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9 Lessons on Landing Pages

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
4 min read

I just spent 3 months in meetings and writing sessions helping to create a landing page and content strategy for a new product that I can’t tell you about — you’re not in the product’s audience anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

What I can tell you, now that the landing page and initial testing is done, is what I’ve learned (or re-learned):

  1. Always return to the basics in every meeting. When there’s dozens of people from different areas of the business, who may be having great or terrible days, and may have skipped lunch, topics can veer into weird territories. Go back to the basics. Who is the audience? What action do they need to take?
  2. Focus on benefits. This is a basic, but 90% of the landing pages I see are written by developers or executives, who don’t hire professional writers, and they tend to focus on features. Back to basics, again: Who is the audience? What’s in it for them? How should they feel after using this product/service?
  3. Think in 5 second intervals. When someone arrives at your page, how do you capture their attention for that first 5 seconds and get them to take the desired action? Does your headline get attention? Does your subhead call out the most differentiating benefit? Is your CTA an easy, no-brainer action? If so, and it all worked — great! If it didn’t, how do you earn another 5 seconds? 90% of your time and energy should be spent on those first 5-10 seconds. If you’ve gotten beyond that, and they haven’t taken an action, they’re at least interested. If they have taken the action, they’re sticking around for reassurance in their action. So, after your most shocking benefits (and a repeated CTA), give them social proof, a story, and testimonials. The very bottom is where navigation, social links, and your logo should be — these could be used as lower-level forms of social proof, but usually just distract.
  4. Focus on one action. This is a tough one. Everyone wants to throw more links and actions in front of the customer “just in case.” This only distracts the customer from the main action you want them to take. I lose this argument all the time, because it just feels wrong to designers to not include navigation at the top of a page. But, it does distract. You will lose customers/leads.
  5. Everything on the page is a trade off. The more words, images and links you put in front of a customer, the more you are potentially driving away sales/leads. That’s OK, if you’re OK with losing sales to fulfill branding requirements, or if you’re trying to project a message that may lead to longer-term sales and/or an acquisition. However, this is rarely the case. People just want to throw more stuff on landing pages because “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” It’s a safety thing. Your boss might get mad if you didn’t mention their pet favorite feature. Your boss probably won’t notice a customer or two bouncing because you mentioned that pet feature instead focusing on the one action needed.
  6. Every page on your site is a landing page. No one arrives and travels through your website(s) like you hope they do. This isn’t 1997. They come in from every direction and for reasons you can’t know right now. On this site, the most visited page is a throw-away blog post I did years ago on why Seth Godin blogs every day. Whether I like it or not, that post is now a landing page, so I’ve added a CTA to subscribe — the action I (and the reader) will get the most value from.
  7. Please the customer, then BERT. Since Google implemented BERT, I’ve heard countless theories of how to optimize your sites for organic search traffic. I really believe most are bunk. The more you read about BERT from trusted sources, the more you realize that it’s not for you, it’s for advertisers and voice search advantages over Amazon and Apple. The minute you think you pleased BERT, BERT will change on you. Right now, it loves FAQs at the bottom of landing pages, so it can answer questions easily in searches (especially voice searches). But it will change. Pleasing your audience first should never change. You can break any these lessons if it pleases your audience.
  8. Test. You will be wrong about something on your landing page. You have no idea what that is now. So, test. Experiment. You won’t know what spaghetti will stick to the wall until you throw it.
  9. Be humble. Testing will also reveal what stakeholders were wrong about. Go easy on them. It took me 20 years of marketing online to whip up a great landing page in a few hours. Your stakeholders may have spent just as long learning sales or finance. There will always be more landing pages to create and if you can win the stakeholders over, everyone can be happy and the business can thrive. When a stakeholder feels ignored or slighted, and pulls away, the project suffers from the loss of their insights. Diplomacy is crucial.

If you were wondering where I’ve been hiding for the past few months — this is it.

While I was arguing for these principles, Rob Hope put out his book on landing pages and it helped keep me sane and grounded.

I put a lot of personal projects on hold for this project, but I hope my schedule will be clearing for more time with my own audience, so watch this space and subscribe!