The landing page is probably one of the most important pages on your website. A slight change in your conversion rate could mean a world of difference between dying from panic or sipping a mojito at the beach. Yet… designing a high-converting landing page is tough. There are so many elements to get right: the copy, the design, the images, the structure, and so on. It’s overwhelmingly tough. The good news is — you don’t have to design landing pages from scratch. You can actually model other people’s landing pages. Find out what they did right, analyze what they can…
Seriously. A quick google will show you that Unbounce, QuickSprout, Moz, Qualaroo, Hubspot, Wordstream, Optimizely, CrazyEgg, VWO (and countless others), have been writing tips and guides on how to optimize your landing pages for years.
Not to mention the several posts we have already published on the WiderFunnel blog since 2008.
And yet. This conversation is so not over.
Warning: If your landing page optimization goals are short-term, or completely focused on conversion rate lift, this post may be a waste of your time. If your goal is to continuously have the best-performing landing pages on the internet, keep reading.
Marketers are funnelling more and more money into paid advertising, especially as Google allocates more and more SERP space to ads.
In fact, as an industry, we are spending upwards of $92 billion annually on paid search advertising alone.
And it’s not just search advertising that is seeing an uptick in spend, but social media advertising too.
It makes sense that marketers are still obsessing over their landing page conversion rates: this traffic is costly and curated. These are visitors that you have sought out, that share characteristics with your target market. It is extremely important that these visitors convert!
But, there comes a time in every optimizer’s life, when they face the cruel reality of diminishing returns. You’ve tested your landing page hero image. You’ve tested your value proposition. You’ve tested your form placement. And now, you’ve hit a plateau.
So, what next? What’s beyond the tips and guides? What is beyond the optimization basics?
1) Put on your customer’s shoes.
First things first: Let’s do a quick sanity check.
When you test your hero image, or your form placement, are you testing based on tips and recommended best practices? Or, are you testing based on a specific theory you have about your page visitors?
Tips and best practices are a fine place to start, but the insight behind why those tactics work (or don’t work) for your visitors is where you find longevity.
The best way to improve experiences for your visitors is to think from their perspective. And the best way to do that is to use frameworks, and framework thinking, to get robust insights about your customers.
– Chris Goward, Founder & CEO, WiderFunnel
Laying the foundation
It’s very difficult to think from a different perspective. This is true in marketing as much as it is in life. And it’s why conversion optimization and A/B testing have become so vital: We no longer have to guess at what our visitors want, but can test instead!
That said, a test requires a hypothesis. And a legitimate hypothesis requires a legitimate attempt to understand your visitor’s unique perspective.
To respond to this need for understanding, WiderFunnel developed the LIFT Model® in 2008: our foundational framework for identifying potential barriers to conversion on a page from the perspective of the page visitor.
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The LIFT Model attempts to capture the idea of competing forces in communication, narrowing them down to the most salient aspects of communication that marketers should consider.
I wanted to apply the principles of Relevance, Clarity, Distraction, Urgency and Anxiety to what we were delivering to the industry and not just to our clients. And the LIFT Model is a part of that: making something as simple as possible but no simpler.
– Chris Goward
When you look at your page through a lens like the LIFT Model, you are forced to question your assumptions about what your visitors want when they land on your page.
You may love an interactive element, but is it distracting your visitors? You may think that your copy creates urgency, but is it really creating anxiety?
If you are an experienced optimizer, you may have already incorporated a framework like the LIFT Model into your optimization program. But, after you have analyzed the same page multiple times, how do you continue to come up with new ideas?
Here are a few tips from the WiderFunnel Strategy team:
Bring in fresh eyes from another team to look at and use your page
User test, to watch and record how actual users are using your page
Sneak a peek at your competitors’ landing pages: Is there something they’re doing that might be worth testing on your site?
Do your page analyses as a team: many heads are better than one
You should always err on the side of “This customer experience could be better.” After all, it’s a customer-centric world, and we’re just marketing in it.
2) Look past the conversion rate.
“Landing page optimization”, like “conversion rate optimization”, is a limiting term. Yes, on-page optimization is key, but mature organizations view “landing page optimization” as the optimization of the entire experience, from first to last customer touchpoint.
Landing pages are only one element of a stellar, high-converting marketing campaign. And focusing all of your attention on optimizing only one element is just foolish.
From testing your featured ads, to tracking click-through rates of Thank You emails, to tracking returns and refunds, to tracking leads through the rest of the funnel, a better-performing landing page is about much more than on-page conversion rate lift.
An example is worth 1,000 words
One of our clients is a company that provides an online consumer information service—visitors type in a question and get an Expert answer. One of the first zones (areas on their website) that we focused on was a particular landing page funnel.
Visitors come from an ad, and land on page where they can ask their question. They then enter a 4-step funnel: Step 1: Ask the question > Step 2: Add more information > Step 3: Pick an Expert > Step 4: Get an answer (aka the checkout page)
Our primary goal was to increase transactions, meaning we had to move visitors all the way through the funnel. But we were also tracking refunds and chargebacks, as well as revenue per visitor.
In this experiment, we focused on the value proposition statements. The control landing page exclaimed, “A new question is answered every 9 seconds!“. Our Strategy team had determined (through user testing) that “speed of answers” was the 8th most valuable element of the service for customers, and that “peace of mind / reassurance” was the most important.
So, they tested two variations, featuring two different value proposition statements meant to create more peace of mind for visitors:
“Join 6,152,585 satisfied customers who got professional answers…”
“Connect One on One with an Expert who will answer your question”
Both of these variations ultimately increased transactions, by 6% and 9.4% respectively. But! We also saw large decreases in refunds and chargebacks with both variations, and large increases in net revenue per visitor for both variations.
By following visitors past the actual conversion, we were able to confirm that these initial statements set an impactful tone: visitors were more satisfied with their purchases, and comfortable investing more in their expert responses.
3) Consider the big picture.
As you think of landing page optimization as the optimization of a complete digital experience, you should also think of landing page optimization as part of your overall digital optimization strategy.
When you discover an insight about visitors to your product page, feed it into a test on your landing page. When you discover an insight about visitor behavior on your landing page, feed it into a test on your website.
It’s true that your landing pages most likely cater to specific visitor segments, who may behave totally differently than your organic visitors. But, it is also true that landing page wins may be overall wins.
Plus, landing page insights can be very valuable, because they are often new visitor insights. And now, a little more advice from Chris Goward, optimization guru:
“Your best opportunities for testing your value proposition are with first impression visitors. These are usually new visitors to your high traffic landing pages or your home page […]
By split testing your alternative value propositions with new visitors, you’ll reduce your exposure to existing customers or prospects who are already in the consideration phase. New prospects have a blank canvas for you to present your message variations and see what sticks.
Then, from the learning gained on landing pages, you can validate insights with other target audience groups and with your customers to leverage the learning company-wide.
Landing page testing can do more than just improve conversion rates on landing pages. When done strategically, it can deliver powerful, high-leverage marketing insights.”
Just because your landing pages are separate from your website, does not mean that your landing page optimization should be separate from your other optimization efforts. A landing page is just another zone, and you are free to (and should) use insights from one zone when testing on another zone.
4) Go deeper, explore further.
A lot of marketers talk about landing page design: how to build the right landing page, where to position each element, what color scheme and imagery to use, etc.
But when you dig into the why behind your test results, it’s like breaking into a piñata of possibilities, or opening a box of idea confetti.
Why do your 16-25 year old, mobile users respond so favorably to a one-minute video testimonial from a past-purchaser? Do they respond better to this indicator of social proof than another?
Why do your visitors prefer one landing page under normal circumstances, and a different version when external factors change (like a holiday, or a crisis)? Can you leverage this insight throughout your website?
Why does one type of urgency phrasing work, while slightly different wording decreases conversions on your page? Are your visitors sensitive to overly salesy copy? Why or why not?
For many marketers, personalized landing pages are becoming more normal. And personalization opens the door to even more potential customer insights. Assuming you already have visitor segments, you should test the personalized experiences on your landing pages.
For example, imagine you have started using your visitors’ first names in the hero banner of your landing page. Have you validated that this personalized experience is more effective than another, like moving a social proof indicator above the fold? Both can be deemed personalization, but they tap into very different motivations.
From psychological principles, to validating your personalized experiences, the possibilities for testing on your landing pages are endless.
Just keep testing, Dory-style
Your landing page(s) will never be “optimized”. That is the beauty and cruelty of optimization: we are always chasing unattainable perfection.
But your landing pages can definitely be better than they are now. Even if you have a high-converting page, even if your page is listed by Hubspot as one of the 16 best designed landing pages, even if you’ve followed all of the rules…your landing page can be better.
Because I’m not just talking about conversions, I’m talking about your entire customer experience. If you give them the opportunity, your new users will tell you what’s wrong with your page.
They’ll tell you where it is unclear and where it is distracting.
Copywriters and content marketers are often required to write about industries or topics they know little about. This can make it a challenge to position your company or client as an authoritative industry voice. You may have strong marketing chops, but what if you’re not an expert on your company’s niche? Knowing what you’re talking about is imperative to your success. Passionate audiences can smell fakes, and they won’t hesitate to let you know when you miss the mark. Fortunately, you aren’t the first intrepid wordsmith to find yourself in this situation. Others in the same position have succeeded. And…
Have you ever wondered if you’re a CRO expert? There aren’t many out there. Content marketers aplenty, coders everywhere, SEOs in abundance, and social media gurus on every corner, but conversion rate optimizers? They’re a rare breed. To find out if you fit the profile of an “expert,” see if these things apply to you. And if they don’t, it’s not too late to rise in the ranks. You won’t merely discover if you’re a CRO expert. You’ll also discover how to become one. 1. You Realize That Conversion Optimization Starts With Learning About Your Target Audience If you don’t…
Before you hit the lab, you’ve got to do your research. Image source.
If you’re using landing pages for your marketing campaigns (and by golly, you should be), you’ve probably heard about A/B testing.
You may, however, not be sure where to start. Or you may have already started but aren’t quite satisfied with the results. Or maybe you’re just overwhelmed by the complexity of most articles about A/B testing.
As part of our Ask a CRO Expert blog series, we’ve asked our Senior Conversion Rate Optimizer Michael Aagaard to break down in the simplest terms what you need to do to determine what you should be A/B testing.
Psst. Michael will be one of our A/B testing panel members at CTAConf from Sept 13th – 15th. Get your ticket now for actionable insights from some of the world’s best conversion rate optimization experts!
His answer will help you to understand how to create an effective A/B test: how to create a hypothesis based on data, and how to conduct conversion research to gather that data.
So, let’s get you started on your way with some tips from a highly knowledgeable conversion rate optimizer!
What is the one thing I absolutely MUST do before starting an A/B test?
We asked Michael to explain the one thing that is crucial to starting an A/B test. His answer was simple:
You must form a hypothesis based on data-driven conversion research.
Great answer, Michael. Can you unpack that?
The main goal of A/B testing is to eliminate guesswork from your marketing optimization efforts. However, the simple act of running an A/B test is not enough to achieve that goal.
If you’re testing random ideas, you’re still relying on guesswork. All you are doing is pitting two guesses against each other to see if one is better.
So, in order for your tests to provide real value and insight, you need to know that you are in fact experimenting with an informed solution to a real problem. In other words, you need to have a clear idea of what problem you are addressing and why you think your solution is going to work.
A conversion rate optimization lesson learned the hard way
At the beginning of Michael’s career, blind testing was the norm. Occasionally he would stumble upon something that actually resulted in a conversion uplift, but most experiments missed the mark.
After wasting a lot of time (and, he admits, a lot of his clients’ money) he had to admit to himself that his process was fundamentally flawed. He says:
It became painfully clear to me that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to A/B testing and I needed to spend more time qualifying my ideas before dedicating time and resources to implementing and testing them.
He realized that having an actual hypothesis based on real user data would increase the quality of his tests as well as the potential outcome. By dedicating more time upfront to conducting research, he could build stronger hypotheses and save a lot of time and frustration in the long run.
These days Michael spends the bulk of his time doing conversion research to ensure that he has a complete understanding of the conversion experience before he even begins to think about an actual A/B test. This way Michael can pinpoint problematic areas in the conversion process and prioritize optimization opportunities according to effort and potential return.
Conversion research basics: Funnel analysis
Michael uses a “walkthrough” exercise to see the whole conversion process through the eyes of the user and better understand what they are experiencing:
I need to understand every step that the user has to go through in order to convert. So the first thing I do is to go through the entire conversion process step-by-step from initial touch point to final conversion goal.
It took five steps for this person to become a lead. Those are five opportunities for that person to bail. So, taking that initial walkthrough will let you experience first-hand what the user is experiencing. It’s a great way to start your conversion research.
Michael explains that once you’ve done the walkthrough, you need to get some quantitative data (from your web analytics setup) that shows you which steps represent the highest drop-off points. As Michael says:
The biggest problem might not be the landing page itself — it could be that the real problem is on the form page. If that’s the case, the form page is the real bottleneck, and you’ll never really get the most out of your conversion path unless you open up that bottleneck.
Getting insight on which steps represent the biggest “leaks” will help you prioritize your optimization efforts and focus on the most critical areas. If your form page is the real bottleneck, it would make sense to work on solving whatever is wrong on that page before you start working on the landing page itself – and vice versa.
Getting more specific: Honing in on the page itself
Once you have an idea of where the largest drop-off is happening, it is time to get more specific and get more insight on the page itself.
Michael’s go-to tool here is Google Analytics, which he uses to get a detailed picture of how people are interacting with the landing page. He looks at things like device mix, conversion rates per device, new vs. returning visitors and performance across browsers. Each of these bits of data contains insights that will help you to form a test hypothesis.
When I asked Michael to give us an example of a standard GA report that’s useful for landing page optimization research, he mentioned “Entrance Paths.” In Google Analytics you can use the “Entrance Paths” report to find out more about what pages users who did not convert visit immediately after the landing page.
You may be asking yourself, “Wait a minute here! A well-optimized landing page shouldn’t have any links!”
As it turns out, some people will actually just type your homepage address into their browser, or search for you on Google in order to get more information after viewing your landing page. Michael explains:
This is interesting and could very well be an indication that users are not getting what they need on the landing page. This insight is priceless if you want better understand your users and their needs.
Michael tells us that the second page on your site that prospects visit after bouncing tells you a lot about intent.
If 85% of visitors are going to your homepage or About page right after hitting the landing page, you might have an issue with credibility — or maybe you’re not giving them enough information.
Or this scenario: If the bulk of your users are visiting the pricing page instead of clicking your CTA, then chances are that they need to know more about prices before they can make a decision. And this is exactly the kind of information you need in order to qualify your test ideas and turn them into real hypotheses.
Here’s how to find the “Next Page” report:
Go to “Behavior,” click “Site Content,” choose “Landing Pages” and select the page you want to dig into. Then click “Entrance Paths” and voilà, you’ll get an overview of the top 10 pages that people visit right after leaving the landing page.
To see which pages users exit on, simply click one of the URLs under “Second Page.”
Make sure to get qualitative insight, too
While quantitative conversion research helps you find out where things are going wrong, qualitative insight helps you find out why things are going wrong.
When it comes to qualitative insight, Michael says that nothing beats jumping into the trenches, finding out what’s going on from the people who really know: Customer Service, Support and Sales teams.
These teams spend all day talking to customers and have in-depth knowledge of the problems and issues that they are dealing with – both in relation to the website and the product itself.
Not to mention the fact that they’re familiar with the decision-making process of the target audience. These teams can help you build a better optimization hypothesis because they’re on the front lines. They’re interacting with the people who are trying to get your product. They may even guide people through the process of making a purchase online.
These are the people that can give you meaningful insights that will help you hone in on the deeper issues users are experiencing – which in turn will help you craft much better hypotheses.
Creating your A/B testing hypothesis
When you’ve done your conversion research, it’s time to create your test hypothesis.
A simple way of crafting a data-driven hypothesis is to use this handy three-step formula that Michael developed together with CRO expert Craig Sullivan (this was the result of very long, friendly argument via Skype, where many ideas were introduced and ruthlessly demolished):
Hypothesize on change and outcomes
Define which metric you will use to measure the effect
Put together, here’s what this looks like as a template:
Because we saw [data/feedback] we believe that [change] will cause [outcome]. We will measure this using [data metric].
The template helps you stay focused on the data that informed the hypothesis, as well as the data you need to collect in order to measure the effect of the change.
Let’s apply this to one of the scenarios above: GA tells you that the bulk of users on your landing page are going straight to the pricing page instead of filling out your lead gen form. In this case it is reasonable to hypothesize that pricing info is important to the decision-making process of the prospects and that featuring it on the landing page will help prospects make the right decision and fill out the form.
In this case, the fleshed out hypothesis could be:
Because we saw [data from GA indicating that most users go to the pricing page instead of the home page], we believe that [featuring pricing info on the landing page] will cause [more users to stay on the landing page and fill out the form]. We will measure this using [form conversion rate as our primary metric].
Run more effective A/B tests
Now that you know how to do some conversion research and create a data-driven hypothesis, you can start optimizing and testing much more efficiently.
You no longer need to just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks — you can now test with confidence, and optimize with the resulting data.
In A/B testing, we often get stuck on what to test and how to prioritize hypotheses. This step of testing is one of the most critical and quite often, the toughest. Hypotheses are not easy to come up with; it requires a good amount of experience to identify what’s going wrong on the website and how to rectify it.
In its pursuit of making this step simpler, VWO had earlier developed IdeaFactory, a repository of categorized A/B testing ideas. Now, with the acquisition of Concept Feedback, VWO customers can also start availing expert reviews at $119 per review.
What is an Expert Review?
An expert review is a quick and efficient way to identify aspects of a website that are possibly distracting your visitors or adding friction to your conversion funnel. The design/usability/ strategy experts conducting the review of your website will point out the problems and provide recommendations based on their extensive experience in understanding user behavior.
In association with Concept Feedback, we are offering expert evaluation of one website for free! The giveaway will accept entries till 12 PM GMT, 28th April.
Can I Submit My Website?
We’re accepting entries from e-commerce websites for this contest. One website will be selected from the entries received and be reviewed at the end of the contest. Check the end of this post to submit your website.
Who Will Be Doing The Review?
Tom Charde, a strategy expert on Concept Feedback, would be reviewing the shortlisted website. Tom is the Director of User Experience at 5ivecanons. He is an integrated-marketing practitioner, information architect, and UX strategist based out of Jacksonville, Florida. In the last 20 years, he has helped several companies build their brands, craft messaging and create engaging customer experience.
What will the review look like?
In this special review, Tom will look at your website’s conversion flow to figure where it might be leaking money and visitors. This analysis will specifically focus on one poorly performing page to increase conversions, while providing general feedback on the entire funnel.
Please note that website submissions for the giveaway will be accepted till 12 PM GMT, 28th April. Once this time window closes, an e-commerce website will be selected to be reviewed by Tom. We will also be publishing a follow-up blog post which will contain details of the Tom’s analysis. So stay hooked.
How can I submit my site?
Submitting your site is a simple 2 step process-
Login with your Facebook/ Twitter/ email account.
Enter the website url in the format http://example.com/
TIP: Increase your chances of getting selected by performing some simple steps (don’t worry, you’ll be prompted) after submitting the URL.
Have you ever wanted to take a client by the collar, shake them around vigorously and demand that they take you seriously because you are the expert? If so, you are not alone. Whether you consider yourself an expert and want recognition or are looking to one day become one, you need to step back and ask why being perceived in that way is important.
Why We All Want To Be Seen As An Expert Many of us desire to be seen as experts because we would like our opinions to be taken seriously.