Bad Landing Pages? No Landing pages? Then Do Something About It!

Many websites that should make liberal use of landing pages do not. Many websites that could substantially increase their conversion rates with simple landing page A/B testing do no such testing.

That landing pages are not employed, or employed poorly, rarely results because of a lack of expertise. The problem is one of execution.

Any designer that can create a decent-looking web page can produce a decent-looking landing page. A usability expert that can put together an ecommerce product page can wireframe a landing page with their eyes closed.

Similarly, landing page testing is not rocket science. It does not require a MBA to grasp the concept that you can find out which of two alternatives a consumer is likely to favor by offering a bunch of consumers two alternatives, and then counting.

The main challenges with landing pages are getting the damn things built, and then getting the damn things tested. Everyone seems to know what to do, but nobody does it.

Which brings us to you.

You may work for a highly organized web business where all the logistics of landing page construction and optimization have been worked out, and the team works tirelessly to continuously improve landing page performance. Good for you: wads of well-earned cash all around.

Or you may find yourself, like I have so many times myself, perplexed that such a fundamental web marketing tool is un- or under-employed. Why won’t anyone pay attention? Somebody do something!

Yes. You.

Landing pages are collaborative. Designers are required to put landing page ideas into pixels. Marketers are required to generate traffic to landing pages. Technicians are required to track their performance. These skills are usually available in the organizational skill pool. What’s normally lacking in collaborative efforts, such as deploying effective landing pages, is leadership. That’s what you need to provide.

Rule No. 1 – You’re In Charge

So who’s the point man or women in this landing page optimization adventure? If there’s more than a two second pause figuring this out, then you are. In some – typically larger – organizations there may be analytics person tasked with conversion rate optimization, or some other person or unit with a clear mandate to improve conversion rates. In the other 99% of situations, you’re it.

And what’s your job? Who cares! If you can demonstrate that the performance of a landing page impacts you in any way, shape or form you have enough authority to move forward. PPC specialist? All yours! Campaign manager? Jump aboard! There are three broad classes of people in play here: those that don’t care about a landing page’s performance, those that claim to care but do exactly nothing about it, and you. In some way or another, take charge.

Don’t let authority be deferred to some lateral or even higher functionary that doesn’t really give a shit. Yeah, I know, at some point you can’t really object if the power to propel what you need to get done has been vested in somebody that gets nothing done.

Then you go guerrilla…

Guerrilla Landing Page Warfare Tactics

Tell them what you need, not what you need them to do. Whether used to initially establish your authority, or as a tactical weapon in lading page guerrilla warfare, your chief tool is making functional demands. That is, don’t even consider who needs to do something, but what needs to be done. I need to be able to measure the relative performance of two different button colors. I need to be able to correlate traffic sources and conversion rate for the same page. I need to be able to change the header “Try it for free” to “Raise your arms to the sky and rejoice because you qualify for a free freakin’ trial!” and see how it does.

Make beefy projections. It takes about five minutes to put together a spreadsheet that shows the revenue impact of incremental improvements in conversion rates. Can you raise your conversion rate 230%? Perhaps not, but it’s been done. Don’t restrict your table to what seems reasonable or achievable: you’ll attract attention to your cause when you equate it with the bottom line, and you’ll attract the most attention if you provide a full range of possible figures.

Create groups to tackle the challenge. Putting together a landing page task force is a great way of making useless people feel like they’re contributing. They’ll still be useless but they’re less likely to get in the way of your efforts, and maybe even kick you some resources. Kidding! Of course landing page task forces are great because they’re fabulous forums where everyone gets to make a contribution.

Poor Me: Obstacles Everywhere

The IT people say they can’t even look at my request for Google Site Optimizer until June 2300. The marketing director says it’s a program she’s really interested in taking a look at after Christmas. Bob says it’s something that Joe was looking into, and even though Joe is too busy to follow up right now, he’d hate to duplicate the effort by having you start from scratch.

So? Guess you’ll have to do it yourself.

Wait, you say, I can’t make changes to the damn website. I need IT. Sure, but remember those functional requirements? It’s not about an IT request, it’s about being able to observe changes to the color of the button. Defined that narrowly, it might not be the big bad “landing page optimization project” but the “swap button colors” task.

And you actually can make changes to the website, at least indirectly. Here’s a few examples.

You’re not a designer? Inundate your designers with stick figure landing page designs on paper. Scan them and email them to far too many people with unbearably enthusiastic notes attached. Eventually someone will mock something up for you out of exasperation or pity.

You’re not a coder? Who better to copy and paste useless snippets of tracking code in an effort to “help out” the developers that you’ve been told don’t have the bandwidth to take the technical work required to run an A/B test. There’s a certain, sizable class of developers that simply must rewrite deeply flawed code: expose them to your deeply flawed code.

Are the designers ready to kill you? Are you starting to get out-of-office replies from the IT guys you can see sitting down five cubicles away? Have various people made veiled or direct threats that your job is in jeopardy if you keep bugging employees that have more important things to do then work on your landing pages? Build your own landing page on a hosted platform, and email that URL around.

You get what I’m driving at. Be persistent. Be creative. Don’t be defeated. The alternative is to go to work day after day, knowing that your landing pages suck, and letting them stay that way.

Why This Hubris is Possible

When undertaking this hapless work, and probably suffering the slings and arrows of ungrateful workplace, keep this happy thought in mind: if you succeed in getting landing pages built and tested, there is no way you can lose.

Even if you all you prove is that landing pages simply don’t work in your specific environment (unlikely), you’ll at least have quantifiable data with which to move forward. Far more likely is that your efforts will result in a demonstrable lift in conversions.

You may not the possess the greatest knowledge of landing page principles, or have any experience with landing pages in the wild, but if you put whatever you do know into action, you’ll be producing results. Guaranteed.

It’s down to you, and the time is now. Get to it – and good luck.

The Many, Many People That Don’t Care About Landing Pages

This is kind of an addendum, because it isn’t strictly speaking necessary to know why nobody else but you seems interested in landing pages. It’s sufficient to identify the fact that, insane though it be, nobody else in the company expends much brain energy on these cash machines. Take the reigns, as I’ve advised above, and sally forth. If you’re the type that only reads a post for the really big takeaways, bugger off: your work here is done.

But it can be instructive to know why you find yourself taking on this burden, and through this perhaps gain some insight on how to work most profitably with your colleagues to actually make some landing page improvements.

It’s difficult to figure out who in an organization should be responsible for landing pages. So often this responsibility is left unassigned – typical of sites that lack landing pages altogether. In many other instances responsibility is assigned to a person whose focus is something different, and may or may not have the desire, knowledge or bandwidth to make improvements – typical of sites with landing pages that haven’t been changed in four years and, of course, never tested.

The parade of people that don’t care about landing pages start right at the top. The head honchos in marketing don’t care about landing pages directly: they care only insofar as landing pages contribute to the columns where they see aggregate revenue and conversion percentages (because such reports reference categories under which landing page costs and revenues are subsumed, such as “PPC Advertising” and “Dallas Star Takeover”). Landing pages are not a line item. And if a Marketing Director does think about landing pages, he or she will likely assume that somebody down the line is taking care of them, like a campaign manager.

Most campaign managers don’t give a rat’s ass about landing page performance. Which is a shame because they probably stand the most to gain from landing page conversion improvements: the gold stars management hand out when you increase revenue for a campaign 120% are, well, good for your career. But campaign managers typically focus on creative, and are rarely either analytical or mathematical. Campaign managers will wax poetic about how a landing page looks, but be completely indifferent as to how it performs. After all, conversion optimization is the job of analytics.

Analytics and business intelligence peons don’t care about landing pages because their work revolves around reporting numbers, not generating them. And while a business analyst should, hypothetically, be making business decisions based on their number crunching, there remains the necessity of reporting insofar as these metrics need to be shared with someone. It’s not like Harrry in BI is going to start proposing different page elements on which to perform split testing: if there’s no obvious person in another unit he can work with he’ll let it drop.

IT doesn’t care because, well, they’re IT. Aren’t landing pages taken care of by that woman that looks after print ads?

Media buyers don’t care about landing pages because they’re looking at the start of the funnel, not the midpoint. Traditional media buyers don’t care about landing pages, because the concept has never entered their consciousness. They think as much about landing pages as they do about SEO.

SEOs don’t care because they either think landing pages don’t matter to organic search, or that they have more important things to do with their limited time then doing somebody else’s job (wrong and, um, wrong). SEOs are rarely unaware of landing page problems; they just refuse to make the commitment to fixing them. Anyway, that’s the job of the paid search marketer (which, cruelly, is often one and the same person).

Paid search marketers are actually somewhat likely to care about landing pages, because their work is by nature analytical and mathematical, and because the performance of their paid search campaigns are tied so directly to an ad’s target location. They are the most likely to be the disaffected party that is thwarted in their efforts to improve landing pages by lack of development resources, lack of creative resources, a lack of a commitment from marketing, or all of the above. Poor bastards.

And before you get you undies in a bundle, there’s countless marketing mangers, campaign managers, analysts, SEOs and even – god help ’em – IT geeks that successfully get landing pages built, or improve the ones that have been languishing in conversion hell. They’re just not likely to be much concerned with landing pages.

In a way that’s the whole point of this post. You probably carry one of the job titles above, but think that somebody with a different title has more experience, expertise and authority to do the job they’re not doing. They don’t.

You? You’ve read at least one post about landing pages on a blog about landing pages.

Good enough for me: now get cracking.

— Aaron Bradley

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About Aaron Bradley
Aaron is an Internet marketing and SEO consultant based in Vancouver, BC. He likes cooking, zombies and nine-ball. He has a visceral aversion to the phrase "bleeding edge." Aaron contributes to the "Conversion Science" column at Search Engine Land, and writes about SEO and Internet marketing topics on his blog SEO Skeptic.
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