6 Steps to Building the Perfect Landing Page

Today, I’ve decided to go back to basics. And in the world of direct response marketing, nothing is more basic than the landing page. Having worked in the industry for many years, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that no campaign can succeed without a Landing Page that converts. This is an indisputable fact. Try launching an email or direct mail campaign with a kick-ass creative that sends people back to the homepage of your wesbsite and see what happens. Inevitably, almost all of your hard-fought leads will evaporate into cyberspace, lost forever, destroying any chance of achieving ROI.

Today I’ve decided to go back to basics. And in the world of direct response marketing, nothing is more basic than the landing page. Having worked in the industry for many years, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that no campaign can succeed without a landing page that converts. This is an indisputable fact. Try launching an email or direct mail campaign with a kick-ass creative that sends people back to the homepage of your wesbsite and see what happens. Inevitably, almost all of your hard-fought leads will evaporate into cyberspace, lost forever, destroying any chance of achieving ROI.

Don’t believe me? Want to know how big of a difference a kick-ass landing page makes? Huge. Think about it like this. I’ve seen top-performing landing pages convert upwards of 10 percent to 20 percent of visitors into leads or sales. By contrast, a generic Contact Us page on a plain-vanilla website will typically convert anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent. I’ll save you the time by doing the math for you: This means you’ll covert anywhere from three to 20 times more visitors. Do those numbers turn your head? If so, read on for some tips on how to build a landing page that kicks butt.

  1. KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid—Generally, when it comes to landing pages less is more. Essentially, keeping visitors focused on the key message is the name of the game. This means eliminating all extraneous details not directly related to the campaign at hand. Links to other pages? Delete them. Fancy and distracting design. Change it. Lots of extra content about your firm? Gone.
  2. Headline—When visitors arrive on your landing page, you’ve got at most 15 seconds (and probably a lot less) to grab their attention. And nothing grabs someone’s attention better than a catchy and hard-hitting headline. According to Jeff Ginsberg (@mktgexperiments), landing page headlines should “emphasize what the customer gets rather than does and be customer-focused.” Couldn’t agree more. If you’re new to the headline game, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Check out successful campaigns and see what they used. Get a sense of what other marketers are doing, and remember that imitation is sometimes the sincerest form of flattery.
  3. Call-to-action—If you spent your hard-earned marketing bucks to drive someone to your landing page in the first place, bet your bottom dollar it’s because you want them to do something—express interest in your products or services by filling out a Web form, buy your product by whipping out a credit card and clicking submit on a shopping cart, etc. With that in mind, make sure your landing page contains a clear, concise and effective call-to-action that encourages the prospect to follow through and close the loop.
  4. Form—Unless you’re running a branding campaign—in which case you wouldn’t even need a landing page, right?—at the end of the user-engagement process you want to visitor to fill out some sort of Web form. Call it what you will—lead form, shopping cart and so on—but the act of filling out or not filling out this one vital page element is what will ultimately be used as a Key (if not the Key) Performance Indicator (KPI) that determines how well your campaign performed. When it comes to Web forms, the shorter the better. Fact is, nothing turns off or scares away Web visitors more than a long and imposing Web form. So make it short, sweet and to the point. Oh, and if possible, using technology such as Personalized URLs (PURLs) that pre-fills as many of the form fields as possible. Remember, the less there is to do, the greater the chance it gets filled out in the first place.
  5. Advertise security—Nobody likes to submit information on a website they don’t trust. In other words, flaunt your security credentials. If your page is secure and encrypted (SSL), make sure the security certificate is displayed prominently on the landing page. And if there are other security features your firm follows, darn right you should display them, too.
  6. Build credibility—Similarly to the last point, prospects fill out forms on landing pages because they trust the vendor. This means that it’s your job to tell your brand’s story in a clear, concise and compelling manner. The trick to this point is that because we’re talking about a landing page, you don’t have too much real estate in which to tell your story. In other words, talk about what make your firms and its products unique, but don’t waste too much space or verbiage doing so. If you want to tell a customer testimonial or testimonials, make them short and to the point.

Okay, I guess those are my best tips for landing pages. So go out and build some good ones. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

The ‘A’ Word—Learn It, Love It, Live It!

I attended a seminar earlier in January held by the Direct Marketing Club of New York titled “Annual Outlook: What to Expect in Direct & Digital Marketing in 2012.” The main speaker at the event was Bruce Biegel, managing director at the Winterberry Group, a strategic consulting firm that focuses on advertising and marketing.

I attended a seminar earlier in January held by the Direct Marketing Club of New York titled “Annual Outlook: What to Expect in Direct & Digital Marketing in 2012.” The main speaker at the event was Bruce Biegel, managing director at the Winterberry Group, a strategic consulting firm that focuses on advertising and marketing.

For those of you who have never before attended an event where Biegel presents, I highly recommend attending one if you get a chance. He’s a highly engaging speaker with many interesting insights gleaned from years of experience in the field, and backed by the research and analytics of the Winterberry Group.

The focus of the presentation was a review of the marketing and advertising world of 2011, along with some predictions for 2012. According to Biegel, 2011 was the year in which many firms intensified their focus on reporting and analytics tools. For 2012, he predicted many marketers will finally begin to pursue true multichannel integration across their firms, driven by data, analytics and the quest for cross-channel attribution. He touched on the term attribution repeatedly, referring to it as the “Holy Grail” of multichannel marketing.

In a marketing sense, I define attribution—or the “A-word” for the purposes of this blog post—as the act of determining what marketing channel or budget was responsible for generating a particular action: be it a click, lead, order, etc. As a direct marketer, I just love this word. And you should, too. Attribution is where the rubber meets the road. Attribution is what separates the men from the boys, the measurable from the immeasurable, direct response from … well, branding. Not to disparage brand marketing, but I think I can speak for most—if not all—colleagues in the industry when I say that demonstrable attribution is really what has always separated direct response marketing from branding—analytics that essentially give us the ability to calculate the actual ROI of every precious marketing dollar we spend. Enough said.

But, let’s face it, there’s a dirty little secret in the direct response community that those outside of it might not necessarily be aware of. The fact is that attribution has not been all it’s cracked up to be over the past 10 years—and a far cry from an exact science, to say the least. We have the Internet to thank for that. To elaborate, let’s take a moment and turn back the clock around 15 to 20 years, and think back to a time in which the Web did not play such a prominent role in our lives. Back then, most direct response marketing was done via direct mail, catalogs and inserts, as well as DRTV. In this relatively simplistic world, customers could only really place orders using the return mailer or by calling a toll-free number. That was it. Since each piece was stamped with a keycode, attribution was as easy as: “Could you please tell me the five-digit code on the bottom right-hand corner of the order form” … and we knew with certainty why the sale originated.

Then along came the Web—and, with it, an entirely new channel for consumers to interact with their brands. And this is when things got confusing. Let’s say, for example, a consumer received a postcard or catalog from a company. In place of calling the toll-free number, he could instead go to Google and search for the website, find it, locate the products he’s interested in and place an order. Now who gets the credit for the sale? The direct mail team? The search engine marketing team? The catalog team? The email team? All of them? None of them? The fact is, there was really no scientific way to tell for sure. The gears of attribution broke down, creating a vast gray area of uncertainty where the worlds of traditional and new media converged. This was the direct marketer’s dirty little secret in the age of Web 1.0.

To deal with this mess, new techniques and technologies invariably emerged to bring some order to the chaos. Before long, many marketers turned to the concept of campaign-specific landing pages to send their cross-media (or cross-channel) customers to. At least this bypassed the regular website and kept and sales or leads it made in one bucket, separate from the home page and other Web traffic. This was a huge improvement.

Then other technologies like personalized URLs, or PURLS, entered the mix. Gimmicks aside, PURLs work because they are a tool for attribution—not because they give someone a link made out of their name. Sure, giving someone a personalized link is nice … but that’s only window dressing and obfuscates the real value of this cross-media technology. PURLs help marketers attribute activity to the direct mail channel. That’s it in a nutshell. Now of course, there are additional benefits, such as improved Web traffic rates resulting from personalized content, and higher website conversion rates due to a simplified workflow on a landing page that’s been optimized for this purpose alone. But the real value of this technology is attribution—and don’t ever let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Similarly, across other channels useful cross-media technologies emerged like QR Codes, which really solve in mobile the same issue marketers face on desktop Web browsers—namely, the inability to properly track and attribute cross-media actions resulting from their offline campaigns. When push comes to shove, sending individuals to purpose-built, mobile-optimized landing pages, personalized or not, enables precise tracking and measurement, not to mention a better overall user experience and, presumably, a higher conversion rate, too.

Looking forward, the next stage in attribution will most certainly need to deal with the advent of Web 2.0 and the world of social media. Seeing as firms are now making investments in social media strategy, CMOs are going to want to attach some kind of ROI calculation to the mix. Now, of course, you could pretty easily argue that it’s absurd to try to assign any type of ROI to social media in the first place. In that vein, Scott Stratten has a great blog post called “Things We Should Ask The ROI Question About Before Social Media” on UnMarketing that does just that pretty convincingly. But that’s an argument for another time and place. Regardless of whether you feel it’s a smart policy, I think it’s safe to say that where the marketing dollars go, pressure will ultimately follow to show value (ROI).

At the same time, regardless of what dollars are being spent and how these expenditures make CFOs hyperventilate, social media can and do generate sales for organizations. This is an indisputable fact and should not be up for debate anymore. What is in question is the ability of firms to track what happens in social media and attribute the activity to this emerging channel. As we speak, we’re starting to see the introduction of the first generation of effective tools (SocialCRM) that track social media interactions among pools of prospects or leads, and make them available to marketing teams for actionable analysis and follow up. Very cool stuff. But, of course, social media data are only one piece of a much larger puzzle, named “Big Data.” I briefly touched on Big Data in a previous post titled “Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey.”

Actually, on that note, I think this is a good place for me to call it a day. Not only am I running out of space for this post, but that last thought will make a great segue to my next post, which will address the amazing transformation that is taking place within many firms as they deal with the endless volumes of unstructured data (Big Data) they are tracking and storing every day. This wholesale repurposing aims not only to make sense out of this trove of data, but also to break down the walls separating the various silos where the data are stored, such as CRM/SocialCRM platforms, social media websites, marketing automation tools, email software, Web servers and more. Stay tuned next time for more on this topic.

Until then, I welcome any questions, comments or feedback.

Industry Experts Weigh In: Marketing That Matters

Earlier this month, I participated in a professional development and networking event for alumni of the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I spoke with some of my colleagues about how they define performance marketing and what they envision for the next generation of performance marketers, and they shared valuable insights about its growth and accountability.

Earlier this month, I participated in a professional development and networking event for alumni of the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I spoke with some of my colleagues about how they define performance marketing and what they envision for the next generation of performance marketers, and they shared valuable insights about its growth and accountability. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

Tom Collinger, associate professor and sector head of direct, e-commerce and search marketing and associate dean of Medill. Collinger is also president of The TC Group, a marketing strategy consulting firm, and serves as a member on the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Consumer Marketing.

CG: What does performance marketing mean to you?
TC: Performance marketing is, after all, redundant, isn’t it? The goal of all marketing and communications is to grow connections and engagement that results in sales performance. I believe the term has grown in popularity recently as a result of the growth in measureable outcomes to marketing initiatives, but, really, can you ever imagine a marketing communications initiative funded without a stated expectation of results? I can’t either. So, for me, performance marketing means an expectation of results as a consequence of the strategies used to promote a brand.

CG: What advice do you have for the next generation of performance marketers?
TC: I’d advise the next generation of performance marketers not to fall victim to the belief that an immediate and measureable result to a prompted marketing communications initiative is always the best basis of proving success. Rather, consider each and every initiative in the context of how a business, brand or service is made more or less relevant to a customer. Each initiative is a brick that either builds or erodes the wall that becomes the barriers to switch.

Ron Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Clevenger, an independent multichannel direct digital marketing agency. Jacobs started a professional program in direct marketing at DePaul University in 1990, and in 2006, he began an endowment for the program. He also devoted 17 years as a senior lecturer in the Medill IMC program. Jacobs co-authored the “Eighth Edition of Successful Direct Marketing Methods,” the best-selling book on the tools and techniques of direct marketing.

CG: What does performance marketing mean to you?
RJ: I find myself constantly reminding my clients, staff and students that performance marketing is direct response marketing, and many of the traditional tools and techniques of direct marketing apply. The ultimate objective should be conversions or sales. The messages and calls to action need to reflect the keywords that got prospects there in the first place. Moreover, while you may not be able to measure everything, you can easily find three to five key performance indicators that make sense for your business.

CG: What advice do you have for the next generation of performance marketers?
RJ: Today, virtually all marketing communications are accountable; it’s the new normal. Performance marketing is a leader in this transition. Marketers, media and agencies are shared stakeholders in this change; we all need to find ways to adjust our business models to accommodate it. 
Whether seeking direct marketing or broader results, the accountability of the web continues to drive the evolution of performance-based approaches toward game-changing methods to better assess and optimize performance.

Final thoughts
Initially an arms race to get the right technologies in place, performance marketing has become more consumer centric as the practice begins to mature. Successful performance marketers will understand consumers and how they use technology to find information and ultimately make decisions.

The measurement process for performance marketing almost always includes generating response; collecting information; and analyzing large data sets, complex systems and partnerships — all focused on the consumer as a participant in the exchange. This intelligent data management links the business intelligence engine with the execution engine to reduce marketing waste, optimize marketing spend and scale quality implementation for improved return on investment.

As these industry experts stated, consumers’ perspectives will only continue to gain significance in performance marketing. Marketers must find ways to be relevant, and performance marketing offers several reliable methods to connect with high-value audience segments, quantify success and keep campaigns accountable.

How do you envision the future of performance marketing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments thread below or email me at craig.greenfield@performics.com.