Search engine optimization. Conversion rate optimization. Landing page optimization.
Sometimes it’s enough to make you wonder: whatever happened to just building a good website? Since when did everything start to be about “optimizing?”
The answer: ever since marketers began to realize that even small improvements to a web page could result in huge gains in performance—more sales, more email subscribers, larger purchases.
Today landing page optimization is a professional discipline, but when you really break it down, it’s something anyone with a business and a website can (and should) do. It’s just that, typically, it takes a lot of trial and error to get really good at it.
Unless you’re equipped with plenty of secondhand knowledge and a rock-solid optimization plan, that is. That’s what I want to give you today, in this post and in the checklist I’ve created for you to use every time you want to create or improve one of your pages.
The checklist is called “Is Your Landing Page Optimized? 64 Questions to Help You Decide,” and you can download it free below. (Don’t worry, each question is very short and can be answered “yes” or “no”—no overthinking it required.)
In fact, you can use the checklist even if you stop reading right here—though you’ll want to continue if you’re at all interested in understanding why you should be answering “yes” to those 64 questions.
At Leadpages, we have access to an extraordinary wealth of knowledge about what works to optimize landing pages. We’re not tooting our own horn when we say that. We’re lucky enough to have 40,000 customers to work with and learn from every day, and we pay close attention to the optimization practices that are getting the best results for them.
This post is a step-by-step guide to the optimization principles we’ve found to be most reliable in boosting landing page conversions. It’s intended to give you a manageable process you can implement on every page—which means that I won’t be listing hundreds of tips for you to sort through. To methodically put these steps into practice after you understand the basic steps, I’d recommend you download our 64-point landing page optimization checklist.
I’ll also be focusing closely on steps you can take on your landing page itself instead of your broader marketing strategy—an important but much larger subject.
If you have a favorite optimization tip I haven’t listed here, please share it in the comments!
Step 1: master the invisible basics
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of any given landing page. If you use an easy landing page builder like Leadpages, you can typically ignore most of that and avoid the thousands of lines of code that make up a given page.
That said, there are a few things you can do to optimize your page performance behind the scenes without needing advanced tech skills. I’d recommend you focus on the following areas:
Sure, your page will show up on a smartphone, but does it look just as good as it does on a desktop? Can visitors read and click the buttons without zooming way in or poking around in confusion?
And will Google prioritize or penalize your page in mobile search rankings?
To do well with mobile visitors, you need to make sure your landing page is mobile responsive. Fortunately, if you use Leadpages, you can’t help but be mobile-responsive, so you’re on safe ground there. If you’re using another platform to publish your pages, get clear about whether it’s mobile-responsive by default (and then use a mobile device or two to check).
People are impatient by default, and the less they know about your company, the less patience they’re going to have for your landing page to finish loading. Studies abound showing that every second counts in this area—speed gains predictably increase your conversion, and slowdowns predictably tank them.
One fix: host your pages on your own Leadpages subdomain and get an advantage to Google’s server technology (which is what powers our platform). Mindvalley Hispano’s Juan Martitegui found that simply letting Leadpages host his landing page, instead of publishing it to another server, increased his opt-in rate by 10%.
Regardless of where your page is hosted, keep close tabs on load time.
What is metadata and why does it matter?
Simply put, it’s not the information that’s on your page; it’s information about what’s on your page. It helps search engines and, in some cases, web users understand what you’re trying to do.
When your landing page comes up in a Google search, the search results will display two main pieces of text:
For best results, you want to control what shows up here—so when you’re building your page, make sure to set a descriptive and appealing title tag and meta description.
In LeadPages’ new drag-and-drop page builder, you can do that here:
You can also control the headline, description that will appear should you (or anyone else) share the page on Facebook. You can set Facebook Open Graph tags here:
Master these things, and you’ll be in control of your messaging even on platforms you don’t own.
This doesn’t affect how your page will appear, but it will definitely affect your ability to optimize and improve your page. You don’t have to be a numbers whiz to use metrics well—you simply need to get clear on what your goal for your landing page is and how you’ll measure it.
Are you looking for a certain number of new leads from your page each month? A better success rate in getting your traffic to opt in? A greater proportion of visitors opting for a higher-value product? Straight-up sales revenue?
The answer will dictate which metrics you pay attention to. At the very least, you need one tool that shows you your page metrics in an easy-to-read format (like the landing page and pop-ups dashboards inside your account). As you become more advanced, you may want to start exploring using Google Analytics with your landing pages.
But whatever you do, decide at the outset what your most important indicator of success will be. Then, track it consistently as you make improvements to your page to ensure that you’re on the right path.
Secret Weapon: Plug your page’s URL into the Leadpages Landing Page Grader to assess many of these behind-the-scenes elements.
Step 2: design with intention
Even if you’re starting with a proven-to-convert landing page template (which I’d recommend), you still have a number of design choices to make. Here are some of the most important design factors to assess and optimize.
Putting content into a landing page isn’t like pouring water into a bucket—it matters a great deal what ends up where.
First, choose a template or a layout that supports the content you have (rather than letting the layout dictate your content). If you’re not sure which will work best and you have the traffic to support it, consider testing two or three different templates against each other for the same campaign to see what your audience responds to best.
Once you have your page set up, do a quick scroll through. Where does your eye land? What stands out? If your call to action (CTA) doesn’t make the list, you need to make some changes.
In some cases, your landing page may actually offer several possible actions for customers to take, whether you’re advertising three different pricing plans, including a link back to your home page, or offering a free download in addition to a higher-priced product. As you quickly scroll through, be certain that none of your secondary options shines brighter than your primary CTA.
There are at least three ways to think about design consistency on your landing pages, and a good optimizer will consider all of them:
1. Internal consistency: Your landing page should not feel wildly different from screen to screen. If it does, you’re probably trying to pack too much into one page—and should split off each thing you’re offering or concept you’re trying to explain onto its own landing page.
2. Brand consistency: How well does your page as a whole fit with the experience your company offers on its other web assets? A trendy, minimalistic layout will make sense for some brands; in other cases, a page with a lot of internal structure might support the sense of order and authority you need your brand to convey.
This is not to say your landing page should be laid out just like your home page—in fact, it probably shouldn’t. But if someone were to click from your home page onto your landing page, the experience should be like walking into a different room, not onto a different planet.
3. Source consistency: Where are your landing page visitors landing from? If it’s a banner ad, use the same font on the page as on the ad. If it’s from another part of your website, make the transition feel smooth. If you’re collecting traffic from social media, you might even consider laying out your page in a way that’s reminiscent of that platform.
Your landing page sits in the middle of a series of steps that should feel as natural as possible for your visitors, no matter where they started off.
Color is a fun way to inject some personality into your landing page, but if you’re not careful, visitors may think you chose your page’s palette by playing Pin the Tail on the Color Wheel.
If you look through LeadPages’ landing page templates, you’ll notice that most of them use one or two vivid colors to highlight the most important elements, and keep the rest of the colors on the page soft, subtle, or neutral.
By following our designers’ lead, you can ensure that your page isn’t harming visitors’ impression of your professionalism with a chaotic use of color. In most cases, you should be able to count your landing page colors on the fingers of one hand.
And naturally, the above notes on consistency apply here, too. If you’re using your logo colors, take the time to get them to match exactly. If you’re using banner ads, use the same colors on the landing page.
The most important question you need to ask yourself about your font is: is it legible?
That depends heavily on context. A creative font that adds character to a subheading might become exhausting to read when it’s applied to a paragraph; bolding or italicizing a seemingly legible font might transform it for the worse.
Evidence suggests that sans-serif fonts (like the one on this page) are somewhat easier to read on screen, so opt for these simple shapes in your body copy.
Finally, just as with colors, you’ll want to make sure your fonts work with each other and with your brand. A pet-supply store can probably get away with a font that barks “fun!”, but a lawyer who tries the same font is likely to inadvertently tell clients “run!”
Step 3: consider your content
Think of content as the stuff you use to get your message across. That could be mainly words, it could be images, it could be video; it could even be audio or animation. Once you’ve thought about what kind of content you can create for your page, apply these quick tests to see if your content plan is fully optimized:
Are you using the right amount of content for what you’re offering? Assuming you’re offering a simple, compelling lead magnet and you’re only requiring an email address to get it, you shouldn’t need to bend over backwards with a ton of content to convince people to opt in. The commitment factor is low.
That changes depending on what you’re asking of visitors. If for some reason you need them to fill out a lengthy form, you’ll need more content to justify their investment of time and personal data. If you’re asking them to invest actual money, calibrate your content accordingly.
In fact, whether or not money’s involved, it can be helpful to think of what you’re offering in commercial terms. Is it an impulse buy or a researched purchase? A snack or a seven-course chef’s tasting dinner? Provide just enough information to help visitors feel good about their decision.
Are you delivering your content in the right format? Could an old-fashioned sales letter convey your personality better than a low-fi video? Could a quick screencast or diagram better explain a concept that gets muddled in a couple of paragraphs of text?
Imagine you were explaining what you’re offering to a new acquaintance in a bar. Would talking about it suffice? Would you be compelled to use your hands a lot? Would you pull out a pen and start doodling on a cocktail napkin? Let the answer guide the formats you choose for your page.
Does your content reflect your audience’s preferences? Think about what you know about your ideal customers. When they want to learn something, do they head to Wikipedia or look up a how-to video on YouTube? Do they browse the internet mainly on their smartphones, or are they likelier to sign on only from their work computers?
If you have this kind of data—whether from personal experience or large-scale studies—use it to decide what kind of content to use, and which formats to scrap.
Does your content build trust? A visitor who’s finding you for the first time through your landing page is likely to greet every claim you make with an implicit “says who?” Unless you use your content to build trust and authority at every turn. Consider these types of trust-boosters for your page:
- Personal credentials: Communicate that there’s a real expert behind this landing page (even if your expertise simply comes from your own life experience). You can do this with content types such as intro videos, certification badges, personal narratives, and affiliations with known organizations or publications.
- Real life results: Has what you’re offering been proven to work, for you or others? Cite those results, add in testimonials, or include a mini case study.
- Verifiable data: If you can quantify the impact of what you’re offering in any way, do so. If your page rests on any data you’ve researched or analysis you’ve performed, call it out.
- Community proof: Simply indicating that other people are paying attention to what you have to say can inspire trust. Consider including your number of social media followers, email subscribers, or customers, depending on the goal of the page.
Step 4: fine-tune your copy
Once you’ve determined what your words should do on the page, it’s time to take a closer look at the words themselves. Run through the following elements to make sure your message is strong and clear.
Volumes could be written on the art of the headline, but you can often test your way into an excellent headline simply by starting with these principles. A high-converting headline is typically …
- Benefit- and/or challenge-focused: Can you connect the details of what you’re offering to how it will improve customers’ real lives? Can you acknowledge a real challenge they face that what you’re offering can solve
- Specific: A good landing page headline contains enough detail to set your offer apart from anything visitors have encountered before.
- Clear: There’s a difference between building intrigue and mystifying readers. Be very sure that if you have a puzzling headline, it’s a deliberate teaser for a clarifying subhead.
- Just long enough: Appropriate length depends on the content. Studies suggest there are no benefits to be gained by cutting yourself off simply to meet an arbitrary word count. If it truly takes you 15 words to incorporate the previous elements, that’s likely fine. On the other hand, you may also want to consider separating a secondary idea into a subhead so audience attention doesn’t wander.
Headlines are one of the easiest and highest-impact areas for testing, so for each page, try to write several headlines with slightly different angles. Even if you don’t test, you’ll have options to try if you find that the first one isn’t resonating.
Finally, make sure that your headline is present as text, not just as part of an image on your page. Search engines can’t read words inside an image, so you’re losing an SEO opportunity if you do this.
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
Eye-tracking studies have found that people tend to read screens in an F-pattern: taking in the headline, then skimming quickly down the page, darting out into the body only occasionally to see if there’s anything there of interest.
You want to make sure that they do find something of interest there. And the crucial details will be easier to find if they’re not buried in a dense block of text. Guide the eye by using one or more of the following strategies:
- Bullets: Break down complex offers or list a substantial series of benefits by highlighting them in bullets.
- Short paragraphs: If your paragraphs are growing very long, take a closer look at your sentences. Can you separate out multiple ideas into their own shorter sentences, then group those sentences into short paragraphs? Beyond the visual aspect, setting an important point on its own line can add emphasis and drama.
- Bolding (and other forms of emphasis): Try bold subheadings, underlining, italicizing, etc., to highlight key info.
Word Choice and Tone
Whether you’re aiming for personal charisma or corporate polish, there are a few common traits that make for strong landing page copy from word to word. Effective landing page writing tends to be:
- Easy to read: Even the most sophisticated reader will appreciate text that flows conversationally, rather than stiffly. Avoid industry-specific jargon that any portion of your desired audience is unlikely to know—and even if you are writing for a very specialized group, make sure to tie technical attributes to the specific improvements they’ll create in people’s lives.
- Emotionally persuasive: Studies have consistently found that emotional vocabulary boosts headline performance, so assess whether you can reframe any of your copy to bring emotion into play. (These emotions can be either positive or negative as long as they’re motivating—everything from feelings of urgency, scarcity, and fear to curiosity and awe can incite action.) If you’re not comfortable doing that, at the very least, you can draw readers in by addressing them directly as “you,” rather than referring impersonally to “Company X’s customers.”
- Authentic: Grandiose claims, piles of exclamation points, and tons of superlatives can backfire—it’s a turnoff when you appear to be trying to strongarm someone into a purchase through hyperbolic language. When you foreground the actual value you have to offer, you won’t have to resort to cheesy hard-sell tactics.
Step 5: assess calls to action and opt-in forms
Earlier we talked about the importance of designing your page around your calls to action. Now, let’s take a closer look at the actions your landing page visitors can take and the way you present them.
Here are the key traits of optimal opt-in points:
They use two-step opt-in forms. Our pop-up forms were developed out of tests in which we consistently found that asking someone to click a button, then presenting an opt-in form routinely resulted in relative conversion rate improvements of about 30%.
If you’re using form fields embedded directly on your page, see what happens instead when you first get visitors’ attention with a call-to-action button and only then ask for their info.
The buttons look clickable. Strong visual conventions have developed around buttons on the web, and you ignore them at your own peril. In addition to text that invites a click, use the design to reinforce that your buttons are, well, buttons.
Drop shadows and other 3-D effects have long been a common way to achieve this. But you have options even on a modern page with flat design. Buttons on landing pages newer templates often change color when a mouse hovers over them. Some other successful landing pages use subtle animation to indicate that buttons “move” when pushed.
The form repeats the page’s promise. Every click is an opportunity to either preserve or break the chain of a prospect’s progress toward your business. Make sure not to break it here by using the same language on your form as you used on the landing page. Reusing design elements and images from your landing page can also help reinforce that visitors are in the right place and should keep going.
They’re always easy to find. A single-screen landing page probably only needs one call-to-action button, while longer pages should have more (supporting the same focused call to action, of course).
They focus on outcomes, not processes. If someone right now told you to go stand in a long line, you’d probably dismiss the suggestion out of hand. But if they told you to hurry up and get free tickets to see your favorite musician (and, by the way, the line starts over there), you’d have quite a different reaction.
Call-to-action copy works the same way. Rather than telling someone “click here” or “fill in your information,” talk about the end goal—perhaps getting an e-book or claiming a free consultation.
They don’t make people jump through hoops. Your conversion rate will typically rise as you remove fields from your opt-in form. If all you really need is an email address, try asking just for that. Your particular business may want to pre-screen clients with additional form fields, or may need them for advanced personalization down the line—but even in those cases, you should ask only for info you’ll actually use.
When you use Leadpages, you also get access to our pre-filled form fields, making things even easier. If a visitor has filled out another pop-up (on any site), their info will pop up in the appropriate field, so all they have to do is click.
They play up the “no time, no money” angle when they can. If you’re offering something free, try mentioning that in your call to action—simply adding the word “free” is often enough to boost conversion rates alone. Another majorly effective motivator is setting a deadline. If yours is a limited-time offer, try placing a countdown timer adjacent to your call to action and watch opt-ins rise as the clock winds down.
They minimize distractions. Some of the most powerfully effective landing pages have just one option; there’s no way out but through. Depending on your goals (say, list-building on a sales page for a product with a typically long sales cycle) or the way you’re using your landing page (say, as a landing page for AdWords, which prefers pages with navigation), you may have other links as well.
For instance, you may have a navigation bar up top, social sharing widgets at the side, and other apps that pop in from the bottom. If all these things are actually helping convert page visitors into customers, that may be fine. But take a close look at visitors’ interactions with these kinds of links. If they’re not pulling their weight, remove them to place the focus squarely on your primary CTA.
Step 6: give an eye to your images
If you’re starting from a template, you may not need to add new images to fill in your landing page—but you should still consider it. At the least, images can spur people to keep scrolling down the page and spend more time considering your offer.
But their power can go far beyond that. Good images can make the difference between a hypothetical product that only exists online and a tangible, desirable product visitors can envision themselves using right away.
Optimized landing page images share a few traits:
- They’re the right size: Too-small images get pixelated on larger screens, but too-large ones can be a liability as well: if the files are much larger than they need to be, the page will be slow to load. Check the recommended dimensions for each space you’re filling with an image.
- They direct attention to the right place: Strong lines and angles—and even the direction of a person’s gaze— should be used to point the way to your CTA, and not in the opposite direction. And background images behind full-width text probably shouldn’t be pointing anywhere at all. Instead, they should add depth and texture to the page
- They work with the rest of the page: Clashing color palettes, mixing black-and-white and full-color photos, graphics that appear pulled from a totally different site … these and similar inconsistencies should be avoided to maintain your polish and your conversion rate.
High-quality original photography tends to convert best, but good stock photos can perform well, too—in that case, you may want to simply avoid putting a beaming stock model front and center who’s been plastered over hundreds of other sites. Showing only parts of people, such as their hands and profiles, tends to be a more effective way of making visitors feel like they’re part of the scene on the screen, anyway.
Secret weapon: Find hundreds of free stock images inside the LeadPages Marketing Library.
Naturally, you will want to show a full-face portrait when, say, you’re presenting a webinar and that face is you. Tests we’ve seen on headshots indicate that you probably shouldn’t try to be too buttoned-up. “Lifestyle” shots that show you in a more casual (though still well-lit) environment often out-convert a plain blue background and crisp blazer.
We’ve covered people. What about products? Here it may be more important to show a real photo than anywhere else, at least if your product is physical. (Would you ever buy something from a photo-free listing on Amazon?) But even if your product is just digital, include an illustration—even if it’s a little abstract or not perfectly designed. This has increased conversion rates (as compared to a generic image) in just about every split test I’ve seen.
Landing page images are also an easy and potentially powerful thing to test to find out what resonates with your audience. And speaking of testing …
Step 7: test, then do it again
Once you’ve gone through these steps and your page is in good shape, it’s time to see how it performs.
At minimum, that means watching the metrics you identified as important at the beginning. But you can go farther, too. A/B testing is a good option for landing pages that get regular traffic. By methodically testing variations on page layout, messaging, and imagery, you can zero in on what works for a particular campaign and for your marketing overall.
Note that you’re unlikely to see a significant outcome from A/B testing if you’re not seeing at least a few conversions per month. If that’s you, make cautious changes one at a time, and see what happens to your numbers. At that point, the risk is low and your marketing has a lot of room to grow forward and up.
Qualitative feedback can also be helpful at the outset, or when you’re not seeing results and can’t figure out what’s wrong. Sites like UserTesting.com put your page in front of strangers and give you a video analysis of their experience using it, which can be enlightening. And then there’s the free option: asking willing acquaintances and people inside and outside your target audience to check out your page with fresh eyes and give you a brutally honest report.
Once you’ve learned something about what counts as an optimized landing page for your business, make a note: in a spreadsheet, in a notebook, on a sticky note plastered to your monitor. Draw on that lesson the next time you create a page. (Which should be soon, now that you’re getting the hang of this.)
Congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming a landing page optimization pro.