Jul 01 2006

Landing Page Optimization

Using SEO to Build Search Referrals

So, the CEO thinks your company Web site is optimized to attract search engine traffic because when he types the company name into Google your home page is listed at the top of the search results.

Of course, that's an important (if sometimes effortless) achievement. But unless you're Home Depot or McDonalds, don't count on your brand name as your main source of search engine traffic. Consider this: The term "office furniture" gets searched 15 times more often than "Herman Miller," and "car insurance" gets queried 22 times for each "GEICO" search.

In fact, brand-specific search phrases get only a tiny fraction of category-specific searches. Most important, searches on specific phrases are often conducted by Web surfers who are researching a purchasing decision or hunting for providers of products or services.

Effective search engine optimization (SEO) can drive new Web site traffic based on popular industry search phrases, but the best practices of SEO are effective only by using the right keyword phrases, on the right pages and in the right manner. Gone are the days when stuffing a bunch of keywords on a page generated Web traffic. Today it requires a disciplined program that includes thorough keyword analysis, smart SEO copywriting tactics and a good understanding of landing page optimization.

Word Smarts

To receive a healthy stream of search engine traffic, you need to know what potential customers are searching for. Too often, the words we use to refer to products or services are not the words that people actually type into Google's search field. The vernacular of trade shows and whitepapers typically is used more by industry insiders than prospective customers.

For companies like Opalis, a Toronto maker of server maintenance software, keyword research is essential for staying on top of the industry's constantly changing naming conventions. A software category called "enterprise application integration" yesterday may be known today as "data center automation." In dynamic markets, keyword research demands vigilance.

"We need to stay on top of what people are searching for in our industry," says Mike Tindal, vice president of marketing for Opalis. "Our keyword research gives us a quantitative overview of how frequently Web searchers are using a broad set of industry terms and enables us to strategically position our Web pages to meet their information needs."

Keyword research begins with collection. First, gather potential search terms from wherever they can be found: industry publications, marketing materials, subject matter experts and competitors' Web sites. Add some quick and easy customer insights to your sample. Ask some current customers to describe your products or services in generic terms, then ask them what search phrases they'd use to find companies such as yours on the Web.

With these phrases you can explore stem variations using tools like Yahoo's keyword research tool [http://inventory.overture.com]. Say your company sells business intelligence software. If you type "business intelligence" into the Overture tool — a phrase searched 37,538 times in Yahoo during May — you'll learn that this highly competitive term has many longer variants, such as "business intelligence tool" (486 entries). Scroll down and you'll find less predictable phrases, such as "business intelligence learning organizational," which generated 134 searches that same month (see screen image). You'll find gems in these long search strings, phrases that generate highly targeted traffic and that often exist below your competitors' radar.

More sophisticated research would look at additional factors. The Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI) is a statistical measure that compares search frequency to the number of competing pages. It helps identify good optimization opportunities where search volume is high and the number of matching Web pages is low. Monitoring historical KEI tracking data over time can also be valuable, and is particularly effective for spotting seasonal trends. Misspellings are another consideration. Obviously, you don't want to embed misspelled words in your page, but a misspelling is a wonderful way to target pay-per-click advertising programs.

Get a Map

With keyword research in hand, you're ready to choose specific landing pages on your site to optimize for search phrases. But keep several tips in mind:

  • Stay focused: Optimize a page for one or two search phrases, not 10.
  • Start small: Don't go for the number one result for a highly competitive search phrase such as "real estate." Real estate is simply too competitive; you'll frustrate yourself with the lack of results. If you initially aim for longer search strings, you can gradually work your way up to high-volume root phrases.
  • Choose pages carefully: You don't need to spend a lot of time optimizing every page of your site. There are SEO best practices that you can apply to all pages, but you'll want to focus on the select few with the greatest potential for search referrals.
  • Search high and low: Some of the pages you target for optimization may not necessarily be the top pages in your site architecture. This happened when RealSuite launched a new site to support its real estate management software. The site hosts popular industry research on outsourced real estate technology options. Although these pages were deep within the site, the team recognized them as a potential doorway for many visitors coming from search engines or links from other sites. "We needed to turn the Web site hierarchy upside down and look at the site from different angles," says Mark Marquis, vice president of e-business for the Markham, Ontario, company. "We recognized the value of this content and wanted to make sure these pages were highly relevant for some very specific search phrases."

Considering this, map your selected search phrases to the pages on your site that offer the most suitable content. This step is good litmus test for the validity of your site's information design. It often turns up glaring gaps because you may find you don't have a Web page that matches a popular search term relevant to your business. Landing page mapping is an opportunity to spot and address such gaps.

Ready for Landing

Multiple factors affect how search engines rank pages. Some on-page elements to consider:

  • Title tag: Discreetly nestled in the blue bar at the top of your browser, the title tag often goes unnoticed, but the words in it are most important to the relevancy of search engines. Try to work your keyword phrases into a cohesive title that is easy to understand. For instance, a good title tag for this article (viewed as a Web page) would be "Landing Page Optimization: Using search engine optimization (SEO) to drive search referrals."
  • Description: It's not the biggest factor for search algorithms, but the description is often what ends up displayed on search engine results pages. Testing shows that users scan SERPs at a rapid pace — less than one second per search listing — and make their clicking decisions based on quick impressions of the content. The description is a key factor in this impression. For this article, a good description might read, "A guide to landing page optimization: Practical advice on using search engine optimization to boost your Web site traffic."
  • Headings: H1 titles and headers used on a page are significant. Keywords used in these areas will boost perceived relevancy. "Landing Page Optimization" would be appropriate for an H1 or H2 header for this article.
  • Body links: The text of the links on the page can help determine a page's relevance ranking for specific keywords. Links used in the main body copy carry more weight than those in navigational elements, such as a typical footer. Use descriptive keywords in all links rather than phrases such as "click here" or "read more."

Finally, there are some statistical measures for SEO copywriters to consider. Keyword density is the ratio of keywords compared to other words on the page. The recommended range is 2 percent to 8 percent. Keyword frequency is the number of times a keyword is repeated on a page. Keyword prominence measures how close your keywords are to the beginning of a sentence, title or metatag. There are tools online to help you with measuring, such as a free keyword density analyzer [http://www.ranks.nl/tools/spider.html].

With time and energy, you can make your Web site more of a lure and relevant to search engine queries. The trick is persistence.


Dan Skeen is the director of search engine marketing at Quarry, an integrated communications agency headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario.

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