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Why I Hated Landing Pages…

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

I come 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 guys had an entirely different agenda with no real concern for anything but the bottom line.

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 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 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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  1. David Scoville

    I find myself in the same dilemma. It's always a matter of usability vs. conversion.

    However, depending on your market demographic, I believe customers are smarter than we think. To remove navigation and logo links might frustrate the user. They are more likely to become QUALIFIED leads if they've had an opportunity to scan services, case studies, and testimonials etc. Often, leaving navigation allows them to surf your website. The key, then, is to have multiple calls-to-action throughout the site. In this sense, landing pages are just that–pages for potential clients to land on and then proceed to become informed through other pages (if needs be) in order to make informed decisions about using your company's services/products.

    Ultimately, there is not “one” way to build landing pages. It all depends on your target market and the objectives of the landing page.

  2. averbs

    I think that landing pages as a concept are great. Depending on the campaign or the purpose of the page, you can really do much of the research and grunt work for your potential customers / clients. The more work you do, the less work they have to do to find what they're looking for (and why they should purchase/try/signup). I think that it also comes back to simplicity – and you have to ask yourself not what you can add, but what you can take away and still get the same point across.

  3. oligardner

    It also comes down to the type of landing page: click-through vs lead gen. On a lead gen page (for example an eBook download) – you primary interest lies in obtaining an item you have determined to be of value.

    With a click-through page, the intent is to provide enough context to enhance the level of interest, so that when they get to your website, they have a heightened sense of focus and commitment. At this point they would do their exploratory navigation before completing the purchase cycle.

  4. oligardner

    Removing things is always a great way to improve any page. Write once, edit continuously (at least twice), and remove something each time until you produce the simplest representation of your value proposition possible.

  5. Brian Massey

    As a Conversion Scientist, I often butt heads with good designers when they see my landing page requirements. It is counter to much of their training. The truth is that good design is as important for a landing page as for any page. We need those who understand contrast, position, color and layout to make landing pages work. I'll share post this with all of my designers.

    For some extreme examples of unintuitive landing page design, see the presentation “Secrets of the Bad Boys of Online Sales Conversion” http://bit.ly/crysUJ.

  6. oligardner

    Great video presentation Brian (the link above). Very insightful look into the rationale behind the sales letter style landing page.

  7. Ag3nt On3

    I've wanted do some Google A/B testing with landing pages in WordPress. Nice overview here.

  8. online marketing blog

    landing page really are the best thing since sliced bread! For a marketer we can propose an hypothesis and then test and prove or disprove it very quickly. For really high traffic sites you can read statistical significance into the results within hours or days. Try doing that with a DM package.

  9. eblogr

    Good stuff, found your link through the 3T forums.

    There is always a clash between the two worlds, isn't it. Good user experience does not always go down well with a site that needs you to take an action. finding the right trade off, i necessary and I think you have done pretty well with your landing page templates to get that trade -off.

  10. oligardner

    Thanks eblogr,
    We tried really hard to mix conversion centered design principles with user centered design on our latest set of landing pages http://unbounce.com/landing-page-templates/ and hopefully that will translate into happy users and happy businesses :)

  11. St. Louis SEO

    I never worry about the looks of a landing page from an aesthetics view. I monitor heat maps, and conversion. We are shooting for an action in most cases, so whatever prompts the action, wins at the end of the day.

  12. Logoglo

    In my opinion landing pages are a thing of the past, If I see one I just think its a company trying to get my money in one form or another. In this day and age, I think a well designed, inviting and informative home page is all you need. Good post though.

    • Oli Gardner

      Isn’t a company homepage just trying to persuade you to give them your money too? All a *good* landing page is, is a focused and targeted message designed to benefit both the visitor and the company.

      There are a lot of marketing charlatans out there that use dodgy tactics and sales techniques to try and part people with their money (infomercial style) – but that’s definitely not what we define as a good landing page experience.

      I would agree that a simple and focused homepage can be very effective – but the goal (at the end of the day) is the same, to convert visitors into customers.

  13. loglod

    First of all this is really nice article and I find it very interesting, whats about my opinion, I always clicking at logo when I want to move at main page and never searching text such as home main page or similar , I think this is really important because when users visiting your site at sub page you must have good navigation and one of the important is I think logo link.

  14. Fixcleaner review

    I hate them because there are no real content on them only commercial content. On my fixcleaner reviews site i have no landing pages. and as far as i know google hate landing pages as well.
    Thanks for your post Oli

  15. rizwandeco

    Wow this is Unique website looking nice & attractive.You have AN INCREDIBLE vocabulary.It is very informative for those users who want to know about landing pages.

  16. justbeenpaid

    I totally agree!
    I think this is the reason google also hate landing pages
    Jhon Arry

  17. אינטליגנט

    Great article!
    Thank you! really put some light on the subject
    Roni Idan

  18. Mohit

    I m fully agree for this post . This is a wonderful article related to landing pages…
    Thank you for this information..