8 Simple But Powerful Landing Page Copywriting Tips

You don’t have to be Hemingway to write landing page copy that will resonate with your prospects. Image source.

The “short pitch” is the purest form of marketing. When I started out in marketing in nineteen hrmpmubmmmumble, I did some copywriting for one-page print and direct mail pieces. They required really sharp, compelling, minimal prose. Ever try selling the virtues of a roof consulting firm in a four-inch print ad? Yeah.

Today, nothing demands more of a writer than creating copy for a landing page. You have to communicate your value, get the visitor to keep reading and get them to act. A tall order in any setting. And you have to do it all on a single page.

And while landing pages are online and print ads are, well, print, many of the same principles still apply. Here are eight copywriting tips that ring true regardless of where your copy appears.

1. Provide ROTI

Your first job when creating landing page copy is to provide Return on Time Invested, or ROTI. The first investment any potential customer makes is time. When they click that PPC ad and head to your landing page, they’re spending time – you need to make it worthwhile.

That’s the core principle of great landing page copy: As the customer, I have limited time. Tell me what I need to know. Tell me right away. Don’t get cute about it. Don’t make me hunt for it. I’m here because I have a need. Tell me how you’ll fill it or I’ll leave.

2. Sell the page

Don’t just sell the product. Sell the page.

The very first thing the reader sees should explain why they should stick around. Yes, a great headline helps. But follow up with more. Here’s what I mean:

  • Buy now!!!!” isn’t very effective on its own.
  • Need better widgets? Buy from us!” isn’t much better.
  • A lighter, stronger widget will improve your profit and decrease maintenance life cycles” is great, especially if you follow with “Here’s how.

I’m not just pushing the product. I’m providing information. I’m going to tell you why my product is lighter and stronger. And, even if you don’t buy my product, you’ll come away with information.

3. Avoid plague words

Landing pages require compact prose.

Plague words are words that bloat prose – stuff like “at about” (which should be “at”) and “ask the question” (which can be shortened to “ask”). These words waste time. They lower ROTI. Or they confuse the reader, which in turn lowers ROTI.

Read this:

“Indeed, our cycling helmet is lighter and stronger due to our use of unobtanium.”

Now read this:

“We use unobtainium to make a lighter, stronger helmet.”

Same message. Fewer words.

Being concise is an art. You can find a tab-delimited list of plague words that I maintain here.

4. Show social proof

If you have lots of customers or you’ve handled 10,000 orders in 24 hours, make it known. Social proof is a powerful thing.

Moxie uses various types of social proof to incentivize prospects to buy.

Social sharing buttons provide a great, basic example. When those little buttons that let you tweet, share and pin a particular piece of content show lots of other folks sharing, you’re more likely to share, too. We’ve tested this and found that as the share count increases, the rate of sharing accelerates.

Another test for a client really drove this point home. We set up an A/B test for e-mail subscription landing pages: Version 1 espouses the virtues of the information you’ll receive. Version 2 does the same thing, but adds a single line:

“4,500 current subscribers.”

The client, a publisher with 1 million+ website visitors per month was concerned that 4,500 subscribers was too low and might drive away potential subscribers. Subscription rates on version 2 went up 20%.

Social proof. Use it.

5. Try the Blank Sheet of Paper Test

If you wrote your headline, subhead, image caption or first paragraph on a blank sheet of paper and handed it to a stranger on the street, would they understand it?

That’s the Blank Sheet of Paper Test. The higher up on the page it appears, the more important it is that your writing be clear without context.

I’ve got some painful examples. Warning: these aren’t for the faint of heart:

“Supreme Court Tries Sodomy”

I’m an open-minded guy, but I don’t think that’s what they meant. This headline might be passable on a print page with explanatory text around it. Online, and especially without context, it’s a disaster. How about:

“Supreme Court Tries Sodomy Case”

A less painful example:

“Lighter. Stronger. The H1.”

Hmmm. What is the H1? If this is on a print page with a huge image, it could work. On the web, where I might see this in an e-mail, in a tweet or in some other snippet, it’s a mystery. Add one word and it starts to make sense:

“Lighter. Stronger. The H1 Helmet.”

If you have the room:

“Lighter. Stronger. The H1 Cycling Helmet.”

Here’s another doozy:

“Royals To Get a Taste of Angels’ Colon”

… I can’t fix that one, sorry.

6. Swing for the fences

On their site, Linode says their servers have “Zeus-like power.”


That’s pretty powerful.

David Ogilvy said that when it comes to copywriting, you must go big or go home. So go big. Don’t be cheesy, but make your claim in no uncertain terms.

7. Apply the breaks

If you have a long landing page, break it up with subheadings, images, bullet points and other goodies so that the reader can “rest” along the way.

Take a look at Basecamp’s homepage. It’s long, but the page is broken up with images and subheadings.

Basecamp Homepage
Click for full-length page.

This page does a ton of other great things such as repeating the offer throughout.

8. Don’t use a checklist

I just gave you a bunch of “rules” for good landing page copy, but I’ve got one last bit of (counterintuitive) advice.

When you’re writing landing pages, the first rule is there are no rules. Try different things. Use a post like this as a starting point, but understand you’re writing for people and you’re writing about your own unique products.

Write smart, test everything and keep track of what works and what doesn’t. The knowledge you gain will get you out of checklist mode and into unique, effective copywriting mode.

Looking for more advanced copywriting wisdom? Register for our upcoming webinar by clicking the CTA below. If you can’t make it, we’ll send you the recording!

— Ian Lurie

About Ian Lurie
Ian Lurie is the founder and CEO of Portent, an internet marketing and technology company he started in 1995. He recently co-wrote the 2nd edition of the Web Marketing All-In-One For Dummies, has recorded training for Lynda.com and is an international speaker. Ian writes regularly for the Portent blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes and TechCrunch.
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  1. Plamen

    3. Avoid plague words http://www.hemingwayapp.com/

  2. Liesl Barrell

    Awesome post! Love the obfuscatory unobtanium example :)

    • Ian

      Short story: When I was a teen-ager, I raced BMX. Oakley made these cool handgrips, called Oakley 3s. On the package, they said they used Unobtainium to make them. I’ve loved the term ever since.

  3. Dana

    These are awesome tips. I find it hard sometimes to include the SEO elements (also vital) and still meet conversion goals – I don’t really want to force clients to use adwords to drive traffic. I want SEO to be the leading inbound strategy but it’s such a fine line!

  4. Sam Barnes

    This is a great post Ian.

    Lots of interesting content here.

    We’ve seen good results specifically by breaking up the page. I’ve seen a couple of landing pages that had a H1 and 2 H2s. That’s never going to work …

    The go big or go home quote from Ogilvy is awesome too. It’s something I need to do more. I sometimes shy away from going really powerful as I’m concerned that it’s going to be really corny and push the visitor away.

    It’s something else to add to the list of possible A/B tests though!

    • Ian

      I love doing A/B tests of more and less extreme/weird/controversial copy. I tend to write in a kind of smart-assy tone. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Testing that is a great reality check.

    • Kevin Sherman

      Plus, the issue with jumping between h1 and h2 tags presents challenges for search engines and especially can make it difficult for visitors using assistive devices/technologies for accessibility. Visitors can easily get lost without the clear visual hierarchy.

      I think my favorite was the Blank Sheet of Paper Test. We tend to look at the copy writing altogether rather than separating out little chunks to figure out if anything is telling the story on it’s own. Sure, in an ideal world everyone would read every word, but that probably never happens :P

  5. sherman smith

    Hey Ian,

    You provided some great tips. A couple of them intrigue me and gave me that aha moment. I like the Blank Sheet of Paper test which I never heard of. But when you put in terms about writing a headline , sub headling, image or short paragraph then it made sense.. would this intrigue someone on the streets or not! hmm.. may have to put this to the test ;)

    Also I like the way you put down “don’t use a checklist”.. when i first saw that, I was like “huh?” but then i read a little further which also gave me that “oooohhhh” moment LOL… Yes, when it comes down to it there are no rules! Just do what works best for you!

    thanks for sharing!

    I voted for this post on kingged in the Copywriting category

  6. Michael Kenneth

    That is great tip that I need to get more understand about that.
    Thank you Unbounce.

  7. Amadeuz07

    I think the most plain reason that the reader easily leaves the pages is tip number one. You cannot spend one minute on the page that doesn’t tell you what to do or what to know in plain words, they don’t want to be bored. I also like how you add and explain the social proof to the list, it is a very useful tool to attract and to build the trust of the readers and as well to promote your landing pages. Thanks for the tips a lot of golden nuggets I found in this article.

  8. Luis

    These are great tips! I will test several methods on my landing page. Thanks

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