10 Deadly Landing Page Sins

Bob Dumouchel

While our business is focused on the design and management of Google AdWords, there is no doubt that our clients value results not traffic. AdWords drives traffic volume to the landing page, but 99% of the response comes from the web experience. The collection of response elements on the landing page are the key variables involved and in this article we explore the challenges we commonly see.

1.     Trying to talk to everyone

The statement that “Everyone is a prospect for my business” is a clear sign that the page is going to have a message problem. Even if this was true, and it almost never is, the fact is you have to know your audience to write compelling copy.  Without an understanding of the audience you have no way to understand what motivates them to action. Talking to one audience will often alienate another so even if you have the perfect product there probably is not just one reason people buy it. If I want to buy performance and you want to sell safety the odds of success are not good because we have a message to benefit mismatch. To create compelling copy for your business you have to understand the values, experiences, and perceptions of your audience.

2.     Failure to remember the goal

My old First Sergeant had an expression; “When you are up to your ass in alligators it is hard to remember the goal was to drain the swamp.” I think this visual is really good for web designers because they get so wrapped up in the colors, images, and technology that they forget the goal is to start a relationship with the visitor. Response design is about introducing your business and moving the relationship to the first step. When you look at first response goals you have to consider that the visitor probably does not know who you are and has no reason to trust you yet. The goal is to make a good first impression because there is no second chance to do that.

3.     Failure to continue the conversation

The web experience needs to be thought about as a conversation that started with a search followed by ad copy that indicated you have an answer to their information need at the landing page. When they enter the website experience you need to continue that conversation. Do not attempt to shift messages on them without transition copy. An example of this would be a general retailer that sells Italian Shoes. The search was buy Italian Shoes, followed by an ad for Italian Shoes, and the next page better be about Italian Shoes. If you drop this person on the home page several clicks away from Italian Shoes I can guarantee you will not be happy with the results.  In this example message shifting would be to land on a page about shoe polish. These two items are related but you need to transition the conversation from shoes to polish (buying to maintenance). A simple transition like this one you might be able to do with the ad copy but most of the time shifting the topic requires more than the 95 letters and spaces you get in an Adwords ad.

4.     Failure to ask for the order

One of my early mentors in marketing taught me to ask for the order early and often and once they give you the order shut up. Asking for the order in website context equates to a response action that stands out on the page. Often we see beautiful designs where the color scheme flows together creating harmony in the design that fails to convert.  While designers might want harmony we want the eye drawn to the major response element and that often means contrasting the element so it stands out on the page. If the page is blue then we want the response element to be red so it immediately draws the eye to the element on the page.  We want the response element in the center of the primary reading zone of the page and in most designs this is center right above the fold.

5.     Too many options

Landing pages are often designed with too many options and the visitor gets confused and leaves. It is common for us to see a landing page with 5-10 responses or more yet the most successful landing pages have 2-3. I recently reviewed a page with conversion problems and they had over 100 options on the page and the visitor was simply overwhelmed. This is a case where more is not better, better is better. If your page has more than 10 options you need to rethink the page and go back to your audience profile.

6.     Trying to box in the Visitor

Let’s face it most of us are control freaks and we try to control the web experience to the extent we can. The challenge is we have zero control and the visitor has ultimate control so this is a battle we cannot win. If you try to box the visitor in they will simply use their doomsday device (back button or close window) – one click and they are gone.  We often see squeeze-pages with what we call a “my way or the highway design” with no connection to extended content or alterative conversions and normally traffic does not respond well to this design.  Given one option the person will often just leave because they often like to make choices and this requires comparison.  This does not mean squeeze pages do not work because, as much as I dislike them, in some cases they are the right tool. If you feel you have to use a squeeze page make sure you are not losing some secondary value that you can get from that visit.

7.     Failure to consider the source of traffic

Not all traffic is created equal. Traffic from the Search Network is normally much further along in the purchase cycle than traffic from the Display Network. Your conversation style needs to change based on this audience assumption.  Search traffic copy can be much shorter and focused largely on your product or service advantage in a comparison mode. Display traffic is less qualified since they just ran into your product or service this means more copy that justifies the value of the solution in general. Traffic segmentation is much more complex than just the broad source and you have to decide how granular you want to get in your segmentation.

8.     Asking for more than you need

Ask for what you need and nothing more. With every item that you ask for from your visitor you run the risk of reducing your response rate. All of us have seen huge response forms that are intimidating and that increases the barrier to response because it looks like a lot of work. After saying this I know that there are businesses that need to gather lots of information on the lead and in those cases it is normally best to design a multiple stage response so you can reduce the initial reaction to a difficult form. The key to this process is to make sure that you get the most critical information on the first screen. We recently worked with a client that had a long application form and breaking it into two pieces increased the conversion rate by over 500%. On the first response we gathered the phone number or email, and the zip code. This was followed by the rest of the application and we recorded the lead after the first form.  This did result in some partial applications but with the contact information already gathered the sales team could follow up on those and they recovered many of them.

Sub rule A is; never ask for data you already know. For example if you ask for the zip code there is no reason to enter the city or state. Any programmer worth their salt can translate a zip code into the city and state and the savings to the user can be impressive. As an example my business is in Grover Beach California and the zip is 93433. You can make me enter 20 keystrokes to type out the city, state, zip or translate the zip and save me 75% of the typing. The easier you make it on the visitor to give you the result you want the better your results will be.

9.     Dumb Error Handling

This should be a crime punishable by some sort of horrible pain because there is no reason for this to ever happen but it does. I recently tested a form for a client that give me a response that said “Correct Entry” and it highlighted my email address. My address was correct and after an investigation, that 99% of the population would never do, I discovered the error was that I already had an account and it wanted me to sign in.

Error handling is often an afterthought and error message texts are written by programmers that are not known for their great communication skills. They assume knowledge that the audience does not have they often think that if you can make the transaction then it works properly. It works properly when the visitor can make the transaction happen in a fast, easy, and intuitive way.  That last one of intuitive is for the audience not the programmer. It makes me crazy when I run into pages with extensive entry that do not save my work when something goes wrong or force me to comply with a formatting that the programmer could easily handle such as phone number formats. When visitors run into an error it increases the likelihood that they will leave when they want to convert.

10. Forcing Visitors to Register

I have more passwords than I care to admit to and there are several studies that show that forcing visitors to register results in LARGE losses in business.  What is really crazy about this process is that in most cases signing into the site is of zero value to the visitor so we have to ask why do we do this at all. In most cases it is because the shopping cart works that way so we force people to create and remember a password. Shopping cart technicians will tell you that you have to do it like that for security and I am sorry but that is just wrong.  If you have customers that frequently return to reorder products then a registration process might make sense but if you are like most small businesses reorders are infrequent enough that reentry of the data is less work for the visitor than finding the password.  If you are still not convinced that forced registration is a dangerous practice read this article about a business that reclaimed $300 million in sales by dropping this requirement.

In Closing

Response design and website design are fundamentally different worlds. In response design we are creating a conversation with someone who is interested in a specific solution as indicated by the source of the traffic. The website is designed to talk to the entire world and you have to consider prospects, customers, vendors, business partners, media, and other audiences. In response design it’s about suspects and prospects because if your customers find you from a search for what you do you have more problems than a landing page can cure.  The page and copy design have to assume that this is a person who has never seen or heard of your business.