5 Landing Page Best Practices (and When You Should Ignore Them)

What would it mean to build the perfect landing page?

Would it mean a page that converted at 100%?

That would certainly be impressive. But even if it were possible, it might not be great for you in the long run.

Think what it would take to compel every single person who visited your page to opt in. That would require an offer so mind-blowingly amazing . . . that it’d probably be impossible to satisfy the expectations of all those new leads.

And because your offer was so universally appealing, you’d end up with a lot of leads that aren’t very likely to become paying or long-term customers. That could really drag down your email list and raise your PPC spend. And you’ve just pushed the work of identifying qualified leads further down the line.

In that case, maybe we should set our sights a little lower. Maybe we could say that a perfect landing page is one that follows all known landing page best practices to a T.

This definition sounds a lot more achievable. You could just go down a universal checklist for each landing page you create, tick off the boxes, and come away with a perfect page that would speak to your audience and pull in only your best leads, every time.

But there’s still a problem: the checklist that does that doesn’t exist. It can’t exist. Because—as I’ve concluded after looking at mountains of data—among all the landing page best practices we’ve discovered, there are very few that hold true for every page and every audience.
Maybe even none. (Can you think of any landing page best practices that apply in every situation? Tell me in the comments—and we’ll see if anyone has any evidence to the contrary.)

That doesn’t mean that best practices are worthless. It just means that they should never automatically outweigh what you already know about your audience and your business. They should never be exempt from having to prove themselves in an A/B test.

Below are five landing page best practices that have served many marketers well over the years. They might work well for you, too, but you may want to do your own research. Because for each rule, we’ve discovered at least one major exception.

To get inspired to test some of these guidelines for yourself, read on—and make sure to grab the free bonus guide we’ve created for you below.

1. Make your call to action super obvious

The theory: A landing page isn’t a videogame—people shouldn’t have to overturn rocks and climb castle walls just to figure out how to get what you’re offering them. (First caveat of several: if you’re a videogame designer, this might be a great marketing technique.)

It’s not that your visitors aren’t smart enough to click a button unless you spell it out for them. But their time is limited and demands on their attention are many. Often, the decision to close a tab or soldier on comes down to a second or two.

So when you want people to download a free e-book, tell them you’ve got a free e-book for them in the headline. Tell them “Download the Free E-Book” on a big, highly visible button. On the opt-in form, tell them again. Present this message at different points, and it won’t even feel redundant.

This strategy’s usually a winner . . . unless you exploit what seems to be an odd psychological loophole.

When to ignore it: When your page has something that’s even more irresistibly clickable than a button.

A few months ago I was looking at a LeadBox that contained what looked like a small video player widget.

Now, I know pop-ups inside and out, and rationally I knew that nothing was going to happen if I clicked that video-player image. It simply wouldn’t make sense for that part of the pop-up to be clickable.

Reader, I clicked it.

Nothing happened, of course. And this irresistible image was ultimately not a great design choice, since it distracted me from the real task at hand: entering my email address and clicking the download button.

But if you’re creative, you can deliberately harness the human drive to poke at slightly mysterious things just to find out what they do.

That’s what Chris Luck of entrepreneur education site Luck League did to boost opt-ins for his video courses, as he explained in a ConversionCast interview. On the pages he created for his tutorials, he decided to remove the traditional call-to-action buttons entirely.

Instead, Chris capped each course-description post with what appeared to be the start screen to a video. When visitors clicked, they triggered a pop-up where they were prompted to enter their contact information to download the video.

Chris Luck’s language-free “call-to-action button”
Chris Luck’s language-free “call-to-action button

This bit of benign visual trickery boosted the conversion rate on these landing pages by 30 percentage points.

What was going on? It’s helpful to consider the context. People who reached the course page had already been primed to want to watch a video tutorial. Clicking on that video was the natural next step. When visitors are so deeply under the sway of behavioral inertia that they’re already going to take the next action, a button may seem like a distraction or a hurdle.

Chris’s results weren’t a total anomaly. More recently, we showcased a split test where a piano school got more people to click on an interactive-looking image of hands on a piano once they dropped the button below it.

No button, plenty of conversions
No button, plenty of conversions

The same principle may also be behind another perplexing split test, in which business-training organization The Foundation totally dropped its landing-page headline. The original version displayed the headline “Click to discover the most important word in business” above a video, while the challenger simply greeted visitors with the video.

And that was the version that got opt-ins 28% faster.

The lesson: if it looks like a video—or even like it might potentially be a video—visitors will act like it’s a video and click. They might even do so more often when there’s no call to action to distract them.

2. Ask for as little customer info as possible

The theory: Make opting in easy, and people will opt in. The easier it gets, the more opt-ins you get. Simple, right?

Most of the time this principle leads to stripping down your opt-in form to a simple email address field so you can deliver what you’ve promised and follow up later. Gone are all the nice-to-have, “maybe we could use this in the future” fields.

Many a split test has borne this out. But there are outliers. Let’s consider a few of them.

When to ignore it: When the extra fields are perfectly aligned with your leads’ motivations (or your business goals).

I recently revisited a ConversionCast interview from last year, in which e-commerce site Gumroad saw a 30% sales conversion increase by adding an unnecessary field to the payment form. While the software they used didn’t require the cardholder’s name at all, it appears that people felt more secure supplying their credit card information when they had to confirm their full name. (It does feel a little weird to just enter the numbers online, doesn’t it?)

Stranger still was the pop-up split test where asking people to supply their name and phone number boosted the conversion rate 120%. While I can’t say exactly what lay behind this jump, I suspect the answer lies in what the LeadBox™ was giving away: a guide called 7 Ways to Crush Your Fear of the Phone. Being asked for their phone number may have forced visitors to contemplate how they felt about the phone in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise.

The winning three-field LeadBox™
The winning three-field pop-up

Finally, there’s a much more mundane reason you may want to consider adding more form fields: when you need to increase your lead quality rather than simply the quantity. If you need to reach people who will be willing to set up a phone consultation, ask for a phone number. If you need to choose who gets a call from your sales team, you may want to add fields for things like industry, company size, or location. Keep the rest of the opt-in process easy, and this won’t deter your strongest leads.

3. Put all the important stuff “above the fold”

The theory: At its root, this best practice is driven by the same considerations that have long led news publishers to place their most compelling headlines above the literal fold to increase paper sales. Make all your most important page assets and calls to action inescapable by making them all visible within the first browser screen. That way, visitors won’t need to scroll and will be more likely to opt-in.

When to ignore it: When it would disrupt an already-effective pathway to action.

In a recent interview, Kevin Nakao of TinyPulse recommends:

“Don’t focus on having your call to action above that fold. Try to do it at the point where somebody is convinced that they want to do more.

So if you go to our homepage today on TinyPulse, we actually have it in two places. We have it at the very top because we know there’s a lot of customers that we get from referrals or from press who already know who we are and they want to sign up so we make it easy. And then our second call to action is below a lot of the messaging and the information that we have about our service, how it works, who uses it and why it works.”

In this case, putting tons of emphasis on the above-the-fold call to action might mean that visitors will take longer to opt-in, since they’ll be distracted from TinyPulse’s carefully crafted storytelling. And it might attract less-qualified leads—which is not what TinyPulse wants at this point on the company’s path to success.

Some web-design thinkers even argue that the concept of the “fold” is all but meaningless today. For one thing, there’s the ever-increasing prevalence of mobile devices, whose smaller screens often make it impossible to display all your key info without scrolling.

For another, there’s the fact that we impatient web surfers do a lot of scrolling anyhow. A 2013 study of scroll behavior by Chartbeat discovered that about 30% of site visitors start scrolling before the page even finishes loading.

The same study also found that, while the area just above the fold averaged the most views, the area just below the fold averaged the most engagement. Go figure.

So go ahead and include at least one lightweight call to action near the top of your page. But you probably don’t need to put all your eggs in that basket, and you should definitely add an additional call to action if your page is longer than one screen.

4. Center your headlines on visitors’ goals and pain points, not on your product

The theory: People don’t want just another product. They want to use your product to change their lives, in however small a fashion. Focusing on the product puts all the emphasis on you, the merchant, but you’ll connect with people more effectively by writing about what they hope to achieve.

This perspective is also behind the common copywriting advice to emphasize benefits, not features, in your landing page text. If you’re struggling with landing page copy that’s dry or dull, you probably need to start applying this best practice yesterday.

But. There’s always a but.

When to ignore it: When deep customer psychology suggests otherwise.

Try to spot what these three headlines split tests have in common:

In each case, marketers found success by dropping the focus on the visitor in favor of messaging that appeals more to our lizard brains. The ones that want free stuff now before anyone else gets it. And especially if you have the power of “free” on your side, you may want to test one of these approaches against something more highbrow.

One thing to note: I’d bet that these strategies are most effective when visitors have been primed to respond with other high-quality information about the offer; headlines like this can’t stand alone. In general, it’s extremely important to consider where prospects are in their journey toward your product when writing headlines.

Here’s a case in point. When landing page designer Jen Gordon revamped a page for one of her clients, one of the first elements to meet her red pen was a very dry and product-focused headline: “Watch a Free Demo of NueMD Medical Billing Software!” She changed it to the benefit-focused “Automate and Get Paid Faster” . . . and sighed as the conversion rate sagged.

What happened? Jen concluded:

“Testing showed this audience didn’t want to hear about problems within their medical practice. They are most likely in a hands-on role and already know the problems. They’re busy and don’t need to have their in-office problems re-articulated to them.

When they arrive on the landing page, they have a different problem than the actual problem they’re dealing with in their practice. They need the information a demo contains!

There’s no one-size-fits-all guideline here—except that you can never gather too much information about what your audience really wants to hear.”

5. Reassure visitors that they can trust you

The theory: It’s a wild world wide web out there. The average internet user encounters dozens of requests for information every day, some of which may be suspect. To put your leads’ minds at ease, make sure they know you’re sensitive to their concerns.

That might mean you add copy promising that users’ info is safe, display security badges, highlight endorsements, or show off the number of people already using your services.

Could covering your bases like this ever go wrong? Well . . .

When to ignore it: When tests show it’s harming your conversion rate.

Anyone automatically including social-proof and security elements on every landing page should be given pause by results like this split test, which found that removing testimonials tripled the conversion rate. Or this one, where a fine-print change from “100% Secure” to “It’s Free” improved the conversion rate by 20.77%.

We’ve also seen improved success reported with pages that weave trust-enhancing elements through the page rather than highlighting them in special sections.

Not a good model for a landing page design
Not a good model for a landing page design (photo by Tup Wanders via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s possible to speculate about the source of results like these; personally, I’d surmise that in some cases trust-enhancing elements can backfire by suggesting danger or uncertainty where none existed before. It’s like arriving at a lovely inland lake to be greeted by a sign reading “Attention! Absolutely no sharks or jellyfish have been reported here. There’s nothing for you to worry about. Seriously, please don’t worry.”

Still: I wouldn’t abandon these elements without doing plenty of testing first. I’m not entirely convinced I’m right, and the best remedy for uncertainty is more data

Think you’ve found any landing page best practices that should be followed 100% of the time? Tell us in the comments!