Sign up for weekly recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
Death To The Cliché Landing Page
This week at SMX Advanced, I gave a talk titled Death to the Cliché Landing Page (link will open the deck on SlideShare.net). Since the slides are mostly visuals, I thought I’d offer a written narration for you here.
Originally, this talk was simply Death to the Landing Page. But since that might have been a bit too much cognitive dissonance in a session about landing pages, I tweaked it to insert the word cliché. But why would I be calling for such an ignoble ending to the landing page as we know it, cliché or otherwise?
Actually, I come from a background of loving landing pages. I’ve been working with them for 7 years. My company sells software for creating and testing them to many leading brands. I even sketched a little love note recently for why landing pages are awesome — they’re at intersection of performance marketing, content marketing, and technical wizardry. What’s not to love?
But although I love them, at least in their ideal, there’s a sad fact that pains me daily: most landing pages aren’t very good.
Why Landing Pages Go Bad
Usually there’s one of two reasons for a bad landing page. Either (a) the marketer didn’t think about this specific interaction, and the experience is accidentally bad. Or (b) the marketer thought about it — but they thought more about what they wanted (the conversion) rather than what the respondent wanted. Like this specimen for mobile payment processing (redacted to protect their identity):
The analogy of these types of landing pages is that they’re like pick-up lines. They’re shallow, optimized simply to “close the deal.” And, frankly, most people don’t respond kindly that to that approach. Which is why, more or less, the bounce rate on landing pages is typically around 95%.
Think about that for a moment. When 19 out of 20 people who consciously click on your ad choose to immediately hit the back button, something is wrong. If 19 out of 20 people were consistently rejecting your advances at a bar, you wouldn’t just keeping trying different lines. Hopefully you’d consider an entirely different — and more genuine — approach. Or possibly a new deodorant. Kidding aside though, this revulsion is death to your brand.
The good news, however, is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I believe that the path to redemption — which may sound a little counter-intuitive — is to stop thinking about landing pages. Landing pages are a marketer’s construct. No regular person says, “oh, I can’t wait to check out their landing page.”
Instead, think about experiences. Through the eyes of your prospect, when they click through on your ad, do you give them what they want? Do you give them reasons to love you?
Content marketers have the essence of this right for creating positive brand impact. But good content doesn’t always have enough forward momentum.
Conversion optimization principles can move prospects forward — but in the absence of great content, they can devolve into used car salesman tactics. But this isn’t an either/or proposition. We can have both working in harmony, and that’s the secret of brilliant post-click marketing.
Think Outside The Landing Page Box
There are many ways to achieve this, but I’ll focus on just one here: you don’t have to limit yourself to one page. A landing page is a page. A landing experience is something more creative, open to taking whatever form serves the respondent best.
The frightful page I showed you above is, in many ways, a classic lead generation landing page. It includes a gaggle of so-called best practices: words like “free” and “guarantee”; bullets of features and benefits; trustmarks from Verisign and the Better Business Bureau; social proof of awards; a big red arrow driving you to the “start here” call-to-action; an offer to pay you $500.
But if you were a respondent, wouldn’t it make you a little uncomfortable? You walked into the store to look around, and right away the store owner is bombarding you — convert, convert, convert! It’s the marketing equivalent of assault. That might squeeze a few more conversions from some, but it will sabotage your brand with others.
Thinking that you have one page — and one page only — to convert your prospect can lead you to commit these acts of brand sabotage.
Compare and contrast with this example from Intuit for the same keyword phrase (click to enlarge):
The page a respondent lands on certainly shares the DNA of a landing page. There’s a headline: get paid on the spot. There’s a call-to-action for a free card reader with a start now button. It has social proof: media buzz from Wired and the Wall Street Journal. A few bullet-like blurbs on process and supported phones. Some halo effect with the iPhone. And a video as the primary element on the page — not some soulless stock photography, but a real demonstration of someone using this device.
If this were a landing page, it would be pretty good.
What makes this different than any single-page landing page, however, is the context-specific navigation at the top. This is a microsite. But that may make it sound like a big production. It isn’t. Instead of trying to squeeze everything on one page, they’ve simply taken the liberty to use a handful of pages connected together. Linking pages together in HTML isn’t hard.
By doing this, the prospect has the option to click the “start now” button if they’re convinced on page one. But if they want more information before they cross the conversion threshold, they can dig deeper.
There’s a full page dedicated to a clear illustration of the product in action. There’s another whole page with the details on pricing — details that a landing page might bury in the fine-print, or withhold entirely. Those details have been turned into powerful content. Intuit is building trust by clearly laying out all the information that a business owner would want to know: monthly service fees, swipe rate, keyed rate, transaction fees.
Notice that the call to action persists on all these pages. It’s not screaming at you, but it’s standing stalwartly by — as soon as you’re ready, we’re ready for you.
But wait, there’s more. Are you becoming jaded with pseudo social proof? Some of your prospects certainly are. You know, the Wall Street Journal logo that implies they wrote glowing things about you. But who knows? Maybe they panned your product. A microsite experience like this gives you the space to provide real social proof. Not just logos, but headlines, publication dates, and even links to the actual articles themselves (click to enlarge):
The same with customer testimonials. None of those fake-sounding quotes from John Doe of San Anonymous, California, “Best product ever!” Instead you get quotes with full attribution of name and organization. They’ve even incorporated video testimonials. This is genuine, and it both confidence building and brand building.
Peek back at that other landing page before this. Who do you think is doing a better job winning prospects over?
You Aren’t Limited To A Microsite Format Either
Microsites can be powerful. But don’t be constrained by that format either. There are so many possible ways to engage your audience once you embrace the creative license of using more than one page.
For instance, this consultative guide by California Closets. The technical term for this is a “conversion path” (click to enlarge):
It presents the respondent with a series of frictionless choices to guide them to exactly what they want. Here, we have ‘closet organization’ or ‘room organization’. If you pick closet, you can choose walk-in or rich-in closets. Already the imagery and copy is adapting to your interests. Walk-in closet? Okay, would you prefer to visit our showroom or have an in-home consultation?
This interactive dialog culminates with a call-to-action page that is perfectly tailored to what this respondent wants. A free, in-home consultation for the walk-in closet of your dream. It will include a 3-D rendering, we’ll work within your budget, we’ll schedule around your busy lifestyle. Just a short form to begin.
Note: this isn’t a general-purpose website. This is a PPC landing experience. By the way, experiences like this also work fabulously on tablets and smartphones: tap, tap, tap.
Multi-page landing experiences can also enable “progressive conversions,” easing a respondent through a conversion like a conversation, such as this example by BlueCross BlueShield (click to enlarge):
It’s a well-known design principle that less is more. By not having sixteen things screaming for your attention on this page, truly meaningful communication can pop. 85,000 small businesses in Georgia. A vibrant Facebook community — talk about social proof. Get started with your zip code, a simple step 1 of 3.
Next, step 2 is just as quick: how many employees are in your business? At the same time, a couple of key benefits are highlighted, such as guaranteed coverage and solutions that grow.
Now you’re at your last step, propelled by forward momentum, just a short form to get a quote. But the content of this page has been tailored to you — for your zip code, businesses your size, here are the different kinds of plans we can offer you. Hopefully you feel like you’re getting more information than you’re giving at each step in this conversation. The green button emphasizes this is your last step, “Finish.”
Don’t Just Convert: Impress, Inspire, Compel
I have one last example I want to share with you. It’s another microsite, but one that makes creative use of a multi-page canvas.
The Center for Arts and Technology is a professional school with a number of arts-related programs. This microsite is just for their Fashion Design and Merchandising program, lead generation for potential students (click to enlarge):
As soon as you land on the first page, what leaps out at you? This stunning image of high fashion. It’s not just a hero shot, it’s embedded into the very fabric of the page. It beckons you to follow your passion, click to learn more — or take control of what you want to learn with the nav bar at the top.
You get to drill in on details of the program. These aren’t just a few bullets. There’s an exciting story to tell about a bright future in fashion. The call-to-action has become “Start My Future!” with a short form that is seamlessly integrated into the imagery. But again, it’s the fashion itself that is by far the dominant element.
Yet still, there’s more rich content. A whole page dedicated to career opportunities, listing the many different kinds of careers this program can lead you to. What are you going to actually learn? There’s a whole page with the catalog of courses offered, from the foundation series to electives, everything from pattern drafting to fashion show production.
Each page has its own centerpiece image. It exemplifies the principle of show, don’t tell, to viscerally communicate the excitement of the program. I’m one of the least fashion oriented people on the planet, and it’s even piqued my interest. You could never do this with a single-page landing page — there simply isn’t enough physical or conceptual space.
Aside from the creative freedom that multiple pages affords you though, there isn’t anything technically challenging about this. It’s just HTML, CSS, and a handful of great images.
But remember: this isn’t a general-purpose website, it isn’t a slide show. It’s a PPC landing experience designed to convert. Throughout the experience, the call-to-action and conversion mechanism remain consistent. They’re ready for you to take the next step when you are. But it’s the content that compels you, not the label on the button.
I hope this inspires you to revolt against the cliché landing page in your marketing. There’s so much potential to stand out from your competition and make a first impression that won’t just convert people — it will frame you in their minds as the best in your field.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.