The point of the pick-up line at a bar is to make the person laugh or get excited enough that they are willing to give you their phone number. The point of a landing page is to get a visitor excited enough that they're willing to give you their credit card number (or to fill out a form). In both cases, you're really trying to get them to do something very simple: you just want them to stay with you just a little longer, to give you more time to convince them to take the action you want them to take.
Here are some lessons about pick-up lines that I learned in college. Surprisingly, later in life, they have become equally applicable to landing pages.
Lesson No. 1: Don't sit back and wait
There are two likely outcomes to any pick-up attempt: you make a good impression, and thus get the opportunity to continue trying to impress her. Or, you get blown off.
Website landing pages are just like this. You've got a single, very short moment in which to make a good impression. If you screw it up, you very likely won't get a second chance.
The point of the landing page, like the opening line, is to not lose the prospect. You want them to stay with you a little longer.
I had a good friend growing up who believed that the best way to meet girls in social situations was to sit in the corner and look thoughtful. He wasn't willing to risk anything, so he hoped that his thoughtful face would look interesting enough that the girls would come to him. Most of the time, he came across as simply boring (or -- worst case scenario -- menacing and antisocial).
Like my friend, many, many marketers have, in the past, behaved as though the best way to attract a prospect is to simply show him/her an internal page and hope that it is interesting enough to get them to seek out more information. If there was no logical page to send a prospect to, we sent them to a homepage or a search results page. We didn't want to put ourselves out by investing in landing pages.
Today, we have realized that spending money to drive traffic to an only slightly relevant page, which the prospect immediately leaves, not only wastes money but damages the brand. So, many of us have built landing pages using "best-practices," or generic guidelines, that were understood to be the most successful for getting prospects to click.
But that approach is like a witty, intelligent and nimble-minded guy using a standard and tired pickup line like, "What's your sign?" Using an untested landing page -- one that has been built based on what others have done -- doesn't give the prospect a clear picture of what your fabulously individual website is really about.
Lesson No 2: Size up the prospect
Remember the movie "Hitch" with Will Smith? There's a scene in a bar where a series of men try to get a beautiful woman's attention by delivering their best lines, only to get shot down.
Then Will Smith approaches and talks to her in a way that reflects real thought and understanding based on what he has noticed about her.
Will Smith would never have used the line he used with the woman in the example above on another woman because it wouldn't have made sense. He would have learned something about the new woman based on what he could see and targeted his pickup line specifically for her.
That approach is exactly what the best marketers are attempting to do with landing pages today. Smart marketers are segmenting and qualifying users, offering different content (or "lines") to different prospects based on what they can learn about them through their first and subsequent visits.
We don't always have a lot of information about the prospect, but we often have more than we think. Usually, we can determine connection speed, browser type and screen size. We know if this is their first visit, or if they've been here before. We know the originating source of their visit (Google, MSN, an ad on another site), their geographic location and the time of day. These are all clues that might help us tailor our message.
Once we qualify the prospect and target them with content specifically of interest to them, we appear as relevant and useful and therefore worthy of a prospect's continued interest.
Lesson No. 3: Try out a variety of good lines
Did you ever wish in college that you could try out several different approaches at a bar to see which one got the best results? It stands to reason that by testing your technique and improving it based on the reaction you receive, you can get improved results.
It's the same with landing pages. Smart marketers come up with a couple of good ideas for each major type of "opportunity" or prospect and try them out. They let the audience show, by their reaction, (clicking deeper into the site, making a purchase, filling out a form, dropping out immediately) which works best and for whom. They can even show when one of the landing page ideas seems to not be working as well as it used to.
The days of one size fits all, marketer-knows-best, best-practices-dictated landing pages are as gone as the days of women waiting to swoon at the feet of the first man to approach with a clever line.
It is now possible to quickly and inexpensively show different things to different people in order to create a more relevant and compelling experience. And technology history has taught us over and over that when it is possible to do something that makes life better for the customer, it quickly becomes mandatory.
Jamie Roche is president of Offermatica. .