A thoughtful account structure and irresistible Expanded Text Ads are great, but without fine-tuned landing pages, it’s all for naught. If your landing pages are underwhelming and underoptimized, you’re paying for prospects to click on ads and, outside of a captivated minority, head back to the SERP unimpressed.
Of course, there could also be instances in which your landing pages, in keeping with your ad copy and account structure, are phenomenal, but, for who knows what reason, you’re still not seeing conversions turn into customers.
Now, everyone and their grandmother knows the basic tenets of high-converting landing pages: Eye-popping offers. Seductive value props. Live chat support from a friendly guy name Justin instead of an inept machine. And don’t even get me started on the myriad aesthetic adjustments (tweaks to your colors, typefaces, images, and layout) at your disposal.
Everything listed above (and plenty of things that weren’t) can be A/B tested infinitely. You could hire someone to make bi-weekly changes, they’d never get bored, and it’s very likely you’d see conversion metrics improve as you culled bad copy and chucked bad design in the dumpster.
But what we’re talking about today is different. These are tangible changes that can pay immediate dividends. And, unlike most other landing page optimizations, your competition probably isn’t using any of these.
I asked some of the paid search mavericks on our marketing services team for some highly actionable landing page optimization tips you can roll out of bed and implement in your account. Let’s dive in.
Outside of dopey bears and FBI sting operations, you might not have heard much about honeypots before. Basically, a honeypot is a snippet of code you embed within your landing page form as a method of combatting pesky spam bots.
Now, there’s a more common way to combat such riffraff that you’re most certainly familiar with: CAPTCHA. The problem you can run into with CAPTCHA, though, is that they’re a user experience nightmare.
I cannot recall a single instance in which I’ve gotten one correct on my first attempt (there’s no way I’m the only one). And it appears as though CAPTCHA’s one-click (read: user-friendly), legible cousin, reCaptcha, is useless. CAPTCHA’s are the bane of my internet existence, and I’m not alone.
All of those hex color tweaks and CTA tests you’ve been conducting could very well have been undermined by your attempts to weed out spam. That’s right, folks: though CAPTCHA’s ward off spam, they can also dissuade prospects who, unimpeded, would have converted.
Enter the honeypot technique.
Truth be told, I had no idea what a honeypot was before Sam, one of our senior account strategists, approached me with in interesting case involving her email collaboration client, Zimbra.
What problem does it solve?
Zimbra had a problem.
Their free trial landing pages had attracted a lot of bots, resulting in junk conversions. Using CAPTCHA’s on the landing pages helped eliminate bad bot traffic, but it also became a burden for human prospects: you know, the lovely people who were supposed to complete the form. Because of the CAPTCHA, Zimbra ended up weeding out humans who perceived the anti-spam measure as a roadblock.
According to Sam, “The simplest way to implement a honeypot is to add a hidden ‘test_email’ field in addition to your ‘email’ field to your form. This will trick the bot into completing both fields, and your human prospects won’t know it ever existed.” Once the leads roll in, simply filter out any in which the text_email field were completed, exclude those IP addresses (more on that in a minute), and focus on the real leads.
After implementing the honeypot on the trial pages, Zimbra’s account-wide conversion rate increased compared to the previous landing pages using CAPTCHA’s (as evinced in the graph above).
And the best part? The conversions that came through were actual humans. No more silly spam, just opportunities to close deals.
“Allen, how do I implement a honeypot on my landing page?”
It’s surprisingly easy, actually. Honeypots operate on a single principle: bots are stupid. As such, the hidden fields you need to add to your form aren’t especially complex.
Here’s what it looks like:
Provided you include a display: none CSS rule, which hides the form from actual humans, you’re ready to rock.
Of course, if you use WordPress, a plugin like Contact Form 7 Honeypot will save you from ever having to look at code. You can skip right to the part where the leads pour in.
For good measure, you can exclude the IP addresses of spammers within AdWords, so that after you’ve weeded them out with your honeypot, you can block them from ever seeing your ads again.
To do so, simply navigate over to the Settings tab on the campaign in which you want to make an IP exclusion.
Once you’ve gotten to the Settings menu in the UI, mosey on down to “Advanced Settings” (sounds daunting, isn’t) and click the edit button under “IP exclusions.” It looks something like this:
Finally, once you’ve reached the “IP Address Exclusion” interface, simply copy and paste the IP addresses of known spam bots into the field. You can add up to 500 in each campaign.
The first suggestion on the list was something that, on the surface, makes complete sense. A method of impeding bots without hampering UX for actual prospects. What’s not to love?
What comes next, however, flies in the face of what many would consider a best practice. I can hear you right now. “Eliminating customer reviews?! Are you mad?” Hang with me, friends: I assure you it’ll make sense momentarily.
Curating social proof on your landing pages so that it reflects customers’ positive experiences with your product or services can be phenomenal. It’s the affirmation some prospects need. On the other hand, simply throwing all of your unfiltered customer reviews on your landing page can be a double-edged sword.
And when you’re paying for every set of eyeballs, you simply can’t afford to be shooting yourself in the foot with subpar reviews.
What problem does it solve?
People who are ecstatic might leave a review. People who are satisfied probably won’t. Unfortunately, those who are offended by or unhappy with your offering are much more likely to leave a one. Worse yet, according to fan experience expert Ruby Newell-Legner, it takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for a single unresolved negative experience.
Senior account strategist Chris Panetta saw this exact scenario nearly cripple one of his clients:
In 2015 we averaged 219 sales a month at an average CPA of $52. This data predates the implementation of the review system. Then, in early 2016, the review system was implemented. The initial response was great! We saw CPA drop by 10-15%, conversion volumes improve, and overall traffic quality improve as well.
But after the second month things started going downhill, fast. CPA started to drastically increase, conversion volume declined rapidly, and we were at a complete loss for what was happening.
Six months had passed since the implementation of the review system and the account’s average CPA was continuing to climb north of $80. Then, one day, we decided to remove the on-site reviews. We had tried everything else and figured why not turn them off for 2-3 weeks and see what happens. To our surprise it worked! By the end of the third week CPAs were down to $65 and on their way back to the $55 range.
According to Chris, while the aggregated customer reviews were sterling, the product pages themselves told a very different story. Many customers did not understand or notice the fact that the hand-made-to-order products took 2-4 weeks to build and another ten business days to ship. Instead of contacting the business directly, customers voiced their frustration in the product reviews.
Once other prospects saw these horror stories, they fled in search of alternatives.
To further illustrate the potential pitfalls of featuring unfiltered customer reviews on your PPC landing pages, I’d like to point your attention to a product called Subtle Butt [pause for laugh].
Subtle Butt claims to function as “a disposable gas neutralizer,” allegedly eliminating the fetid effluvium associated with flatulence. Guess what, people: they don’t have a single review on their landing page. Click the (garish green) “Buy Now” button and you land on an ecommerce page that similarly has no customer reviews.
Now, in my humble opinion, this seems like a product that’d benefit from customer testimonials….
And if you head over to Amazon there are more than 200! Ranging from this #evangelist:
to pages of this:
While these hellacious remarks make up just 21% of the total Amazon reviews for Subtle Butt, the negative reviews are bad enough that they could convince prospects not to buy. Now, I’m corroborating Chris’s point with a pretty extreme example, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Whether you’re a dog walker or an ecommerce outfit with 50,000 products, customer reviews can make or break your conversion volume: when you’re paying for every click, shooting yourself in the foot is entirely counterintuitive.
“But Allen, I have excellent customer reviews!”
If you really want to include customer reviews on your website, do so in a place where you aren’t sending paid traffic. Develop a separate testimonial page and test it as a sitelink extension if you think it would have value.
Here’s an excellent example of a testimonial page from online coding bootcamp Thinkful:
On the page, they’ve aggregated more than 200 reviews of their bootcamp from two different aggregators. The overwhelming majority of the reviews are positive (one aggregator, Course Report, rates Thinkful as the top coding bootcamp around). And guess what?
Outside of some hand-selected quotes, none of these reviews appear on Thinkful’s PPC landing pages.
Even if every customer who has interacted with your business has had a positive experience, if you’re going to leverage the power of social proof on your landing pages, curate it first.
Google loves landing pages that load quickly because people love landing pages that load quickly. As such, slow-loading pages (on desktop or mobile) are a surefire way to send your account performance into a tailspin.
Google makes it crystal clear that Ad Rank is impacted by site speed, which means your Quality Scores and CPC are, too.
What does this mean?
Simply put, a relatively slow landing page will increase your average CPC. A very slow landing page has the potential to hamper user experience to such a degree that you never actually enter into auctions (or worse, you do, at a ridiculously high CPC, and prospects click your ad only to hit the back arrow before the page even loads).
What problem does it solve?
According to Meg Lister, WordStream’s web optimization manager, “site speed is crucial in organic rankings, but it can have a major impact in paid search as well. Research shows that users become dissatisfied and are more likely to abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.”
It’s not called “pay every time your landing page manages to load on somebody’s device” advertising, folks: it’s pay per click.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Meg says that slow load times can “decreases the trustworthiness of your brand, especially if you’re a software or technology company.” As I mentioned above when discussing customer reviews, doing anything to break down trust–especially when you’re paying for the traffic– is a big no-no.
“Allen, I have no idea how fast my landing pages load: what do I do?”
Improving landing page load times isn’t a one-and-done proposition. Instead, it often takes a handful of subtle changes.
To get an idea of where you’re at, throw the URL for one of your landing pages into the PageSpeed Insights tool.
Once you’re done this, Google will provide you with a score and a detailed summary outlining the tweaks you should make if you want to ensure lightning-fast landing page load times. The report will look something like this:
Once you’ve made these changes, plug your landing page into PageSpeed tool again. Your prospects (and your wallet) will thank you!
Allen Finn is the co-founder of Toasted Collective, a cannabis-focused digital agency. Many moons ago, he worked at WordStream, where he reigned as fantasy football champion for some time.
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