The Anatomy of an Effective Landing Page
Most design and development agencies ignore the obvious and crucial preliminary stage before the design process. We have this conversation with our clients before the start of any project and so I have put together some of the issues that should be considered.
As part of our work as a digital agency we often design and build websites, and one of the most common discussions I have with my clients before we even start the design process is that of which Landing Pages we will need to create to help them achieve their online marketing objectives.
While this may seem an obvious and crucial preliminary stage before the design process starts, it is sadly ignored by most design and development agencies. I still see so many new websites being launched which clearly show that this stage was not properly thought through.
In a previous article, I wrote about how to decide which Landing Pages you need, so in this article, I will talk about some of the more important elements that need to be included in a classic Landing Page to help it work harder and generate better conversion metrics. As you can see, I have given some background to many of the elements, both in terms of their value to potential customers and in terms of their importance to search engines. This way, you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone.
- Main Headline
Headline for Customers: Remember that the purpose of a landing page is to be as relevant as possible for the particular search that someone made in a search engine. So, if someone goes to Google and types in “Best Beach Hotels in Portugal”, then your heading should be the most relevant answer to the query that they are looking for. How about something relevant such as “10 Superb Beach Hotels in Portugal”? Or, if they are looking for “Family Ski Holidays in Les Gets”, how about a heading that reads “Amazing Family Ski Holidays and Experiences in Les Gets”?
Headline for Search Engines: Remember that search engines also need to know that this Landing Page is relevant to the search phrase, so having a headline that uses most (if not all) of the words in the search string is super important.
H1 Tags: In addition, what is also very important is to make this headline an H1 tag… and remember not to have any other H1 tags on that page. You can have as many H2 and H3 tags as you wish, but for SEO, only one H1, please.
- Sales Copy
Sales Copy for Customers: If the purpose of a Landing Page is to provide the relevant answer to the reader and to promote the most relevant products or services in your company to them, then you need to write enough great copy that highlights the main USPs and the most important benefits of your product or service.
Please be Nice to your Reader: However, when it comes to the architecture of the page and the layout and design of the texts, I find that so many designers and developers, unfortunately, have no concept of easy reading strategies for the reader. As a result, I often see web pages with huge blocks of texts that are so cumbersome that most people will not even bother to read it.
So please be nice to your readers. Design your text layout so that you have short bursts of information, each with clear headings that the reader can skim quickly and with ease. Think newspaper, or, better yet, think magazine.
Sales Copy for Search Engines: In the good old prehistoric days of SEO (about a year ago!), I used to think in terms of 400-600 words per page and, as a very rough rule of thumb, approximately 4-6 instances of the key phrase, on condition that it would be deployed with grace and without affecting the quality of the copy and without sounding contrived in any way. However, this is all changing. I am now thinking in terms of starting with well over 1,000 words of text and then having this text constantly expand over time (see “Expanding Content Strategies for Hummingbird” below).
Sales Copy for Meta Tags: While this is a very basic and crucial (and one of the original) criteria for SEO, I am still amazed how many new websites I see today where the meta tags (meta title and meta description) either do not exist or are the same for all pages on the site, with little or no ability to edit them on a page-by-page basis, even in the most expensive and complex website cases.
Don’t forget that meta titles and meta descriptions are not just there to help you get good rankings. In addition to that, and very importantly: if your SEO is good and you do get ranked, then the meta title and meta description are what appear in the search results in Google. So make sure that they are not only key phrase rich (to get those rankings), but also feature the strongest sales messaging you can create (to get those clicks). If you do this, the chances of people actually visiting your site improve considerably.
- Expanding Content Strategies for Hummingbird
We have been enthusiastically experimenting over the past year or two with strategies for working with the Hummingbird Update. While Hummingbird is still a bit of an unknown entity, one thing that is proving very successful in terms of Content Marketing and in terms of achieving amazing ranking improvements for our clients is that of having ever-expanding content on the Home Page and the priority Landing Pages.
At first, it was really hard for us to come up with fresh and engaging ideas for content that was not salesmanship, but now that we are getting so much practice thinking in terms of Content Marketing instead of sales copy, we are finding that it’s getting so much easier to come up with great ideas for our clients’ website and SEO programs. And it is a lot of fun too – always a very good ingredient for successful marketing.
However, whatever the content strategy is, it is important to have the page architecture and site structure mapped out and in place (in advance of building your site) in order to accommodate this type of ever-expanding content, and your Landing Page should be designed to house this content in a way that augments your products or services too. In many cases, it is quite a difficult graphic challenge to make all this content work well on your Landing Pages.
- Trust Indicators
Trust Indicators for Customers: Despite what anyone tries to tell you in this era of Content Marketing, having good salesmanship on your Landing Pages is still important and still increases sales. If you would like to find out more about the difference between web content and web copy, read my article called ‘Is Content really better than Copy?’
However, while it is important to sell, it is almost more important to build trust and confidence in your products/services and in your brand as a whole.
To do this, I have been urging my clients to incorporate various trust elements, including third-party review sites that provide customer reviews as a feed into their site, display guarantee seals, include logos of industry associations that they belong to, post-press clippings, etc.
Thus, when designing your Landing Page, make sure that your layout architecture can accommodate all of these options properly without them looking like a bad fit resulting from trying to add them in as an afterthought.
Trust Indicators for Search Engines: While people need to trust your brand and your offering, search engines too need to trust your site. This is where you can take advantage of “Rich Snippets” that will provide good trust indicators that will help you get two great benefits from Google: better rankings AND better click-through rates.
By using these rich snippets together with certain third-party review sites, you can now display your star rating alongside your snippet in the search results. And assuming that you have a good star rating, it will help encourage more people to click on you.
- Strong and Multiple Calls to Action
After all is said and done, after all the great salesmanship has been written, don’t forget to provide those all-important calls to action and, alongside them, those iconic action buttons (buy now button, subscribe button, sign up button, send now button, etc, etc.).
Moreover, I always try to encourage my clients to provide multiple options to their readers. Phone number, email address, contact form, buy now option, call back option, live chat, etc.
Lastly, if properly thought out in advance, make sure that your page architecture allows these calls to action to appear in different places on your page, not just as an unintended add-on in the header.
- Navigation Strategy
Navigation Strategy for People: In the ‘over-enthusiastic’ way that some of my clients try to ‘encourage’ their readers to see every possible page of their website by linking to every page on the site, I often see websites with just too many links. And the problem with this is that too much information leads to confusion and pressure on the readers.
I always try to persuade my clients to put only the few priority links (those that help to sell) at the top of the page and all the rest, if absolutely necessary, in the footer.
So, to give a really basic example, a link showing all your product categories or holiday destinations is important and should be more prominently placed at the top of your page. However, a link to your terms and conditions should be at the bottom (in small fonts in the footer).
This is a very basic example and in the real world, there are more complex decisions that need to be made about link priority. This is why it is so important to have a number of discussions about this with both your search marketing expert and your designer before even the web-design stage commences.
Navigation Strategy for Search Engines: While search engines have a greater capacity for dealing with large amounts of information than mere humanoids, for them we need to think in terms of communicating the right message that will help us get the right pages ranked for more profitable phrases. And this is where reducing the navigation links becomes very important.
Each page has a certain value in the eyes of a search engine. I like to think of it in terms of link juice (but we won’t go into how to acquire link juice in this article). In very simplistic terms for the purposes of this line of reasoning: the more link juice a page earns, the higher it ranks in search engines.
So let’s assume that your home page has 100 units of link juice and links to 100 pages on your site. Each of those inner pages will receive 1 unit of link juice from the home page. However, if we have a more focused and disciplined navigation strategy where you point to 10 of your landing pages, then each landing page earned 10 units of link juice.
Once again, while I’m being very simplistic, and it is never as black or white as this in the real world, the understanding of this principle is very important for your rankings. This is why I always discuss the navigational structure in depth with my clients and consider their options well in advance of the design stage of their new websites.
- Images, Videos, and Visual Aids
Visuals for People: Simply put, the internet is a visual medium, where graphics and images need to communicate as well as words – and sometimes better.
So think carefully, even before the design stage, about what type of imagery can best augment your salesmanship and how to place it elegantly and appropriately on the page alongside your copy.
And when it comes to words, try to use them “graphically” too to help communicate your product as easily as possible. For example: make your headings really big, make your questions or each USP a larger font, and present them in bullet points. I always talk to my designer in terms of getting certain words to come out to the reader, instead of expecting the reader to work at reading them. It is an interesting concept and you can have lots of fun experimenting with this to improve your page.
Visuals for Search Engines: While search engines can’t see images, it is still important to think about search engines when it comes to your visuals. When you upload images onto your website, make sure that the file name of the image and the image’s (alt) tags are relevant to the image and also to the topic of that Landing Page itself.
If the image, for example, is of the great view from one of your luxury villas (Villa Rosa in Portugal), then call the image files something like: “Villa Rosa – View of Sea”. For the alt tag, you might consider something like: “You will love the sea views from our Villa Rosa in Portugal”.
- Keep the Important Messaging Above the Fold
The Fold for People: Keep the fold in mind. Today, people don’t mind scrolling up and down a little bit left and right scrolling is still a big no-no.
However, having said that, I always believe that if you expect someone to scroll down to see more, then you must give them enough above the fold to make them want to scroll down and read more.
There is still some debate about where the fold should be. While I still have clients who insist on 600 pixels, I tend to cater more to 800 pixels for most of our new website development projects. This is still a topic where 3 people tend to have 5 opinions but whatever metric you choose, make sure that your big sales heading, your main image, your main USPs and your initial call to action all appear above that line so that, even if some readers do not scroll down, they can still make a purchasing decision.
The Fold for Search Engines: As you probably have too much to think about already with all the advice above, you will probably be happy to know that the fold is actually not an issue that has any bearing on your rankings.
On the contrary, as discussed above, keep the lessons of Hummingbird in mind: the longer the page and the more text you have, the better your rankings.
The last point I would like to make about Landing Pages is to highlight why Landing Pages are so-called. It is because they are intended to be the first page that anyone sees after doing a search in Google (or any other search engine). This means that these readers will not be seeing the home page first and then find the landing page a few clicks later.
Consequently, every Landing Page must feature enough graphics, copy the content, and sales elements to convert your visitor.
Don’t put all your best salesmanship on your home page and just list your products on your product category page. Each category page, in the spirit of Landing Page best practice, should be like a home page talking about why the products are so suitable for the reader, why the company is credible and, as part of this, feature the list of products. It is actually quite a difficult balancing act that needs time to get right.
Putting it all Together
As you can see, even after you understand which and how many Landing Pages you need to meet your various marketing and sales objectives, the process of deciding which elements you need to include in each of your Landing Pages can also be tricky and requires much thought.
This is why it is so important to spend as much time as possible discussing your Landing Pages at a very strategic level, long before you even think about engaging a designer and certainly long before the developer starts to build your site.
Getting your Landing Page strategy right can make a huge difference to the success metrics of your site and the ROI of your subsequent Search Marketing and Social Media campaigns.
If you are about to embark on a new web build or a refresh of your existing site and are looking for some professional assistance for this crucial stage of your online marketing infrastructure, please feel free to give me a call.