Smooth Landings

Sep 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

Landing page optimization is very much in vogue these days. If there were a Billboard chart for hot acronyms, “LPO” would clearly be rising with a bullet, heading near the top of the charts with other Internet marketing hits such as “SEO,” “SEM,” and “RSS.”

And for good reason: The landing page is the all-important first impression a prospect gets when visiting your Website. Figuring out how to make a better first impression can go a long way. For example, Dale and Thomas Popcorn, an Englewood, NJ-based merchant of (surprise) popcorn, was able to increase online sales more than 13% simply by optimizing its landing page.

But it’s important to remember that landing pages are just the beginning of the online sales process, and optimizing the pages subsequent to it is just as important. To be concerned only about improving your landing page would be the equivalent of trying to build a great baseball team while being concerned only about getting a great lead-off hitter who can get on base, steal bases, and generally wreak havoc on the basepaths. Such a hitter can make things happen, but a team will have much better success if it can also have equally great support later in the batting order.

Likewise, it’s important to think about product pages, shopping cart pages, billing pages, and other pages in your Website’s lineup. Optimizing these pages can pay equally high dividends as optimizing a landing page. When you consider that many companies lose 90% of their customers on credit-card pages alone, it should become clear that even the slightest improvements on these pages can make a major improvement to your bottom line.

There are three characteristics of the pages beyond the landing page that make them particularly ripe for optimization:

Ubiquity

People enter a site many ways — via a customized landing page, via a home page, and directly into a product page, to name a few. But for many Websites, just about every transaction needs to pass through a billing page and a shopping cart page. So improvements in these pages reap major rewards in your sites’ overall performance. A 2.5% improvement in conversion on a billing page can lead directly to a 2.5% improvement in overall sales for the Website.

Not as subject to burnout

For many sites, a frequent visitor might visit a home page or a landing page many times in a month. So you must keep these pages fresh with new products and new promotions. In contrast, pages deeper in the sales funnel, such as a credit-card page, are viewed far less frequently and don’t burn out as quickly. The lifespan of an improvement on one of these deeper pages, then, can be significantly longer than that of a typical landing page.

Require fewer creative resources

Creating an effective landing page often requires resources for graphics, images, and copy, which may be in short supply, time-consuming or expensive to create, or subject to politically charged approval processes. In contrast, substantial improvements on a billing page or a shipping page often requires no new creative elements at all. Sometimes simple HTML-based changes can do the trick. And making changes on these pages is less likely to raise the hackles of a creative director. Changing your Website’s slogan might require weeks of meetings and heated debate; changing the order of fields on a credit-card page is probably going to be of interest to a much smaller group of stakeholders.

Leading-edge merchants are already seeing huge dividends on improvements to the pages after landing pages. For example, after 30 days of multi-variable testing of its product pages, Overstock.com was able to increase its overall Website conversion rate by 3%. This may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that the Salt Lake City-based discounter does $800 million in revenue a year on its Website, a 3% improvement on a page that every transaction passes through (you can’t buy something unless you’ve chosen a product to purchase!) results in a $24 million increase in annualized revenue.

Similarly, through optimization of its billing page, BuildDirect, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based wholesaler of building products, was able to increase its overall Website conversion rate by 10.6%. The multivariable test that BuildDirect performed on its billing page involved testing 11 variables and more than 90 million permutations of the page. Yet virtually no original artwork was required to accomplish this sophisticated test.

So what can make a difference on these key pages? Here are some things to consider:

Try to reduce buyer’s anxiety

Many people get cold feet right at the point of purchase. Sometimes it’s good to remind them of policies that will lessen their fear of commitment. For example, book, music, and video/DVD merchant Time Life was able to increase sales nearly 8% by more prominently showcasing its money-back guarantee policy on its product page. As Brad Sockloff, the vice president of e-commerce at Time Life, observed, “Just having a money-back guarantee was not enough. Making sure it was promoted at the strategically right point in the sales funnel made a major difference.”

Remind the user that there is a light at the end of the tunnel

Many checkout processes are multistep affairs.You need to ask for shipping information, billing information, sizes, personalizations, and more. In the short-attention span world we live in, we run the risk that the prospect will decide it’s just not worth the effort. Sometimes just adding simple reassuring copy along the lines of “almost done!” at the right point can boost conversion rates.

Remove unnecessary form fields

For every field you ask a prospect to fill out, ask yourself why you are requesting that piece of information. Do you really need the prospect’s fax number? Are you ever actually going to use it? Do you really need to know your prospect’s title? Every additional question you ask has the potential to provide another excuse for some percentage of your visitors to exit the sales funnel.

Often the key items that make a difference on these pages are not the obvious ones. As such, the best way to uncover the things that matter is through multivariable testing of these pages. By testing many variables simultaneously, you have the ability to test many more factors on a page and uncover the sometimes seemingly inconsequential ones that can actually move the needle.

So “after landing page optimization” is here to stay. While it still may be in search of a great acronym (“ALPO” probably doesn’t cut it), there’s no question that it should be an integral part of every company’s online marketing efforts.


Mark Wachen is CEO of Optimost, a New York-based online technology and services provider specializing in real-time testing and conversion-rate enhancement.