September 15, 2008
Welcome to day 1 of our PPC landing page optimization series. What better way to kick things off than to discuss landing page design and layout? For today’s topic, think of a landing page’s design and layout as the pieces of bread that keep the juicy calls-to-action, headlines and body content together for your customers to devour (landing page sandwich, yummy). The goal of today’s post is simple – offer up actionable items that will build authority and boost conversions on your PPC landing pages. The five topics below range from the uber-simple to the brain-scratchingly-complex, but all of them have the potential to greatly improve your PPC performance. Please remember that every element of your landing page is up for discussion, and that testing is the only sure way to prove out what works for your product, industry or niche!
TOPIC 1: Keep It Above the Fold, Stupid!
If you read many PPC blogs, you’re undoubtedly heard this mantra before: “Keep your calls-to-action, headlines, forms, buttons, images and everything else above the fold!” Excessive? Yes. Let me explain: Keeping important elements above the fold is a common tactic thrown around for optimizing landing pages, but for the uninformed it’s the impossible mission. From one level-headed marketer to another, let me lay it out… you can’t fit everything above the fold! What does that mean for you? You have to play it smart. Take stock of the design elements of your landing page and create a list of importance. Consider your target audience, and seriously think about what is most important to them. Taking the time to go through that process will guide you to an intelligent testing process.
All of that being said, the number one priority for your landing page’s design/layout is to have your call-to-action above the fold. This is a must. Your landing page will fail if visitors do not know what their next step is. If you do nothing else, this should be a priority. For some, this is contained in the headline. Simple. For others, your call-to-action is hiding within a button – so the physical button should be above the fold. When selling a specific product, I would strongly urge you to place the image above the fold. When running a strictly lead-generation campaign, I would strongly encourage you to test placing the lead form above the fold. I’ve tested this in a few industries, and it can certainly be a contributing factor in increasing lead-gen conversion rates.
TOPIC 2: Limit Navigation and Limit Confusion
This is probably one of the more debatable tactics for optimizing a PPC landing page. From personal experience, I can say that removing typical website navigation has increased conversion rates on my PPC landing pages. The idea is relatively simple. By removing navigation, you are creating a “sterile” conversion environment. In other words, you are in complete control of what the visitor sees, interacts with and hopefully this will lead them directly to the conversion. If your PPC landing page is just another page on your website – navigation and all – the visitor can browse the website as a whole. Which, in my experience, decreases the likelihood of conversion.
Like I said, this is a debatable tactic. So, in all fairness, I’ll present some of the counter-arguments. Some marketers say that if the website is created in such a way, it won’t matter if they stray from your landing page. The entire website should be designed for conversion, and the visitor will find their way regardless. Another argument is that by stripping a page of navigation, this can act as a deterrent to some visitors – almost leaning towards SPAM. In my experience, this hasn’t been the case, but it is certainly something that you should test.
As an alternative to both, you could create a conversion path. A conversion path gives the visitor options for navigation – all of which are under control in a more complex “sterile” conversion environment. Conversion paths are great for segmenting visitors into much more targeted landing page experiences that can have a truly positive effect on conversion rates.
TOPIC 3: Un-Clutter and Place Value on Whitespace
More times than not when I arrive at a landing page, I’m blown away by the amount of stuff on the page. Stuff is not only ambiguous, it’s bad for conversions. Take stock of the cacophony of design elements on your landing page and ask yourself what is truly important for the user and for the conversion. Chances are you’ll be able to remove a lot of stuff. Clutter on a landing page is confusing for the user and can keep them from finding relevant details and your calls-to-action. Additionally, PPC visitors are often times in a rapid-fire state-of-mind. This means that they’ve been searching through several of your competitor’s PPC ads and landing pages and have come to you for a second opinion (maybe you were #1, but just work with me here). If your landing page is a cluttered mess, they will only give you a few seconds of their time – if they don’t find what they’re searching for, they’re gone. Off to the next landing page.
Users scan the text and take away only certain elements that they use to make a decision if the page is relevant to their goal or not. Clean use of space allows users to scan and absorb key messages.
The design of your landing page should lend itself to quick and simple recognition of the “key messages.” If you have the perfect flash animation that you MUST put on your landing page – ask yourself, “Does this deter from the key message of my landing page?” If you answer yes, remove it and place a little more value on your newfound whitespace.
TOPIC 4: Barrier Scanning
What is barrier scanning? Simply put, the process of scanning your landing page for objects (design elements, videos, images, columns, text, etc.) that distract or lead users away from your conversion trigger. Barrier scanning goes hand-in-hand with my #3 topic, but it’s important enough to stand alone. The first instinct with barrier scanning is to merely remove the barriers from your landing page. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, barriers are necessary to guide visitors to the conversion.
Think of it like rocks in a stream… if the rocks are large enough, or there happens to be too many of them, the water will change its natural course.
Rick Tobin, of Enquiro, says “Think of your page like a treasure map” when using barrier scanning to design a landing page. Use the design of your site to “lay clues or clear a path” to your conversion trigger!
TOPIC 5: Coherency of Design
I’ve already made mention of the fact that when a visitor comes to your page via PPC, you have a matter of seconds to convince them to stick around. In that short amount of time, the average visitor will have a clear perspective on your landing page – and it’s coherency. What is coherency?
Coherency is an overall sense of your design “hanging together.” It’s a congruity and harmonious consistency in the relation of all landing page parts to the whole.
In layman’s terms, do you have obnoxious flash animations with pink bunnies juxtaposed to your well written, intelligent body content all under a goth-themed design (black, why is everything black)? That’s a ridiculous example, but it’s completely incoherent. It doesn’t matter how relevant your content is, if the page is incoherent, visitors will bounce and never become a customer. This can also happen if you make many, many tiny tweaks to your landing page (or website for that matter) and stray away from the core design. As you begin to test changes, remember that you aren’t only testing individual elements, but also how they work together! Solution to this problem? First, create a plan of action for your landing page testing. Secondly, remind yourself of your company’s design brief or the information found in your CSS! Visitors will know if your site is a mish-mash of random ideas and will react accordingly (i.e. NOT CONVERT!).
Creating the best PPC landing pages is truly an art form, but you must back it up with statistical analysis. As you read through these ideas and begin to work them into your own landing pages, remember that you must test. Testing is your path to conversion enlightenment. I hope these tips have been helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.
P.S. The Google Website Optimizer team is keen to help you test your PPC landing page optimization. If you haven’t already, drop us a line to get your free copy of Always be Testing by Bryan Eisenberg!