SEO, CRO, UX & Strategy.

Introduction to Landing Page Optimization

The key role of conversion rate optimization is to improve ROI for digital ad spend, and optimizing the landing page is a big part of this. Like any optimization process, this is a scientific process of discovery and validation in the context of a piece of the customer journey called “landing page”. This blog post is part of my conversion rate optimization certification process, the content is a mix of my own experience, research, and Michael Aagaard’s landing page optimization course at CXL.com´s institute. 

¿What is a landing page?

A page users land on, it’s usually the first page the user sees after clicking on a campaign advertisement or referral link. 

A landing page is not an independent page, it’s part of a tailored customer journey, and works separately from your general website, usually, you won’t find links in a landing page that take you to the general website, on the other hand, you might find links all over the place that takes you to a specific landing page. 

While people will visit your website for various and diverse reasons, a landing page has a very specific objective, and is usually part of a campaign; an intentional strategic investment to get specific target markets to go through designed series of optimizable steps we call a customer journey. The last two steps in the following illustration are where a landing page would probably be. The better you understand this customer journey, the easier it will be to create an optimal landing page.

“The AIDA model is just one of a class of models known as the hierarchy of effects models or hierarchical models, all of which imply that consumers move through a series of steps or stages when they make purchase decisions. These models are linear, sequential models built on an assumption that consumers move through a series of cognitive (thinking) and affective (feeling) stages culminating in a behavioral stage (doing e.g. purchase or trial) stage.
The steps proposed by the AIDA model are as follows:
Attention – The consumer becomes aware of a category, product, or brand (usually through advertising)↓
Interest – The consumer becomes interested in learning about brand benefits & how the brand fits with lifestyle.
Desire – The consumer develops a favorable disposition towards the brand
Action – The consumer forms a purchase intention, shops around, engages in the
trial, or makes a purchase
Some of the contemporary variants of the model replace attention with awareness. The common thread among all hierarchical models is that advertising operates as a stimulus (S) and the purchase decision is a response (R). In other words, the AIDA model is an applied stimulus-response model. A number of hierarchical models can be found in the literature including Lavage’s hierarchy of effects, DAGMAR, and variants of AIDA. Hierarchical models have dominated advertising theory, and, of these models, the AIDA model is one of the most widely applied.
As consumers move through the hierarchy of effects they pass through both a cognitive processing stage and an affective processing stage before any action occurs. Thus the hierarchy of effects models all includes Cognition (C)- effection
(A)- Behavior (B) as the core steps in the underlying behavioral sequence. Some texts refer to this sequence as Learning → Feeling → Doing or C-A-B (cognitive -affective-behavioral) models.
Cognition (Awareness/learning) → Affect (Feeling/ interest/ desire) → Behavior (Action e.g. purchase/ trial/ consumption/ usage/ sharing information).
The basic AIDA model is one of the longest-serving hierarchical models, having been in use for more than a century. Using a hierarchical system, such as AIDA, provides the marketer with a detailed understanding of how target audiences change over time and provide
insights as to which types of advertising messages are likely to be more effective at different junctures. Moving from step to step, the total number of prospects diminishes. This phenomenon is sometimes described as a “purchase funnel“. A relatively large number of potential purchasers become aware of a product or brand, then a smaller subset becomes interested, with only a relatively small proportion moving through to the actual purchase. This effect is also known as a “customer funnel”, “marketing funnel”, or “sales funnel”.
SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDA_(marketing),  
Image Source: https://www.vecteezy.com/free-vector/sales-funnel – edited by aguitta.com

The baseline landing page

About the baseline landing page and why we need one 

To optimize something, you need to be able to measure and compare the results of a “before and after” (before an optimization change and after the change has been implemented). To optimize a landing page, you need to first have an initial page, with a base result that represents a marker to beat. 

On a landing page, we measure conversion rates: this is the number of users moving past the landing page to the next part of the online sales funnel like filling out a lead form or adding in the billing information for a product/service purchase. 

The marker to beat then would be expressed as conversions/visitors. For example, if out of 10,000 visitors 5,000 convert, your landing page conversion rate would be 50%. If you are more advanced, the statistical margin of error for that specific ratio would also be part of the metrics to use as a baseline.

Part 1 of creating a first version of a landing page: Start with research:

The first landing page is your “best guess” of what the optimal landing page would look like, before you design the different elements of a landing page I recommend you read my section on   “best” CRO practices as well as the recommended steps I will now share with you. Remember, the best landing page is the one that enables the highest ROI. 

¿What does an effective landing page have?

An effective landing page makes conversion easy for the visitor. It is the continuation of the promises made throughout the customer journey. For example, if your ad copy says “Green eggs and ham sold here” the landing page should have a large image of “green eggs and ham” and a button that says “buy green eggs and ham now” in the first fold.

Landing pages have three key criterias:

  • Address/remove barriers that people have.
  • Creating clarity on what to expect when converting.
  • Make it easy to convert.

There are two kinds of research: quantitative and qualitative, there are also two kinds of information sources, primary and secondary.

Quantitative research for your first landing page optimization: Is generally looking at large data sets taken from Google Analytics or Hot Jar, where you are basically looking for insights that address/remove barriers that people have, create clarity on what to expect when converting and making it easy to convert. The source can be:

  • UX Flaws: The number of people dropping in every step of the funnel, looking for the biggest drops, from one part of the funnel to another that could be attributed to general UX Flaws (things you thought would work, are technically working but are presenting barriers or not enough motivation down the funnel. 
  • Technical/Usability Issues: Specific device or browser drops vs an average group of users, looking for usability issues.  
  • Persona (Sub-section of a target audience or target market): Specific target audience drops vs an average group of audiences, trying to identify a persona / UX conflict. 
  • Heatmaps, also looking for interpretation or usability issues. Interpretation issues would be considered people clicking on something that is not clickable, meaning the visual message is misguiding, or technical issues when people clicking a lot on something that should only take one click means there’s probably a usability issue there.
  • Third-party quantitative data: Other forms of quantitative information may come from target market studies, largely closed question polls, and other “big data” sources.

Qualitative research in landing page optimization: Direct or secondary sources of information that give you a better idea, that paint a picture or story of what the visitor wants, what the visitor is expecting and other insights that allow you to address/remove barriers that people have, create clarity on what to expect when converting and making it easy to convert.

Ask yourself what is the visitor’s motivation? Is the visitor running away from a problem, or is the visitor running towards an objective. Or both? The “motivation” is the beginning of your user research in order to define your customer journey.

Awareness Level:  low awareness of the solution, in which case you have to “educate” the user, or it might be “high awareness”, where you need to get out of the way and just make it easy to buy fast and painlessly, like Amazon’s 1 click buy button.

A low awareness example is buying a solution for a specific problem, like not finding a job online and trying to feel more competitive.

A high awareness example is a user trying to find the fastest route to get certification by the CXL.com conversion rate optimization mini degree program. They know what they want and all you have to do is make it easy. 

Both would lead to the same checkout page, but the “low awareness” visitors would most likely land on a page that includes more information on how having an online accreditation that is current and up to date is really important to get a job, while the high awareness user´s landing page would focus more on a “buy now and get a 20% discount” on a very easy to follow through layout and design.

The perfect landing page varies from user to user and takes into account slang, images, videos, and iconography that incorporates the language and symbolism that the target audience expects and feels comfortable with, to get here, your research should include a little of the following subjects: 

  • Customer review sites
  • Customer success managers
  • Sales agents
  • Power users or super fans of the product or service

Part 2 of creating the first version of a landing page: Landing page copy. 

  1. Headlines: 
    1. They have to match the user’s expectations, these come from the copy that the users saw before clicking on something that brought them to your landing page.
    2. Attention: Make it fun and interesting.
    3. Communicate the value of your offer clearly.
  2. Features and Benefits should emphasize the value of your offer, answer important questions, share Important facts about your product or service.
  3. FAQs should address Money and contract questions as well as expectations
  4. Call to action copy should Motivate the user to click, give a clear idea of what happens when you click, be relevant to your conversion goal, they should start with a verb, focus on “what the user will get”, set realistic expectations, and present an obvious path to follow the call to action. 

Part 3: Landing page wireframing and design

Based on the copy you developed, you should create a wireframe where you place information in the following order: 

  1. Headline
  2. Graphics: Images / video
  3. Features / benefits
  4. Credibility / Social Proof, third party proof.
  5. Expectation Manager
  6. Call-to-Action

Use every element to: 

  • Answer questions
  • Reinforce Motivation
  • Address Barriers
  • Make the conversion click easy to find, almost impossible to miss.

The design must be simple, obvious, and minimalistic. It should reflect your brand and in most cases, a brand book or general website will probably already have the design guidelines for your website. 

Iteration and testing:

Once you have your first landing page, that has been created based on your research, you should create a “contender”. An exact replica, but with 1 change. Because you have no data, go for the headline value proposition first, or the big background image reinforcing motivation, as these usually have a high impact on UX and shed light on your customer´s motivation.

Then hypothesis with your team what a “better” headline or “big background image” should be, based on what your “general idea” of your user motivation is. The difference in the elements should be big. In other words, when you hypothesize what a better headline would be, you need to really go for opposing ideas that explain better what the user’s motivation is. Is it price? Is it Security? Is it about technical specifications? (Remember, the user’s product awareness level is key here).

Once you have two almost identical landing pages, with that single big difference and a clear idea of what you are trying to validate through testing both, go ahead and test 50%-50% traffic. Pick a winner based on your marginal gains and statistical certainty (preferably above 90%), and divert most of your traffic to the winner. But use the now acquired data to pinpoint the hypothesis of what your next most positive impactful change will be next.

These are the factors you should consider:

  1. Layout, the order of elements.
  2. Headline design
  3. Graphics: Images / video
  4. Features / benefits
  5. Credibility / Social Proof, third party proof.
  6. Expectation Manager
  7. Call-to-Action
  8. Headline CTA
  9. Features and Benefits order, wordings of general items to feature
  10. FAQs should address Money and contract questions as well as expectations
  11. Call to action copy should Motivate the user to click, give a clear idea of what happens when you click, be relevant to your conversion goal, they should start with a verb, focus on “what the user will get”, set realistic expectations, and present an obvious path to follow the call to action. 

Divert most of the traffic to the winner, but set aside 10-30% traffic to a new version. These new versions will now have been enriched with the baseline data captured by google analytics and also front the experience of actual users that could tell you ( through pools and user testing) where things went south. This closes the optimization cycle and gives way to a new cycle. At some point, now new changes to the landing page will yield new information, this is when you have to realize you have hit a “local maximum” and need to make a very big change, either to the landing page or the entire campaign strategy. 

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