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Three Perils with Search Landing Pages

by Jared M. Spool
on December 15, 2009

It had been going so well. The shopper, a grandmother looking for a
holiday gift for her two grandsons, had decided to buy a Wii video
game the boys really wanted: The Beatles: Rock Band.

In Google’s search box, she typed “wii beatles rock band”, following
the instructions the boys’ dad had given her, which produced many
promising results. Being a loyal Kmart shopper, she was excited when
Kmart’s site showed up in the sponsored listings and clicked on the
link without any hesitation.


Kmart’s Landing Page for The Beatles: Rock Band.

That’s where the problem started.

The Peril Of Giving Them More Than They Ask For

The shopper found multiple choices for her desired game, all looking
remarkably similar. While the Wii version was right there, she chose
the Xbox 360 version, because it was first.

We let her continue with her shopping, finally stopping her during
the checkout process, to see if she detected her mistake. (We
weren’t supposed to do that — our test protocol said we should let
people buy everything — but she was very nice and we couldn’t stand
seeing her make a mistake.)

Later, she explained she didn’t know anything about video games. It
never occurred to her that there would be different versions and she
needed to carefully choose.

We asked, what would’ve happened if we hadn’t stopped her? Turns
out, she would’ve given the boys their gift, only to discover it
wouldn’t work in their game system. Along with the immediate
disappointment of not having a working present, they’d go through
the frustration of returning and exchanging it. The whole experience
was far from a positive one.

K-mart choices

The shopper specified Wii but got other Xbox & PS3 games too.

Our shopper had made an honest mistake. After all, she specified
that she wanted a Wii game when she typed the query into Google.

Kmart seemed to understand other elements of her query. The site
only provided the Beatles game, not any other variations of Rock
Band or Guitar Hero or any other Wii games. The site, confident on
every other attribute in her query, decided to waver on the
platform, presenting a decision our shopper didn’t know she needed
to make.


Target also displays different versions of the game.

Kmart isn’t alone with this problem. The same query picks up a
similar result at the Target site. And, like Kmart, the Wii version,
though specified in the query, doesn’t appear as the first choice —
this time it’s the Playstation 3 version.

Google ads

Many sponsored ads barely matched the query at all.

Part of this problem is caused by sponsored ads that aren’t matching
the query. In the results our shopper received, only one from Yahoo!
Shopping seemed to match the query directly. The others were taking
liberties with one attribute or another. (Barnes & Noble’s ad was
for Wii game systems — not the Rock Band game at all.) These
companies are paying for clicks on ads, which are inevitably not
producing great results. In the mild case, the user is abandoning
after the click, only to hit the back button and go somewhere else
— costing the site the cost of the unconverted click.

However, in the severe case, like what we saw with our shopper, they
make the purchase. The shopper is then left to wonder how things
became messed up, while trying to fix it. This can only hurt that
customer’s engagement with the brand and will rack up preventable
customer service costs.

The Peril of Not Giving Them Enough Help

Responding to the query “wii games”, Radio Shack seems to have them
all – 1,710 games for the Wii.

Radio Shack

Radio Shack offers up 1,710 games for the Wii.

A shopping site with hundreds of games is great — it’s nice to have
selection. But how does someone choose?

Had the shopper already had a game in mind, they probably would’ve
typed some variant of the title into search. Yet our shopper typed
in a very generic query – “wii games”. When we asked why he chose
that query, he said he didn’t know which game he wanted and was
hoping the site would help him choose.

Radio Shack’s response is a list, in order by price, of all their
games. It didn’t try to show the hot games, or the newest,
unlikely-to-be-already-owned games. It left that up to the shopper,
who was unequipped to make the decision.

The result: the shopper left the site with an unconverted ad click,
not happy with Radio Shack.

The Peril of Missing the Mark Completely

Online Shopping isn’t the only place where we see issues with search
landing pages.

Recently, we met up with a gentleman who was considering changing
careers to become a lawyer. As an engineer, he’d been filing bunches
of patents and realized he found the legal aspects more interesting
than the engineering portions.

We were excited when we had the chance to watch him start his search
for a law school in Boston, where he could attend classes in the
evenings while keeping his day job. His search query was “law school
nights Boston.” A reasonable query for someone looking for exactly
those things.

One of the first links to catch his attention was for a school
called Argosy University. He commented that he was surprised, since
he thought he knew all the Boston schools, and this piqued his


Argosy’s landing page has nothing to do with Law or Boston.

It took a few minutes for the user to realize the site didn’t have
anything about law studies on it. Nor did it have a Boston campus.
(The nearest campus was Washington, DC.)

Returning to Google’s search results, the next choice was an
organization that sounded more promising:


Lawline’s landing page isn’t for law school students, only lawyers.

Unfortunately, Lawline only offers CLEs, which — though the site
doesn’t tell you this — are continuing legal education courses, for
practicing lawyers needing to renew their license. There’s nothing
on the site for someone who wants to become a lawyer.

In both these cases, the sites paid a decent amount of money to end
up with the top results, only to have it completely miss the mark
for the user. Asking the Right Questions

Creating a successful landing page starts with asking the right
questions. What is the query trying to tell you about the user? What
are they looking for?


Cooley’s landing page.’s landing page almost does a nice job. It explains the
school, when classes start, what the required and elective courses
are, and how to apply — all the things someone considering a new
education might be interested in.

Again, the only problem is that Cooley isn’t in Massachusetts (even
though their Google Ad implied they were) — they’re in Michigan.

Any decent analytics program will tell you the queries that are
coming into your site. The best teams regularly inspect the top
queries, determine what those users are seeking, then check their
landing pages to ensure they’re delivering it. They carefully prune
out ads that are missing the mark, and they make sure they are
getting the most for their search advertising dollar.

More on Search

In addition to sponsored links, you also need to take care of your organic search
results. We have a great virtual seminar recording to help you with this issue. Shari Thurow
shares critical tips and techniques for getting the most from your search optimization efforts. Get more details on her webinar When Search Meets Web

How do you determine what ads to show when search is involved? Share your thoughts on UIE’s blog.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is the founder of User Interface Engineering. He spends his time working with the research teams at the company and helps clients understand how to solve their design problems. You can follow Jared on Twitter at @jmspool.