Sell Something Specific
The landing page as we know it was primarily the brainchild of Microsoft. In 2003, seeing online sales of its Office software suite lagging, a team within the IT department set out to streamline and simplify the sales process while putting in place more extensive analysis of the resulting data from visitor interactions. In their original process, users had to navigate to Microsoft.com, locate the section for Office, figure out which version they needed, find out how much it would cost, and then maneuver through another dozen pages of terms, forms, and shopping carts.
Each page seemed indifferent or unaware of the previous or following one. If the user didn’t abandon their efforts due to the complexity of the system, they could just as easily be lost to distractions as Microsoft’s own products competed against each other for attention on virtually every page. Each unintuitive and awkward step decreased the chance that a user would complete the transaction. A Microsoft IT team proposed a replacement: one short, clean, easy to understand page at the top of the conversion funnel. It would present a strong, quick pitch, and then make it dead simple to move to the next step.
This is how the landing page was born. Today, 48% of marketers are building a new landing page for every marketing campaign.
The boundary between homepages and landing pages is now sharply delineated: the former is for the big picture, the whole you, but the latter is for discrete offerings distilled down to their essence: one single page dedicated to a unique sales pitch or specifically focused marketing campaign.
Know Funnel Fundamentals
The top of the funnel is where users are the most skittish. It’s one thing to window shop, but it takes more initiative to step foot in the store. The goal of the landing page is to break down that hesitance by making a great impression that entices further action. Whether you are merely soliciting leads, taking pre-orders, raising money for a cause, or selling a product or service, an effective and optimized landing page should disarm users with convincing prose and social proof that directs them into the conversion funnel.
Today we know that the conversion funnel by its very nature means fewer and fewer people at each step (hence the funnel analogy). A typical funnel model has four stages: Awareness, Research, Decision, and Purchase. Conversion friction is everywhere, so those steps have to be as smooth as possible. According to one study, 30% of visitors never make it past the first stage, a whopping 80% percent stop at research, and over 95% of the initial visitors never make a decision or a purchase. So, you want to be very focused on how you get as many people as possible through to your end goal.
Define Your Goal
The first thing you must know with absolute clarity is what your criteria for conversion are:
- What are you hoping to accomplish?
- What do you want the user to do?
- What is your Call To Action (CTA)?
- Do you want feedback?
- Are you asking for money?
- Do you expect action today or in the future?
If you don’t completely understand what it is you want from the user, they certainly won’t either. Be very clear and specific. If you don’t have something straightforward to offer (or can’t distill a complex “ask” into simpler terms) it won’t translate well to the abridged format of a landing page.
Once you know what you are asking, the next step is structuring your request in a way that is both persuasive and worthwhile. You are asking for the user to give you something: their time, their attention, their clicks, or their hard earned money. Balance your ask with your reward. The more you ask for, the better the incentive for following through should be. If all you’re looking for is an email for your mailing list you can get away with less compensation. Some simple copy, a short video, a small interactive element, or the chance to win a minor prize might be enough. But, if you want comprehensive info, referrals, or a completed sale, you’ll have to make a stronger case, and consider sweetening the pot with discounts, contests, and other promotions.
Landing pages have become standard practice because they decrease conversion friction while improving search engine optimization and marketing initiatives. But, just having a landing page won’t do the trick all by itself. It has to be designed to resonate with your audience.
Keep It Simple
Albert Einstein reportedly once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” That’s pretty good as a general principle, but when it comes to landing pages, it’s absolutely mandatory. Remember, the landing page is the mouth of the funnel. There will be time to get specifics later. Right now the goal is merely to get past the initial barriers to action and get as many people as possible into the funnel. Don’t overload the page with complex forms and unnecessary information. Don’t clutter the interface with big images that distract from the CTA and increase loading times. Unless your brand’s character calls for highly stylized and variegated designs, aim for clean, easy to digest, and lightweight arrangements.
Landing pages are ideal for discrete offerings distilled down to their essence: one single page dedicated to a unique sales pitch or specifically focused marketing campaign.
If you are making a simple ask, put a small form above the fold. Complicated offers or requests for payment need more space to explain their value, so the form might have to go further down the page. A longer form collects higher quality leads, but far fewer. According to Marketing Experiments, reducing twenty lead fields to four increased leads by nearly 200-percent.
A minimalist aesthetic is a good place to start, but brands with highly sophisticated products and customers might have to go the other way. Their user base is already highly familiar with the marketplace and requires more details. Many even expect chat boxes for live support or a phone number for a sales agent.
Video also helps. Recent research shows that video can increase conversions by 80%.
Direct Attention to Action
The Call To Action (CTA) is the star of the landing page. The whole purpose of that punchy headline, fancy prose, and distinctive offer is to get the visitor to actually do something. The CTA should stand out from the rest of the page, both visually and verbally, with design and text that makes it the center of attention. Throw out anything you don’t absolutely need. Every element you add could add benefits, but could also serve to distract from the CTA.
If possible, avoid a navigation bar. Many landing pages include them in the hopes that even if the pitch fails, the visitor will at least head somewhere else on your site. But, it runs the risk of giving them an easy out. No navigation bar tells the user ‘this is it, you have found our best offer, there’s no door number two.’ Furthermore, the post-click page for a CTA button should scrupulously match the message (even word for word) and design of the landing page so that users feel immediately assured that they have been taken to the right place and aren’t lost in your system.
Build, Analyze, Rebuild
So, you’ve built a killer landing page and conversion rates are starting to improve. Now it’s time to analyze and iterate. A/B testing is the most common way to optimize a landing page. Try different color arrangements (Google famously once tried out over 40 shades of blue to see which improved click-thru-rates the best), add detail, remove it, move things around, and experiment with tweaks large and small.
A more advanced testing system, such as Multivariate Landing Page Optimization (MVLPO) involves changing several elements at once, but whatever your schema, always keep an eye on the metrics. Check your click-thrus, your conversions, and your visitor makeup (consider crafting unique landing pages for different segments of your target market, such as geographically distinct versions). Eye-tracking software is also becoming a common way to test if your elements are getting as much attention as you think they are.
Also, don’t optimize little things before big things. Some elements are inherently more consequential than others. Button color gets a strange amount of attention, possibly because it’s a lot easier to cycle through the color palate than it is to write great copy and develop irresistible offerings.The hue of your CTA button, whether you include a video, and adding social media links are all good ideas to play with, but remember they all need to be built upon the foundation of a solid pitch. A mediocre offer that is fully optimized will never beat a great pitch even if the format isn’t perfect.
The seeds of the next phase of the web are growing, and competition is only increasing. The companies that utilize advanced marketing principles, sound design, and rigorous statistical analysis will make it to Web 3.0. Use the whole toolkit to make sure your smartly crafted offers have equally compelling landing pages that give them their best chance to succeed.