7 Principles From 7 Years Of Landing Pages

In preparing a presentation for last week’s Interactivity Digital conference in Miami, I was struck by a realization: I’ve been working with landing pages for seven years now. (Actually, I prefer to think of them as post-click experiences.)

Seven years ago, my company launched its first prototype of a landing page management platform. At the time, landing pages were extremely nascent, only used by a handful of pioneering digital marketers. So many times I had to answer the question, “What’s a landing page?”

Now, they’re nearly ubiquitous. The disciplines of conversion rate optimization and post-click marketing have matured into a rich subfield within digital marketing. It’s been inspiring to see how much what-happens-after-the-click has improved in this time.

So, on this occasion of my seventh anniversary of “converting” to this line of work, I thought I would step back and share the seven biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the years.

7 Principles of Landing Pages

7 Principles Of Landing Pages

For those of you who are regular readers of my column, many of these will be familiar — so forgive me for reiterating them here. But hopefully, you’ll find it useful to step back with me, rising above the tips and tricks and best practices, to reflect on the big themes that really make a difference in our work.

#1. People > Software

Yes, I say this as a proud software vendor. There are many wonderful tools out there — but brilliant post-click marketing is far more a function of the people wielding those tools.

I fully agree with Avinash Kaushik’s 90/10 Rule: you should invest 10% of your marketing budget into tools and 90% into people. This means offering great compensation to attract and retain talented people and supporting their growth with a budget for training and conferences.

Seek out people who are self-motivated, collaborative, imaginative, good-natured, curious, genuine, courageous and passionate about great marketing. Not only will they deliver impressive results — they’re also a joy to work with.

#2. Agile > Rigid

If you’re going to hire brilliant people to gain the benefit of their passion and imagination in pursuit of great marketing, why would you want to constrain them with unnecessary bureaucracy?

Slow, rigid marketing processes that emphasize top-down, command-and-control hierarchies are increasingly a competitive drag in the fast and fluid environment of digital marketing. That’s not to say that top-down vision and values aren’t important. They are. But, the front line in digital marketing needs much more freedom to practice their craft and provide bottom-up execution.

This is why I’m a huge advocate of agile marketing as a management methodology. It’s not a panacea, but I’ve consistently found that teams that are able to operate on an iterative and adaptive basis — in contrast to strictly following a more inflexible plan dictated from above — are tremendously more effective in digital marketing.

#3. Experimentation > Optimization

In my view, optimization is about tweaking existing pages to squeeze out greater performance or efficiency. For instance, landing page optimization can involve things like trying different headlines and button colors. Does a green button or a blue button achieve a higher conversion rate?

That’s fine, but it’s rarely a game changer.

The big wins are achieved through experimentation — trying brand new ideas. Experimentation can involve things like making a new offer, targeting a new or more specific audience segment, or substantially reframing your value proposition.

In digital marketing, it’s technically easy and cheap to run experiments. The challenge, however, is that many marketing organizations have a legacy of risk aversion — trying experiments that may fail is scary.

It shouldn’t be. The way to master marketing experimentation is to try bold ideas on a small scale, quickly eliminate those that don’t work, and then scale up the ones that do. It’s a more enlightened approach to risk mitigation that doesn’t filter out the opportunity for real innovation.

This is why I believe the future of marketing is “big testing” — far more than big data.

#4. Specific > Vague

Almost the entire premise of landing pages rests on a single, simple truth: respondents prefer a more specific post-click experience that is more relevant to their search than a more generic experience that is less relevant.

If I do a particular search on Google, and you serve me an ad that speaks to that query, then I expect that you will follow through with relevant content on that landing page. I’m counting on you to fulfill your promises, both implicit and explicit. If I have to connect the dots or hunt around for relevancy, you run a much higher risk of losing me.

This is why making sure your post-click experiences are relevant — in context — is the very first principle in the READY framework for conversion optimization.

My co-founder, Anna Talerico, identified this as “message match” — or message mismatch when there’s a fatal break in pre-click/post-click continuity — nearly 14 years ago. But it’s still very much an issue today.

It’s not rocket science, but better message match is probably the single greatest tactical improvement that you can make to most digital marketing programs. This dovetails perfectly with good content marketing.

#5. Ideal Experience >= One Page

When most people hear the term “landing page,” they naturally think of a single page.

I’ve come to believe that this is one of the biggest self-inflicted handicaps in digital marketing. We artificially constrain ourselves to the box of what fits in a single page when we should be thinking more of designing post-click experiences and flows.

With the right interface, multiple pages can be easier for visitors to fulfill their goals in a post-click engagement. And, frankly, multiple pages — little microsites or multi-step paths — are pretty easy for marketers to build, too. They’re just pages with links between them. The only real barrier is a conceptual one.

This is particularly true in mobile, where traditional webpages often don’t even make sense. People are looking for app-like experiences on their smartphones. A couple of quick taps and swipes can be far more productive than scrolling around a larger webpage.

It’s 2013 — it’s time to break free the cliché landing page.

#6. Beautiful > Sloppy Or Dull

Rand Fishkin made this simple point in his opening session at Interactivity Digital: “Beautiful websites are trusted. Ugly websites are not.”

But because landing pages emerged in the search marketing space, which revolved around keywords and text — anything that Google could algorithmically digest and interpret — design was rarely a priority in the landing page community. Some landing page experts outright vilified designers.

Thankfully, the rising user-experience movement has shifted the emphasis to the visitor’s perspective. Well-designed post-click experiences are empirically more compelling, and this makes them more effective both in their immediate impact on conversion rates and in their contribution to longer-term brand equity.

Good design does not have to come at the expense of high quality scores or index-ability either. You can create brilliantly seductive landing pages that also look attractive in the eyes of a search engine crawler.

#7. Big Picture > Myopia

This all leads to the final point: we must recognize that most conversion points are only one step in many along the buyer’s journey.

You can certainly employ a number of tactics to aggressively boost your conversion rate on a single page. You can eliminate escape hatches or alternative choices. You can over-promise what’s waiting for respondents on the other side of the conversion. You can use late-night television infomercial psychology to push people’s buttons.

These tricks will squeeze more conversions out of a page. But this is just a recipe for winning the battle and losing the war.

Ultimately, you want to win customers who will be happy and loyal and who will become advocates and influencers on your behalf. You achieve that by delivering — or over-delivering — on your promises after the conversion. You achieve that by not forcing people into a conversion until they’re ready. You achieve that by giving people who aren’t ready to convert some value for their click, such as options to engage with you in a less committed way.

You want to be a brand champion in conversion optimization.

These aren’t best practices — they’re more high-level than that. But, I believe these are the seven best principles of producing magnificent post-click marketing.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter


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  • Scott Brinker

    Good point.

    You’re absolutely right. When you’re trying brand new experiments — rather than systematically tweaking individual elements of an existing page, one at a time — you won’t be able to isolate the individual components that contributed to its success or failure.

    The flip side, however, is that if you only tweak one variable at a time for everything you do, it will take you a very long time to cover new ground. In optimization, there’s also the common “local maximum” problem — that you can get stuck on a suboptimal peak in the performance landscape that you can’t escape by trying one variable at a time. Eric Ries has a great post about this in the context of the Lean Startup.

    I’d humbly suggest that there’s a role for both: using big experiments to move much farther across the landscape of possibilities, and then when you find a winner, using subsequent optimization techniques to hone some of the individual components.

    In computer-based optimization, this could be considered a simulated annealing like algorithm — big jumps to explore the landscape, followed by smaller increments to optimize the winners.

  • Scott Brinker

    Thanks! I love Paper.

  • Dean Marsden

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Scott. People do make such a difference after experiencing working at Koozai, I can say that having the right fit for a company is number 1. Experience can be worked on but a persons attitude is difficult to change.

    Interesting about your experience with multiple pages. I love Rand’s quote about website design, I totally agree although I see some websites where they still get sales despite a really poor design because they are the only seller of a product. I always just imagine how many more sales they could get by redesigning their pages!


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