Putting Your Landing Pages to Work

Landing pages are among the hardest-working documents you’ll ever write. Your landing page should not just inform visitors about what you’re selling; it needs to convince them to convert, while at the same time give them enough information to feel good about their decision. So it must instill trust as well as persuade and inform. Keep reading to find out how.

I’ve written on the topic of landing pages before. Let’s start our examination of this ubiquitous online selling tool from the point of view of your potential customer. Whether they’ve reached your landing page from clicking on a search engine text ad, a sponsored link, or even an email message, they saw certain things before they clicked that they expect to see on your landing page. If they don’t see them there, they will click away faster than you can say “bounce rate.”

Hana Ondrusek, writing for Microsoft adCenter, gives a more concrete example. “For example, if I perform a search for ‘travel deals’ and I’m shown an ad for a travel agency that references ‘travel deals’ in the keywords, ad copy or both, I expect that clicking on the ad will bring me to a page where I will find their travel deals. If I click on the ad and find myself staring at the agency’s home page with a picture of their staff and a list of client testimonials, I’m going to hit the back button on my browser almost immediately.” You’ve created certain expectations with the text of your ad; if you don’t explicitly fulfill them, you immediately lose credibility with your prospect – and no smart person buys from someone who isn’t credible.

That’s purely aside from the matter that home pages don’t convert well anyway. After all, that’s not what they’re designed for; there’s a reason we create separate landing pages. If you want to keep your visitor, write your landing page a little like it’s an extension of your ad. Use the same key words, and use them prominently. Make sure all of the content on the landing page is relevant to the keywords for which your visitor searched. Content is always king, but in this case, keeping the content relevant and focused is especially important.



Photo courtesy JandonFIN under Creative Commons license

{mospagebreak title=Seeking Information}

Anyone who searches online is looking for information, usually very specific information. Your landing page needs to give visitors exactly the information they’re looking for. You must achieve a careful balance, however. With online attention spans typically shorter than they are elsewhere, you don’t want to give your visitor so much information that they feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, you don’t want to give them so little information that they can’t make the decision to convert.

So where can you find that balance? I wish I had a magic formula for you, but I don’t. I’ve certainly seen advice indicate that your landing page should contain everything within a page that does not require the user to scroll down. I myself don’t hold with that theory, but I suspect the right length for your landing page has more to do with what you’re selling and the kind of consumer you’re trying to reach. If your simple blue widgets sell for $25 each and provide your customer with obvious benefits, you’ll probably want to go into less detail than you would if they cost $2500 each and weren’t an obvious improvement on plain red widgets selling for $250.

I actually had a real-life example of the latter recently, when I went to the Florida State Fair. One of the presenters was selling pots and pans that can do waterless cooking. The full show took about half an hour, and the presenter actually cooked food in front of us and then let us eat it, all the while going into great detail about all the advantages of their cookware. As you would expect, the full sets were very expensive, but even I was tempted (and I hardly cook at all these days). You can only buy these pots and pans at state fair shows and in-home shows (kind of like the ones that Tupperware does, but for cookware). In that case, you’re dealing with a semi-captive audience, focused on your product — and even then, the presenters did all they could to extol the benefits and keep people entertained (without going off topic). Compare that with the short and succinct displays for pots and pans in places like Wal-mart, which are relatively inexpensive! 

Now if your product attracts a number of different kinds of customers (and many do), life gets a little  complicated. You may find yourself asking how you can provide enough information for the person who likes to know everything before they buy, while not boring or overwhelming the person who likes to read a simple and clear document. Well, there are things you can fiddle around with. For example, if you’re selling products with lots of specifications, such as laptop computers or digital cameras, you can include tabs on your landing page that go to each model. If you really want to get interactive, and it’s appropriate for your product or service, you can even include a configuration builder on the page, so users can put together the exact package they want and see how much it costs.

In an article on landing page tips, Econsultancy featured a screen shot of a very nice landing page for car insurance. The page was divided into three columns. The first column featured the words “Save Up to 10% when you buy [name of brand] car insurance online.” At the bottom of this column you could click a button to “Get a guide,” which, one assumes, might do anything from walking the visitor through a tour of the options to connecting with a live person for an online chat. The second column listed the benefits of the insurance, in three short paragraphs. The third column was simply a picture. But in my opinion, one of the best parts of the page was at the upper left hand side, where four tabs directed the visitor (now better termed a “user,” perhaps) to more information.

Here’s a point worth noting: that page did not include any Flash. When building a landing page, you don’t want something that will take too long to load. It’s so easy to click away, and consumers are suspicious of ads to begin with. If you start with a page that takes a while to load, your prospect will assume (perhaps subconsciously) that you’re not going to respect their time. And if you aren’t going to respect their time, why should they spend any of it with you?

{mospagebreak title=Calling Them to Action}

So you’ve managed to entice a prospect to click through your ad to your landing page. You’ve given them the information they need to make a decision. You’ve even presented it in several different ways to appeal to different kinds of prospects. Now what?

It’s a truism of the business that you never get the sale if you don’t ask for it. Believe it or not, a prospect can’t always tell what you want them to do. You must provide some kind of call to action. “Buy it now,” “Try it today,” “For more information, sign up for our newsletter,” “Click here to order the white paper” and similar statements are all calls to action.

Some even advocate including several calls to action on your landing page. That makes sense, especially if your landing page requires the reader to scroll down. Include one at the top, one towards the middle, and one near the bottom. Or, as you design the page, consider where the most logical “decision points” come up, and include a call to action in those places.

Your goal at this point is to make it as easy as possible for your prospect to convert, so it makes sense to include as many opportunities to do so as you can without causing annoyance. In my research I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to include a link which takes the user from the landing page to a page where they can order, register, or do whatever you want them to do. There’s nothing wrong with including that link in several prominent places on the landing page.

If you do use such a link, remember what I said about clicking through ads to landing pages; the user expects something specific, and if you don’t deliver it, you’ll only confuse them and cause them to click away. If they’re ordering something, they’ll probably expect to be taken to an order form. If they’re downloading something, they’ll expect to be taken to a download page. If they’re signing up for a newsletter or otherwise registering for something, they’ll expect some kind of web form where they’ll need to put in the appropriate information.

{mospagebreak title=Refining the Details}

Your landing page did its job if it convinced your prospect to convert; heaven knows it’s hard enough to appeal to the needs of a varied target audience! But what if your prospect doesn’t convert? That’s where it (and you) can go the extra mile.

First, you should consider including options for people who aren’t ready to buy right then and there. After all, even the most information-packed landing page provides limited real estate for getting your point across, and every prospect comes with his or her very individual needs. So include options that let them contact a real human being: a phone number, e-mail address, or the chance to engage in a live chat. Many people still prefer to make their purchases through a real human being, and if you don’t cater to this, you could lose potential sales.

On a more positive note, what about the customer who really likes your product, and wants to know if you offer bulk pricing? Or the one who thinks “Gee, this is close to perfect, but do they offer it slightly bigger or with X feature?” If you’re trying to sell one particular product this time, don’t make it hard for these prospects to get their needs met. Include a link on your landing page to your regular web site, preferably to a page that showcases your full line. Interested users may want to browse the rest of your web site to get a better feel for what you can do for them; don’t make this difficult.

Your job does not end after you create your landing page. You must test it and tweak it to see if you can improve its conversion rate. Graham Charlton writing for SEO Consultancy notes that “The only way to be sure of what works for your audience and your market is to conduct structured tests such as usability studies, A/B testing or multivariate testing. The right web analytics tool is crucial.”

By the way, when you decide to retire a landing page, do it right. Remove the links so no one stumbles across it by accident. Out-of-date offers are kind of depressing. So use a custom 404 error page or a permanent 301 redirect to manage retired landing pages.

Nobody ever said building a good landing page was easy. It has to deliver on the promise made by the advertisement, tell your prospect what he or she needs to know to convert, provide options if the visitor chooses not to convert on the spot, and otherwise lead the user to the relevant information they’re seeking. It needs to do this in a simple manner, with no Flash or anything else that will cause the page to take too long to load. It’s not an impossible dream; keep your landing page focused, think like a consumer, test often, and you will be well on your way to building a landing page that will repay your hard work with hard work of its own. Good luck!

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