New book addresses landing page optimization

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As the Internet becomes the primary hub for marketing and customer acquisition, the role of a Web site’s landing pages has become more important. A good search marketing campaign is a must. And landing pages that give visitors what they need once they click translates into a good user experience, which can then spark a sale.

“Landing Page Optimization,” a book published last week by John Wiley & Sons, covers all aspects of this important topic, and includes a step-by-step implementation guide.

Author Tim Ash, president of SiteTuners, a San Diego-based landing page optimization company, spoke with BtoB about how marketers can improve conversion rates and some of the challenges they face in optimizing landing pages for search.

BtoB:Leading customers to the right landing page from search results is obviously important for marketers. What is the best way for marketers to improve their landing page conversion rates?

Ash: Test different versions. Testing is really important. You need to make an ongoing commitment to trying different things. That can be as simple as changing the headline or the call to action.

BtoB:What does testing involve?

Ash: There are a couple of different testing approaches. A/B split testing is simplest. Use your existing Web page and send half of the traffic to that and measure conversion, and send the other half to another version of the page. A/B split testing is built into a lot of analytics programs, and Google offers it for free as part of Google Analytics. They have a standalone product called Google Website Optimizer that is available as a tab inside your Adwords account.

Multivariate testing is the next level up in terms of testing. Multivariate testing involves collecting data on several different elements on your page at once and predicting which of those will be the best version.

Ninety percent of people doing testing are only doing A/B split testing, according to surveys we’ve conducted. You don’t need to do complex multivariate tests. A lot of people get overwhelmed and then they don’t do any landing page testing. Start simple. It’s easy to change a headline or a call to action. It involves swapping in text or graphics. A lot of people overthink the testing. For one of our clients, a headline change on a form made a 58% difference in the conversion rate on their pay-per-click lead-generation campaign. We tested “free quote request”versus “instant quote.”

BtoB:What are the top dos and don’ts for optimizing landing pages?

Ash: There are some general themes. Cut out the clutter. Less is more in terms of what’s on your landing page. People put way too much information on their landing pages. You should not only consider alternatives to landing page elements, you should actually consider removing them altogether. Unclutter and ruthlessly edit your page. That’s a general theme that holds up really well.

Also, don’t use “marketese.” That’s my own, made-up word. Don’t use any subjective information. Don’t use any adjectives. Just write factually. It turns out people will filter out your marketing BS anyway, but it places a cognitive load on them to do that. Instead of focusing on your call to action, they’re focusing on how to filter out the marketese.

With b-to-b, a lot of times what we’re looking for is a lead or a “form fill” of some kind, rather than a sale. One of most important things you can do is cut down the number of fields in your form. Every field that you add will exponentially increase the abandonment rate of that page. If you have any optional fields on your form, take them out. Is that information necessary to complete the transaction? If not, take it out.

BtoB:What are some of the challenges marketers face in optimizing their Web sites and landing pages?

Ash: I’d say one is a kind of fear of math. Landing page testing is based on statistics. People are afraid to do it because of that or [that] they will make novice mistakes, like drawing conclusions from insufficient data. A lot of us watch the pot boil. We’re used to changing bids day by day in pay-per-click campaigns. But in a landing page optimization setting, often you have to wait weeks or months to gather that data. If you had one version that was converting at double the rate of another, then it would be clear which was the winning landing page. But if it’s a 2% difference, it’ll take longer to know that that’s a real difference and not just an anomaly. In order to know it’s not just a lucky streak, you need to be patient.

BtoB:What are some strategies for getting started?

Ash: Build a financial case for senior management for landing page testing. If you as an online marketing practitioner can make your case based on financial impact, you’ll get their attention.

Start small. If you have a lot of traffic, say, “Hey, Mr. Webmaster, give me 10% of that traffic” for a simple A/B split test and change one feature, like the headline of your site. That way you don’t have to bet the farm.

BtoB:Is it more important to optimize landing pages for paid search results than organic results?

Ash: A lot of people don’t want to rock the boat if they already have organic results. They’re more reluctant to test pages that have a lot of organic traffic because they are afraid they will lose their high rankings [with the search engines] if they make changes to the page. The fact of testing pages will not ding you in the Google rankings. Having said that, it’s important to leave a lot of text on the page so the search engine can establish a theme for the page. But that also doesn’t mean you have to emphasize that text. All of your actionable parts should be at top of page. The call to action and the headline and all of that should be above any kind of supporting text.

There’s an inherent tension in what search engine spiders need to see and what constitutes a good user experience. You have to serve both masters.

It’s easier to optimize for pay-per-click because organic traffic often lands on your home page and it’s harder to change the guts of your corporate site. Pay-per-click is controllable. You can send that traffic directly to a page designed just for that conversion action.

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