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December 28, 2010

Why Landing Page Optimization is Crucial and How to Start

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Here’s a scenario: you’ve spent countless hours on the design of your website, with the input of several experts. You’ve based your design on the knowledge of your Web designer and the marketing and business savvy of either yourself, your team or the execs. You’ve even invested heavily in search engine optimization, Pay per Click and social media, to ensure people are coming to your site.

Six months in, you find your rankings are high in the search engine results page (SERP) and you have a fair amount of traffic, but the time users are on your site and the high bounce rate is painting a very different picture of the success of your website.

People are coming to your site, but they are leaving it quickly without taking any action. This means, you’re ready for the next step in Internet marketing: focusing on conversions. It’s time for landing page optimization. Without it, your money and Internet marketing efforts fall short.

With Google Instant Previews becoming the norm on the SERP, landing page optimization is surely even more important. Google Instant Previews doesn’t just show a preview image of your home page. It can show images of any page that ranks in the SERP. If people can make a decision about your site based on the look and feel of a page before they even click through, then you might be losing customers sooner than ever before.

Money

What is Landing Page Optimization?

First, let’s talk about what a conversion is. A conversion is what you want a user to do once he or she reaches a page, and it’s the basis for landing page optimization (LPO). A conversion can be anything that you, as a business, feel is most valuable. For example, do you want a person to fill out a form? Would you like someone to download something on the page? How about adding something to a shopping cart?

A microconversion is a smaller element of a full conversion. It can help you identify which part of the conversion funnel is or isn’t working. This can be something like a click to the next page or time spent on the page.

Maybe your conversion goals have to do with the time on site and bounce rate in your Web analytics. You might want to tweak your landing pages to improve these numbers if factors such as time on site are important to your site’s success. The ultimate goal in any conversion should be to positively impact the bottom line. So, keep this in mind when setting goals.

LPO is one component in a larger strategy of conversion rate optimization (CRO) for websites. A landing page is a page on your site or any Web page that a user is brought to when they click on a link, online ad or any other entry point. It can also be a page within your site that users stumble upon while browsing through the site. Regardless of where it is, it’s any Web page that you feel is important to the success of your business.

With LPO, tests are conducted in a controlled environment through sometimes-minimal tweaks to either the look and feel of the page (layout, colors, etc.) or to the content within the page (headlines, copy and call-to-actions) to funnel a conversion by the user.

How do I Begin LPO?

The first step is to choose the landing pages that are most important to your business. How do you identify those? A great place to start is analytics. Identify which pages are already driving a fair amount of traffic or conversions, and make it a goal to improve those.

Unicorn iPhone wallpaper

Hardcore Unicorn Metal Guitarist

A/B Test: Which Unicorn is More Awesome?

Within LPO, there are standard ways of testing. The first is called A/B split testing. This involves experimenting with two different versions of a Web page. You can do this either at the same time, tracking visitors by IP address so no one visitor receives the same landing page twice, or you can test one page for a specified amount of time, then the other page.

A/B testing is on the front lines of LPO. While you will be able to see which page is most successful, A/B testing reveals only so much data of a landing page. You will measure the success of this test based on your conversion goals, whatever they may be.

The other type of testing is multivariate testing. This is typically a test you’d want to use after you conducted initial A/B tests. Multivariate testing allows you to test multiple elements within a landing page, and conduct more detailed analyses of these elements to see what creates a successful page.

You might also want to study eye-tracking research when trying to determine what changes you are going to make. This type of research can help you determine where the average user’s eyes go on a Web page, so you can manipulate the content on your page to be in line with heat maps (the hot spots for visual connection on a page). UseIt.com has some good research on eye tracking to start with.

Items That Affect Conversion Rates

Research suggests that when people are looking to buy a product online, they go from researcher to shopper to buyer. First, they spend time researching the general product. Then, they choose a make and model, and turn into shoppers. The shoppers then turn into buyers once they have decided on one of the handful of sites that sell the model they seek. Which site a user decides to buy from can be based on many factors. This is where LPO can be crucial to that sale.

You might be surprised at how much one small change on a landing page can affect conversion rates. In a webinar from last summer with Anne Holland of Which Test Won and Trevor Claiborne, product marketing manager at Google, it discussed Google’s own A/B and multivariate tests. The presentation showed some of the small changes to Google landing pages that boosted conversions significantly, and also talked about some changes the team at Google thought would make a difference, but yielded no results. This type of scenario reminds us that human expertise is just guessing without testing.

Data from both Bryan Eisenberg, a CRO pro, and Bruce Clay, Inc.’s Scott Fowles show some of the factors (design and otherwise) that impact conversion rates:

  • Color
  • Size
  • Speed
  • Legibility
  • Layout
  • Shape (Of call-to-action buttons, for example)
  • Proximity (Grouping related elements on the page)
  • Contrast (Of the color scheme)
  • Alignment
  • Flow
  • Benefits
  • Call-to-action
  • Fields (types of questions you ask in a form, for example)
  • Confidence building

Keep in mind, with Google Instant Previews, that designing a site in Flash should be carefully considered. Flash isn’t compatible with Instant Previews yet, so an alternative is designing in HTML5 — or you can read up on how to optimize for Google Instant Previews and some of the solutions people are trying in Google Webmaster Central.

Lego People

Understanding Your Audience

Through testing, you’ll begin to more clearly understand your online user base. But even before you begin testing, you can learn more about personas, psychographics and demographics of your users. Eisenberg talks about how to use personas to improve sales when thinking about what motivates people. A persona is a personality type of sorts, and the types that Eisenberg talks about fall into one of four categories: a) Competitive b) Spontaneous c) Humanistic d) Methodical.

How each one of these user groups interacts with your site will be different. And while you can’t cater to each and every user group perfectly, you can make decisions about your landing page that offer something for everyone.

Tools of the Trade

Landing page optimization is a complex project. If you’re taking it on, all on your own, the best thing to do is start reading about it from the experts. Bryan Eisenberg, Anne Holland, Tim Ash and Avinash Kaushik are great resources to learn from.

If you already have some skills in things Web design, analytics and science, you have a good foundation to facilitate testing on your own. If you have a team of people that can help you with each of the tasks involved, that’s great, too. It just depends on how large you want the project to be. But, don’t ever let the idea of testing overwhelm you to the point of not testing. This would be the greatest mistake.

Some tools for facilitating LPO testing (although you’ll need to understand what you want to change and why, beforehand), include:

The Takeaway

No Internet marketing strategy is complete without CRO, and landing page testing and optimization is an important part of understanding your audience, catering to it, and making it a win-win situation for both business and user.

Even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer without a big budget, start small, experiment when you can, and dig into all the free resources online from the experts who do it for a living. You cannot afford not to test your landing pages if you truly want your site to work for you.





10 responses to “Why Landing Page Optimization is Crucial and How to Start”

  1. Raquel Hirsch writes:

    Great post, Jessica. What you wrote, “don’t ever let the idea of testing overwhelm you to the point of not testing” are words to live by.

    Here is a link to a Free White Paper we wrote that will add to your resource library: “Five Steps to Developing a Successful and Scalable Conversion Optimization Strategy.”

    It Includes discussion of the WiderFunnel LIFT Model™ for hypothesis development.

    You can download it free here: http://www.widerfunnel.com/white-paper-5-steps

    Raquel

  2. Rick Perreault writes:

    Hello Jessica

    Awesome article covering the basics of conversion rate optimization. Will definitely share this. And thanks for mentioning Unbounce.

    Best Regards,
    Rick

  3. Jessica Lee writes:

    Glad you liked it. Your tool came highly recommended by people here! Thank you for reading.

  4. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi Raquel, this looks like it has a lot of good information. Thanks for sharing it with our readers!

  5. Ken Jansen writes:

    Hi Jessica,
    Wonderful article. I needed to add two more acronyms into my brain so CRO and LPO fit the bill. I love the CRO bullet list. Thanks!

    Ken

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Ken! So glad you found value in it! We all need more acronyms in our lives, eh? Thanks for stopping by and TTYL :)

  7. Alicia Vaz writes:

    Hello Jessica,

    This was a well written article on LPO and CRO. I’ve been intimidated by A/B Testing and always thought it to be way over my head. With all the resources you’ve listed, definitely see know reason why I shouldn’t give it a go. I’ve come to appreciate the importance of A/B Testing and its place in the creative process, thank you.

    We talk a lot about knowing our audience and I know there are different ways to go about doing so. The A/B type testing, I’d agree would more clearly help me understand my online user base. By identifying my audience, catering to their needs, I’m able to find opportunities to improve whereby see a ROI. I don’t like flying blind. And like you said, would rather not guess but test (paraphrased).

    I’m a work in progress, thanks again!

  8. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Alicia — it sounds like you’re actually ahead of the game! Do you know how many large corporations aren’t even testing yet?

    Thank you for your comment. It makes me so happy when I can offer something people find value in and can immediately apply.

    Hope to hear from you again!

  9. Anne Holland writes:

    Love your unicorns a/b test idea! On a serious note, we’re *always* looking for cool real-life a/b tests to report on as inspiration for our readers. (We publish a new a/b testing case study every week — nearly 100 so far.) So, please do let us know if any Bruce Clay clients have run a/b tests on their heavy search traffic pages that might be worth talking about. Too many marketers are scared of testing SEO-successful pages, but we have plenty of info from Google that testing SEO pages is not dangerous to your rankings, in fact it can help them, as long as you follow a few simpole precautions… that Bruce Clay probably learned in his sleep in the 1990s ;-)

  10. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks so much, Anne. We would love to share that data with you, and thanks for spreading the word to our readers as well!
    Your site provides a lot of great information to the business community.



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