Squeeze More Out Of Your Online Campaigns: Getting Started With Landing Page Optimization

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Synopsis — As online shoppers become more and more used to transacting business over the internet, and as competition increases among businesses setting up shop online, it’s becoming increasingly vital that online marketers focus not just on acquiring customers, but also on converting them into buyers, and succeeding in bringing them back for future purchases. This is an adjustment for many, but if you don’t make the adjustment, you are likely to ultimately fail.

As Tim Ash discusses in his article, “Squeeze More Out Of Your Online Campaigns: Getting Started With Landing Page Optimization,” even small changes to a landing page may have huge implications for future sales, especially if they tackle the three major themes he explores. Along the way, he investigates five clues you can find in your web analytics that will help you discover problems in your site that might be leading to missed conversions.

As a sidebar to the general discussion, Tim identifies 11 possible ways that you can use personalization to your advantage, without going overboard. He also has six testing tips for landing pages to get you started — as he says, “the payoffs from a disciplined landing page testing program are simply too great. Ignore this critical activity at your peril.”

The complete article follows …

Squeeze More Out Of Your Online Campaigns: Getting Started With Landing Page Optimization

In the online marketing world, a lot of time and resources are spent buying media, tracking pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, driving organic traffic via SEO to landing pages, and installing and customizing web analytics software to properly track online marketing activities. Dedicated in-house or agency staff craft keyword lists, write ad copy, and manage keyword bidding to achieve the proper profitability, cost per action (CPA), and return on investment (ROI). Copywriters adjust headlines and sales copy to improve clickthrough rates (CTRs).

You may agonize over every word in your e-mails, test headlines, and offers, and analyze “bounce rates,” “open rates,” and “unsubscribe rates” with almost religious fervor. But what are you doing after the click? Are you giving nearly as much attention to optimizing your site to improve conversions as you are in driving traffic to it?

The Shifting Role of Marketing

There are three important activities in marketing:

  • Acquisition — Getting people to your website or landing page
  • Conversion — Persuading them to take the desired action(s)
  • Retention — Deepening the relationship and increasing its lifetime value

But for many marketing departments, who are evaluated based on driving high volume traffic by maximizing CTR and lowering CPC, the focus is on acquisition. Conversion is seen as a sales activity and retention is the territory of customer service. Or is it?

The Internet has, in many ways, blurred the traditional distinctions between marketing, sales, and customer service/support. People have become accustomed to self-service. This has created an expectation that when they arrive at your site from an ad, email, or SERP, it will be easy for them to find exactly what they want. If they don’t, you’ve lost a sale.

Because of this self-serve mentality, the conversion efficiency of your landing page is one of the biggest profit drivers under your control. Are you getting your visitors through to your conversion goals? Many marketers think they are, and it is costing their companies a lot of money in the form of missed opportunity. Even a good landing page can be improved, and small improvements can have a dramatic impact on your company’s profitability.

Double-Digit Conversion Gains

Landing page optimization and testing can often produce double-digit conversion rate improvements and transform the economics of an online business. But where do you begin? How do you know which landing page elements will perform best?

Your web analytics can provide many important clues to uncover and prioritize potential site problems:

  • Most visited content — If a key page is not getting enough traffic, it may be necessary to move it to a more prominent location on your website, or to create more links to it from other popular pages.
  • Path analysis — Path analysis allows you to see the sequences of pages that visitors use to traverse your site. It may be possible to change the position of key conversion pages or links within the site to benefit from such “drive-by” visibility.
  • Top entry pages — A list of the top entry pages shows you the point of first contact with your site. Generally, the more traffic that is hitting a landing page, the more attention that page deserves in terms of conversion tuning. Traffic levels can help you to prioritize which landing pages that need to be fixed first.
  • Top exit pages — Exit pages are the places where visitors leave your site. Each exit page can be viewed as a leaky bucket. If visitors exit your site, they probably did not find what they were looking for. High “bounce rates” on high-traffic pages are a red flag indicating that those pages need attention.
  • Funnel analysis — Regardless of your visitors’ initial wandering path on your website, they must often pass through a well-defined series of pages in order to convert. The funnel narrows as people drop off during each step. High drop-off percentages may signal that a particular step is especially problematic.

In addition to using your analytics to uncover problems, take a ruthless look at your landing page as if you were viewing it for the first time. Does it have a lot of visual clutter, such as unnecessary, gratuitous graphics that distract people from looking at your call to action? Is your call to action clear? Is your copywriting bogged down with marketing fluff?

Do you promise one thing in your pay-per-click ad, but fail to mention it on the landing page? Or maybe you do mention it, but it’s buried among too many choices.

With these basic considerations in mind, you can start exploring variations to your landing page that you could test against the original to find the perfect recipe for conversions.

Timeless Testing Themes

Using your analytics and ruthless evaluating your website is likely to give you plenty of ideas on what you could tweak and test on your landing page. If you’re still feeling stumped, here are some broad themes that you can adapt and explore:

1.  Less Is More

Although the general idea of uncluttering is powerful throughout the decision process, this testing theme has an especially powerful impact on improving visitor awareness. If visitors do not recognize quickly that you have something in which they might be interested, they will leave your site immediately. These short-timers are the ones who have “bounced” and not clicked on any other links from their original landing page. They represent a significant problem.

Within this problem lies the opportunity for clearing away the clutter and significantly increasing the number of people who have meaningful interactions with your site.

“Less is more” applies to a whole range of test elements:

  • Fewer and smaller graphics
  • Shorter bulleted text
  • Reduced number of choices and links

Cut until you can’t stand it anymore, and then cut some more. You will be surprised at how little content is needed on a well-designed landing page. Don’t be afraid to try radically stripped-down alternative test elements.

2.  Personalize It

Personalization builds desire and affinity for your particular solution. Customization can be a powerful conversion tool. Personalization can be tested using a wide array of available tactics. Some examples include:

  • Echo the keywords that visitors used to find your landing page as the page title
  • Pre-populate your search box with the text of the keywords that visitors used to find your landing page
  • Present localized content by using geo-targeting information
  • Do not require people to log in if they have been there before
  • Fill in checkout information for returning e-commerce buyers
  • Customize content by visitor role once someone has self-selected
  • Allow visitors to configure your product or service offering
  • Display deeper or richer content to those who have shown enough commitment (based on page views or time on your site)
  • Show last-minute special offers via exit pop-ups to visitors who are about to leave your site without converting
  • Follow up by phone or email if someone abandons your registration process partway
  • Proactively initiate a live chat session if your visitor is clearly struggling with something on your site

Of course, you have to be careful to use personalization properly. It can be very effective. However, if your tactics are unexpected they can backfire and become off-putting in a “big brother” sort of way.

3.  Test The Offer

Ultimately, it is your offer that gets a visitor to act. However, when considering specific testing elements there are a lot of ways that you can influence someone:

  • The primary offer
  • The total solution surrounding the offer
  • Headline
  • Sales copy
  • Images chosen
  • Call-to-action text and graphical format
  • Repetition of the call-to-action in multiple screen locations and formats
  • Offer context (e.g., by bracketing the desired action in a bronze/silver/gold set of options)
  • Limited availability or other scarceness indicators (e.g., deadlines, remaining inventory)
  • Pricing

Test And Tune Your Way To Higher Conversions

Finding the perfect combination of elements for your landing page is not a question of design or opinion. You may have some brilliant marketers on your team, but the only experts who really matter are your visitors. The landing page that delivers the highest conversion rate may not be your favorite or even your second favorite. Testing is critical to remove personal biases. And the success of the first test is critical for establishing the long-term momentum for subsequent tests.

Here are some testing tips that you can pursue as you get started.

Start Small — A great way to start your testing program is with a small test. Once you have demonstrated your ability to pull off a complete end-to-end landing page experiment, you should have enough support to continue. The key to this approach is to appear nonthreatening and not ask for a lot of help.

Unimportant Landing Page — Do not try to fix your home page or highest-traffic landing pages first. Such efforts may be actively resisted before you have proven yourself. Pick a secondary landing page that has a reasonable amount of traffic (perhaps from a single online marketing campaign).

Small Diversion Of Traffic — If you have only one landing page, you can still conduct your test by diverting a small percentage of the traffic to testing alternatives. This will guarantee that even if your tested alternatives underperform the current baseline, the overall drop in conversion rate will be small.

Simple Page Changes — If you make simple changes such as headlines, sales copy, and call-to-action buttons, you will not need a lot of outside support to create your alternative test elements. You can also make such changes in a short amount of time.

Basic Test Structure — Use A-B split testing (either on a granular or coarse level) for the test. The data analysis is simple—there are no complex variable interactions or complex design matrices to worry about.

Low-Cost Testing Platform — Several low-cost tools are available for running basic A-B split and multivariate tests. Many of them are hosted on the Internet and do not even require installation. An excellent choice for this purpose is the free Google Website Optimizer tool.

But remember, your test must still produce results that are meaningful. This means your data rate must be high enough to complete the test in a reasonable period of time, and the financial impact (or at least the percentage of improvement in the conversion rate) must be significant. Don’t run your test if the data rate will be too low, or if the proposed test elements are unlikely to produce conversion improvements on the landing page.

Now It’s Time To Get Started

Landing page optimization is part art and part science. It requires many diverse skills including design, usability, copywriting, psychology, statistics, and project management. But the payoffs from a disciplined landing page testing program are simply too great. Ignore this critical activity at your own peril.

(This article is excerpted from the author’s recent book, Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions (Wiley Publishing, Inc. (Sybex), Indianapolis, Indiana: 2008).

About the Author

Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, a leading conversion rate optimization agency that has helped over 850 clients worldwide. He is chairperson of Conversion Conference, the first conference focused on improving online conversions, and is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. Tim is author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization and is a contributing columnist to many publications. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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