When experienced marketers start building landing pages for a new campaign, they’re usually building them with on-demand traffic in mind—PPC ads, social media, email. Organic traffic is more than welcome to join the party, but it’s not going to get a special invitation.
That’s with good reason. There are two factors that make paid and on-demand traffic the most natural fit for most landing pages.
- Organic traffic can seem less predictable. You’re often designing a landing page for a very specific audience, and when you’re able to control the boundaries of that audience you can usually expect a higher conversion rate.
- Organic traffic can seem slow. The goals for a landing page campaign are usually short-term by nature, while dealing with SEO and obtaining high-quality organic traffic from scratch takes time.
On the other hand, there can be some very good (and often overlooked) reasons to search-optimize your landing pages. Specifically:
- Organic traffic is cheap. I won’t say it’s 100% free, exactly—after all, it still takes a time investment to get SEO right. But given that the vast majority of clicks on SERPs still go to organic results, it’s worth trying to get your landing pages optimized if you spot an opportunity. (More on identifying those opportunities later.)
- Organic traffic is perfect for evergreen offers. If your page offers something that’s perpetually relevant to your audience and beneficial to your business, it definitely pays to maximize the work you put into it by making a play for organic traffic.
Even if you’re not looking for either of these benefits right now, there are still a few things about SEO that every marketer who uses landing pages needs to know.
SEO, of course, is a behemoth and ever-morphing topic, and it’s no mark against you as a well-rounded marketer if you need a little SEO help from time to time. I recently sat down with Leadpages’ Director of Customer Acquisition, Josh Braaten, to get his take on combining SEO and landing pages.
Josh jumped into the SEO world feet first almost a decade ago when he decided to become the SEO expert the ecommerce company he worked for didn’t have. I asked Josh to tell me everything I needed to know—and, just as important, to skip over everything I didn’t—regarding SEO and landing pages.
Here are what he identified as the six most important principles to remember.
1. Think carefully about where you publish
“One of the biggest misconceptions about landing pages and SEO is that all pages should be doing the same things,” Josh notes. “Campaign-based content and evergreen content have different goals, and they need to be set up differently in terms of SEO. That begins with where you publish the landing page.”
- Campaign-based landing pages: If you are running a short-term campaign, do yourself a favor and take the easy road. Publish your opt-in page, launch page, or webinar page wherever it’s most convenient, which might be a subdomain on your main site or even to your Leadpages subdomain. You do not need to build this campaign into your main site or worry about getting the page to rank, since you will send targeted traffic to this from an on-demand source (such as paid media, email, or Facebook ads).
Very brief, time-sensitive content means this page probably doesn’t need to be part of this school’s main site.
- Evergreen landing pages: If you plan to keep a landing page up indefinitely, the page is a good candidate for search-engine optimization. It’s best to publish this page as part of your main website so that it benefits from any domain authority your site has accumulated. If you use Leadpages, you can use either our WordPress plugin or our HTML export function to host pages on your existing site.
2. To index or not to index
“Do not make the costly mistake of indexing a page that has no SEO strategy behind it—or of not indexing a page that you want to rank,” Josh warns.
If you are creating a landing page for a limited-time campaign, you should add a no-index attribute to the meta tag in your header code. Leadpages users can simply check a box to make this happen in the Publish Options section of the new drag-and-drop builder. In the standard page builder, it’s just a matter of dropping a snippet of code into the header tag:
There’s one other category of landing page you should never index: your thank you pages. When these pages are accessible by search, they can really mess up your tracking if you’ve designated them as your conversion goal in platforms such as Google Analytics.
Why else would you not want Google to index a limited-time page? Because depending on content, it might compete or interfere with the search ranking of your permanent website.
For example, say you want to create a mini version of your homepage that’s targeted toward one particular niche, so you create a landing page as a destination for PPC ads. If both are indexed, you might inadvertently end up sending more traffic to your landing page—which was never meant to be seen by everybody.
If you are publishing a landing page to your main website, make sure it’s a page you want to keep around, and then make sure it has appropriate content to support its function as a part of your larger site. “With the Google Panda update, the search engine began to devalue ‘low-quality or thin pages’ and place more emphasis on high-quality, robust websites,” Josh explains. A single campaign-based landing page, optimized for conversion, could be seen as a low-quality page by Google.
3. Avoid publishing duplicative content
When Google released its Panda filter, it intensified its efforts against duplicative content. And if you’re publishing landing pages, there is a strong chance that duplicating content is actually a strategy you’re using—in fact, as a content marketer, I generally recommend it! Repurposing your best content again and again is a great way to keep getting more value without putting in much extra effort.
But Google doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me here. “You need to generally avoid content duplication on indexed pages,” Josh explains.
However, you can still feel free to get the maximum value out of your best stuff by republishing content on pages that aren’t being indexed.
Not sure whether you’ve already used a piece of content on an indexed page? Run your website through a duplicate-page-finder tool like Copyscape to be safe. If you happen to find that someone else took your content, Josh recommends contacting the site owner to ask them to take it down. If they fail to do so, you can file a DMCA takedown notice.
4. Create great content for human users–not search engines
As search engines have become more sophisticated, SEO has gotten more difficult for some marketers and easier for others. The good news is, if you love creating content that is valuable to your audience, you’re in the latter camp.
As Josh explains:
“In the early days of SEO, it was possible to get really good at SEO through gaming Google. With algorithmic updates like Hummingbird and RankBrain, Google replaced a lot of its mechanical signals with signals that are closer to how humans process information. These updates took Google from keywords and semantic connections to a more nuanced model that values great content. Today, SEO is easier for people who put out great content.”
What exactly does it mean to create great content? It starts and ends with your audience. The concept of search intent is crucial here: if your landing page manifestly does a good job of solving a problem for someone who searches for your target keyword(s), you’ll kick off a virtuous cycle.
For one thing, that page will have enough relevant content to be truly useful—which means it’ll naturally contain keywords you can try to rank for. That’s one important signal.
For another, it’ll garner higher clickthrough rates and other engagement signals (longer dwell times, lower bounce rates) than similar but less-helpful content. Evidence continues to mount that Google is leaning on these hard-to-game metrics to determine search ranking.
And finally, a page like this will be likelier to lay claim to a very important ranking signal: backlinks. The more your page is shared and linked to, the higher position you’ll have on the results page.
5. Make your best short-term campaigns evergreen
We’ve established that not everything you do in your business needs an organic page on your website. But how do you decide which pages you should create and spend time optimizing?
Josh suggests treating all of your short-term campaigns as assets that you can continue to optimize and improve, with the potential of the content evolving into something more evergreen: “An efficient and effective content strategy is to take your highest performing landing pages and continue to test them with the on-demand traffic available to you. Learn from your findings and from the best of that, build out organic experiences.”
For example, say you build a landing page to fill up a webinar you’re trying out. You don’t host the page on your own site, and you don’t index it because you don’t want people showing up after it’s over.
On the day of the webinar, you’re delighted to find hundreds of people in the audience. You get a flood of sales in the following days, and the people who weren’t able to attend keep bugging you about when you’re going to hold the next one.
What now? Now you figure out a way to make that webinar into an evergreen offer (perhaps as an on-demand replay, an ongoing series of related webinars, or even as a free course). This time, you host the page on your core site, make sure it’s accessible to search engines and from elsewhere on your site, and perhaps expand the content if it’s likely that visitors from search will need a little more context than the targeted traffic who saw the first offer.
I don’t know if this real-life landing page shown (in part) below followed that trajectory, but it certainly could have:
And sure enough, when you search for some of the primary topics covered here, this page pops up:
One caveat: this page would likely benefit the SEO of the company’s site more if it were published to their main domain.
6. Accept the ever-changing rules
“SEO is an extremely complex discipline, in part because the search engines don’t publish their rules—and on top of that, they’re always re-writing them,” Josh says.
So, how can we attempt to stay up to date on SEO, particularly if SEO is just one tool of many in our marketing toolkit?
The best thing you can do is keep an eye on your own search rankings, and then watch the experts. Josh recommends looking to Moz as well as Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch for updates on the industry.
The good news: at this point in time, it appears that the arc of SEO history is bending toward justice. It still isn’t quite enough to “just create great content.” But as time goes on, Google is learning to value great content nearly as much as your audience does.
Have any questions about landing page SEO? Part of the Leadpages team just got back from the MNSearch Summit search-marketing conference, so we’re full of fresh ideas and info that might help. Ask in the comments!