving PPC and your landing pages at the same time, you’ll never want to do one without the other again.
Doing the one without the other is a lot like being the guys on the right in this cartoon:
And clearly, the guy on the left is offering conversion rate optimization.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, there are many great resources out there to learn all about conversion optimization and it’s not the goal of this post to summarize all their advice.
Instead, the goal is to provide you starting points that should help you better identify opportunities to improve your landing pages.
From there on, you can work on improving the pages yourself using the mentioned resources, or work together with a specialized colleague or expert to get the best of both worlds.
The rest of this post is divided in the following parts:
- Fixing the basics: Quality Score and load times
- Elements of a high converting landing page
- Conversion frameworks and processes
- Your Audit Checklist
Fixing the basics: Quality Score and load times
As you probably know, landing page experience is one of the factors that goes into Quality Score. So the first thing you want to make sure is that none of your (high volume) keywords gets a ‘Below average’ rating for this component.
As this directly hurts AdWords metrics like CPC and position, you should take action when you find these keywords, even if your sole responsibility is managing the campaigns.
It used to be a lot of work to generate a list of all keywords that have such a rating, but since Google released the components of Quality Score through the API, you can quickly find these keywords with tools as AdAlysis and Optmyzr.
Once you’ve found keywords with a ‘Below average’ landing page experience, sort them by impressions and visit the corresponding landing pages. Hopefully, you’ll be able to spot where they do not comply with Google’s quite generic guidelines:
- provide relevant, useful, and original content,
- promote transparency and foster trustworthiness on your site (for example, by explaining your products or services before asking visitors to fill out forms sharing their own information),
- make it easy for customers to navigate your site (including on mobile sites), and
- encourage customers to spend time on your site (for example, by making sure your page loads quickly so people who click your ad don’t give up and leave your site prematurely).
Very often, what’s good for SEO and CRO is also good for your landing page experience rating. So ask a SEO and/or CRO expert for more detailed advice on how to improve the page from their perspective. This should actually help you get a better rating and increase your Quality Score as well.
Some obvious things to check for:
- How well does the content of the page match with the search queries? You don’t need to literally include them as words on your landing page, but the page has to be thematically related to the queries. In other words: always ensure a good ‘message match’ between search query, ad copy and landing page.
A way to find out is to enter the landing page URL in the Keyword Planner and examine the keyword suggestions Google comes up with. If these are completely unrelated to the keywords you’re advertising on, you need to rewrite the contents of that page (or use a different landing page).
- If you ask for personal information (such as an email address), do you tell the visitor what you will do with that information?
If you don’t have AdAlysis or Optmyzr, you can find these keywords by hovering over the speech bubble next to the status of your keyword. Start with high volume and high bounce rate keywords:
Besides the checks above, you also want to make sure your website and pages load as fast as they possibly can (aim for 2 seconds or less). There are a few very good reasons to get obsessed with page speed as well:
- Not getting an Ad Rank penalty by Google. In other words: your ads won’t show in lower positions or you won’t have to bid higher to maintain your position.
In Google’s words: “If it takes too long for your website to load when someone clicks on your ad, then they’re more likely to give up and leave your website. This unwelcome behavior can signal to Google that your landing page experience is poor, which could impact on your Ad Rank negatively. That’s why you want to make sure that your landing page load time is up to speed.”
- It helps your organic rankings, as page speed is one of the many factors Google incorporates in your ranking.
- But mostly: it increases your conversion rate. One research has found that every second of delay (after 2 seconds) decreases conversion rate with 7%.
And if you’d like more load time statistics, check out this well-known infographic from Kissmetrics: How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line.
So if you haven’t recently analyzed your landing pages’ load times, now is the time to do so. You can use the free tools mentioned in the tool list at the bottom to test your site’s performance.
And if you find pages that take too long to load, share and discuss these with the person(s) responsible for maintaining the website. As implementing the solutions (such as the suggestions from PageSpeed Insights) can get quite technical, you probably need their help.
However, if you’re the one managing the site or you’d just like to learn more about improving page speed, then you’ll find useful tips in the following blog posts:
- 11 Low-Hanging Fruits for Increasing Website Speed (and Conversions)
- 15 Tips to Speed Up Your Website
- 10 Ways to Speed Up Your Website
- 5 Easy Ways to Help Reduce Your Website’s Page Loading Speed
Elements of a high converting landing page
First of all, your landing page is never your home page (branded searches could be the exception). Furthermore, it’s important to define the 3 different kinds of landing pages:
- Lead-generation landing pages. Most advice on landing pages out there applies best to stand alone pages that have 1 single goal: generate leads for a product or service (usually by capturing someone’s email address).
There are also quite some landing page creation and testing tools you can find in the tool list at the bottom. These will help you quickly generate and test lead-gen landing pages.
- Click-through landing pages. Or ‘jump pages’ that are meant to “warm up” the visitor to the product you’re trying to sell, before sending them further into your sales funnel. This is commonly used for e-commerce.
- Any existing page on your website you use as a landing page. This often happens with e-commerce advertisers, as they’ll send traffic to the corresponding product or category page. Or lead-gen advertisers that don’t have dedicated landing pages for their campaigns yet.
Obviously you’ll have more freedom improving your conversion rate with dedicated landing pages designed for specific marketing campaigns (the first 2 types).
But even if you use an existing page on your website, you should aim to improve it as much as you can, although it will be hard to make it match perfectly with every kind of traffic that lands on such a page.
To learn more about what goes into creating highly converting landing pages and e-commerce websites, I can recommend reading the following resources:
- A selection of the many Unbounce resources:
By now, you may be a bit overwhelmed by all the landing page advice, but fortunately most of the advice above is also captured beautifully in the well-known Conversion Sequence Heuristic you can find at MarketingExperiments:
C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a
C = Probability of conversion
m = Motivation of user (when)
v = Force of the value proposition (why)
i = Incentive to take action
f = Friction elements present
a = Anxiety about entering information
This is not an equation to solve, but a thought tool to use as you work on landing pages and other marketing offers.
As you can see, the motivation of the user is the most important factor affection conversion, but also the only element that you cannot change.
So it’s all about increasing the force of the value proposition and the incentive to take action, while minimizing unnecessary friction and mitigating anxiety by adding or improving elements like reviews, testimonials and security seals.
For those who prefer a more visual presentation of the essential conversion factors, Chris Goward’s LIFT (Landing Page Influence Function for Tests) Model is a great framework.
As with the conversion sequence above, the LIFT framework nicely catches six conversion factors to evaluate landing pages: value proposition, clarity, relevance, distraction, urgency, and anxiety.
The idea behind this model is that the value proposition is the vehicle that provides the potential for the conversion rate, making it the most important factor. The other 5 factors are divided in 3 conversion drivers (you’ll want to maximize) and 2 conversion inhibitors (you’ll want to minimize).
Conversion frameworks and processes
“Conversion optimization is a process. Amateurs follow best practices and don’t know where to begin. Experts follow frameworks and processes.” – Peep Laja
Although the elements of a high converting landing page above could be called best practices, I agree it’s best to stay away from very specific ‘best practices’ such as “orange buttons work best”, “minimize your copy length” or “minimize form fields”.
With conversion optimization there are just too many exceptions to those kinds of rules, so you’re better helped with a great process, model or framework you can follow.
That way, you’ll have a well-defined series of steps and elements you can use to systematically improve your conversion rate.
There are quite a few frameworks out there, but you can’t go wrong by choosing one or more from the ones below (listed alphabetically), as they have been tried and tested by some of the best conversion experts.
- Bryan Eisenberg: the Conversion Trinity Model and the T.I.R. system for prioritization.
- Conversion Rate Experts: The CRE Methodology
- Conversion Sciences: Conversion Catalyst Conversion Optimization Process
- ConversionXL: The ResearchXL Framework for the discovery phase.
- Tim Ash: Developing Your Action Plan, Where to Start Testing? and Determining What To Test.
- WiderFunnel: The Infinity Optimization Process, using their LIFT model in the Explore phase and their PIE framework in the Validate phase
At a high level, most CRO processes follow these 3 main phases and all experts agree it’s a never ending process. So keep repeating these steps until you have a 100% conversion rate ;-).
- Explore / Discover / Gather: get all the (baseline) info you need about the company, goals, website, competition and the audience.
- Formulate / Design / Experiment: formulate hypotheses, design and run experiments with A/B testing and/or multivariate testing.
- Review / Learn / Implement: analyze the results of the experiment(s), implement the winning version(s) or elements (if any), transfer learnings and insights to other pages and campaigns.
Be sure to methodically follow each step of the conversion process of your choosing. This will help you avoid common mistakes like running random tests (not based on proper research and hypotheses) and calling A/B tests too early.
To discover and avoid 10 other common mistakes, I’d recommend reading 12 A/B Split Testing Mistakes I See Businesses Make All The Time by Peep Laja.
Conversion Optimization with little traffic
Most rules of thumb about sample sizes for A/B testing will tell you that you’ll need between 100 and 400 conversions per variation (usually closer to the upper limit) or a 1,000 conversions a month and that you’d also like your testing results to be significant within 1 to 4 weeks. This poses a challenge for websites with little traffic or a low conversion volume.
The good news is, there’s still a lot you can do to improve the conversion rate on your site if you’re not close to the mentioned thresholds for A/B testing.
Based on the elements of a high converting landing page above, and on research you can do with the web analytics, visual analysis, feedback, survey and usability tools below, you should be able to generate a ton of ideas on what to improve on your website and landing pages.
For example, you don’t need A/B testing to create a better message match between search query, ad copy and landing page. Or to remove distractions from your primary goal.
And if you’re going to A/B test with little traffic, make sure you test dramatic changes only and aim for bigger wins (20% conversion improvement or more), so you’ll reach statistical significance faster. Which is obviously easier said than done.
To give you an impression of the required sample sizes at different improvement levels (using 4% conversion rate as a baseline), I created the table below.
It is based on a one-sided hypothesis, a power of 80% and a confidence level of 95% using Online Dialogue’s A/B Test Size Calculator. The table shows the total participants required for an A/B test, so each test variation needs half the participants mentioned in the table.
You can find more significance calculators below to calculate the sample size (and test duration) you’ll need at different expected conversion uplifts.
As you can see in the table above, you need a lot of traffic to detect minor uplifts, and that’s why you’ll need to take more risk if your site doesn’t have that kind of monthly traffic. This could also mean accepting lower confidence levels.
For more tips, be sure to read How to Do Conversion Optimization with Very Little Traffic? by Peep Laja.
When it comes to analyzing, optimizing and testing your website and landing pages, there are literally over a hundred tools you could use. For your convenience, you’ll find a selection of useful tools for each category below. Tools indicated with *) are free or have a free version (freemium).
- Adobe Analytics
- Clicky *)
- Google Analytics *)
- Google Analytics 360
- IBM Digital Analytics
- Piwik *)
Visual analysis (heat maps, visitor recordings, etc.):
- Hotjar *)
- Inspectlet *)
- Lucky Orange
- Mouseflow *)
- Google’s PageSpeed Insights *)
- GTmetrics *)
- Pingdom *)
- WebPageTest.org *)
Landing page creation and testing:
Feedback and surveys:
- 4Q from iPerceptions
- Google Consumer Surveys
- SurveyGizmo *)
- SurveyMonkey *)
- Typeform *)
- WebEngage *)
Usability and user testing:
Sample size calculators:
- Evan Miller’s Sample Size Calculator *)
- Online Dialogue’s Sample Size & Test Duration Calculator *) and Power and Confidence visualisation tool *)
- Optimizely’s A/B Test Sample Size Calculator *)
- VWO’s A/B Split and Multivariate Test Duration Calculator *)
Testing and personalization:
- Adobe Target
- Google Optimize 360 (beta)
- Marketizator *)
- Optimizely *)
- Visual Website Optimizer
And if you’d like to find even more tools and resources, be sure to visit Tim Ash’s Conversion Ninja Toolbox.
I hope this post has encouraged you (even more) to regularly step outside your PPC campaigns and dive into your website and landing pages, just as all the people that click on your ads do every day.
Landing Pages: Your Audit Checklist
Do all of your (high volume) keywords have an ‘Average’ or ‘Above average’ landing page experience, according to Google’s keyword diagnosis?
Do all of your (high volume) landing pages load fast on every device (2 seconds or less)?
Do your landing pages answer the corresponding questions from the search queries? I.e. is there a good message match?
Do you continuously optimize the value proposition, relevance and clarity on your landing pages?
Do you minimize distractions from your main goal on your landing pages?
Do you mitigate anxiety with social proof and trust signals on your landing pages?
Do you create a sense of urgency on your landing pages?
If you have the conversion volume (1,000+ conversions / month): do you perform as much proper A/B (or multivariate) tests as you possibly can, preferably with the help of an expert?
Have you installed a visual analytics tool on your website (for heat maps and visitor recordings)?
Do you collect visitor feedback with user testing and/or surveys?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know
Great overview on CRO for landingpages! Thanks for sharing. Are you going to write more on CRO 🙂
Thanks! No plans to write more on CRO on the short term, as it’s not my primary expertise (don’t tell anyone 😉 )
I rarely see people pay attention to CRO when it comes to running good PPC campaigns and definitely not page load time which is a good one… this is easily something that can increase the profitability of your campaign more than anything else if your campaigns are targeted even half way right in your account already.