Top 10 Small Business Tips for Effective Landing Pages

by James A. Martin

How to create landing pages that do what they're designed to do: convert prospects into customers.

"On the Web, people have the attention span of a lit match," said Tim Ash, co-founder, president and CEO of SiteTuners, a conversion rate optimization firm. "That's why your landing page needs to be focused and Zen-like, so the call to action immediately rises to the top."

Ash spoke in a session about landing page do's and don'ts at the recent Online Marketing Summit 2012 in San Diego. In the session, audience members offered up the URLs of their own pages for Ash's critique. We culled the following 10 tips from Ash's advice to the audience.

But first, some quick background about landing pages. A landing page is a Web page designed to promote or sell a product or a service, or to provide a navigational path to products or services. Often, the page is linked to from a direct marketing email or a pay-per-click ad relevant to the landing page's topic.

Landing page graphic

For instance, a Google AdWords ad that promotes automobile repair services would be linked to a stand-alone Web page describing the advertising repair shop's services in detail. A landing page's goal is usually to convert a visitor into a sales lead or customer.

Top 10 tips to Create Effective Landing Pages

1. Be clear about what you want visitors to do.

Too often, said Ash, landing pages lack focus, offer distracting elements, or don't quickly convey to the visitor what you want them to do, whether it's to call for more information, buy now, or delve deeper into the site. A successful landing page is hyper-focused, and its call to action is compelling and unmistakable.

2. Make sure your landing page loads quickly and provides relevant content.

When determining how to rank a page for a relevant keyword search, Google's algorithms take many factors into account -- including slow page-load times and high bounce rates. If your landing page takes too long to load (because it's loaded with Flash or other animations), odds are the page will not rank as highly in Google as another page might, Ash said.

Also, if the landing page's content doesn't follow up on the promise of an ad or other content that brought the visitor to the page, that visitor will quickly click away, which raises the page's bounce rate. (Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who enter a website and then leave without viewing other pages on the site.)

3. Avoid rotating ad banners.

A rotating ad banner on a landing page indicates that "you've abdicated your editorial responsibility," Ash said. Too often, you give the landing page visitor multiple messages, which cause confusion and obfuscates your call to action. For example, a landing page's goal may be to offer navigation to help visitors dig deeper into the site. But, said Ash, "how am I going to do that with a big rotating banner ad distracting me?"

It's better to stick with one image that's clear and compelling -- and that supports the call to action. What's more, rotating ads are essentially animations that can "drag down your page's load time," which can adversely impact its Google search result ranking.

4. Don't distract visitors with photos of people.

"It's dangerous to have pictures of people, because visitors look at them and don't read the headline," Ash said. Given website visitors' short attention spans, do you really want them focused on people instead of something more important (like your call to action)?

5. Make images relevant.

Does the image (or images) on your landing page directly support the important conversion actions you want visitors to take? If the answer is no, get rid of the photos, Ash said. A pretty picture that conveys nothing about your business or the call to action is, at best, wasted space and, at worst, a lost opportunity to convert a prospect.

6. Use testimonials from happy customers whenever possible.

While critiquing the home page of a small resume-writing service, Ash asked the business's owner how many customers he's had so far. The answer: more than 10,000. "Why isn't that number on your landing page?" Ash asked. "There's a reason why McDonald's says how many customers it's served," he added. A high volume of customers can give prospects confidence in a product or service.

7. Keep text to a minimum, and make it easy to read.

On the Web, people "don't want to read a lot of stuff," Ash said. Convey what you need them to know as concisely and compellingly as possible.

The text on your landing page should be easily legible. Otherwise, you risk visitors clicking away and upping your bounce rate, not to mention wasting the pay-per-click money you spent luring them to the page in the first place.

Serif fonts contain more "design" and ornamentation than sans serif fonts and can be harder to read, Ash said. All caps are annoying to most people, because it's like carrying on a conversation with someone who's shouting the entire time.

And one of the worst things you can do to a landing page visitor is to put white text over a black background (or some other equally difficult color combination). You've purposely made their job as a reader more difficult.

8. Avoid extra scroll bars.

Some sites put a box of text on a landing page with its own scroll bar to keep surrounding images or content in place as the reader scrolls through the text. This is another potential turn-off to site visitors, Ash said, and a sign that "you're trying to control their experience too much."

9. Think twice about linking your Facebook page to your landing page.

One audience member offered up his landing page, which provides frequent flyer mileage deals, for review. The company's Facebook Fan page was linked to the landing page. In a box on the landing page's right-hand side, you could see how many fans the company's Facebook page had as well as pictures of the fans -- which included a photo of a cat.

"Is that the image you want to convey to someone who visits your site?" Ash asked. "A picture of a cat?You're usually better off not showing your Facebook fans on your site."

10. Design a landing page for visitors, not for search engine optimization (SEO).

Ash critiqued a landing page that offered a search box, multiple navigational tabs and text links, and photos directing users to products based on industry, such as "Hospitality" and "Healthcare." He said the page clearly looked as if it were designed for SEO.

By placing the emphasis on SEO, however, a landing page can "ruin the user experience," he said. If you need to add keyword-rich descriptions or other text for SEO purposes, put them at the bottom of the page, Ash advised.

Ultimately, Ash advised attendees to never forget what the goal of the landing page is and to develop a clear idea for how to best achieve that goal. Remember that most visitors to a landing page are early in the buying cycle. "Make them believe in you at that early stage," he said.

James A. Martin writes about SEO and social media. His most recent article for Small Business Computing was "A Guide to Pinterest for Small Business." Follow him on Twitter.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Apr 5th 2012
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