Landing page experience is a well-established factor in optimizing Google AdWords (PPC) campaigns. It’s cited by Google as influencing keyword Quality Score, and affecting Ad Rank and advertising costs. It’s even graded for each keyword in AdWords, to help you improve your pages. And now, as Google refines its search algorithm to reward higher quality landing pages, it’s also become a primary concern when optimizing pages for rankings in organic search results (SEO), as well as improving overall conversion rate (CRO).
User experience (UX) is the topic on every search marketer’s lips. In Moz’s 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors report, 4 of the top 5 ranking factors whose impact on organic search experts predict will increase during the next year were either usability or page quality factors, while the report’s 4th overall most important group of factors are page-level keyword agnostic features, the majority of which are measures of page quality and user behaviour.
Fortunately for search marketers, there is one very good source on landing page optimisation. Google itself.
This article explores the lessons that can be learned from Google’s guidelines on improving landing page experience for AdWords and discusses some specific ideas on how these might be applied to organic SEO.
Lessons learned from AdWords
As an SEO looking at Google’s page on understanding landing page experience, what particularly catches my eye are Google’s tips on navigation and page load speed, as well as Google’s apparent emphasis on content above the fold (content high up enough to be visible in the window when a page opens). And as a search marketer, I’m thinking about user intent and task completion when assessing these factors. Google’s guidelines include the following relevant tips:
- Make it easy for visitors to find your contact information.
- Make it quick and easy for people to order the product mentioned in your ad.
- Make sure that people can easily find information to learn more about the advertised product.
- Help customers to find what they’re looking for quickly, by prioritising the content that’s visible above-the-fold.
- Make sure that your landing page loads quickly once someone has clicked on your ad, whether on a desktop or mobile device.
- The theory of this article is that while the guide is a reference for optimizing for Google AdWords, I think it’s a very relevant source of good advice for landing pages generally, especially in the sphere of ecommerce.
The idea is that if usability heuristics for landing pages receiving paid search traffic (PPC) can be applied to commercial landing pages receiving organic search traffic (SEO), it holds that following these same guidelines might help us optimize UX for SEO – improving user interaction signals, the perceived quality of the page, and, by extension, keyword rankings and search traffic.
Designing for user intent and task completion
With my priorities established as usability for task completion and navigation, with specific attention placed on elements above the fold, the first step in optimising our landing page is to understand user intent, so that we can address it with the necessary information, action and navigation in a way that’s easy for the user.
In commercial scenarios, the most important (and most profitable) task that we’re concerned with is usually purchase (or, at least, starting the process of purchasing the product or service). The most important navigation may be to drill down into deeper information about the product, or to move towards a specific or more relevant product. So we’re looking to design a page that prioritizes the presentation of these elements. But how this translates into page design depends greatly on the product or service offered. For example, the complexity of the product, the purchase process, and the product variations, options and alternatives. A good way to approach this situation is with a benchmarking exercise that examines best practices in your market, as well as comparable industries. Wherever possible, it’s also beneficial to talk to your target audience, and even test some wireframes or prototype page layout and navigation.
Finally, think about the types of devices used by your audience, and the different scenarios for page layouts by screen size. Most modern situations call for responsive design and navigation that works with touches as well as clicks (so no hover states).
Here’s a page on iWeb.com that was optimized for landing page experience. The global navigation is simple and focused, the product information concise at first, then grouped under tabs, and the call to action prominent, all above the fold.
Supporting information and trust signals
Coming back to user intent, it’s important to remember that even in the most transactional of ecommerce situations, not all users are at the same point in their decision process. That means not all users have the same intent of making an immediate purchase.
It’s important to consider other actions and information that may help users arrive at a purchase decision. A user’s intent could be to compare products, or to evaluate your brand or service based on the information you have on the landing page and elsewhere on the website.
This task might need to be addressed via product comparisons, independent reviews and authoritative information sources, as well as detailed product and company information. Think about any anxieties and questions your audience might have when making a purchase (or better still, ask them) and provide signposting to information that addresses these points with credible information. At the very least, users should be able to navigate to contact information, service terms and conditions, and the website’s home page.
A user’s interactions with your brand are not limited to your landing page. When planning your content, take a step back and look at the user’s wider experience, beginning with their search.
A simple way to analyse user intent from generic search terms is to look at the type of pages returned in Google’s search results. A search for a product category keyword might be intended to find a product to purchase, but might equally be intended to find out what that product is. Compare search results for keyword variations, and you’ll notice variations in search results. This is likely due to historical user interaction (click) data that means search results are optimized to return the most popular results, revealing to search marketers the hidden intent behind broad terms.
In this example, search results for ‘cloud servers’ appear to respond to a more commercial intent than ‘cloud hosting’. Both offer a mix of informative and commercial content.
By understanding user intent, you can tailor content to each type of intent. You can then address, or even prompt the user’s intent with your page’s meta title and description. Remember that the title and meta description serves as an advert, and should provide a compelling and coherent reason to visit the page. One that ties up nicely with the page content to give a seamless landing page experience.
You can even address very distinct intents (product purchase vs. research, for example) with separate pages, and separate search strategies. For example, your strategy may be to sponsor product pages (purchase intent) with AdWords, while relying on organic listings for informational pages (research intent). You can even use a distinct call-to-action on informational pages, perhaps to begin a CRM process that provides further assistance and information.
For further help optimizing for user interactions throughout the search and discovery process, read our report on 23 Easy Hacks To Skyrocket Your SEO Performance.