A brand's website typically represents a significant investment. After all, it's the face of your company -- and one of the primary means by which you hope to convert consumers, whether that conversion is represented by a sale, a sign-up, an endorsement, or some other desirable action.
But is your website garnering the traffic levels you had hoped it would? And when visitors do come to your site, are they staying and behaving how you'd like?
In this article, we'll first look at how marketers can drive more qualified traffic to their websites by properly structuring their paid search campaigns. Then (starting on page 6), we'll move on to examine best practices in site design, with an eye toward holding on to visitors and maximizing conversions.
Every step of the conversion process -- from paid search keywords to website design -- is an opportunity to build a cohesive user experience. If marketers can do this, they can create a quality user experience and guide traffic to conversion.
Let's get started.
(Editor's note: The following section on driving traffic through paid search was authored by JJ Bannasch, a media planner with Geary Interactive. The second section, on converting traffic via proper design, starting on page 6, was authored by Dan Bucko and Grant Reinero, senior art directors at Geary.)
A common goal of brands is to increase the volume of visitors to their websites. But in regards to paid search marketing, success comes from quality, not quantity. Because paid search marketers pay for each click, it is essential to focus efforts on the highest converting keywords while building a strategy to increase conversion rates on lower performing keyword development. This can easily be accomplished by utilizing strategic paid search planning and post-click analysis of keywords.
There are four main elements that marketers must address when developing an overarching strategy to maximize paid search ROI. They are:
- Keyword selection
- Campaign architecture
- Ad copy
- Landing page utilization
Keyword selection and planning
Capturing a user at a search engine is a key component of attracting qualified traffic. One of the most beneficial aspects of paid search is that consumers tell you exactly what they are looking for, and this is why careful keyword selection and planning becomes vitally important to the success of paid search campaigns. While this information is extremely valuable, it can be a double-edged sword. If consumers are misdirected by a lack of carefully planned search strategy, they will likely double back to a search engine and explore other options from your competitors.
When building out your keyword lists, it's best to think of keywords as questions. Does your product or service answer a given question or provide more information about it on your landing page? If the answer is no, then that keyword should not be utilized in your campaign. Once an extensive keyword list is compiled, it is time to strategize the structure of your paid search campaign. Structure refers to the organization of keyword buckets under campaigns in order to maximize the volume of qualified traffic. The structuring process creates a hierarchy based on performance (conversions), thereby making it easier for search marketers to find the most efficient mix of traffic and scale campaigns to maximize allocated budgets.
The key to planning an efficient paid search campaign is having a firm understanding of websites' offerings, marketing goals, and campaign management experiences. The more firsthand knowledge paid search professionals have about a specific vertical or company, the more likely they will be able to predict successful strategies.
Spending adequate time planning a paid search campaign is crucial to driving qualified traffic. Doing so affords paid search professionals the ability to create scalable campaign structure, which makes future optimizations easy. It also makes account management more efficient when dealing with budget constraints (i.e., marketers forced to make cuts must be able to ensure the most qualified traffic is not lost). Secondly, campaign structure and keyword grouping are vital components when it comes to determining the quality score of an account. If quality scores are high, this will help costs-per-click (CPCs) and account costs decrease over time. This means, if everything else remains constant, you can maintain a consistent budget level while driving a larger volume of qualified traffic to your site.
A few simplified tactics of campaign structuring include segmenting by:
- Keyword stage in the conversion funnel
- Audience segments (i.e., experts vs. novices)
- Geo-targets, site structure, and available landing pages
- Product benefits or features
- Historical search trends and seasonal patterns.
There isn't one standardized template for developing the right structure. The important thing is to maintain tightly focused keyword groups and a cohesive overall strategy.
Building relevancy and campaign quality
There are several things that determine how search engines calculate the quality score of a paid search campaign. Beyond the tightly grouped keywords discussed above, search engines also place great importance on ad copy's relevance to keywords and landing pages.
The main idea is to build relevancy among all stages of the paid search path. If a paid search ad promotes "discounted shipping rates," the landing page users are directed to should also mention the promotion. If there is a gap between ad copy, landing pages, and website content, consumers will exit a site as quickly as they entered, so bounce rates will be much higher than expected and your site's quality score will be docked.
Connecting ad copy to landing pages not only helps with search engine quality score, but it also helps qualify traffic before paying for clicks. The best way to develop ad copy is to identify the strong landing pages to which you would like to send specific keywords. Once you have a landing page that provides a solution to a searcher's specific question, you need to fill in the gap between landing pages and keywords. Think of ad copy as a preview to the landing page -- a snapshot into what someone will see once they click on your ad.
No matter what the objective, include a relevant call-to-action in ad copy to make sure campaigns are attracting the right traffic. An ad that is clearly stating "order XYZ product here" will help qualify and filter people pre-click and generate more highly qualified site visits. Optimizations should focus on an ad's conversion rate -- not click-through rate. After all, an ad that attracts a lot of clicks doesn't necessarily mean that this traffic is qualified and converts.
Using landing pages and analytics to refine strategy
If consumers do not use long-tail or branded keywords to enter a website, there are still ways for marketers to determine their purchase intent. For example, what happens if a user types in "pet food" without denoting what kind of pet? On the landing page, there should be several self-select options so consumers can note which type of pet they are interested in. If you do not know, it's best to ask users where they want to be directed. This intermediate step helps facilitate custom on-page content and make quality user experiences possible. Tracking and analytics will help build an understanding of keyword intentions and refine search strategies.
Switching ad copy, for example, identifies whether a given brand, promotion, service, or product offering generates higher conversion rates. Insights gained from monitoring how users respond to ad copy can extrapolate to other creative treatments on landing pages, thereby boosting overall campaign effectiveness.
It is also important to review initial campaign goals after launching paid search efforts to ensure campaigns remain on track and identify future opportunities and recommendations. Many times the initial objectives of brand engagement (specific page views), lead generation, coupon downloads, email sign-up, or increased revenue can help identify additional campaign plans for future digital opportunities, like landing page design, display banners, and value propositions. Incorporating lessons from all marketing channels can help drive informed, quantitative-data-backed marketing decisions.
So now you're expecting all this traffic. But how do you design your online destination to successfully handle the masses? You need to fulfill on your SEM and online advertising promise by providing real value to new external visitors. At the same time, you're required to prove a successful return on your investment to internal stakeholders. You've got to stay on-brand, give users an interface that follows online best practices, remain flexible for future site expansion, and continue to test, measure, and implement updates.
Clean the house before your guests arrive
Don't make the mistake of successfully driving users to your site only to see a huge bounce rate. If you aren't ready for the traffic, save your money. It will be exponentially more difficult (and expensive) to get these users to come back a second time. Follow the advice below if you want to enjoy a higher ROI and secure a more loyal set of new users.
Define -- then design
Determine the No. 1 thing you want to accomplish with your site and let every design decision support this goal. Multiple goals are OK, but don't muddy the priorities. Typical goal examples include online sales, email and data collection, online advertising revenue generation, community participation, and new account creation. Determine what it is you want users to do and then design toward that goal.
Another important thing to remember: Make sure everyone on your internal team can agree on these priorities.
Determine what success looks like
Determine how you're going to measure success by defining trigger events that can be counted and reported accurately. Get everyone on the internal team to agree to these key performance indicators (KPIs).
Use S.M.A.R.T goals (i.e., specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) rather than loosely defined goals. Examples of S.M.A.R.T. KPIs include goals like $100,000 in recurring monthly online sales, 25,000 new email newsletter sign-ups for a campaign, 10,000 new accounts per quarter -- you get the picture. Make it real. Make it about specific, measurable performance activities.
Once you have tangible goals and KPIs in place, commit to consistent brand design, online best practice execution, and a flexible user interface construction.
Follow your corporate brand guidelines so users have a consistent experience with your brand offline and online. If you don't have style guidelines, apply the KISS method -- keep it simple, silly:
Use minimal fonts. Try one display font that supports your brand. Then use a second standard sans serif font for all body copy for legibility and global support. If you need more variation, use different weights and sizes within the same family rather than more typefaces. Stay away from italic fonts (hard to read) and underlining fonts (denotes linkable text online).
Use minimal colors. Stay with your logo color(s). Choose an action color (usually a warm or hot color) to stand out. Use only for major call-outs and attention-grabbing accents. Add neutrals for larger areas of color to keep attention focused on accented calls-to-action. Neutrals will also keep your framework and graphical user interface flexible when it comes to supporting photography, illustrations, product shots, texture, navigation, and other visual elements on pages.
Find a visual device. Then reuse it to effectively create a feeling of consistency. This could be a shape or a curve that gets repeated. It could be a texture or photo treatment. It could be a messaging style, a gradient, or an effective typographic treatment for key messaging. Repetition creates a consistent experience, but don't go overboard. Too much of a good thing will detract from initial intent.
Create visual contrast. Make the important element stand out the most. Use color, white space, shape, size, placement, etc. Make less important elements less visual. The more items you have standing out in your layout, the more confusing it is for the user to know where to look. Focus gets lost, and the visitor's experience suffers.
Don't get too fancy. If using Flash or multimedia, give users the ability to skip intros and avoid long periods of non-interactive monologue. Don't rely on multimedia as the sole method to trigger a KPI or funnel users to success events. Always have another path to success; otherwise, you reduce your chances of achieving goals and, in most cases, remain invisible to search engines and site analytics.
Employ balanced site architecture. Include no more than six to eight main sections in your global navigation and no more than three to four levels of vertical navigation. Having too many main navigation sections leads to a shallow site with too many choices and a cluttered interface. Having too many sub-navigation levels leads to a site that's too deep and requires too many clicks to get to key page content. Support site goals and KPI success by leveraging strong and consistent information architecture. Information architecture should lead users to trigger events and move traffic forward in conversion funnels and information mining.
Use other online design best practices. Keep global elements in the same spot on all pages. Keep navigation consistent. Avoid left-right scrolling. Keep most important information above the fold. Balance text and graphics, and let HTML text drive organic search. Keep download times down, design for multiple browsers, and stick with a template system in which related elements are together and repeated items are located in the same place from page to page. You can ditch the "http://" in link titles, as well as underlining text links. Keep the "click here" text to a minimum as well.
Keep your eye on the goals. Navigation, callouts, color, typeface, texture, negative space, copy, photography, and any other design tool or page element should support moving traffic to the pre-defined key pages associated with your business goals. Lead users to trigger events more effectively, and your success score will soar.
The user comes first
Respect your audience by providing clear, relevant, and actionable content within an intuitive interface. Manage user expectations and remain consistent with the events that occur after interaction takes place.
- Be a resource of valuable content for your audience.
- Give your visitor the tools to advocate for you.
- Keep your content fresh and updated.
- Post regularly -- stay engaged.
- Know your user's online and technical capabilities and design accordingly.
- Segment your audience and create custom experiences for each group.
Great calls-to-action are prominent within the visual hierarchy, relevant to associated content, and communicate a clear benefit to clicking. They don't have to be giant buttons with drop shadows, but they do need to stand out from the rest of the page elements.
- Allow your audience to subscribe to feeds, newsletters, and emails.
- Become a social networker.
- Gather marketing information when asking for contact info -- use it in future campaigns.
- If possible, engage in a multi-touch approach and ask for information in smaller chunks.
Design for today but anticipate tomorrow
The web is a living medium. It isn't like print design, where once the ink hits the paper you're done. Change is the only constant, so design your site so it's plumbed for the future.
As campaigns change, goals are redefined and content is revised, so make sure your interface is flexible enough to accommodate these alterations. Make room for that extra main section. Design areas so they can expand with more content or contract with less. Set up sub-navigation for worst-case scenarios so you don't paint yourself into a corner. If you can anticipate change, your design is less likely to get caught off-guard.
Throw a party to remember
Use the advice above as a set of guidelines rather than absolutes -- but treat them as rules, not as exceptions. Know when to break these rules and realize that rule-breaking occurs less frequently than rule-following.
Initially, design is subjective. But the beauty of the web is that most design decisions are measurable. Remain rational and agnostic. Go with best practices and learn from large brands that share similar online goals and strategies. Always test and implement your findings so that you're gradually moving toward the optimal combination of tactics and execution. Once your online space is ready for those masses, then spend the money to get traffic there and throw a more successful and cost-effective "party."
JJ Bannasch, who authored the portion of this article dealing with driving traffic through paid search, is a media planner with Geary Interactive. Dan Bucko and Grant Reinero were responsible for the section on converting traffic via proper design. They are senior art directors at Geary.
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