Creating Effective Landing Pages

Dude holding sales thingysImagine you walked into a car dealership to look at a brand new Hyundai. You’ve wondered if they have the leg room you need. You approach a sales rep and ask if the Hyundai Sonatas have adequate leg room for a big galoot like yourself. The salesperson nods and says that they are surprisingly roomy and then shrugs and walks away.

I imagine you’d feel a bit confused. Our image of car salespeople is that of the consummate closer. In fact, many people avoid car salesmen because of their reputation for aggressive pursuit of the sale.

You walked into the dealership to find information. Having found that information you’re now in a position to take the next step. The fact that the salesperson just walked away instead of suggesting a next step is something akin to malpractice.

While that situation seems absurd in the context of a car dealership, it is surprising how many business people aren’t bothered that their website is doing that every day.

When a visitor comes to your website the very first page they land on is the “landing page.” This is not always your website’s home page. In fact it is very rare that the home page will be very good at converting prospects to paying customers. The best landing pages are specific to the visitor’s interest and intent. Your landing page should answer your visitor’s questions and invite them to go further.

In this article series, we are going to analyze:

  1. What makes a great landing page?
  2. How do we measure the results our landing pages are producing?
  3. How do we optimize our landing pages for maximum engagement and ROI?
  4. What are some best practices and things to avoid when creating a landing page?
  5. What about the confirmation page?

What makes a great landing page?

When we think about building a landing page, the parts that come to mind immediately are things like a compelling headline, scannable copy, interesting images and perhaps even streaming video or other multimedia. While these features are important and challenging, the single most important part of a landing page is the call to action.

What is a Call To Action?

The call to action is the part of the page that asks the visitor to take the next step. For the subset of landing pages called “squeeze pages” that action might be as simple as clicking a link or button. A lead generation page will usually have a form that begins the qualification process. Other landing pages might invite the visitor to download a file, share the page on social networks or email their representative.

Reduce the distractions on your landing pageOne important thing to note is that we are talking about “the” call to action. There are many things a visitor can do when visiting a webpage. One of the most common things they do is click the back button on their browser. Some visitors will do things you could never predict like view your source and attempt to backwards engineer your page or stumble on your contact form to request information on donating her body to an online college (true story)!

The action that you are calling for, or the action you most want your visitor to take, is the call to action.

There is almost never a good reason to attempt to offer more than one action. Visitors prefer to not think too hard about what to do next. Presenting a choice might seem like a great way to serve all types of visitors. Usually, you just end up serving fewer visitors altogether. It is better to have a separate page for that secondary call to action.

For example, if your primary call to action is completing a lead qualification form, asking the visitor to sign up for a newsletter on the same page can only serve to lower your action rate on your primary CTA while muddying your analytics. It is far better to present that secondary action on the confirmation or encore page after the visitor has completed the primary action. If there is a segment of visitors that are responsive to the newsletter form than your primary call to action, you may wish to split that traffic and send them to two different landing pages to get the most out of your visitor flow.

Anything you add to your page besides the call to action has to have a good reason for being there. It’s better to not have a headline than to have a confusing headline or a headline with an irritating grammatical mistake. Skip the stock photo if all you have is a careless or distracting picture. Every element on the page has a job to do and that job is to direct the visitor toward the call to action.

So how do you know which parts are helping and which are hindering conversion on your CTA? You test. You test ruthlessly and objectively. Headlines don’t have baby sub headlines to feed, so you don’t have to feel bad about firing a poor performer.

Parts Of A Landing Page

In order to properly test a landing page, you must be familiar with the parts of the page that you can experiment on. Below you will find a list of the important parts of a landing page. Not every landing page will use each part, but these are the most common elements.

  1. URL or Web Address
    1. The first thing to consider when looking at your landing page URL is all the stuff at the end. Query strings are the accepted way to pass campaign tracking information from an advertising publisher to your analytics. Make sure your links are passing the right information and that your analytics system is consuming and associating that information correctly.
    2. Another purpose your URL serves is to subtly pass information to the visitor about where they’ve landed and that you are trustworthy. Use a domain that doesn’t seem shady or unprofessional.
    3. Requiring an SSL connection is becoming much more common and is necessary if the information you collect is sensitive. landing pages are action oriented
  2. Title
    1. If SEO is part of your marketing strategy, the titles you use are extremely important. For one, the visitors will be selecting which link to click based largely on what the title is promising. If the visitor is looking to buy new headphones the title “How to select the best new headphones” is likely more attractive than “BobsSuperStore.com – Home of the best deals on everything from coffee to band aids!” If the CMS you are using does not allow you to make a unique title on every page of your website, you should fix it or find another.
    2. The meta-description is important for the same reason. It should clearly state what a visitor to your page will find.
    3. Also, your title will show up in the “tab label” area and often in the top bar of the browser. The visitor will be able to see even less of your title here than in the search results. Having your important keywords early in the title is helpful to getting the visitor’s attention back when they wander.
  3. Headline
    1. Your headline is often the only part of your page a visitor will read. When I talk about a “headline” I mean the most prominent text immediately visible when visiting your page. The headline should use short action words that state what you are offering your visitor.
    2. If your visitor came to your site by clicking on an ad they are almost certainly looking for whatever you promised in the ad. Your headline has to repeat that promise to show the visitor that they made the right click.
  4. Sub-headline
    1. A sub-headline exists to say what you weren’t able to fit in the headline. Often it is an offer of proof or an extra guarantee.
    2. Consider using your sub-headline to explicitly tell your visitor what to do next. For example, suppose you have a landing page with the headline “Free Cookies.” You might follow that with a sub-headline that says “Sign Up for our newsletter and receive a box of delicious cookies for free!” That sub-headline clarifies the headline and instructs the visitor on what to do next.
    3. If you can’t express your thought in a just a few words it’s not a sub-headline, it is copy. Put it in a P tag.
  5. Copy
    1. Use short words and short sentences.
    2. Rely on bullet points that are easy to scan. Use action words, not adjectives.
    3. Show don’t tell. In other words, describe the benefit don’t explain its specs.
    4. The copy is there to support the CTA. Your copy should focus on talking the visitor into taking the next step. Rambling, dense copy or shallow fill are both worse than not having copy at all.
    5. Relevant content makes Google happy. Google assigns quality scores that are partly based on the usefulness of the content you offer.
  6. Hero Shot
    1. The big picture of your product (or the box it came in) is often called the “Hero Shot.” Humans are strongly influenced by visual information. Putting your product on a pedestal on the top of your page is a great way to persuade your visitors of its value. Humans ascribe a lot more value to something they can see.
    2. Use crisp pictures devoid of compression artifacts or gimmicky filters. Yes, you should use aggressive compression to lower the file sizes and speed up your page, but you have to apply compression correctly. The jpg format is great for photographs, PNG or GIF files are best for images with text and clear lines. There are a lot of free and cheap image tools that will compress your images in the optimal way.
  7. Video and Multimedia
    1. Video has seen an explosion in popularity in the last few years. Combine high quality digital video recorders and sites like YouTube and you have made video accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a little hustle.
    2. There are just as many rules and hints for producing decent video as for landing pages. I don’t think I could adequately cover video in this post. Here are a few valuable tips:
      1. Record outdoors or in a room with lots of open windows. The light from the sun is brighter than any lamp you can afford.
      2. It is tempting to use the webcam attached to your computer. That’s fine for casual v-logging but as a pitch often it just comes off as lazy.
      3. Straightforward and honest is a lot easier to pull off than zany, gimmicky or high-tech. Don’t underestimate the power of looking someone in the eyes and just talking.
  8. Pictures and Photographs
    1. If you have people in your pictures, you might try to edit and place them in a way that makes it appear their eyes are looking at your call to action. You may want to avoid photographs of people who are too attractive or sexy unless that’s part of your offer.
    2. Free stock photo sites are useful, but everyone else uses the same images. You don’t want your landing page associated with the scam ads and hokey sites that your visitors have gotten lost in before.
    3. Having an eye-catching or weird photo can attract attention. You will see that in action in Facebook ads and the mini-display ads on news sites. Those ads are attempting to compete with the content on the page where they are embedded. That’s why they use ambiguous, alarming or just plain weird pictures. However, on your landing page, distraction is not what you are after.
  9. Forms
    1. Aim for small wins, especially at the top of your funnel. Asking for personal information like and email address or phone number right off the bat will scare off a big chunk of your visitors. That’s not to say you absolutely can’t ask for that sort of information on the front page, just that you will have to explicitly explain what you’re going to do with it.
    2. Don’t ask for anything you don’t need to know. It might be interesting to find out their job title, or home address but if you don’t have an immediate business use for that information it will just serve to depress your conversion rate. Data you don’t use is worthless.
    3. In the same vein, try to make each step in your conversion funnel the smallest possible commitment available.
    4. Asking the visitor to check a judiciously worded checkbox along the lines of “Yes! I’m ready to [RECEIVE BENEFIT] can unconsciously commit them to progressing through your entire conversion funnel.
  10. Buttons
    1. The most important thing to know about buttons is that they work best when they look like buttons. Google has recently begun using buttons without bevels or shadows. That’s fine for Google, but I wouldn’t recommend that on a landing page. Your visitors have likely never been to your website. Expecting them to learn new conventions is too much to ask. Make you buttons easily recognizable as buttons.
    2. The text you use on the button is something worth experimenting with. My rule is to always make it clear what the button is going to do when you click it. “Sign Up”, “Log Out” and “Subscribe” are great examples of clearly communicating what the visitor should expect upon clicking your button.
    3. On multi-page forms the verbs “Continue” and “Next” are common. They can also be used to push the visitor through optional pages after the initial conversion.
  11. Call Outs
    1. Make your strongest point and answer the most objections in a way that draws the eye. Remember, visitors just scan and rely on your design choices to focus their attention.
    2. Call outs are a great place to put a link or button that advances your visitor down the funnel. Perhaps you have a call out that addresses a common obstacle to conversion. That’s a great place to put a link or button.
  12. Testimonials
    1. Don’t use stock photos and fake testimonials. Everyone can smell that artifice from 3 clicks away.
    2. Do ask your customers how they like your product and ask to use the more enthusiastic responses on your website. It’s as simple as writing a personal email. Pull the most active customers from your analytics database and get in touch with them. A happy customer who gets attention is the best salesman you can hire.
    3. Details like their full name, an authentic picture and their website or contact information go a long way in giving your prospects the confidence to convert.
  13. Navigation
    1. If you can avoid it, don’t include it. Build your landing pages to convert. Curious visitors are welcome to poke around your site after they complete your CTA, but a visitor that wanders into other parts of your site is very hard to get back on track. They are much more likely to leave unconverted than visitors who stay on the landing page.
    2. There’s no law that every page on your site has to look like all the others. Remove your cruft and navigation and widgets, anything that a visitor can interact with that doesn’t advance him or her down the funnel is a waste.
  14. Analytics
    1. Before your landing page ever sees a visitor you should test and re-test your analytics software. Google provides a free analytics product that is popular and well made. There are many other providers like getClicky.com, crazyEgg.com and Piwik.
    2. Google analytics also integrates with your google webmaster account, which can give you an even deeper look at your data.
    3. There are so many powerful features and tasks involved in managing analytics that it can seem overwhelming. Start with constructing a conversion funnel. A funnel is simply a view of the data that shows you where in the process your visitors stopped. A successful conversion is a visitor that makes it all the way to the end. You can have multiple funnels for describing different conversion events and the different paths your visitors take to get there. I will discuss this topic in detail in a future post in this series.
  15. Fine Print
    1. You absolutely need a privacy policy with a clear and easy to see link. Advertising networks will not sell you traffic without one. There are a number of web applications that will help you create a valid privacy policy.
    2. Terms and Conditions are also important but vary depending on your business, how you use personal and business information and what types of activities people can do on your website.
    3. Put a link to an unsubscribe page in your footer (or where appropriate.) Even if you don’t send email, people will think you do and will feel better if you give them an easy way out. If you do send email, remember that being marked as spam has much higher consequences than making it easy for your visitors to unsubscribe.

Analyze your landing page results

Coming Up Next In The Landing Page Series

Designing and executing A/B tests, whether using a 3rd party service like Google’s Website Optimizer or Optimizely or a custom system either architected or tossed together in a heap, is a great skill to have.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss the testing tools available, what to do with all that data and how to be certain the conclusions you draw are statistically significant and objectively measured.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment or tweet at me @muddylemon.

Lance Cameron Kidwell

9 March 2012

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