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):

Landing Page Assault

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):

Microsite Example

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):

Genuine Social Proof

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):

California Closets

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):

Progressive Conversion

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):

A Very Creative Microsite

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.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion

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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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  • http://www.alittlebranding.com Bob Strassel Jr.

    Hey Scott, Great Post! I couldn’t agree more with “experiences”. Experiences are shaped by user intent, I think that many landing pages are missing the big picture or don’t understand the intent of the consumer may not be the same as the intent of the marketer or the message. Obviously conversion is the goal, but at what expense? A poor experience on a landing page, (beside a low conversion rate) could effect the overall first impression with a brand and also lead to a poor interpretation of the brand message and prevent any future interaction. More often than not landing page misalignment or rather dis-alignment from the brand is the road to nowhere.
    - I also think that “less is the new “more”. Thanks again for sharing. – Bob

  • http://twitter.com/emlynaddison Emlyn Addison

    This article PRECISELY outlines just about my entire web design philosophy: reduce what it is you do, who it is you serve, and what it is you & they want from a transaction into a single sentence (or paragraph, if necessary), which itself should be representable as something–a concept, an action, an emotion–visually. Period. All the rest is fluff.

    As for the 5% conversion rate–who in God’s name are these 1-out-of-20 people who actually pay money to these Internet bottom feeders? No doubt the same people who keep telemarketing phone scams in business. I’m about to choose a digit…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1134144353 Kevin Dale

    A “bounce” isn’t someone that “choose(s) to immediately hit the back button”. It means that they didn’t go to another page on the website. That page at the top of your article looks like it provides everything the customer needs to do business with the company. An accurate index of the page effectiveness is how many customers chose to interact. 

  • http://goo.gl/FyquM Maurine W. Sigmund

    this program to open up to Canadians. http://CBCJobGetPosition.notlong.com

  • http://www.alittlebranding.com Bob Strassel Jr.

    Maurine, Thanks for the spam…How ironic, that you just provided an example of what what Scottt, myself and Emlyn are talking about…

  • Athena Catedral

    The samples are great and the concepts make for a more refined approach to conversions. Appreciate the post. 

  • GilesJuliana

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  • http://twitter.com/directcopy Scott Martin

    I guess, because I’m a direct response copywriter, that I’m guilty of writing those ‘cliché’ landing pages. But they work. I understand the post and its theme but it would be a mistake to abandon what’s been working really well for a lot of companies. The real key is to test the new approach–dedicating just 10% of resources to the ‘new’ methods.

  • http://twitter.com/chiefmartec Scott Brinker

    Thanks for all the great comments! A few thoughts in reaction:

    1. Completely agree that if something is working for you, no need throw it out. But I also agree that testing different approaches is a great way to see if there are ways it might work better.

    2. Not every landing experience needs to be multiple pages. If a single page landing page gives the respondent the best experience in a particular context, use it with pride. But in contexts where that maybe isn’t the best, I hope you’ll feel more freedom to experiment with other approaches.

    3. A “bounce” is not the same as a “non-conversion”, and I kind of muddled those in my “95%” claim. There was a little dramatic license there. The essence of my rant there was that most landing pages have a relatively low success rate given that the traffic coming to them from PPC were explicit, intentional clicks on an ad.

    4. Direct response copywriters are golden, and no offense intended to them! :-) But I also think their talents can be applied in other creative formats — possibly to even greater effect.

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    Have you ever wanted to earn cash online? That’s why I would like to tell you a website where the owner shares all ways of making money online. Did you know that you can make money trying products or clicking ads? Then you should visit ====>>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛► (Click At My Name For Link)

  • http://twitter.com/jackie510 Jacqueline Dooley

    Great post. I’m a firm believer in using content as a sales tool, rather than paper thin landing pages. You inspired me to respond via a post on my blog here http://twelvethousandllc.com/prepare-for-landing/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Bret/100001753924810 Will Bret

    The value of a landing page is simple.   It must offer content which makes a potential consumer want to, read all about it, whatever the copywriting is about.  

    You are right on the money–death will be the result of a landing page that has no opportunity of discovery.  Better yet, with the right copywriting, you will develop a “Landing Page MLS, Solution”.   

    The landing page will spread on the web worldwide.   It will go viral courtesy of Bing, Google, Yahoo and many other search engines.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Bret/100001753924810 Will Bret

    FYI:
    Over ten years of online Yahoo market research proves that Yahoo is more than a search engine.   For example: You will find nothing significant with a Yahoo search for the unique keyword phrase: Landing Page MLS Solution.

    However, continue the online Yahoo market research.   This time notice the sponsor ads in another unique Yahoo search category.  

    Look at the search results for the same keyword phrase with quotation marks as indicated: “Landing Page” “MLS Solution”.   Ten years of experience has indicated that web surfers are searching for a similar keyword phrase.   It is most likely why sponsor ads are present.  

 

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