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Landing Page Lessons from Optimization Summit 2011

by Kelly Kubrick on June 20, 2011

Earlier this month, I attended MECLABS‘ inaugural Optimization Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. As  MECLABS is the parent of MarketingSherpa and MarketingExperiments, I was curious as I’ve been a fan of the former for years. I have only recently come across the latter but have already found their “Best of” monthly emails very useful. I expected  case studies to be at the core of the conference material and was not disappointed. As a side bonus, I was introduced to an unexpected and entertaining cast of characters including Dr Flint McGlaughlin and “the Pool Guy”, aka Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion.

Landing Pages Should Reflect the Rituals of Good Conversation

Dr McGlaughlin kicked off the pre-Summit Landing Page Optimization Workshop by suggesting that landing page optimization is akin to a successful conversation, whereby certain rituals and patterns need to respected before value can be exchanged. The geography of the landing page provides you with the opportunity to anticipate and manage the chronology and sequence of a conversation with your prospects. The entertainment value arose from the irresistible temptation to act out how a flawed landing page contains the same landmines encountered in a flawed pick up attempt at a bar…

My favourite comment related to marketers’ mistaken need to slam product or lifestyle ‘hero shots’ and aggressive calls to action front and centre on their landing pages (guess who’s making that mistake on the home page right now?). According to Dr McGlaughlin, those hero shots are like meeting someone at a bar and immediately asking them to move in with you. Who wouldn’t turn tail and bolt? At best, it’s overly enthusiastic and misguided, and at worst, predatory. Instead, as marketers, we need to take a step back to map the sequence of a successful conversation, and plan our landing pages accordingly.

Consider the Source: Understand Channel Relevance

Start by thinking through the traffic source or channel your prospect arrives by, whether it be via organic or paid search, advertising on social networking sites, or via your own email newsletter, etc. Depending on the source, your visitor may be completely new to your product or service or have already been sold on it, and may simply want you to get out of their way. If the former, assume more copy might be needed and if the latter, less is most definitely more.

Put yourself in your prospect’s frame of mind and remind yourself of the value proposition you implied in that source channel. MarketingExperiments defines your value proposition as “the primary reason why your ideal prospect should buy from you rather than your competitors” (expressed in 10 words or less).

Your Headline Should Keep the Promise You Implied

Ensure that you keep that promise by opening your landing page with a headline that initiates the conversation between the two of you. Your only task here is to intrigue the prospect enough to keep him or her from immediately clicking on the back button. You can do that by ensuring your headline provides the connection between the source channel and the landing page itself. Be sure the visitor is able to orient him / herself by providing clarity about where they are and what to do next. To illustrate, Dr McGlaughlin provided the following examples of original vs. alternate treatment headlines:

Original: Why Try BRAND Online?
Treatment: Get Unlimited Access to all 32 Volumes of BRAND during your FREE TRIAL..
Original: Searching for the Most Accurate Mailing Lists? Your Hunt is Over!
Treatment: We Make 26 Million Phone Calls a Year to Ensure You Get The Most Accurate Mailing Lists Available!

Next, draw your visitors’ eye further into the page by offering a few brief sentences that expand on your headline. Do that well, and you can entice the visitor to scan a sub-heading that leads into a handful of bullet points that reinforce the value proposition promise. The reinforcement comes from the provision of key quantitative data (in your bullets) that validates any claims you’ve made to date.

At this stage, the conversation should be rolling along well enough that you are now in a position to suggest a call to action. As you  make the ask, you also need to provide an incentive to convince the visitor to actually take the action. Further, that incentive needs to be directly related to your value proposition, and you should include a visual to illustrate the incentive. As an example, include an image of the charts or tables from the report you’re asking the visitor to register to receive.

Avoid Landmines: Don’t Require Your Visitors To Submit

Be careful of the classic landmine, also known as the “submit” button. I wish I could play a recording so that you might hear Dr McGlaughlin’s booming southern preacher voice as he lacerated this bad habit of ours: “I SUBMIT TO THE GODS OF MARKETING!” Instead, the wording of your call to action needs to describe what is expected of the prospect. Some examples (besides “click here”!) include:

  • Help Me Choose
  • Become a Member
  • Get Instant Access
  • Download a Free Trial

Anticipate Anxiety and You Will Reduce Friction

MarketingExperiments‘ research identifies the call to action as a point of “friction”, or “the psychological resistance to a given element in the sales process”. Knowing that your ‘ask’ inevitably causes anxiety, anticipate that anxiety and counter the friction through reassurance. How?

Perhaps you might limit the length (number of) or difficulty of fields you require the prospect to complete. Or, you might use “seals” that illustrate policies such as “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed” or “No Hassle Returns”. You can also create a “backstop” by offering a single, powerful testimonial from a respected third party. Ensure these assurances are in close proximity to the source of anxiety.

Anticipating your prospect’s anxiety gives you an opportunity to “intensify the positives” in order to reduce friction. Do that well, and you’ve got yourself a conversion which results in a value exchange between you and your prospect.

The Value You Offer Must Outweigh the Cost to the Visitor

That value exchange might include critical credit card information or simply a valid email address. Regardless – you will have convinced your prospect that the your offer is worth the exchange of their valuable information. Nicely done!

In summary, we end up with a landing page layout that follows the conversation flow illustrated in the chart below:

Optimized Landing Page Flow – or “The Ritual Of Conversation”

Nine Steps for Optimal Landing Page Layout

As a web analyst, I was most intrigued with the idea that these conversational elements and related landing page layout recommendations are represented by MarketingExperiments Conversion Heuristic”*, which states C = 4m+ 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a© where:

c = conversion
m= (Your prospect’s) motivation
v = the clarity of your value proposition
i = incentive
f = friction and
a = anxiety

*Source: MECLABS Landing Page Optimization Summit Study Guide, Landing Page Certification Workshop

Using MarketingExperiments’ Conversion Heuristic, you immediately notice that the most important elements of your landing page are reflected in the relative value of the coefficients. Thus, at 4, the highest coefficient, your prospect’s motivation (4m) has the highest impact on the success of the conversion. MarketingExperiments defines motivation as the “magnitude and nature of of the customer’s demand for” your products / services.

By targeting motivated prospects by source, you have control over a key lever leading to your conversions. Translation – don’t bring prospects with low motivation to your landing page as you are setting yourself up for failure. This is, of course a core tenet of marketing — target your primary audience / market segments or suffer the wrath which results from a blown budget.

Next in importance is the clarity of your value proposition (+3v). The clarity comes from an articulation of the “appeal, exclusivity and credibility” of your offer. If well articulated, you can overcome, or subtract, possible friction your prospect might be feeling by “adding” an incentive appropriate to your value proposition [+2(i-f)].

Only then can you address the final issue that could deter the prospect from completing the conversion: anxiety (-2a). Notice that anxiety is a negative coefficient and that it is equal to the value garnered from your “incentive minus friction step”. To overcome your prospect’s anxiety, you must intensify the positives and reassure.

Avoid Symmetry

Dr McGlaughlin also made a point of reiterating that their research shows that easing the “eye path” in relation to landing page layout is also critical. Of utmost importance, don’t make the mistake of seeking balance by equalizing page components in your design. Avoid equally weighted columns which are another source of friction as they encourage indecision.

Instead, use a 2/3rd left hand column to contain all of the elements described above – headline, copy, subhead, bullets and calls to action. However, use the right hand column to support the content on the left. Examples of support content could include additional testimonials.

Be Clear About The Objective of Your Landing Page

If you’d like to try assessing your existing landing pages, use the framework offered by MarketingExperiments’ Conversion Heuristic, and then see how well your page performs in relation to the critical elements. Before you do so, however, ensure you have consensus on the goal of that page so you can be sure that you maintain your focus throughout the assessment. This offers the added benefit of helping you identify any conflicting objectives you may have inadvertently allowed on the page.

Just to make sure the audience was taking everything in, MECLABS hit us with an exam at the end of the day. Due to the amount of caffeine consumed, I am pleased to say that yours truly did make the grade:

Marketing Experiments Professional Certification Program

Evidence of my Membership in MarketingExperiments Certified Professional Members Directory

What do you think of MarketingExperiments proposed framework? Would you consider amending your landing pages to reflect the proposed approach?

Kelly Kubrick

Digital Analyst and President of Online Authority; co-author dStrategy Digital Maturity Model, COO of MyLiberty.Life, co-founder, Digital Strategy Conference; co-owner 3rd generation family business. Downhill Skier. Foodie. Fan of all things digital.

Kelly KubrickLanding Page Lessons from Optimization Summit 2011

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