How to Create and Optimize a Landing Page That Converts
Your landing page is your digital storefront - will people come in, or walk right on by? Follow this process and you won't be able to keep them away if you tried.
If you've ever clicked on an ad or a Google result, you've seen a landing page. Landing pages are the internet's version to a store front, and their job is the same - to convince you that what's inside is relevant, useful, and valuable.
But unlike storefronts, the internet give us the power to put landing pages in front of higher numbers of targeted people while measuring every interaction they have with it. This ability provides unprecedented information we can leverage to improve our web page's conversion rate.
The process of creating high-performing landing pages consists of four parts: initial research, crafting your message, creating your page, and ongoing optimization. Let's dive in.
Before we go near a line of code, we have to do the hard work of understanding our customers and market.
Before creating anything for your market, you need to deeply understand the people your company and product help serve. Run interviews with existing customers, or if you don't have any yet, reach out to people who you think you want to sell to.
The goal here is to build a mental model of their world. What are their pain points? Where do they hang out? Who's opinion do they value? What issues do they have with their current solutions?
When you've finished a round of this, you should have a strong groundwork to start building your buyer persona. Use this as a reference for all other web and copy work.
Once you know what pain points you're positioned to solve for your customers, you need to understand your market. What other solutions is your market currently using? Where are they dissatisfied? Where can you add additional value?
Use this information to place yourself on a competitive map. This will help you frame your offering to customers in a way that helps them place you in the landscape.
Before creating a web page, you need to know what keywords you want to optimize for so you can create your page content in a way that helps search engines find you for the right terms.
Use a tool like Moz or Ahrefs to find keywords with search volume and low competition. In general, start off with lower volume easier keywords that are easier to rank for. Once you rank for those, move up to tackle bigger volume more difficult keywords.
Crafting Your Message
Before you can write a web page, you need to have a strong grasp on who you're selling to and what your value in the market will be. This process could be as complicated as you want it to be, but I use this simple framework when I'm left without budget or access to a more complex process.
As mentioned, a buyer persona is a detailed description of someone who represents one group of people you want to sell to. This is not a real customer, but a fictional person who embodies the characteristics of your best potential customers.
You’ll give this customer persona a name, demographic details, interests, and behavioral traits. You’ll want to understand their goals, pain points, and buying patterns.
The goal here is to have a model to refer to when writing your website. You should constantly ask yourself if what you're writing speaks well to the problems and reality of your buyer persona. Your buyer persona will guide everything from product development to your brand voice to the social channels you use and avoid.
Since different groups of people may buy your products for different reasons, you might need to create more than one buyer persona. You can’t get to know every customer or prospect individually, but you can create a customer persona to represent each segment of your customer base.
The marketplace is a crowded environment. Buyers lean on familiarity, mental models, and categories to help them understand their market and the options available to them. To this end, crafting strong positioning serves to help customers understand where you stand so they know when you're the best choice.
Positioning is always evolving, but the process I use is a light and flexible way to defining your company's space.
In short, positioning is all about isolating your uniqueness, identifying what your uniqueness can do for customers, and choosing the best market frame of reference.
Features are product attributes, aspects and capabilities. Features focus on what your product does, and are 100% focused on your product or service offering. Ask yourself "What did we build?" and make a list of your core features. These will later help users compare your offering with their current solution or your competition. If we were to think about Notion as a test case, a feature might be "Multiple user permission levels".
Unlike features which focus on your service or product, benefits bridge the gap between you and your potential customer by demonstrating the advantage or gain the customer will get from the specific feature. To get to something useful, try answering “so that” after each feature statement.
Returning to our Notion example, your benefit might be "Multiple user permission levels, so that teams can collaborate more easily." Shorten this to "Collaborate more easily", and voila - you have a benefit.
If positioning is all about you as a company and product, the value proposition is all about bridging the gap between your value and the customer's needs. In many cases, your benefits will be pointing a clear path to the overall pitch you want to make to your potential customers.
All of Notion's features are designed to help teams collaborate on and maintain an external "brain" for organizations, so they've landed on "All-in-one workspace" as their core value proposition.
Creating your Landing Page
Now that you've created a strong foundation for your page, it's time to actually design it.
Theoretically, there are infinite ways to build a landing page, each as unique as the offerings they seek to sell. But there are certain pieces that are time-tested enough to require strong and specific reasoning before deciding not to use them. The page sections listed below do one of two things - they either help to increase the target market's desire for your offering, or decrease the friction associated with taking the next step.
Named after stage props meant to be looked at from close range, the hero section is also commonly referred to as "above the fold" content - the section at the top of the page that users see first.
This is the vehicle that delivers users first impressions of a website. If the hero section isn't compelling enough, that's all they'll see. Here's how to make it as compelling as possible.
Choose imagery wisely. Ideally, you should be creating your own assets. Have a photoshoot if you're selling consumer products or experiences, hire an illustrator is you're selling software.
Write your headline by using the most compelling value proposition your product provides to the persona you're targeting. Lean on your subheadline to tell users how that value is delivered and state your positioning in the marketplace. If possible, add social proof here in the form of client logos or short customer testimonials. These should help provide authority and weight to the claims made in your copy.
Good designers treat social proof as a piece to add to your website when it's done, but great ones build it into the design itself.
Social proof exists so we can point to a third-party while telling a prospect "See? We're telling the truth about what we do. You can trust us because they do, too."
Social proof can take many forms, and it's not necessarily a particular section of your website. Use the particularities of your company, customer base, and market to get creative. Basic forms include a row of logos from press outlets who've mentioned you, company logos of your customers. or longer quotes from people within those articles or companies.
When it gets more complex, we're looking at customer case studies built around a persona or use case, micro social proof like short customer quips below a benefit block, and graphics talking about how many downloads, views, or followers you have.
There are layers here, too. Some social proof is easier to fake than others, which makes it harder to build trust. Sometimes something like embedding tweets is more effective than publishing a customer quote, since you don't have to ask the prospect to trust that you're not making the quote up.
What outcomes does your offering help the customer achieve? Benefit sections are usually immediately below the fold and often arranged in side-by-side "pods" - text on one side, imagery on the other. This section serves to help the customer understand your offering's value proposition more deeply, and from different angles. This is the time to be a bit more specific. If your core value proposition is "Expense reporting in half the time", your first benefit could be "Never scan a receipt again".
The key to writing key benefits is understanding your features deeply and resisting the urge to position your feature as a benefit. Your "Receipt scanning technology" is the feature, but the benefit it creates is "Never scan a receipt again".
Features are usually below Benefits on a landing page, but they should be understood and written prior. Features are the aspects of your offering that allow it to deliver value, so they must be understood before you can apply a feature to a user need to create the benefit.
On a landing page, features provide a platform for you to support the claims you make in your value propositions and benefit copy. "You mean to tell me you can make my expense reporting take half the time? How?" The Features section will explain.
Another way to think about this is that benefits are about the customers, and features are about your offering and company. Of course people want to read about how you help them first - that's your hook. If you've intrigued them, you now have to reduce their perceived risk they'll encounter by proceeding with your product. Outlining how you deliver on your promises is where the feature section shines.
You've explained your value, benefits, and features. Now it's time to tell them who your product is for.
The goal in going over use cases is to help a user self-select and identify with whom your offering was built for. This works especially well in B2B where you can call out "Innovative CMOs" and "Forward-thinking HR Execs", but it can work with some B2C offerings as well.
The ideal reaction this section should produce in readers is "Wow, this product was specifically made for people like me".
Call to Action
If your landing page is an argument for a point of view, your call to action is your closing statement. Your CTA assumes you were able to convince users that your offering is compelling enough to consider, and it's role is to present a compelling offer that persuades a user to take action.
There are two basic types of call to action - trades and signups.
Trades are most often used in sales or contact list building environments. A company packages up some information into an ebook or email course that's valuable to their target user, and offers it in exchange for a user's contact information.
Signups are more often used in digital products, where the call to action is a contextual reframing of what the user will get when they sign up for the product.
Both CTA types seek to do one thing well - promise value to be delivered in a way that convinces users to take a valuable action.
There are sometimes particularities in a market or product category that require landing pages to acknowledge, align with, or position against something to make clear to the user that you get it. Sometimes this can take the form of a competitor comparison, some FAQs, or a quote from the founders that brings your offering into sharper focus.
The key to knowing what kind of context to ad is to talk with your target market (or put their shoes on) while scrolling the page and ask yourself "What would the potential customer be asking themselves that we don't do a good job at answering?".
Most creativity in landing pages comes in the execution, but context is where you can let loose on the strategy side. The sky is the limit.
There is only so much you can do to optimize your landing page before sending some traffic to it. The data that accumulates while watching how users interact with your page can reveal important issues and opportunities to make your page convert better.
Before we get into the murky territory of why humans do things, start by analysing hard facts.
Site Speed Analysis
How fast does your site load? It's proven that conversions drop at about the same rate as site speed drops, so one of the most important things you can do to save your conversion rate is make sure your site is lightning fast. I use Pingdom to test my speed and to get valuable tips on how to improve it. You could probably do this before launching your page as well.
Different browsers sometimes interpret code in ways you may not expect, and sometimes this can hurt your conversion rate. Use Google Analytics to isolate traffic by the browser they used and look for major fluctuations in conversion rate, bounce, and average pages per visit. Any anomaly is cause for deeper investigation.
Similarly to cross-browser analysis, the way your site shows up on different devices can have a dramatic effect on how users use your website. Isolate traffic by device and search for issues just like you would for cross-browser analysis.
Once your page is technically up to snuff, it starts to make sense to focus more on how people are interacting with your site. The goal here should be to attempt to glean potential issues or problems users appear to be having so you can correct them.
Google Analytics can be a treasure trove of useful information if you've set it up right and know where to look. Run through the Behaviour tabs to find out what users search for, how they move through your site, and how long users stick around. Do certain pages make them leave? Are they staying for a long time and not converting? Are users dropping out of your signup flow at a particular page? Find threads to create hypotheses. If they're urgent and seem to have high upside, and add them to your testing prioritization list. If not, just make the correction or change to your site and check back later.
Traditional web analytics help you analyze your traffic data quantitatively, but that leaves much of the human element to be desired. Enter mouse tracking tools like Hotjar and Heap. These tools actually record the real-time interactions users have with your site and produce outputs like click and scroll maps, user session replays, and form analytics. Use these tools to add color to your quantitative hypotheses to better understand the problem. Form not getting filled in? Watch session replays so see what users are experiencing. Users bouncing off a particular page? Find out how far they scroll and change the order of your page. Infinite possibilities about in optimization, so zooming in on the true issues will help you focus the solutions you'll create.
Even further down the spectrum from quantitative to qualitative is user surveys. There are two basic options here. First (and most common) would be post sign-up surveys. Many ask where the user heard of the company in an attempt to better understand traffic sources, but they can also be used to better understand why someone converted. There is an obvious bias with post sign-up surveys though - the only users you hear from are those who were successful.
Less well used but arguably more valuable would be exit-intent surveys. Triggered when users are about to leave a site or after a pre-determined amount of time has passed, users are confronted with a survey questionnaire. These are especially valuable for building understanding around why a user didn't convert. Was the offering clear? Did they have any unresolved objections? Use these answers to hep inform updates you make to your page.
Only when you've done all your could to optimize your page on your own should you begin to think about A/B tests and experiments, and even then, you need to make sure you have enough traffic to make a test able to produce significant results. Use this calculator to decide if you have enough traffic. Ideally you'd use a 95% confidence internal, but 90% should be OK for smaller sites with less traffic.
Note that all experiments should be run through a real A/B testing software like Google Optimize or Optimizely - we'll need clean data to make the right decisions.
You should have a list of potential experiment ideas that came up during your technical and behaviour analysis. Prioritize this list based on presumed ROI.
Create three columns:
- Column 1: Rate the estimated effort or cost of the test on a scale of 1-10. That means if the test is insanely easy, rate it a 10. If it's nearly impossible, rate it a 1.
- Column 2: Rate the estimated impact or value a successful test may provide on a scale of 1-10. If the test is very likely to produce positive results, give it a 10. Give it a 1 for low expectations
- Column 3: Combine these scores into a value of 1-20. Sort your spreadsheet by this number, higher numbers at the top
Start picking off tests from the top of your list. You'll still want to apply some good sense to which tests you choose - sometimes the number doesn't feel right, and you may want to reprioritize it.
Testing alternative page copy should be the first test opportunities one takes. Changing copy is much less technically intensive than design changes, and can have just as big an impact.
Focus on your above-the-fold section first (the part of the page visible on page load). Test different value propositions and framing your value propositions more particularly to the expectations of the target group of people. For example, maybe you're testing a landing page used for a particular keyword set in Google Ads. Think about what those keyword searchers were really looking for, and do your best to frame your product or solution in a way that appeals to their wants, needs, and desires.
When you've run through your copy experiments, move on to design changes. There are a few core opportunities to be tested when trying out design experiments.
- Page length: test short, medium, and long form landing pages
- Page composition: What page sections could be added or subtracted to improve conversion?
- Page order: Could reordering the page's sections tell the story better?
Once these are either tried or deprioritized, you can move on to the bigger swings. Could a whole page redesign help?
Optimizing your landing page conversion can help solve many business problems - after all, increasing sales is a medicine that cures most ailments. That said, it won't help you find product market fit.
That's it! Follow this guide and you'll be increasing your conversion rates in no time.