One challenge that large paid search advertisers inevitably face, especially when they aren’t the same group that builds the website that the traffic is ultimately being driven to, is keeping up with landing page URL's. If the website owners move or remove a web page that you are paying to drive people to without telling anyone, it can lead to missed opportunity, extra costs and a terrible online experience for your potential customers. Unfortunately, despite all the technology that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have, they don't make it easy to pinpoint when this is occurring.
Keeping up with smaller accounts isn't much of an issue; or even larger accounts where you drive the majority of traffic to one destination page. The challenge can come with large retail or information driven websites where you could have hundreds of thousands of keywords driving to thousands of different landing pages. There are two quick and easy ways I use to keep up with our web development teams, even when kept in the information vacuum.
Using Analytics To Keep Track of URL's
The first way is to leverage your web analytics system. Regardless of whether you use an expensive system like Omniture or CoreMetrics, or you use a free system like Google Analytics, as long as it is setup correctly, you should be able to find information on your "Page Not Found" or "Error Pages", and focus in on how consumers are getting there. With Omniture, I set a custom dashboard report up that displays all referring URL's from "google.com/search", "search.yahoo.com" and "search.live.com" that is landing on an error page. What's nice about this is that the referring URL's usually contain the keyword, and I can narrow down the exact placement that is causing issues.
Spider Your Paid Search Landing Pages
The above method is solid, but it's reactionary. It turns my stomach to even see one entry in that report as it means a consumer clicked on an ad and landed on a bad page. A more proactive approach would be to use a program like Xenu Link Sleuth, a free website spider, to crawl your landing page URL's. Here is my approach to this:
- Download a bulk sheet from the search engines and place it into an Excel worksheet
- Copy the landing page URL's from Excel and paste them into a notepad text file, and save the file
- Open Xenu Link Sleuth and change the level of spidering to zero under the preferences setting. This keeps Xenu from spidering the entire website.
- Using Xenu's "Check File List" option from the File menu, I load the text file of landing pages and let Xenu do its thing. It will return OK if the page exists, and NOT FOUND if it doesn't.
- Export the results of your spider run, and pull them into another tab within your original Excel worksheet.
- Use VLOOKUP functions in Excel to bring a "Landing Page Status" column to the original bulk sheet.
Neither of the above solutions is perfect, as both require that your website be setup correctly in regards to analytics and returning the correct 404 response code if a page doesn't exist. I haven't been able to find an easy solution to handling situations where error pages return the wrong code, redirect you to different working page, or just simply pulling in page titles in order to determine if you are driving someone to the wrong page. I wrote a program specifically to check for these last three issues and if you want to keep your accounts that clean, that may be the best alternative. For most accounts however, the above should help you keep the wheels greased and moving!