You can make sweet looking landing pages that work. All you need is the willingness to try, a trash can for all your excuses, and these 5 awesome free tools that are like the swiss army knife for entrepreneurial hackers. Oh ya, you’ll need an account on unbounce.com. (Editor’s note: umm thanks! :)
Before I get into the details of the handy little swiss army knife of tools, let me put in the caveat that I am not a designer, I am not a developer, nor am I a professional marketer. I’m not a Mac or PC devotee. I don’t have PhotoShop or any other paid or licensed design software whether on my desktop or cloud-based. Nor do I know how to write CSS. I know enough HTML to be dangerous and can dig through CSS to find styles if I need to, but it hasn’t slowed me down.
I am an entrepreneur who needs to be able to do everything. Oh sure, I can hire people to do all of the above tasks but that is expensive and time consuming, especially at the early stages of the customer discovery and validation phase when the ROI is wildly unknown.
Without further ado, in the spirit of agility, running lean, and a just-f*&kin-do-it (JFDI) attitude let me introduce to you to the toolset.
This gem of a website is handy for making buttons, tabs, backgrounds, and probably more. If you’ve ever tried scooping buttons and other little elements from other websites, it’s a real pain in the butt (and not that ethical either). The buttons are not big enough, the text can’t be changed, making them transparent can be tough, and in general, it sucks.
With this tool, you’ll be making hawt little buttons and tabs in no time. When I first started using Unbounce, I made square buttons and backgrounds that were barely good enough.
Okay fine, they sucked. But now, with this little tool, my pages have zip.
My favorite feature is the ability to add gradients that automatically gives you street cred as a designer, at least I think it does. To give you an example, check out the little screenshots I’ve provided below. Notice the rounded corners at the top but not the bottom. Also notice the dark grey to light grey gradient. But best of all, because the page looks so good, I upped the price and am making more money.
I’m red-green color blind so when it comes to adding colors to designs, I am like a fish out of water and can use all the help I can get. There’s nothing more painful than trying to pick a color from a palette of 1 bajillion colors. The preview box is small and then when you see the color in full, it looks hideous. This is particularly true for neon colors.
Enter ColorZilla. It’s like a floatation device in a sea of colors.
Author’s note: If you use Chrome, Safari, or heaven forbid IE, you can probably find an add-on or extension that is the same as ColorZilla. Just do a search for “color picker” in the add-on marketplace.
When I start designing a page, I usually find an existing website that I can use as a guide. For example, I was recently developing a page whose only colors are red, white and black. Naturally most text will be black, the background will be white, and everything else needs to be red. You guessed it, I opted for red on red navigation. Do you know how to pick two reds that are complementary? I don’t but CNN.com does.
I go to CNN.com, whip out ColorZilla, click on one shade of red, copy the HEX code, and paste it to a handy text editor (TextEdit on a Mac or NotePad on PC – both are bonus free tools that you should already be using) for future use. Repeat for the other shade of red and I’m off to the races. look below to see my example of red on red. It’s not earth shattering but it’s extra polish that gives the page more life. You get bonus points if you noticed the roundedcornr’s.
In addition to making landing pages look good, it helps to have some functionality, namely forms to collect information from customers. For example, I created a very basic unbounce lead gen page. Great, I find out the customers email, name, and get permission to call them back. But why stop there?
My thank you page offers a 5-minute needs assessment survey which delivers value and strengthens the brand. The best part is that the survey took me a matter of minutes to create and embed into a page branded with my logo.
How did I create and embed the survey, you ask? Easy, Google Forms or JotForm.com. I’ve used both and I prefer JotForm’s customizability better than Google’s. Google Docs doesn’t give you the thank you page customization that I want. It also has Google branding on it which sucks because I don’t want them taking credit for my work.
JotForm, meanwhile, is white labeled and as a bonus, they make it really easy to collect money with quasi-shopping cart functionality. If you’re selling an ebook or other electronic goods, this is a great option to try. Unfortunately, it t is only free up to a certain number of form submissions.
Weighing all the options, the potential cost of JotForm is worth it. Alone, the customizable thank you page makes it possible to track results in Google Analytics and Google Adwords, which is critical for measuring your results.
I could go into way more detail to create a how-to guide for creating and using forms but that’s for another blog post. I hope I’ve at least conveyed enough information for you to just start using one of these form builders.
If RoundedCornr.com is great for creating backgrounds and buttons then FreshBadge is great for creating round badges that can be used to highlight part of your offering with something that quickly grabs the eye’s attention.
For example, I wanted to highlight quantity discounts. I created a “$15 Off” badge and a “Quantity Discounts” badge. I ended up creating one using FreshBadge.com and one in RoundedCornr.com so I didn’t look like a one-trick pony. See the example below.
There are two or three other badge generators but I found FreshBadge.com to be the most versatile, albeit slow at generating the badge. I think it’s slow on purpose so you’ll spend more time reading the ads on the page. But hey, when you’re cheap, err, I mean frugal, like me, you put up with these minor inconveniences.
Others to try out are:
Last but not least, you need an image editor of some sort. My design skills, or lack thereof, certainly don’t justify a licensed copy of PhotoShop. Nor do I care to learn how to use it. I’ve settled for the lightweight and free option.
If you’re on a Mac, grab PaintBrush and if you’re on a PC, Microsoft Paint will do the trick. I seem to recall installing PaintBrush on my Mac but MS Paint is native to Windows. Just do a search for it in your Accessories folder.
Both are good enough for simple editing such as cropping or resizing. I have experience using Corel PaintShopPro and while it offers more functionality, I haven’t found the need to use it for any of my landing pages now that I’ve been using all the other tools above.
So there you have it. Five free tools: 1) RoundedCornr.com 2) ColorZilla 3) Google Docs / Jotform.com 4) FreshBadge.com 5. Paintbrush / Paint. I hope you jump right in and start making landing pages right away.
Am I missing any free tools? Please add your comments below.