January 24, 2008, 12:00 AM

Search engine marketing coming in for a landing

If a shopper clicks through on a paid search advertisement, the ad’s landing page better look great and contain more than just the product, experts say. And the page better be there.

While e-retailers pore over lists of potential keywords for paid search campaigns and pay great attention to keyword selection, they must also mind the store, making sure the landing pages for paid search ads are optimal-and there.

For retailers that manage hundreds of landing pages, monitoring the availability of page links can be daunting. “For some clients, 30% of the links to their landing pages are going to dead pages, but they don’t know enough to pull the pay-per-click ad because the marketing department may be unaware that the links are bad,” says Suzy Sandberg, president of PM Digital, a direct response online marketing firm.

Even when landing pages are indeed there and up to date, they must be visually enticing to shoppers if e-retailers hope to seal a deal.

Elements that go into designing a good page strike a balance between text and images, include a clean layout that uses callouts to highlight product attributes and liberal use of color, and have an intuitive shopping cart that is easy to locate, according to Robert J. Murray, president of search marketing firm iProspect. Retailers also need a strong link to their site search on a landing page so product catalogs can be more closely linked to search terms if the shopper does not find what she wants on the landing page or simply wants to refine the search further and look for an accessory item.

“The whole idea behind landing page design is to create a shopping experience that comes as close to actually touching the item as possible,” Murray says. “If this doesn’t happen, retailers’ conversions will suffer.”

One rule for creating effective landing pages is constant testing. “Testing is a best practice,” says Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Didit.com, an online advertising and marketing firm. “It’s the only way retailers will know for sure what designs and mix of offers will work.”

Monitoring and testing landing pages indeed is crucial to the success of search engine marketing campaigns, other experts agree, and not just to gauge the efficacy of page designs. “There is a cost associated with each click on an ad,” says David Cohen, vice president of Databazaar.com, an office supplies retailer that uses NetElixir Inc., a paid search marketing firm, to manage its search marketing. “Monitoring helps to keep the cost per click down.”

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