Why I Used to Hate Landing Pages…

By | Google+ , October 14th, 2012 in Landing Pages | 14 comments

In November 2004 I had my first real encounter with marketing. It was a horrible experience.

At the time I came from the user experience (UX) crowd, indulging in usability, interaction design, information architecture and other such altruistic endeavours rooted in a desire to make the web work better for “the customer”. The marketing folks had an entirely different agenda with no real concern for anything but the bottom line. (Not wrong, just different from what I was used to).

Landing pages should be designed with a ruthless attention to a single business goal. When approached correctly, they can still involve a healthy dose of user centered design – alongside a conversion centered methodology.

We were discussing ideas for a new campaign and how to integrate it into the corporate website. They wanted to use a separate standalone “landing page“. I’d never heard the term before and started to gag when I heard the list of requirements.

What I hated about the “landing page”

The landing page was going to break rules I usually worked hard to uphold. From a user centered design (UCD) perspective, I was worried about three main things:

  1. No navigation: It struck me as being a tunnel-vision design tactic to try and trap the user on the page, not allowing them to determine their own experience.
  2. No link on the logo: This is a similar point and breaks a fundamental rule of facilitating simple transport to the homepage. Why make them type in the URL, or delete half of what’s in the address bar?
  3. Inaccessible: The design was almost completely image based, chopped into several large graphics and dumped on the page – rather than being a well constructed HTML page with accessible content (to readers and syndication) and good SEO value.

My thinking: This will just lead to annoyed visitors and lots of attention being paid to the back button.

Gather Round as I Admit to Being Wrong

I don’t say “I’m wrong” all that often. Not because I’m a rancidly stubborn egomaniac. Rather because I just happen to be naturally good at stuff (#notmyfault). But in this instance I was completely wrong. Not with regard to my concerns, but with their relative importance. You need to use a different mindset when approaching design for conversion. Landing pages, as it turns out, are actually a pretty good idea.

Landing pages aren’t so bad

Positioned right in the middle of the sales funnel, landing pages play a critical binding role in the conversion experience of your visitors. They should be educational – to expand upon the ad message that brought them your way. They should offer value – if you’re giving something away, make it good. Trickery has no part to play in a real marketing campaign and you should aim to make your customer’s day a little better by providing a product or service with real and tangible benefits.

What I now like about landing pages

Over time I’ve come to understand the role landing pages (and marketing people) play in making a business successful, and I can honestly say that I like them both more than I used to. I won’t say “love”, because I’m reserving that for things like bonus cheques, girls, and wine from Argentina. What I will do is share a few key lesson I’ve learned.

Looking back at 2004 and my earlier issues, I came up with this new list:

  1. One thing at a time: While writing this post I got up from my laptop at least 30 times. Why? Because I have ADD and I’m easily bored. Guess what? So do/are your potential customers. It’s hard to dedicate your attention to something when there are so many distractions around you. Landing pages – when done right – have a single focused objective and they don’t let you wander off (because they remove the navigation and you can’t click on the logo).
  2. Designed for a specific purpose: Websites are designed to deal with multiple goals, maybe multiple personas, and they need to accommodate technical visitors such as search engines. Landing pages can be about nothing more than a single idea. A campaign should have a single measurable goal, and your landing page should be a selfish reflection of that.
  3. Creative freedom: Not being tethered to your company’s website guidelines gives you significantly wider creative latitude. Try a full-page background image with a button layered over the top. Switch to a black background to create a more intense mood than your corporate site. Push the boundaries in the name of conversion (but not at the expense of brand values). Test new or crazy ideas without having to design by committee. If you end up arguing direction in the boardroom, do an A/B test with each idea and prove which is best. Remove conjecture.
  4. Communication oriented: Yes it might be image heavy, but sometimes it’s better to have a compelling typographic treatment that communicates effectively, than having a page of dull 12pt Verdana text. Note: If you are doing paid search via Google AdWords or similar, then you need to pay closer attention to the actual HTML text content in order to maintain a good quality score. It’s not the be all and end all, but is something you should take into account. You may gain better placement and a lower cost per click (CPC) if you have bot-readable text that matches your ad.
  5. SEO is not always a factor*: Typically, a campaign specific landing page is designed to be withheld from the search engines to stop it interfering with your conversion stats (when running a PPC campaign for example). This allows you to focus on the purity of your message, as opposed to trying to insert keyword-rich phrases in your copy. *The exception is the type of single page website that uses a sales letter style template (with a ton of content), and is created to attract organic traffic.

At the end of the day, if you are connecting customers with valuable products and services, then conversion centered design is solving a user centered problem. And everybody wins.


What do you think about landing pages?

Share your opinions on landing pages as a concept, and why you love or hate them.

– Oli Gardner


About The Author

Photo of Oli Gardner

Co-Founder of Unbounce. Oli has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He is an opinionated writer and international speaker on Conversion Centered Design. You should follow Oli on Twitter
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Comments

  1. I had somewhat of a similar reaction the first time I met landing pages. While it didn’t take me long to grow to love their results, sometimes they do still trigger that reflex. In addition to the actual UX itself it sometimes bugs me to know that I’m losing a portion of the traffic that now has no where to go if they do not purchase. Of course, that’s not always a bad thing – and not always terminal – but it does trigger a response that we feel after we’ve been focused on traffic retention.
    Kim

  2. Gemma W. says:

    Okay you’ve removed the navigation and I can’t click on the logo. But there’s nothing you can do to stop me from clicking the back button, closing the tab or typing in a new URL in the location bar.

    Also, even landing pages should be accessible to blind and deaf visitors. That means a blind visitor should be able to navigate the page in a reader, and all audio and video should be transcribed and subtitled.

    • Oli Gardner says:

      Sure, you could go to all that bother. But the purpose is to have a page designed for singular purpose. Which has nothing to do with accessibility – you will be able to read and navigate the page as normal – but as with every other visitor you won’t have the obvious option to leave the intended conversion path.

      • Gemma W. says:

        I’m just bringing up accessibility because you mentioned in the article that it was done away with.

        “Inaccessible: The design was almost completely image based, chopped into several large graphics and dumped on the page – rather than being a well constructed HTML page with accessible content (to readers and syndication) and good SEO value.”

        Just supposing a person belonging in the audience you’re targeting is blind. He or she will need some way of reading your material on the landing page. Or isn’t their money good enough? Are you saying they are not important enough to include in your target audience? Not important enough to do a little bit of extra work in planning and execution so that they can be included?

        Same applies for deaf and hard of hearing people as far as video and audio content on landing pages is concerned.

        So accessibility is still important.

        And it is rather obvious to use the back button or to close the tab. I’d say, as a regular user myself, it’s more obvious and faster than using the navigation or logo to navigate away. Just saying…

        • Oli Gardner says:

          I think people are misconstruing my point here re: accessibility. It’s a crucial factor in web page creation (goes without saying). I was saying that the original page was bad because it *wasn’t* accessible. And in my comment above I’m saying that the *purpose* isn’t accessibility, mainly because there shouldn’t be links away from a correctly designed landing page. You do make a great point about transcribing video though – although that’s going to be hard to include on a simple page without creating a lot of clutter.

          • Gemma W. says:

            Fair enough. That wasn’t clear in the article. I still don’t advise using images as described as it wouldn’t be accessible in a reader.

            Closed captioning is the answer regarding making video accessible.

  3. When it comes to landing pages I always wondered about one thing….
    With an exception of email newsletter signup goals, How is it that one short simple clean landing page expected to do the same job of converting the visitor that the whole website would otherwise be designed to do? Can people get enough information about the product to be persuaded to take action in just 1 pager? Action being to call or buy (anything other than simple email signup that one I can understand)

    • Oli Gardner says:

      The main reason is that you are focusing their attention on a single thing rather than many. A good example I saw was a great Campaign Monitor landing page that had one CTA, whereas there homepage had 41 links on it.

      For lead gen (newsletter signup etc.) you just need to show the value of what they’ll get. In the case of ecommerce, the point of a click-through page is simply to warm the customer up to the idea of what you’re peddling in your ad before you send then to your site, without any other distractions.

      Here’s more detail including a link to the Campaign Monitor example: http://unbounce.com/landing-page-articles/why-should-i-use-landing-pages/

      • thanx Oli,
        the link you sent explained it very well “landing pages are focused on a single objective that matches the intent of the ad” , so I guess it’s about that relevancy match “scent” and then forwarding them on to other pages (not about getting them to buy on the spot — in non-newsletter and more complex paid products)

  4. […] them in the process Oct 18 Oli Gardner (@oligardner) gave me a chuckle this morning as he punched landing pages in the throat, then apologized and made googly eyes at them. I was laughing with him, not at him. . . I have had […]

  5. Shycon says:

    There seems to be a trend in the convergence of landing pages and websites anyway. A lot of SaaS products and pre-launches are nothing but landing pages with little navigation until you sign up.

  6. RPMillar says:

    “campaign specific landing page is designed to be withheld from the search engines to stop it interfering with your conversion stats (when running a PPC campaign for example)”

    How do I do that for my Unbounce pages, please?

    Thanks and Regards,

    Robert

    • Oli Gardner says:

      Hi Robert,
      If you go to the page editor, and click on the “Title and Meta”, you’ll find a check box to prevent it from being indexed by search engines.
      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Oli