When you’re a startup founder, there are certain materials you’re going to work with again and again. Balance sheets, term sheets, customer journey maps – get comfortable with these. You’re going to be seeing a lot of them.
Another startup stalwart you’ll definitely want to have down cold: the landing page.
Landing pages are the ultimate utility players of startup marketing. Want to validate an idea? You need a landing page. Need to build an email list? You need a landing page. Got a new product you need to tell people about? Seems like maybe you should think about creating a landing page.
You get the picture: if you’re starting a company, you’re going to need a landing page at some point, if you haven’t already. So you might as well pop the hood and get familiar with what makes a good landing page go.
Joining us for this deep dive into the wonderful land of landing pages are a couple of guys who definitely know their USPs from their CTAs:
Rich Page is the founder of Rich Page: Website Optimizer and an expert website conversion optimizer whose expert conversion reviews, web analytics and A/B testing services, and has helped hundreds of online businesses improve and profit from their websites, from small e-commerce and SaaS websites, to major websites like Disney.com.
Here, Joel and Rich take us through some of the finer points of sticking the landing on your landing page: Know what you want. Know what you offer. And, as always: test, test, test.
When talking about what a landing page is, it’s more useful to start by explaining what a landing page isn’t. Specifically: a landing page is not a website.
A website is the ultimate directory for a business. Visitors should be able to take any action, find any information, directly from your website.
A landing page, on the other hand, is nowhere near that comprehensive. What’s more: it shouldn’t be.
Landing pages are at their most effective when they’re lean, mean, and laser-focused on one goal: land one specific ask from one specific audience.
“Landing pages are excellent when you know you’ve got one specific audience or offer, and you want to have a very focused conversation about that offer,” says Joel. “You can completely target the language, imagery, etc. to those who will ‘land’ there, whether via ad, or social, or whatever else.”
One huge and common mistake founders make with landing pages, says Joel? “Trying to get people to do 18 different things instead of the ONE thing you really want. So, for example, asking visitors to add you on social and download a resource.”
We get where the temptation to try to make a landing page be all things for all people comes from. Founders like efficiency. Building one landing page that does it all is efficient, right?
Wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite of efficient.
When you start piling a ton of asks onto a single landing page, you dilute the impact of any one ask. And when you do that, the probability that your audience will actually follow through plummets.
So if you’re building out a landing page, and you find yourself weighing it down with multiple asks and offers, take a step back. Ask yourself: “What’s the one thing that I really want visitors to do here?”
Then, cut anything and everything on your page that is not driving that specific action.
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If knowing what you want your audience to do is landing page step 1, knowing what you have to offer them in return is step 0. As in, by the time you’re building a landing page, you should have this thing down cold.
It’s called your unique selling proposition, or USP. You may also have heard it called a unique value proposition (UVP). And, yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
“Your unique value proposition is the heart and soul of your offer,” Joel observes. “It’s the element of your product or service that is most valuable and the most uniquely valuable to your audience.”
If a landing page is a galaxy, the USP is the sun around which the whole thing revolves. Everything in your page should work toward convincing your audience that you have something they want.
Get your USP right, and by the time your lead gets to the bottom of your landing page, they won’t be able to enter their email address or click “buy now” fast enough.
There’s a simpler version of this post that we could write: one where we just lay out the elements of a landing page and tell you what goes in each place. Here’s the CliffsNotes of that article:
We didn’t write that post, because there are already a hundred posts just like it all over the Internet. But here’s the thing that none of those posts will tell you:
Writing an effective landing isn’t really about what the elements are. It’s what each element is doing, and how they all work together to move the ball toward the ultimate goal: conversion.
Take testimonials, for example. “Testimonials are an essential part of social proof, which is an essential factor in landing pages,” Joel says. “But testimonials that just spout platitudes like “It’s GREAT!” are almost useless.”
As you’re planning the flow of your landing page, ask yourself: “What are your testimonials doing within the context of the page and the customer’s journey to conversion?”
“Are your leads swayed by testimonials and social proof? Maybe, if they are already pain- and solution-aware, and they are evaluating options. But before a lead can care about who else cares, they need to understand what the offer is and what’s in it for them,” Joel continues. “Don’t just shotgun them onto the page. You can use testimonials in areas of friction (like near pricing) to help add a shot of credibility. Or, if you make a specific claim, a specific testimonial backing up that claim can offer some proof that you aren’t talking out of your butt.”
You can apply this same kind of thinking to every element of your landing page.
Don’t just take for granted that you need a headline. Really think about how your headline captures the big picture of the pain point your visitors are experiencing. Ask how it grabs visitors’ attention and drives them deeper into the page.
Don’t just drop in some key features of your product because you think you’re supposed to list key features. Ask yourself: “Are these features relevant to this landing page and what I’m asking visitors to do? Or is there some other piece of information that will be more helpful instead?”
Landing pages are like icebergs: the end result you see on the internet is just the 10% that’s poking above the water. The other 90% – the thought, research, iteration and revision that goes into determining what appears on the final page – it’s all out of sight. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less essential.
The pieces of your landing page need to work together, but that doesn’t mean that some pieces aren’t more important than others.
The CTA, or call to action, is the point where the entire landing page comes to a head. You’ve given them the information; now tell them what you want them to do with it.
But, as Joel points out, if action is all you’re calling your visitors to, you may not be speaking your their language.
“Make your CTA a call to value – an invitation to receive what the lead already wants,” advises Joel. “For example, let’s say you are offering a downloadable resource that helps them attract new clients. Your CTA might be ‘Get My Free Resource’ or ‘Start Getting Clients’.”
A good test to try to see if your CTA lives up to the “Call to Value” standard, Joel says: “If your CTA can complete the sentence ‘I want to _______’ from the lead’s perspective, you’re in good shape.”
You may notice that framing a call to action as a call to value knocks old standbys like “Submit” and “Download” out of the running. Every element of your landing page needs to work for its lunch, and one-word actions like “Submit” and “Download” just kind of sit there, taking up space.
That said, you know what they say about when you assume things. “As always, test. Language can be weird,” advises Joel. There’s always the possibility that your audience is weird, and just wants you to tell them what to do.
Another thing to keep in mind about CTAs, says Rich Page: the visuals matter every bit as much as the language.
“CTAs need to stand out with good contrast, and be very obvious they are buttons,” he points out. “Location is essential too. Always place a CTA button above the page fold (the area visitors see without having to scroll). Repeat it again at the end, if the page is longer.”
Adds Joel: “You want to make it obvious how and where someone can take action.”
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Design is crucial to building an effective landing page. Anyone who tells you otherwise is
A. Probably a copywriter (sorry, guys)
B. Probably not a very good copywriter, because they don’t understand the value of good design.
That said, at the end of the day, the copy is what is going to carry your page across the finish line and get visitors to convert – or not.
“Ugly pages can and do convert like wildfire sometimes,” points out Joel. “But terrible copy won’t work no matter how you dress it up.”
So how do you make your landing page copy not terrible?
Well, one way is to hire a kick-ass copywriter who eats, sleeps, and breathes great copy and let them take care of it for you.
But if bringing in a professional really isn’t in the budget (and you should make sure that it’s not, because a truly excellent copywriter can be more than worth the investment), there are three things that landing page copy needs to be, according to Rich:
#1: Short and sweet (we’ll come back to this in a second)
That last one is a biggie, agrees Joel. “Screw up #1 that I see when it comes to landing page copy is people that ‘we’ all over their copy. ‘We do this. We do that. We can this. We can that.’ A landing page is about one person: your customer, and the value they can receive.”
In other words: want one quick and easy way to transform your landing page copy? Take “we” out of the equation.
Ask not what you can do for your customers, but what your customers will get when you do it.
Let’s go back and talk about this question of length for a minute. Rich just told us that landing page should be “short and sweet.” But as Joel points out, “short and sweet” can be a matter of perspective.
“It’s like asking ‘How long is a piece of string?’” Joel observes.
In other words: your landing page should be however long it needs to be to get the job done. And no longer.
“Start by thinking about your lead’s level of awareness. How much do they know about you already? How aware are they of their pain? Do they know what solutions are out there?” Joel advises. “Generally, the less solution-aware a lead is, the longer your copy will wind up being as you work to identify their pain, agitate it, and present your solution.”
Another factor that might influence the length of your copy: the size of the commitment you’re asking your audience to make. “A higher-value offer may also take more convincing,” Joel points out. “For example, someone probably won’t invest $100,000k into a software solution without a pretty strong sense of what they are getting.”
No matter how copy-intensive your landing page may be, there’s no excuse to sacrifice reader-friendliness. “The writing itself, even if long, should stay punchy, with a cadence that lends itself to reading,” advises Joel. “Short sentences in the intro, for example, to keep people from feeling overwhelmed early on.”
Not sure whether your ask calls for long-form copy or short? “My honest advice: When in doubt, go long-form first, then use heatmapping and recorded user sessions to track how people interact,” recommends Joel. “It’s easier to take away than to add.”
Rich already laid out three essential traits of good landing page copy – short and sweet, benefit-driven, customer-oriented. We’d like to add a fourth requirement to the list: supported by research.
“Customer feedback and research is the heart and soul of your copy,” says Joel. “Yes, you need a strong headline and subhead, a compelling hook that gives people the ‘so what,’ and a CTA that drives action. But any of that is only going to be as good as the research you do to inform it.
You heard right: if you try to “Don Draper” your landing page copy by sitting in your office, drinking, and not talking to anyone, you’re doing it wrong.
“All of my best/highest converting copy has come from conversations with existing customers, leads, or people who tried and left a service,” Joel observes. “If you aren’t mining things like testimonials, reviews, chat logs, recorded sessions, heat maps, etc. then you are guessing based on your own bias.”
The importance of research doesn’t end when the copy is drafted, either. When it comes to a landing page, the golden rule is ABT: Always Be Testing.
“Your unique value propositions should be continually tested and refined,” Joel says. “Never assume you’ve hit the jackpot; there are many jackpots.”
None of this is to say that creativity doesn’t play a role in landing page copy and design. It absolutely does. Research doesn’t kill creativity – it fuels it. Creativity backed by research is creativity with a purpose. And, best of all, it’s creativity that gets results.
Let’s say you’ve got the perfect landing page ready to go. Not a CTA button or line of copy out of place, every inch of it researched, tested, and customer-validated to kingdom come.
Now you just back and wait for the converts to roll in, right?
Wrong. Thanks for playing, though.
Marketing is an ecosystem. Any landing page, no matter how flawlessly written and designed and developed, is only as good as the campaign that surrounds it. Once you’ve got your landing page in place, you need to put just as much work into the emails and social media ads that drive people there.
What goes into crafting the perfect, kickass social media add to match your perfect, kickass landing page? We’re glad you asked. But that’s a conversation for another post.
Andy Dunn has spent the past ten years building Bonobos. He’s funded about 15 other ecommerce companies, advises even more, and serves on the board of three others. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on better fitting pants, 100M in capital, and why men should embrace a world run by women.