Testing Short vs Long-form Landing Pages for PPC Search and Display Ads in Student Recruitment
Higher Education Marketing

Testing Short vs Long-form Landing Pages for PPC Search and Display Ads in Student Recruitment

Date posted: August 4, 2015

landing pages1

There is considerable debate in the online marketing world these days about the merits of short vs long form PPC landing pages. Depending on who you are talking to or reading you can find compelling logic on all sides of this argument, with lots of examples and statistics to prove their points of view. Personally, I think the argument itself is rather silly and that there is an appropriate time to use both. I believe it’s not a question of which is better, rather a question of when to use which.

Here is an good example of a long page landing form (be prepared to scroll).

long landing page example

The goal of a landing page is to convert a prospective student visiting your website into a lead, drawing them into your recruitment funnel. The effectiveness of a PPC ad, (be it search, display or retargeting) and its respective landing page, (be it short, long, microsite, or general web page) is directly related to how well they relate to the mindset and needs of the visitor at that particular moment in their search or user experience. If the combined message of the ad and landing page resonates strongly enough with the visitor, they will convert.

In a recent post, contrasting Search vs Display PPC campaigns, we examined the very different personalities of these two types of PPC advertising and provided some insights into how you might best apply them as tactics within your recruitment marketing activities, along with likely performance outcomes.

To recap, Individuals clicking on search network ads are typically looking for info about specific programs of interest, using fairly precise program level keywords, and have a relatively high intent to seek and find this information. These campaigns typically run at a relatively high cost per click and convert at a rate of somewhere in the range of 5-10 %. These inbound, permission-based clicks typically produce a reasonably good quality of lead. (Lead quality is defined by its likelihood of conversion to an enrolled student)

Conversely, Display network ads interrupt an individual’s search for something other than your program, but that is nonetheless related to your ad’s keywords. They have come across your ad “by accident”, and have clicked through, but have relatively low intent to obtain your information. Typically these campaigns run at a relatively low cost per click, convert at a rate of somewhere between .5 and 1 %, and generally produce a lead of relatively lower quality.

So how do long form versus short form landing pages affect typical Search vs Display PPC campaign performance?

Surprisingly there is very little research or even anecdotal information around this question available online. I searched pretty hard to find related research and answers, but when we came up dry, we decided to conduct our own experiment with the following result. Unfortunately, we can’t share the school’s actual landing pages at this time but here is a summary of conversion results I obtained through standard A/B testing of the short vs long form landing pages.

landing page test

Search network results

Much to my surprise, the long form page converted at almost 2 times the rate of the short form page on the Search network.  Our interpretation of this is that these very directed, highly motivated searchers benefited from the increased amount of information and perceived trust built by the long form. Incidentally, the form contained multiple calls to action throughout the form, and included video content for improved engagement. These results need to be further tested but on first blush they argue for the use of long page forms in student recruitment.

Display Network results

The introduction of the long form landing page produced a decrease in conversion rate by over 30% on the Display network. Our interpretation of this result is that Display network ad visitors were not interested, and in fact, were deterred by the additional information made available in the long form page, producing a 1/3 drop in conversions.  These results suggest further testing ideas for the short form on the Display network, including a reduction in form fields and a focus on feature and benefits which strike a more emotional cord, so as to appeal to the spontaneous nature of the Display network visitor.

In conclusion, we are pretty optimistic about long form pages for the search network but clearly more testing is required to reconfirm these results. Before you get too excited and go try this for yourself please use caution and make sure you clearly understand the target personas of your campaigns, and make sure you deeply understand their needs, state of mind, and relative position in your funnel to get best results.

We would very much like to hear from any of you who have experimented with different landing pages across the Search and Content networks to get your insights. Did you get similar results? Any other short form page insights that we could all benefit from?