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The secrets behind successful landing pages

The secrets behind successful landing pages Evan Gerber

Research shows that users are making decisions about the digital content they are looking at in less than the blink of an eye. This has massive implications for digital marketers working on any campaign, especially those tasked with the creation of Facebook landing pages and designing smart landing page campaigns.

To help improve conversion rates, there is some basic science digital marketers should know, as well as a few smart moves to make. The goal is to engage landing page visitors before they've had a chance to even consciously think about it, and shuttle them on to wherever they need to go. This article will discuss the immediate experience, the science that drives it, and how to design a landing page that will improve conversion rates.

The science of landing pages
Since 2006, it's been an accepted best practice to design a page to speak to users instantly. The University of Ontario published a study observing that users make determinations in less than the blink of an eye. When shown a glimpse of a page for less than a 50 microseconds, users were making decisions that correlated with the same sentiments when shown the page for a longer period of time. This means that within less time than someone can truly perceive what they are looking at, they are drawing conclusions that will impact the rest of their experience through the halo effect.

While the data is astounding, there is a logical reason posited for this. Humanity been conditioned for literally millions of years to respond instantaneously to external stimuli. About 100,000 years ago, a hunter on the Serengeti might spy a brown dot running at him. With only a split second to decide if that brown dot is dinner or vice versa, homo sapiens evolved mental skills to respond even before the thought had coalesced in their minds. These traits have not disappeared, and as such, we are making decisions about the web within literally less than half a second.

Landing pages, in particular, are an excellent example of how important this is, and how sophisticated solutions can be to boost conversion. Carefully scrutinized, easy to measure, and generally part of a more complicated chain of interactions, the very first impression is a lynchpin moment.

Because the first impression is so crucial, marketers must consider not only the initial interaction with the page, but also what is happening beforehand that might influence the user's thinking. For example, considering how users search and incorporating that behavior into the landing page copy strategy can make a huge difference.

When a user enters a search term into Google, they are expecting something that maps to those terms in the search results. If the metadata pulled from the landing page does not reflect common terms, it's not only bad for SEO -- the users who do find it will be more likely to bounce. These expectations around content carry through to the landing page itself. According to research done by MarketingSherpa, marrying the copy between commonly used search terms and landing page copy is critical. Marketers and designers must consider exactly what is driving a user to a landing page, and ensure that there are clear indicators to immediately let the user know they've found what they are looking for.

Geico does a great job with this by creating a page where the copy either matches well with the company's other advertising campaigns, or uses terminology that people use when searching for car insurance. In either case, the terminology is large, right at the top of the page, and very easy to scan.

Generally, eyes are drawn to certain things. While moving across the page, nothing will get attention like faces. It is a focal element, as shown in the heatmap below from Fabien's Posterous blog. The baby's face is the most scanned element on the page, and then the eye is making an "E" or "F" shape down the side. This is important to note. A well-designed page can tie together faces and copy to ensure that the right message is the first thing that gets into the user's head. Most readers will absorb the words they recognize almost instantaneously. So if they are looking at one thing (say, a baby's face), they are likely to scan and absorb anything that is next to it. The shape of the scanning, that "E" or "F" shape, means that the title should usually be at the top, in larger text, and succinctly explain the message in a manner that resonates with the SEO strategy.

The same rules apply for Facebook, under different conditions
Many of the rules that govern landing page design are just as important for a brand's Facebook presence. Users need a reason to stay and engage, and businesses need to ensure they can prove their investment in social was worthwhile. Generally, most businesses are measuring success by overall "likes" or interactions, and will do what they can to get people to click the button. While it is better to think more holistically (i.e., what happens after they click and how to maintain the relationship), many digital marketers focus on the immediate goal of conversion. This need to quickly rope and force action on the part of the user is similar; there is an action users should take, and it needs to be as quick and easy as possible.

Unlike a landing page where users are being quickly routed to a destination page on a site, Facebook landing pages will seek to keep the user on the page once they have engaged. As such, brands should look to convey immediate feeling and engagement, and use cues that will draw the eye across the page. The American Apparel layout below is in many ways similar to the Geico example. Faces (either cute puppy or random guy) draw the eye across the copy. Text provides a clear call to action with what users need to do.


Other brands, such as BMW, are a little more overt, but the Facebook pages lack any tie-in to campaigns. In the case of BMW, it might be due more to the fact that the page architecture seems to drive the users to find their country versus keeping them at the top level. The following screen, however, is a little more overt, and could be handled in a more brand-friendly fashion. Unlike on landing pages, users will stay and engage with the content; therefore, it's crucial that brand managers think about the messaging.

Finally, we see that Oreo is employing simple messaging and one-click action. The eye scans and acts. Once the user posts, there is again a simple, clean action to encourage engagement with the wall. This is similar to the Geico example mentioned earlier, in which all the brand does is ask for the visitor's ZIP code and pull the user into the quoting funnel. In both cases, there is a big button telling the user what to do, and clicking the button captures a little data and then engages for more. 

At the end of the day, making a good first impression online is science -- but not rocket science. Users make snap judgments, and it's the responsibility of digital marketers to ensure they are doing everything they can to help use these determinations to meet business goals. Nowhere are these design decisions more strongly felt than in the design and implementation of landing pages, either on the web or through Facebook.

As mentioned, the very first instant a user lands on a page is a lynchpin moment that must be carefully considered. By following a few basic rules, users can to help ensure a good first impression. First, think about where they are coming from and what they expect to see when they get to the landing page. Second, use visual cues to move the eye across the page. Third, make interactions as simple as possible; don't clutter the screen with extraneous information, but instead focus on the key call to action.

There is a lot to creating a successful Facebook or web landing page to funnel users into a site, but with careful thought and diligent design, brands can be successful in the blink of an eye.

Evan Gerber is a principal experience design consultant for Isobar.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Since the late ‘90s, Evan Gerber has created innovated technology solutions for unique business problems. Evan is the Vice President of Mobile Design and Emerging Interactions at Fidelity Investments.  An avid technophile and self...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, May 09

Your landing page is the one thing that is going to convince a visitor to stay! It has to be immediately clear to that visitor that your site not only contains the information they are looking for, but that it is worth further exploration. Once they arrive, don't let a bad landing page drive them away. Otherwise, what is the point of all your SEO work?