Fixing the Destination URL Money Pit in Paid Search

Search engines continue to unveil impressive and innovative bells and whistles to help search advertisers continue improving results, and some harness them masterfully. Still, it never ceases to amaze me that even the most sophisticated search advertisers can achieve major gains by applying scale to some of the oldest rules in the search advertising playbook.

Consider this paid search standby: make sure the destination URLs in your ads do not frustrate searchers with 404/Page Not Found errors, too many redirects or slow loading pages.

One leading multichannel retailer recently identified landing page errors like these that were on pace to cost the company more than $120,000 in wasted ad spend in just a week’s time. The retailer estimated this would have led to more than $250,000 in lost potential sales revenue had the problems not been corrected.

Some marketers advocate lessening the blow of 404 errors by using bandages, a humorous 404 landing page for example. Serious multichannel search advertisers managing thousands of SKUs should audit the damage being done and they’ll quickly determine this to be inadequate.

Why not fix the problem correctly? Motivating to fix the problem first requires understanding the problem and the corresponding consequences. By slowing down and degrading the user experience, redirects and 404 errors don’t just frustrate a retailer’s customers. Left unchecked, they also harm search engine quality scores, cause conversion rates to lag, waste budget dollars and lose sales.

Particularly for retailers with large search ad campaigns, it’s still very common to advertise products that no longer exist or are not in stock or point ads to outdated page links. When campaigns make money hand over fist, these losses can seem negligible. Plus, humans need automated assistance or enormous teams to pull this off at scale.

Organizing a fix
Those hoping to correct the problem, stop frustrating users and recoup lost dollars can start by organizing and prioritizing an effort to validate all destination URLs in their paid search campaigns. They should check the highest priority destination URLs and associated landing pages first and most often. These belong to the ads with the largest budgets, representing the greatest potential for cost savings or wasted spend.

With an initial audit complete, maintenance mode should extend high priority classification to landing pages changed within the last 15, 30 and 60 days. This will take the effort beyond attempting to identify expired landing pages and also help to avoid human errors.

What to check
During URL validations, retailers should first and foremost ensure the links work and take people to live pages. They should also make sure the destination URL used in the ad is the actual URL of the landing page to avoid costly and time consuming redirects. If they don’t match, the ad should be updated to include the actual landing page URL. Retailers should also be sure page content matches ad copy. An ad touting a type of camera should take the searcher to a page about that camera, for example.

Retailers with small campaigns could try tackling the effort on their own. Google Webmaster Tools offers a broken link tool that can help. Temporary extra staff might be required, even for small programs, depending on the extent of the problem.

Most retailers with monthly budgets in excess of $100,000 or keyword portfolios exceeding 100,000 keywords will require other arrangements. Additional permanent staff could add bandwidth to help overcome the problem, but new automated tools can perform the bulk of the heavy lifting by automating the process of prioritizing the ongoing link audit and triggering alerts about or automatically fixing problematic links.

Geoff Shenk is managing director of the Americas for Kenshoo.