Dynamic Publishing and Search. Do it wrong and it won’t be pretty.
Historically, search engines have either ignored or punished publishers of dynamic content.
Ignorance is bliss. Back in the day, it was common for Google and the other search engines to skip over pages that were produced dynamically. So if your page included a Session ID number or “?” as part of its URL – your page would get ignored.
Punishment comes next. These days, dynamic content thankfully doesn’t get ignored but it may get punished. The big thing to guard against is presenting your dynamic content in a way that Google finds deceptive or invasive. Be particularly careful about tactics that can end up hijacking users. Even well meaning publishers can hijack users without meaning to.
But officer, I didn’t mean to hijack that plane. Consider a publisher who sells cloud-based solutions into three verticals segments: A, B, and C. The publisher here starts by creating three different landing pages, one for Vertical A, one for Vertical B, and one for Vertical C. Each landing page speaks to the benefits of the technology a little differently and each presents a different case study, one tailored to the needs of the specific vertical. This scenario is very common in our work at Open Marketing and won’t run into any problems from a search perspective.
Now someone at the publisher decides the program would be more efficient if the landing pages were generated dynamically … say by looking up the visitor’s IP address, figuring out what industry sector they come, and sending the resulting visitor to a specially crafted landing page based on the information gleaned from the IP address.
Most programs like this measure results based on conversion, the percentage of visitors to the page that end up downloading the offer. If you design and implement a program like the one we’ve described, you will see conversion rates go up by 40-50%.
Why Conversion Rates Go Up
Conversion rates go up for two reasons.
First, you’ve reduced the amount of data you need to capture on the page. And this tends to increase conversion. (By doing the reverse IP look up, you can figure out what segment the visitor is from and eliminate the need to ask them this question.)
Second, you can craft a page that is more persuasive. Instead of words, images, and endorsements, you can use words, images, and endorsements that are specific to the industry segment.
So overall, using dynamic publishing to create landing pages sounds like a winner, right?
Well. Not exactly.
There’s just one teeny tinny problem. It’s called Google.
At the current time, Google does not like this program at all. It will penalize you by pushing your pages down – way down – in search engine results (SERP). And studies repeatedly show that it pays to be ranked on the first page of SERP (60% of total click throughs) and above the fold on the first page (80% of click throughs).
Why Google Thinks This Program Isn’t Kosher
The way people at Google operate is that they are always thinking about things from the perspective of visitors to their search engine and your web pages.
If you start thinking about your dynamic publishing project from this perspective you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches.
With this in mind, it should be obvious how the program we just described got in trouble. What got indexed in search was the generic landing page. But where the visitor ended up when they clicked on a search term was someplace entirely different. Effectively the visitor got hijacked! And therein lies the problem.
Google considers itself an advocate for the visitor to your content. So as a publisher of dynamic content, you need to bend over backwards to avoid what it calls “deceptive or invasive” practices.
Dynamic Content Done Right
Can you use IP look up (or any other factor that you can “know” and look up about your visitor in real time) as the basis of your dynamic content program? Absolutely.
But to do it right, you need to keep most of the content on the page static and vary only 15-20% of the content.
We fielded just such a program on behalf of one of our clients that sold a $10,000 product direct to homeowners. We used reverse IP look up to take traffic and deliver it to different landing pages based on the geo-location of the visitor. We varied ONLY 3 elements on the page based on geo-location:
- The brand name
- The 800# provided
- The offer
Together these three elements represented less than 15% – 20% of the content.
We were very careful with our branded search terms to make sure that people who clicked on “Brand A” (the brand in California) were not sent to a page for “Brand B” (the brand in Colorado) even if that person came from an IP address that happened to come from Colorado. Why? To avoid hijacking the user. So someone vacationing in Colorado who clicked on Brand A would get to Brand A. Each and every time. Although their IP address “said” they were from Colorado.
Also, we were careful to make sure that more than 60% of the content on the page remained the same regardless of the results of the IP look up – this 60% included copy and visuals discussing the benefits of the product being sold.
While it’s always hard to anticipate how the powers that be at Google will respond to a dynamic publishing program, the best advice we can give you is to keep the visitor and his or her needs in mind. By doing this with the program outlined above, we were able to field a strong program, one that ranked well in search engine results and also drove the results we needed in terms of lead flow.
One thing people won’t tell you is that dynamic publishing projects that include search are likely to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your technology infrastructure requirements. Most web-based CMS programs don’t include all the elements you will need to track your program in the kind of detail you will need to make decisions about how to vary your content so as to drive incremental results. For the program just described, we needed to source and integrate three distinct systems:
- Web-based call tracking
- Reverse IP geo-location system
- Lead distribution system
None of these systems were in place before we started. Sourcing vendors is one skill; integration another. Along the way, lots of little things can and will go wrong. Give yourself plenty-o-time to get the infrastructure in place before you need to go live with your dynamic publishing search project.
Dynamic publishing. Yes you can do it in a way that is search-engine friendly. Start by thinking through what you are doing from the point of view of the visitor. Never hijack visitors; make sure that when a visitor clicks on a particular search term they end up on a destination related to those terms. Think through your technology infrastructure needs in advance. And put in place a testing plan. Often small changes in execution can and will add up to big differences in conversion rates, in ways you might not have anticipated. The only way to figure this out is if you are always testing something. Big. Small. And In between.