26 Sep 2011

Effective Landing Pages: Get Out of Your Own Way and Convert

Effective Landing Pages
If you build it (and optimize it), they will come. But what good is that if they turn around and leave? It’s not enough to have a well-optimized page, you need to have a page that is compelling and converts. We’ve all clicked through to websites that rank well, but once you get there you have an instant, visceral reaction that you want to leave. Ugly. Dated. Unprofessional. Untrustworthy. Confusing. If you aren’t paying enough attention to how well your website manages the visitors you get, you are turning away business that is on your doorstep. Search engines are not clients, are not customers. So how can you effectively influence the people who are once they’ve found you? Here are some tips to help ensure that your website’s landing pages are effective, not just existent.

Step One: Actually Have Targeted Landing Pages

Sounds obvious, right? But too often companies rely on their home page or other general information page to do all the heavy lifting. These pages are important, and it’s tempting to funnel all your SEM eggs into a couple baskets, but having landing pages targeted toward a given service, market segment or promotion can be far more effective than a catch-all page. Target the page to the message, and if there are multiple pages to go through make sure the user’s path is compelling and clear. The fewer steps you put between the user and the information you want them to see, the more you’ll minimize bounce rates.

Decision-Making Methods

People make decisions based on a wide array of factors, and those factors can vary quite a bit. One site visitor may be looking for hard data to back up your claims. Another may look for cues establishing credibility and social adoption. When putting together an effective landing page, it’s important to consider and address the different ways people make their decisions.

This concept of how people think and decide has been broken out many different ways (for example, the famous Myers-Briggs personality types or a nice analysis by Forty’s James Archer). But for creating persuasive landing pages it’s helpful to think of two sets of criteria:

Rational vs. Emotional

Rational decision making revolves around practical concerns: what is demonstrable, verifiable, logical. They aren’t enchanted by brand loyalty, they just want the brass tacks about features and functionality and make their decision accordingly.

Emotional decision makers on the other hand rely more on intuitive cues. How do they feel about your company? What do other people say about your services or products?

An effective landing needs to address both these mindsets. Here is an example taken from the home page of 37signals.com.

Decision Making Methods - Rational vs Emotional

The clean, well-organized page addresses both decision making processes. The areas in highlighted in red show the emotional triggers – attractive visuals, establishing the large community, showing videos of real users. At the same time, an appeal to the rational is made with use data, pricing, and specific credible companies who have signed on.

Systematic vs. Impulsive

Systematic decision makers are slow and methodical in their process. This may be to take time to parse facts and compare features (rational) or to research ratings and develop a trust level with your company (emotional).

Likewise, impulsive decision makers are quick to judge. They have their criteria and are looking to have it reinforced or they’re moving on. They’ll look for main points and calls to action that address their needs, whether it be that you’re credible and more effective (rational) or easy-to-use and low-risk (emotional).

Let’s look again at the 37 Signals home page:

Decision Making Methods - Systematic vs Impulsive

We see how the same content works on the systematic as compared to the impulsive. The systematic decider has links to plan details, they can take time to parse data, watch videos or peruse testimonials. For the impulsive, there are the quick points highlighted: Millions of people! Brands you recognize! Cheap, easy, low-risk, now!

By including these various approaches in a clean, easy-to-skim design, they have ensured that whatever their visitor’s decision style, there will be compelling content there to speak to it.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Many a landing page has been undermined by trying to be everything to everyone. Too much clutter, too many options, and text as long as a Tolstoy novel.  Avoid the pitfalls of excess with a less is more attitude:

  • Have a clear call to action. When you squint your eyes at a web page, the call to action should still stand out. If it blends or competes with the other design elements it probably isn’t being identified strongly enough.  Whether it’s filling out a form or finalizing a purchase, you don’t want there to be any doubt for the user about what the next step is.
  • Keep content brief as possible and well-organized. Readers skim. Use as few words as it takes to get them where you want them to go.
  • Show, don’t tell. A picture is worth 1000 words. However you want to phrase it, visual indicators trump the best-phrased copy every time.
  • Avoid distractions. Know what you want your page to do. When the user is on the checkout page of your online store, you don’t want them signing up for your blog. When they’re on your contact page, you don’t want them wandering off to follow you on Twitter. For squeeze pages where you’re trying to convince a user to share their contact information on the spot, that might mean even removing navigation and links to the rest of your site. Different pages have different goals, so tailor the content to suit those goals, and remove the shiny objects that might distract users from converting.

There’s a lot that goes into creating landing pages that perform well, but starting with these fundamentals will put you on the path to conversion instead of confusion.

What factors do you think contribute to effective landing pages? Share below!


  • Chelsea Sep 27, 2011

    Great article, David! Less is more is absolutely the way to go. Basecamp is a great example of that. We’ve found that in all things relating to landing pages you have to test. Continual and statistically valid improvements are one of the top contributors to effective landing pages.

  • David Gould Sep 28, 2011

    Thanks Chelsea! “Continual and statistically valid improvements” is an excellent point as well — improving pages in an ongoing process, based on data from analytics and optimization testing.