Landing Page Optimization

Landing Page Optimization

Written by Neil Patel & Sherice Jacob

Chapter Four

What Makes a Visitor Convert?

So far, we’ve covered a lot of ground on optimizing landing pages, despite not having focused very much on the creation of the page itself. This is often where an inordinate amount of time is spent — tweaking little aesthetic details and such — when the real bulk of your time should be spend on the person making the decision to click.

Oftentimes with landing pages, people put a great deal of emphasis on the product or service being sold, when the truth is — it’s actually a very small part of the overall picture, particularly when you’re just starting to create your landing pages.

Push aside all those lists of features, benefits, “reasons why” and other details for a moment. The only important thing to focus on right now is see your offer the way your prospect sees it:

  • What (unanswered) questions do they have about the product, the person or the company behind the product?
  • What past experience(s) do they have with similar products?
  • What points about your product or offer are the most appealing to them?
  • How can the product take them from where they are now, to where they want to be?

The Benefit Myth

One of the biggest misconceptions in writing to address all these issues are that if you simply display a list of benefits, the customer will be eating out of your hand. After all – benefits are a powerful motivator, right?

Not exactly.

And I realize that’s contrary to probably everything you’ve ever read about online marketing or copywriting.

Because benefits alone can’t power the sale beyond the landing page. You have to have a motivator — a proverbial kick in the digital pants to get the prospect unstuck and actively (not passively) engaged with your offer, and a laundry list of benefits isn’t going to cut it.

You’ve got to give them something beyond the offer itself something intangible but powerful. And the way you do that is by understanding what the root motivations are that cause people to act:

Fear is a Powerful Motivator

Fear — the need for safety, security, care and shelter powers many of our core decisions. The “what if’s” start to seep into our minds and create all kinds of unfortunate scenarios — none of which we want to see happen.

All you have to do to see fear as a motivator in action is to turn on the evening news — there’s fear about the job market, fear about the stock market, the list goes on and on… Closer to home, we fear losing the ones we love, paying the rent/mortgage on time, or whether or not we’re doing this thing called “life” the right way.

Many landing pages hint at fear by pushing all the prospect’s pain buttons. It’s best to be careful with this motivator though, as it’s very much like playing with fire. Too little fear, and the user doesn’t take your offer seriously (“that could never happen to me!”) Too much fear, and the negativity jars their focus away from what you have to say.

Case in point — United Agencies West conducted an email subject line test in the hopes of increasing open rates. They tested a fear based versus a “how-to” based subject line. Which one would you be more likely to click?

The first subject line, about $20,000,000 homes burned to the ground, increased leads by 65% for the insurer. Prospects rationalize that if million-dollar-mansions aren’t protected from brush fires, chances are their home isn’t either — and it motivates them to not only see the potential damage, but also protect themselves from it.

The best way to create a fear-based motivator in your landing page is to ask yourself – what is the deepest, most unspoken fear that my customer really has about my offer? Is it the fear that things ultimately won’t work out? That they’ll never get something (or someone) back? That they’ll lose or fail?

Whatever the answer is — how does your product address and calm that fear, specifically? What would make the customer shift from a mood of uncertainty and anxiety to one of calm hopefulness and confidence?

Urgency is a Powerful Motivator

The need to act quickly is another strong motivator. However, most landing pages misuse urgency terribly — in the sense that “there are only 10 copies of this e-book left” when we all know that it’s a digital good and you have an unlimited supply.

Don’t be that kind of marketer.

Not only does it cheapen your offer, but it also positions you as a fly-by-night cash-grabber who sets artificial limits where there shouldn’t be any. Had this been 1997 and e-books were new and novel, it may have been a sleek practice — but now it only serves to make you look dumb.

Instead, leverage urgency not in terms of time, but in terms of what will happen if the user doesn’t act right now. What might they be missing out on by choosing to take no action at all? That kind of thought could even potentially lead to the fear motivator above.

We humans like our comfort zone and are none too keen to step out of it. By pushing the boundaries and showing life (or a great offer) passing us by, we’re urged to step up and claim it. Some sites, like Groupon, use both time and offer urgency to create compelling deals:

  • You have X hours/minutes/seconds left to buy
  • X number of your friends or other people have already bought this deal (what are they getting that I’m not?)
  • X number of coupons have already been sold out of Y available

So you see, not only do they use time itself as a motivator, but also the sense that “you’ll be left out” if you don’t act now.

The Disney Vault is another example of this practice at work:

Periodically, Disney films will be made available and then put in the vault for several years, until it is re-released (usually in another format, such as Blu-Ray or 3D).

Although they could technically make and sell an unlimited number of movies, they voluntarily choose to limit the amount of time a specific movie is available, thus increasing its scarcity and in turn, its value. Thanks to the internet, people have bought up several copies of movies headed to the vault, and then resold them on auction sites like eBay for an extraordinary amount of money when they’re no longer available in stores.

What If I’m Selling a Digital Product?

In both cases because they’re selling tangible items, they can successfully set a limit on the number of coupons or movie availability. For digital products, most people assume that there will always be an unlimited number available, so it’s worth testing your landing page’s urgent call to action to kindle whatever issue caused the user to search for and find your page in the first place.

Last-Minute Deals

Another popular choice for landing pages is the last-minute deal. Netherlands travel site Kras.nl discovered this when it split tested two choices on its sidebar — one for the most popular vacation destinations:

And one for last-minute deals:

“Last Minutes” outperformed “popular vacations” by 58%, however, because last minute deals are typically inexpensive, revenues for Kras.nl only increased by 2%. Still, had the site been an affiliate-based landing page, the click-through and conversion rate alone would have made it a definite winner.

With all the Groupons, Living Socials and Disney Vault-style promotions out there — customers expect to find last minute savings — and if you don’t give it to them, they’ll simply try to find it somewhere else.

Results are a Powerful Motivator

Knowing what to expect is a powerful motivator against uncertainty or a lack of confidence. Too many times we become disappointed because a landing page’s promises deliver a product that doesn’t live up to the hype. You can blame this on over-zealous promotion or simply a flaky offer, but the end result is the same — the customer is not satisfied.

That’s why showing results (either in the form of experience, social proof or testimonials) can be so valuable. Just by knowing that others have been where you are, had the same questions, or came from the same starting point gives us a feeling of calm and comfort.

Case in point — Wikijob is a site that helps prepare people for real life careers through aptitude testing. They wanted to split test whether or not testimonials made a difference in sales. The first page (seen below) had no testimonials, while the second one did. Could a few lines really make that much of a difference?

Simple praises like those had a staggering effect on sales – to the tune of an increase in sales of 34%.

Although there were no names, photos or user IDs associated with the testimonials, their quick, up-front style showed that people using the site were getting the desired results, without having to gush on and on about how great the site is. Certain long-form testimonials like those can actually backfire if you’re not careful!

So with this in mind — results are a key factor in motivating people to act, whether it’s:

  • Social proof
  • Testimonials
  • Before/After Photos
  • Earnings statements
  • Charts and graphs

All of them are a testament to the solidity and value of your offer, and should be tested to see how your audience responds.

Of course, once you get people sufficiently motivated enough to click-through, there’s the rest of the sales funnel they’ll inevitably fall into. A great deal of care often goes into getting that click — but what’s the next step?

It’s All About Relevance

Fortunately, optimizing at each stage for the most relevancy not only has a great ripple effect on your search engine rankings, but also ensures that your visitor finds themselves nodding affirmatively to everything you’re writing — as if you wrote it just for them. And that’s exactly the kind of impression you want to convey!

So how do we do it?

Optimizing the Sales Funnel

With landing page optimization, it’s time to take a serious look at your sales funnel and where visitors may be slipping through the cracks. The typical sales funnel looks something like this:

Having landing pages for each step of the process is vital to capturing the largest share of targeted customers no matter where they are in the buying process:

Awareness

At this point, the potential customer is just learning about your brand or your site. Maybe they heard about you through another blog or link. They don’t have an opinion one way or the other about you. The goal of your landing page should therefore be to demonstrate your expertise in a way that can benefit them and help them with their question, concern or frustration.

Leveraging any existing trust that the customer has brought with them from the referring site (for example, if it’s a well-known news site or a leader in your industry) can be definite plus, since that built-in authority carries over subconsciously and gives you a much warmer reception with the prospect than if they had simply found you through a search engine.

Interest

By this point, the customer has heard of you and may be in the market for your offer, but they haven’t started to seriously weigh the pros or cons or decide either way. So far, however, your headline or your ad has captured their attention — so you now need to build it up with bullet points that are easy to scan and pull the customer deeper into your site.

Your landing page could entice them to do this through a free trial (“no credit card required” is a great confidence booster here), a download or some other high quality giveaway that gives them just enough information to whet their appetite and take them through to the next stage, which is…

Consideration

The prospect has learned about you, and they’re interested in what you have to offer, so at this point they’re seriously considering doing business with you or otherwise taking the action you want. So far, it has been green lights all the way — so your landing page will need to carry on these feelings by mentioning any security/service/transaction safety seals, your guarantee and any other points that will make them more comfortable and confident.

Intent

At this point, the customer knows that you’re the one they want to do business with. They may be looking to make sure their decision is a valid one — so your landing page for this segment should incorporate testimonials that convince them to take that coveted action.

Be sure to let them know what happens after they order, as many ‘thank you’ pages fail to do more than just thank the customer. Do this BEFORE the thank you page. Answer questions like:

  • How soon will my order be shipped?
  • If it’s a digital product, how do I download it?
  • What should I do if I have questions?
  • What if I need to cancel my order?
  • How do I get started with it? Is there a tutorial?

These things will put their purchasing mind at ease and give them some direction as they proceed to the next step, which is:

Evaluation

The customer has moved on from deciding to take action, and is actively comparing your solution to others in the market. This is the point at which you want to handle comparisons very carefully.

Oftentimes companies will bash their competitors in a one-to-one comparison chart, but this can backfire — since, if the prospect has tried the competitor, it may be perceived as an insult to their decision — and that can in turn hurt the confidence you’ve worked hard to build up to this point.

A better idea is not to compare or compete on things like features, but to share what makes your solution stand out. Here again, easily scanned bullet points with “just the facts” will let customers know not only how you’re different, but will do so without you ever having to mention your competition.

Purchase

The final step — and the one everybody wants more of — the purchase! You’ve worked hard up to this point, crafting landing pages that get the prospect to learn about, compare, decide and ultimately move forward with an order.

Now is the time to deliver on the promises you made back at the Intent section of the funnel — going beyond the “thank you” page to keep the customer informed and education every step of the way, so that they will hopefully find themselves among the glowing testimonials that you’ve presented to other visitors who are still in the “just looking” phase.

Optimizing Your Keywords / PPC Ads

Now that you understand how to create landing pages for each stage of the sales funnel, you’ll need to make sure that your keywords and paid ads reflect the phrases customers in each stage of the process.

Let’s say for example that your site reviews mobile phones, and you want to encourage customers to click through your ads, check out the reviews, and ultimately buy the right phone for their needs.

To do this, you can create a simple PPC ad testing matrix with keywords and ad ideas to split test for each type of landing page (see below).

For Awareness and Interest — Your keywords and ads will need to be broader and include information such as the best phones for ____, (current year) smart phone reviews and more. At this point, people aren’t sure which model will suit their needs, but they need to decide whether they want a phone for work, play or family — and what kinds of features they want in it.

For Consideration and Intent — Visitors likely already know what features they want in a phone, so at this point they’re looking for reviews, comparison charts, versus for specific models, pros and cons and any potential issues to watch for.

For Evaluation and Purchase — The buyer has spoken.They now want to know who has their favorite model in stock for the best price, fastest shipping or even no-hassle returns if they don’t like it. Specific pricing and customer store ratings (via rich snippets in Google) will go a long way toward creating ads that convert.

If you thought that plain forms always won out over their more aesthetically-pleasing counterparts, in this case, you’d be incorrect. The graphical form actually converted better — with 23% more completed form submissions than its plainer variation.

Of course, this wasn’t a true split test, since several things were changed including the step numbers, the instant quote button and the images at the right. It would have been interesting to see whether or not each change would have had a marked effect (increase or decrease) on the form submission rate.

It’s worth noting that an architectural school had the opposite effect on their landing page form. They created two versions — one highlighting student work to increase the odds that prospective students would submit an interest form, and another without the link to student work:

The version without a link to student galleries increased form submissions by nearly 57% — proving that the less distractions you incorporate on your landing page, the better. In this case, while it may have been an interesting link to prospective students to browse the work of others at their potential university — the request information form simply wasn’t the right place for it.

The bottom line? It’s always worth testing to see what your visitors respond to.

Optimize Your Emails

Even if a subscription form isn’t part of your landing page, optimizing your emails to speak directly to your subscribers is an important step in proper landing page optimization. There are all kinds of segmentation options to consider, and depending on the email marketing software you’re using, there may be more sophisticated branching and if/then options to truly narrow down specific users and their goals — for example:

Behavioral Segmentation

You can segment your lists depending on the actions a user took while on your site. For instance, if they spent X amount of time on your pages or visited Y pages, they’re in more of a buying or information-gathering mode than someone who just haphazardly came across your site from a simple search.

This can, in turn, help you understand where each user falls in the sales funnel, and craft emails that correspond to their location in the decision-making process.

B2B marketing platform Bizo ran an email split test to encourage downloads of a whitepaper on their services. They split the test between a more marketing-focused design vs. a plainer “article style”.

First is the marketing-style design:

Bizo’s marketing style design email

Notice how this version maintains common best practices, including putting an image and the download now button above the fold, plus making the headline a more dynamic color — compare this to the second version:

Here the layout is much plainer, the headline blends in more with the content, and the download button and image are below the fold. Which email would you choose to download the product from?

Would you be surprised to learn that the second variation beat the first by increasing whitepaper downloads by 63%? That’s no small feat — but it’s also surprising, since the first email takes into account all the “best practices” we hear about — above the fold, large call-to-action, product image, noticeable headline, etc.

This just proves yet again, that even though you have a hunch that one creative will outperform another — that you should always test and have your audience decide. In this case, when marketing emails look a bit too much like marketing, customers opted not to click through because they didn’t want to feel like they were being ‘sold’ to.

Job Title Segmentation

Another method of segmenting users is by job title. A CEO is going to have different needs and expectations than someone working in the sales department. As such, if you’re attracting a broad base of users, it’s a good idea to email them periodically and let them know that you want to connect with them and make sure you’re sending them information that they find useful and actionable.

With this in mind, it’s easy to create a simple survey with a few specific questions such as their job title, industry and other non-personal questions (no asking how much money they make or their highest level of education — unless it’s directly related to your industry, they would likely rather not say).

Ask only the questions you need to get the answers you need and nothing else.

Social Media Segmentation

With the explosion of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks, email list management programs have had to scramble to offer more segmentation options through these channels. If a user came to you through Facebook, for example, they may be more interested in visual emails that share stories as opposed to a user coming from Twitter, who might expect more quotable snippets.

Even beyond how they found your list are their own interests as influencers and participants in their own respective social media spheres. Klout has done a good job creating categories that most social media participants fit into, and turned it into a matrix, where there is no one “right” way to interact and engage:

Although you shouldn’t segment your social media-based email marketing list from this chart, it will give you a good idea of the different types of users you’ll encounter and how to converse with them.

A Note on Personal Involvement…

SmartBear.com, a software development company specializing in tracking and monitoring tools, conducted an email split test wherein they sent out a typical mailing about their software, versus a mailing that appeared to come personally from an account representative. Here was the first, more traditional message:

A common email promoting TestComplete from SmartBear

An email which appeared to be forwarded from an account specialist

This test generated some astonishing results:

  • 9.3% higher open rates
  • 114% higher click-through rates
  • 102% higher click-to-open rate

It even won an honorable mention from WhichTestWon’s 2013 email marketing awards.

But before you go jumping into adding RE: or FW: to your email marketing subject lines — you should know that sometimes it can decrease opens and clickthroughs — like in this study.

Adding RE: or FW: to an email subject line

Notice the whopping 277%+ unsubscribe rate versus industry average. So why did SmartBear’s forward work so well? It’s likely because they had already established a relationship with their customers and the customers had tested out their software, so receiving an update via a “forwarded” message wouldn’t exactly be unexpected.

However, once you’ve got your emails properly segmented and optimized, there’s still the content of the offer itself. Many of the same strategies that apply broadly to landing pages work just as well for the copy on the page.

Here are just a few ways to make sure your copy is doing its job without putting too much pressure on your readers and turning them off of your landing page.

(Note: Images source: Marketing Experiments Blog / Copywriting Clinic)

Question Headlines with No Initiative or Value

In the image below, the question is “Why Try Britainnica Online?” and although the bullet points supplement the answer with lots of features — the reader’s instinctive answer to the question is:

“I don’t know, why?”

As you can see, there’s no initiative to keep reading or want to know more — even though the bullet points might do a phenomenal job of explaining:

When you present a clear value proposition — including what customers get as a result of reading, they’ll be more likely to continue on and see how your bullet points and features further reinforce the main offer in the headline.

A Lack of “Power Words”

Power words are action-verbs like “Get”, “Download” “Access” and more. Compare these to weaker, more passive words like “Find”, “Learn” or “See”. “Click Here” tells the reader nothing. “Click here to get your free download” is much more powerful. The word alone won’t change thing — “Get Whitepaper” for instance, will likely not increase your click-throughs and conversion rate as much as “Get a Free Whitepaper that Shows You How to Boost Business by 150%”.

Not Knowing When to Shut Up

This is a common problem for many landing pages — because people mistakenly think that the landing page has to really lay the sales and information on thick — since there’s no page navigation or other details that will lead the customer on to wanting to learn more.

So in their zest for putting everything on the table, they quite literally throw everything on one page:

The truth is — when a user clicks through to your landing page after searching for widgets, they don’t need to be convinced that you’ve got the best widgets in town. They’ll make that decision after they weigh your offer with others (see the customer actions pyramid), so your only job is to give them what they want — as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

Not Sharing Enough Information

Right up there with not knowing when to stop talking is the complete opposite of this problem — not giving people enough information to make a well-informed decision. In the example below, people clicking through to this landing page likely know what Forex is — but they don’t know the details about specific trading. That’s where more information can truly help them take the next step.

Of course, there’s no guaranteed outcome that if you make your landing page too wordy or not informative enough that conversions will rise or tank — it’s all a matter of testing to determine what resonates best with your audience, and how closely your offer matches what they’re looking for — no matter where they are in the sales funnel.

Disconnect Between Your Topic & Audience Expectations

When your customers receive your messages, they expect to be spoken to a certain way. They expect to get right to the point and then evaluate what you have to say. By throwing in terms they’re unfamiliar with or unaccustomed to, you run the risk of alienating them from whatever you were trying to share.

A perfect illustration of this disconnect comes from MarketingExperiments’ own email list. The first email talks about a Porsche vs. a Corolla — definitely not something you’d expect when the topic is landing page optimization, right? The second email is much more on target:

Too Much Information

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your landing page copy will be overwhelming — especially when it’s combined with a lot of visual elements. The very things that are supposed to attract people to take action are only serving to distract them.

Look at the example below, of a site selling email leads. It’s not clear what path they want visitors to take — should they watch the video first or fill out the form? What about those bullet points in the sidebar, are they important?

Contrast that with the second version which offers a much easier-to-follow eye-tracking flow, a cleaner opt-in form and a real order and direction to the content.

Generic Images that Pull Away from Your Offer

When writing content for your landing pages, your images should always strive to add to and embellish the content rather than pull the user away from it. Case in point — using stock photos, as in this version:

No matter how great your email marketing campaign tool may be, as this example shows, actually showing pictures of the templates being used will do far more to sell users on the idea than a generic stock photo. Always look for ways to position your product in such a way that it gives users a glimpse of what’s possible when they take that next step.

Optimize Your Call-to-Action Buttons

Although it’s a tiny part of your overall landing page optimization plan, your call to action button is nevertheless one of the most powerful elements on the page. Done right, call-to-action button optimization can have a staggering affect on click-throughs and conversion rates — to the tune of 30% or more.

Use Actionable Language

Just like with copy optimization, your landing page button should use action-oriented language and include a reference on what it is the customer is getting — for example “Download Your Free Email Marketing Template Now — Instant Access” is far more compelling than “Learn More”.

The button at the bottom on the left version reads “Find Out More” versus the button at the bottom on the right version, which reads “Click Here for More Info”

And just in case you think your customers won’t care what your call-to-action button says, just look at a test run by Monarch, in the U.K.

The “Click Here for More Information” version got 97% more clicks and 16% more page views than the generic “Find out More” version.

Admittedly, they could have used more actionable, dynamic wording rather than testing between the weak and all-too-common “Find Out More” vs. “Learn More”, but nevertheless, the most interesting finding here was that people really will scroll all the way to the bottom of a page and decide to take action (or not), based on how persuasive that call to action is.

Align Your Action with the Offer

One of the most common mistakes people make when optimizing their call to action is failing to align it with the offer itself. For example, if you’re giving away a free course on how to improve your dating skills, you don’t want to refer to it as an ebook in the copy — otherwise there’s a disconnect between what you’re offering, and what your copy says you’re offering.

In the copy itself, make it abundantly clear what people will get as a result of clicking that button. How will their lives be improved? How will their business efforts pay off? How soon can they get started? These are all questions that can be answered in the single sentence that compels them to click the call to action button.

Optimizing the Button

The button itself shouldn’t be overlooked either. Make it look like a button — give it depth with gradients, drop-shadows or both. Incorporate words that denote urgency such as “now” or “starting today”.

Another common mistake is to make your call-to-action area blend in with your website. While you can use the same elements of your existing color scheme, it’s a good idea to give your button and the background of the page area where your offer is, enough contrast to where they immediately draw the eye in to read more.

Pitchbox, an online marketing and optimization platform, ran a split test for two calls-to-action — one featuring “Join Our Private Beta” and another “By Invitation Only”

The call-to-action button itself also tied in with the offer command:

The “Now Available by Invitation Only” version increased sign-ups by over 273% — likely because it sounds more exclusive, whereas “join our private beta — we need your help” comes off as desperate and begging.

A beta can also mean, especially to more technical users, that the product is still under construction and may not be trustworthy or may still be full of errors and other issues.

Don’t Forget to Test!

It may sound strange to test your call-to-action — after all, it’s just a sentence or two and a button, right? But as you’ve seen from the Monarch example, unusual and sometimes surprising results can come from testing different elements — ranging from button color to the actual text used on the button.

Once you have your message and all the elements that go into your landing page properly optimized — it’s time for the tests. These tests are often the make-or-break point for landing page optimization, since many people start with small tests that don’t really move the conversion needle much, and then get discouraged when their conversion rate barely changes.

Fortunately, in the next chapter, we’ll be looking at how to craft landing page optimization hypothesis on what to test, how to measure results, what area of the page can gift you larger lifts in conversions and click-through rates, and much more.