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Are Landing Pages the New Keywords?

Stu Eddins

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Part of the series Landing Pages Can Make or Break LeadGen Marketing

Do keywords still matter? If you look at Google’s articles and actions over the last several years, campaign targeting has moved away from simply matching keywords and towards matching context. In marketing, context is the user, their search query, and the content provided on the landing page.

Here’s how Google’s policy has changed over the last seven years:

  • In 2017, Google Ads changed “exact match” keywords to allowing ads to serve close variants. A search for “lawn mowing service” would now match your campaign’s exact match keyword target “lawn cutting service.” The exact-ish match is born.
  • In 2021, the Ads platform removed “modified broad match” as a keyword option. We were told to embrace full broad match keywords paired with AI-driven campaign bidding. With broad match for example, targeting the keyword “grass cutting” can match to searches for “lawn care.”
  • In late 2023, Google replaced keyword targets in most Performance Max campaigns with search themes. A “search theme” is a plain language description of what the target audience might search for. For example, instead of “business accounting program” as a keyword target, a search theme is a full descriptive sentence that aligns with how your target searches, such as “best business programs near me with an accounting specialty.”

Context is King

Google hasn’t been a keyword-driven search tool for many years. When someone uses search, Google uses AI-driven algorithms to:

  • Consider and weigh hundreds of factors (aka “signals”) which may include the user’s recent search and browsing history, physical location, and other details, right down to their recent behavior between using forms versus click-to-call.
  • Assess the content of all the possible answer pages and rank them according to how relevant each page is to the user and the search query.

Only then does Google serve up ads and blue links. In other words, Google Search returns results based on overall relevance and context, not just because the search user entered words an advertiser wants to target.

Relevant Content Wins

It’s important to clarify that as of this writing, keywords are not dead. Keywords in advertising still have power. But currently, they act more like strong indicators and suggestions rather than explicit instructions.

Today’s ad platforms don’t just scan pages for keyword matches, they understand the context of your landing pages. Even if search engines don’t (yet) have a human-level understanding, they comprehend enough to determine if the page answers the user’s search query.

For an ad to be served, the campaign’s keywords AND landing page content need to align with the context of the user (those 200+ signals) and the search query they entered.

“Mostly align” is closer to the truth. Google will happily take your ad click money if your campaign targeting is in the ballpark of the search user’s intent, but you’re going to pay for that privilege. Sometimes, you’re going to pay a lot.

The Cost-Per-Click Penalty

Every campaign ad gets ranked. Those with low rank might still be served, but to win ad auctions low-ranking campaigns must bid more money per click to have a chance against better-ranking competitors. It’s in your best interest to create a landing page that matches your user’s search queries.

Consider this scenario we found after taking over a client account:

The college had a generic landing page dedicated to earning new students for its programs. The page had content about:

  • The college itself
  • Available grants
  • Campus amenities
  • Ease of registration
  • A bulleted list of nine specific programs including business and education degrees

The college had a Search campaign with two main target audiences:

  • People looking for colleges in the same county, often searching with the college’s brand name
  • People searching for each of the nine programs in the bullet list

The average cost of the ad clicks tells the story about the landing page.

  • High relevance traffic: For visitors who arrived from generic “college near me” searches or branded searches, the average cost per ad click was $2.34.
  • Low relevance traffic: Ad clicks based on the nine specific programs had an average cost of $12.59.

In three months, the campaign spent the same amount of money on both audience types, but the “near me” and branded ad traffic generated 1,278 leads while degree traffic earned only 40 leads. Because the landing page didn’t support the program-related ads, cost per conversion was 32X higher for the ads that targeted specific degrees.

What went wrong here? Effectively, the landing page didn’t have enough high-quality content for those nine bulleted programs. Targeting ads to programs or audiences not supported by content on the landing page will have a much higher cost while producing far fewer conversions.

Landing Page Content—Best Practice

Given that today’s AI-driven campaigns rely on the content of the landing page to target ads, we need to make sure:

  • Campaigns don’t overreach the information presented on the landing page. In our example, the ads targeting people searching for the nine specific programs weren’t supported by the landing page.
  • The content on the landing page answers the prospect’s questions. It’s not enough to mention that you offer the program or service, you need to present information that relates to questions a prospect would naturally have. The page needs to be about the offering, not about your organization in general.

Landing pages really are the new keywords. With informative and well-defined content these pages can be even more powerful in reaching the right prospect, at the right time, with the right message.

Ready to rock the landing page for your next campaign?

Stamats digital experts can help you strike the right message and strategy to create landing pages that convert.