Everybody makes mistakes, but only a select few try to fix them. Image via Flickr
Ever stumble around searching for your glasses, only to discover two minutes later that they’re right there on your nose?
Sometimes we get so close to something that we lose sight of the obvious. And that’s exactly what this episode of the Call to Action podcast is about.
As Casey Ark, owner of Plato Web Design explains, there’s a reason that landing page optimization articles can sound repetitive — it’s ‘cause people make so many of the same mistakes, again and again. And again.
This episode aims to call out those common mistakes to banish them once and for all.
- Why even some of the most successful companies aren’t immune to common landing page slipups.
- How Casey ensures that his copy is concise and visitor-centric.
- Why segmenting prospects on your landing page isn’t always worth the trouble.
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Read the transcript
In this episode: Dan Levy, Unbounce’s Content Strategist, interviews Casey Ark, owner of Plato Web Design.
Stephanie Saretsky: If you have a low conversion rate, looking for advice on landing page optimization can seem a little overwhelming. There is a lot of conflicting advice surrounding your design, your CTA button, your copy. So it may just be easier to throw a page up, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
But hold up.
There are still some basics mistakes that every marketer should know not to make. Unbounce’s Content Strategist Dan Levy speaks to Casey Ark, owner of digital agency Plato, about the most common landing page mistakes that his agency finds, and how to go about fixing them.
Dan Levy: You start off your posts with kind of a scary statement, which is that many of the world’s most aesthetically beautiful landing pages fail miserably when it comes to conversion. Now, I know that beautiful and high-converting don’t necessarily go hand in hand. But why do you think this is so out of whack?
Casey Ark: That’s a really good question. I think it’s actually kind of an artifact of the way that we design websites now. Not in a general sense, but just kinda what we think is a good website right now is a really specific thing. It’s a big background image in the background. You’ve got big heading text kind of in the middle. The images on everything are massive. It’s all responsive and mobile-friendly and all that stuff. And that’s great. I’m a designer too, so I love that stuff. It’s wonderful. But that’s really restricting when it comes to actually making a solid converting landing page.
In fact, it’s actually kinda hard sometimes to fit your product into that mold. Because when you think about it, if you’ve got a whole lot of center-aligned text that goes almost all the way across the screen, you’ve got a big background image, there’s no room to actually show your product or say a whole lot about your product. What we think is beautiful is mostly just kind of this abstract design thing, so that’s really, really restrictive.
But there is absolutely a way to have that intersection between really attractive and really effective. But if you’re focusing so much on the aesthetic of the thing, especially if you’re having huge background images and don’t really have the copy to back it up, I think that’s really what ends up hurting you so much. Because you see so many of these. At least I see tons and tons of them daily, where you look at it and you go, “That’s a beautiful page. That’s great. But I don’t see any benefits to me as the consumer. I don’t see any real reasons why I should be buying this product, other than you have a nice picture of a mountain in the background.”
Dan Levy: Right. Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess design and high conversion aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. But often it seems like when people focus so much on the design, they almost get, like, carried away or distracted. It’s like a red flag that they’re forgetting the other thing.
Casey Ark: Exactly. Yeah. And especially for business owners that are paying for these landing pages. If you’re paying a couple grand to get a landing page done, if you’re not using Unbounce or something like that, lots of these people are really proud of it. They’re proud that it should look really, really good. You don’t wanna spend a couple grand on something that is conversion centric and doesn’t necessarily look great. So yeah, I think sometimes there’s a little bit of pride behind it. But yeah, I think you’re exactly right.
Dan Levy: Cool. Well, I’m sure we’ll get back to that. But first, I wanna talk about the first mistake that you tackle in your post, which is not actually showing your product on the landing page itself. You call this the cardinal sin of landing page design. Why is that such a huge mistake?
Casey Ark: Yeah, and you wouldn’t believe how often it happens. If you start looking at landing pages, anybody out there, you should start paying attention to whether or not they have the actual product shown. It’s an incredible amount – I bet it’s six or seven out of ten.
Dan Levy: It sounds so obvious.
Casey Ark: It sounds extremely obviously, right? You’d think you have to absolutely have it on there. You’d never have a car commercial without the car. You’d never have a burger commercial without the burger. It doesn’t make any sense. And the big reason why it matters and why it’s kind of that big mistake, which is what you asked, I can’t want what I can’t see. And that’s what I’m really focusing on when I’m making a solid landing page. And that’s really the difference between poor-converting landing pages and awesome-converting landing pages — when the customer hits that page, you’re not just describing the product in a way that would be favorable. You’re not writing a book here. You’re not trying to just be really descriptive with language. It’s extremely difficult to want something you can’t see.
And what we’re looking for is that little wow moment that happens when somebody hits the page. A couple seconds into the page they realize what the product is. And they go, “Wow! I kinda want that.” And it’s so hard to do that without seeing it. And even in your day-to-day life, it’s usually pretty applicable for most people. If you really think about it, what are things that you want in the world? Do you want an iPhone? Do you want a really expensive car? You can visualize all of those things. You’ve probably seen all of those things.
So if you’re trying to create that kind of want in somebody, you’re dead in the water if you can’t actually show them your real product. And really, it should be front and center.
Dan Levy: Totally. Well, I mean, the second mistake you talk about is something related and that actually having your product on the page can maybe even help out with, which is not explaining what you do on the landing page. Can you explain how a company called Marketing Genesis made this mistake on their page and how to fix it?
Casey Ark: Yeah. Basically, they look like they’re probably some sort of marketing company, and they’re running this kind of paid seminar. And they have the landing page for what looks like it’s probably a paid seminar, but they don’t actually say expressly what it is.
Dan Levy: Right. You’re like, it looks like it’s probably a company that has something to do with something?
Casey Ark: Yeah, exactly – there were a lot of “somethings” in there. Yeah, you’re not quite sure. And there are a couple of times where they ask you to register, and you don’t know what you’re registering for. And they say that it’s in San Diego, but you don’t even know what’s in San Diego, and they don’t say where in San Diego. So you’re just kinda in the blind. And that sort of page happens more than I can tell ya. And just in general, fixing that is kind of – it’s relatively simple in that you just wanna describe what it is that you’re actually doing. But you wouldn’t believe how often it happens.
So typically, what I tell people to do is think a little bit outside of your company. Because it’s easy to kind of get trapped in the mindset of wherever you’re working, if you’re working day in and day out. But typically, I like to say, “Find somebody outside your company. How would you explain to them fully what it is that you do and what it is that you’re selling and how your product works?”
Dan Levy: We talked about this in other podcast episodes — how copywriters, when they’re writing their “about” page copy for example, sometimes they just get too far into the weeds because the obvious stuff to them is just like, yeah, like, of course people need to be using landing pages for their campaigns. And you start talking about advanced optimization tactics when for most people, actually don’t really know what a landing page is and why they need it there.
Casey Ark: Yeah, exactly. Probably eight out of ten people I talk to every day, I still have to describe what a landing page is. So yeah, I completely understand that.
Dan Levy: You and me both, brother.
Casey Ark: Yep.
Dan Levy: So yeah, I mean, this stuff, again, it seems kind of obvious when you point it out. And maybe it seems obvious to listeners. But I think we’ve all seen really successful companies make this mistake. So I mean, why do you think that is?
Casey Ark: That’s a really good question. I think part of it is just getting kinda trapped in the corporate culture and what we just talked about. If you’re the copywriter, you come in with a certain assumption that people might know what landing pages are or people might know what hardscaping is if you’re a landscaping company. But typically, people don’t know. And it’s amazing how little people know about brands, even brands that they are interacting with a daily or bi-daily basis.
And really, when you come in with that assumption, it kills ya immediately because when people (even your trusted brand advocates) are seeing copy like that from you — where it’s sort of vague and you’re kind of mentioning what you do — a lot of time they don’t know what you’re talking about and they’re too embarrassed to ask. So you end up getting stuck.
The fix for that again is thinking outside the company a little bit. But yet it’s hard to kind of understand what you should be showing online when you’re stuck inside that loop of working in a big company for that long.
Dan Levy: Do you have, like, a go-to tactic for developing copy that keeps customers’ mindset in mind, even when you’re really close to the product yourself?
Casey Ark: It’s kinda funny. But yeah, typically, I tell people that you wanna lock yourself in a room for maybe two or three minutes with a piece of paper and a pen. And just write down bullet points that you’d wanna tell a startup investor if you only had that maybe 30-second or 45-second elevator pitch. And that’s the start. So you wanna have points that are probably benefit-driven for him. You wanna say, “If I was a customer, why would I wanna buy this product?”
And then take all those bullet points, and take another two or three minutes and tailor them so that you can tell them exactly to your mother pretty much verbatim. Remove every possible technical word that you can find inside that kinda first set of bullet points, and move them to the second set. And that second set is really probably the base of your landing page.
Dan Levy: So we’ve talked about how you need to explain what you do. But the kind of extreme of this is to want to include, like, every single detail of your offer on your landing page. And that’s what you say is the third mistake people are making on their pages. So you can you talk about that one?
Casey Ark: Yeah. It’s so easy to make that mistake too because when you sit down and you start trying to make a landing page, if you’re a small business owner, you probably think, “I either wanna list some things about my business, or maybe I wanna list absolutely everything just in case somebody’s gonna ask.” And that’s what happens so often. When you get a couple people in kind of a small business team together, and you write down a list of what should be on the landing page, you end up with this massive list sometimes with really tiny nuanced things about the business. Again, if you’re a landscaping company, you might, like, decide to mention your payment plans or something. You get pretty deep into things.
But really you don’t have to get that deep into the product in most instances, certainly not deep enough that you ever need to include real paragraph texts to any serious degree. There are so many landing pages that use long paragraphs of text. And basically, if you’re making a landing page, you can pretty much operate under the assumption that people aren’t gonna read a word of your paragraph text because they don’t have the time. They wanna interact with you for maybe 20 to 30 seconds, maybe a minute. But absolutely nobody goes into their job, Googles something, and says, “Aw, I can’t wait to read five paragraphs of text about whatever it is I’m looking for.”
So basically, you wanna bullet point out everything as much as you can. If you’re scrolling through the site and you wouldn’t naturally read it in the flow of scrolling, it probably won’t get read at all.
Dan Levy: Yeah, you share an interesting tip for keeping your landing page copy down to a minimum which involves writing the copy before even looking at the landing page template. How does that work?
Casey Ark: It ends up working kinda because of what we talked about earlier. When you get stuck too deep into designing the page or worrying about the template or seeing how it looks, you kinda forget to look at the actual USP, the actual unique selling proposition. And so many people actually never really get around to even understanding why their business is that significantly different from other people. So again, that’s a situation where you really wanna sit down, write down a bullet point list of why you’re significantly better than your competitors or why your product really should be bought by customers, and focus on that first.
And typically, it’s a pretty short list. It might only be ten or fifteen things, maybe even less. But as long as you kinda have that general starting point and then craft the design around that, that helps a lot. Because what usually happens with people is they’ll start with a design, they won’t put the product in there always; they’ll just kinda have some general abstract tagline. Again, I keep going back to landscaping. But they might say something like, “Really great landscaping,” which always starts okay. You have an okay headline. But you can really improve it if you start to understand why people would go with you rather than other people. And then you can tailor that text to kind of fit into the design. So the headline ends up always looking significantly better. Your CTAs are almost always better because you’ve focused on just the text without any accoutrements.
Dan Levy: Yeah, I guess it goes back to what we were saying at the beginning, where so often – you know, this happens a lot when you’re in an agency or working with a creative team. And your designer starts with a design and then asks you to make the copy fit. Your content should always inform your design and not vice versa. Start with a template, right? But don’t let that template dictate the copy.
Casey Ark: Exactly. Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Dan Levy: Cool. Well, we’ve all heard the adage that if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. But you wrote about a company called Perfumes for a Buck – love that name –
Casey Ark: Yep. It’s great.
Dan Levy: – that ran into a problem with friction when they tried to segment users on their landing page. What happened there?
Casey Ark: Basically, they’ve got this initial landing page that shows – they don’t actually have anything on the landing page except these two buttons that say, “Are you shopping for men’s perfume?” or “Are you shopping for women’s perfume?” You click one of the buttons, and then you get the selection there. That page is killing me because it just kills your conversion immediately. You’re asking people to make a decision when they don’t necessarily need to be making a decision about something.
Because ultimately, we can segment that out immediately. We don’t need to be asking people that question. We should really already know who we’re selling to by then. But that’s a killer thing. You really never, ever, ever wanna make people make a decision, especially when you’re paying for clicks like they were.
Dan Levy: Don’t make them do that work. You should be doing that work yourself.
Casey Ark: Exactly, yeah. Who knows how many people you’re gonna lose on that probably. You might lose 25 or 30 percent of people who just say, “Hey, I don’t feel like making this click.” And that’s just money lost.
Dan Levy: So I mean, if you are marketing to multiple segments like they were, how do you speak to them individually without weighing them down with having to make that choice themselves?
Casey Ark: Basically, it’s relatively easy to take care of something like that, especially if you’re using AdWords or Facebook or something like that where you can kind of manipulate the keywords that you’re using. So basically, what we wanna do is we wanna take care of the segmentation for the customer. We wanna take all the work out of the customer’s hand so the customer’s never having to say, “I am a man. I’m shopping for men’s perfume.”
So what we wanna do is basically, you’d wanna buy keywords. Instead of just buying for perfume, you’d wanna buy keywords for women’s perfume and probably men’s cologne separately. And then if somebody clicks on the men’s cologne ad, they should be going to a dedicated landing page that already has men’s cologne; it already has men’s perfume shown. And then the vice versa for women’s perfume. If they click on that, they should already be hitting a woman’s page.
And that immediately saves you a whole lot of money. And automatically – especially if you’re doing something that’s a paid click there – you really wanna know that anyway, whether you’re dealing with men or women, instantaneously. Because we’ve gotta reroute that traffic, and that’ll automatically improve your rates.
Dan Levy: It sounds so simple, but again, something that so many marketers just aren’t doing.
Casey Ark: Yeah. Exactly.
Dan Levy: We talk a lot on this podcast about the importance of testing stuff like headlines and call to action button copy. But you suggest that focusing too much on this stuff can actually lead to all these mistakes that we were just talking about. How so?
Casey Ark: I don’t wanna tell people not to test anything. You absolutely still should be testing things. Don’t listen to anybody that tells you otherwise. But if you’re focusing too much on that, it can hurt you, especially if you’re not absorbing the full understanding of what it is that you’re selling.
So ultimately, when you’re looking at a landing page, you should be basically looking at it as if you were designing a TV commercial for your product. And if you spend too much time testing it, if you spend too much time worrying about the color of the button and the shape of the button and the font you’re using and all that stuff, and less about the whole picture about why your product’s significantly better, that’s where you can really start getting into some trouble.
And what I mean by that practically is if you’re selling a car, I don’t care so much about the photo that you’re using of the car. I care a lot more about the entire holistic experience of the landing page. Are you telling me why the car is significantly better? Do I have a bunch of benefits listed to me? Do I have a relatively solid call to action? As long as you’ve got the general basics down, that’s probably more important long term than spending a whole lot of time worrying about individual color details or fonts or all that stuff.
Dan Levy: Yeah, it’s almost, like, awesome when people are testing and doing those more advanced stuff. But if that’s taking your eye off really simple things, like having your product on the page and telling people what you do, then maybe there’s a problem there and you need to kind of take a step back and see the forest for the trees or however that expression goes.
Casey Ark: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. And just to put it in a little bit more quantitative terms, the difference between a really great landing page and a bad landing page, typically, is not one headline away from having a huge difference. It’s typically more than that. It’s typically a little bit more of an understanding of what your customers want. It’s going from a place where you don’t understand what they want to a place where you do understand what they want. That’s kinda the big difference.
Dan Levy: Well, I think that’s a really good note to end on. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Casey.
Casey Ark: Of course! Happy to.
Stephanie Saretsky: That was Casey Ark, owner of Plato.
Are You Making Any of These Landing Page Mistakes? [PODCAST]