The Art and Science of Landing Pages

Landing pages collage

If you’ve gotten past the novice stages of selling promotional products and apparel online, you might be trying out a new thing here and there. Maybe you’re dabbling in online advertising using a pay-per-click service like Google Adwords, or perhaps you’ve tried developing some unique content of your own to help with your search engine ranking. Maybe you’re even running some local advertising or sponsorships to draw new customer to your web site.

If so, you’ll soon start thinking about landing pages. Landing pages are what they sound like – a page on your site where visitors land before they (hopefully) take other actions, such as browsing, buying things, filling out a lead form or giving you a call. Any page on your site can be a landing page, although typically when someone enters your site at a specific product page, their destination is so focused that we don’t call that a landing (often it’s just an “entrance”).

In most other cases, though, visitors who arrive at your site need to know that they’ve arrived at the right place. Thus, a landing page might be a listing of products (a category page, for instance) that the user was searching for, a page of information specific to their search, or even a form that addresses their need in specific terms and asks them to sign up for something or request information.

Landing pages can be many different things, but in order to be effective, they need to be welcoming and relevant. Just as you would greet someone entering your retail establishment and ask them what you could help them with, a landing page immediately establishes your relationship with a prospective customer.

What About my Homepage?

Your homepage is, in essence your primary landing page. But your homepage has a problem – it has to be all things to all people, all at once. In its role as a general-purpose greeter, your homepage is more like the doorway to a mall – it’s an entrance point for browsing, but not the direct route to what a visitor might be looking for.

Landing pages, on the other hand, allow you to tailor content and messaging toward a specific audience or product need. You may sell apparel, promotional products, signage and even printing services, and there may be a few of your visitors that are interested in all of those. But if you have a customer just looking for one of those services, you can build a landing page for each service that speaks to your strengths, service and pricing for that service only.

Now, you might protest that you don’t want to get pigeonholed into specific services; you offer everything, and you do it well. That’s fine, and it can be a good message in any number of media. But on the internet, specificity wins. The more you say you do, the less likely you’ll be found for any one thing that you do (there are exceptions to this, obviously, like Amazon, but they are few and far between).

That’s because the holy grail for search engines is to offer up the exact content a visitor wants for the search terms they’ve entered. That means that, all other things being equal, a search engine will prefer a page that is very specifically relevant to the search terms a user entered, as opposed to a page with many different products or services. In practice, that means that a search for “travel drinkware” more likely will be directed to a page about “drinkware” or “travel drinkware” rather than a page about promotional products in general (as I said, there are exceptions, especially with companies with extremely high general-product search ranking).

What Kind of Pages are These?

If you get someone to land directly on a product page, you’ve already won that battle – they’re (most likely) exactly where you want them. But for the rest of your visitors, it’s often beneficial to build or modify key pages on your site so that a “landing” visitor is more likely to stick around and take the action you’d like them to take. As an added benefit, if you’re running pay-per-click advertising, a relevant landing page actually increases your quality score, which reduces you cost per click and improves your ad position.

There are two primary types of landing pages that most e-commerce site owners should be maintaining:

Regular Site Pages: These are the pages on your site that have concentrated content that visitors often search for. For instance, these may be your major category pages (apparel, drinkware, writing instruments, etc.) or the pages where you describe and promote specific services in detail (printing, vehicle wraps, embroidery, etc.). These pages should be regularly maintained, updated and populated with the keywords that best fit the searches for that product or service.

Custom Landing Pages: These are pages you create on your own for a variety of purposes, for instance:

  • Advertising campaign landing pages: If you run an advertising campaign that is likely to attract new customers, rather than just sending them to a page of products, you might want a page that shows them products and (briefly) introduces your company to them. You can tell them a little about your company, your guarantee and so on before diving right into products.
  • Lead Capture landing pages: You might have a product or service that requires followup, estimation or other interaction that you can’t accomplish quickly on a web page. Lead capture landing pages very quickly state the benefits of filling out this form, and ask users for a small amount of information in order to continue the sales process.
  • SEO/Content Landing Pages: If you’re doing SEO work or building content to target a niche or long-tail product area, a landing page with those products and keywords can help you with ranking. We recently built a series of landing pages for very specific products that assisted both with pay-per-click and SEO.

Do I Need All This?

At the very least, you should maintain and optimize those built-in landing pages on your site, like your category pages. A little bit of keyword research can help you determine what kind of content to put on a given landing page. Good keyword content on your landing pages can improve your rankings for specific terms. But it needs to be balanced with content that welcomes visitors. Don’t go overboard with either; imagine a user coming to a landing page for the first time, and think of a message or description that will entice them to stick around.

Custom landing pages are a bit more work, but the payoff can be big, especially with advertising campaigns. For instance, if you are advertising a promotion or discount, your custom landing page can reinforce that messaging and guide a visitor directly into purchasing. You might even advertise to specific audiences, or based on seasonal criteria; the more specific the message, the more important that it be reinforced after someone clicks on the ad.

However far you decide to go, make sure you test your landing page strategy with analytics. Many companies see massive improvements in landing page performance with very small changes – a button moved up the page, a color change, a different headline. With analytics (Google Analytics now offers free A/B testing with its Experiments tool), you can fine-tune your landing pages so that they deliver exactly what you want most: more customers.

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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HTML5 Banners and Animations

As many of you know, Adobe’s Flash technology is on its way out, at least for the kind of animations and banners that most companies feature on their homepages. Flash animations do not work with Apple’s mobile devices, which now constitute a large chunk of the web browsing public. In general, Flash animations do not work well with any “touch” device because of technical limitations. In order to keep our clients at the forefront of web and mobile technology, eBlox is pleased to offer two new services:

  • Flash conversion: If you have any Flash-based content on your home page, eBlox will rebuild it in HTML5, which works in all modern browsers and touch devices. HTML5 is the standard that most web sites and devices are moving toward, so conversion of your animations, including their interactive features and buttons, is a wise move for forward-thinking company store managers.
HTML5 Banner sample graphics

HTML5 banners have interaction and animation, and work on all modern browsers.

  • HTML5 Animation: eBlox will create original HTML5 animations and presentations for your homepage or other site areas (we’ve got a couple of good examples in this project and this one). HTML5 banners work on almost all mobile and touch devices, such as iPads and other tablets, and have the same type of animation, interactivity and “gee-whiz” factor as Flash animations. If you’d like a quote on HTML5 animations or banners for your company store (or any site you manage), please contact us for a quote.

Are QR Codes a Retro Marketing Miracle?

QR Code for www.eblox.com

Scan this with your cameraphone - you'll wind up at eBlox.com

QR codes are popping up everywhere these days, from store windows to packaging to magazine ads. You’ve probably seen them; they look an awful lot like a cross between a bar code and badly-pixelated artwork from a 1980s video game. They’re black and white with big squares on three of the corners and, like their more primitive counterpart, the UPC barcode, they store encoded information in that mass of glitchy-looking pixels.

More information, in fact, than the short set of numbers that a barcode can represent. Originally designed to help automate car manufacturing, QR codes—the QR stands for “Quick Response”—are now employed by marketers of all stripes to transmit a large block of information in an image, often to a phone.

The general idea is this: You see something that interests you —say, an ad, a sign or a shelf tag in a store—and you take your smartphone and snap a picture of the QR code that’s displayed along with it. Many smartphone apps can read these codes and take action on them. For instance, the Google app on your iPhone can decode a QR code directly and read the information from it (the Google app, along with many others, can also do the same nifty trick with regular barcodes).

It’s pretty cool, and there’s something satisfying about deciphering this clutter of computer-generated code into its real-world output. QR codes are also compact, can be printed just about anywhere, and require nothing more than a quick snapshot from your camera to record their information. In some ways, they’re like the quickest note you’ve ever taken.

Take Me Back

Yet if taking a picture of a strange, pixelated code seems a little bit, well, dated to you, that’s because it is. The format of QR codes is almost 20 years old, and there’s something quaint (and, to my mind, a little bit backwards) about scanning codes to get information. In this world of wireless communication, texting, instant messaging, Bluetooth and apps, it’s odd to have to take a picture of a code to get vital information about a company or product.

In fact, if you’re a geek like me, this may give you an overwhelming sense of déjá vu. Back in the late 90s, when the first internet boom was just gearing up, a product called the CueCat was released that did much the same thing – except you had to plug it into your PC in order to read the barcodes. Wired and a number of other magazines joined in briefly with the CueCat hysteria, printing odd slanted barcodes in their publications that you could scan with a cat-shaped reader (I’m not kidding) and have the information input directly to your PC. Because, you know, typing the URL of a website was such a chore – you needed a plastic cat with a cable for a tail to do it for you.

Of course, we now have smartphones with capable cameras, so you don’t need a fake feline to read the codes, and the web browser in your phone can go directly to the web site or resource that the QR code specifies. But, this leads to my primary problem with the current excitement over QR codes—do we really need them? In most cases, at least in a marketing or retail environment, they’re used to transmit very simple information, like the web address of a company. For the marketers, they do have the advantage of also transmitting that the visitor arrived via a QR code—which is great for the marketers to know, but useless for the consumer, who just wants to get information.

So, scan a code with your smartphone, wind up at a website. It’s not too hard to type the URL of a website into your phone (some of you with fat fingers might disagree with me, but still), so it’s tough to see QR codes in a marketing or retail campaign as much more than a gimmick. Mind you, I’m not suggesting QR codes or any type of barcoding are gimmicky when used in situations like purchasing, badge scanning, manufacturing, and so on. But in an ad for a beer company that takes you to that beer company’s website and nothing more? That’s a gimmick.

Which is not to say gimmicks are a bad thing. Many of them work, especially if they have a gee-whiz factor, and QR codes get people excited about what their smartphones can do. Look, it’s a scanner! The risk with any gimmick, however, is whether or not it will hold its appeal.

Should You Use Them?                   

For marketers looking to make it simple for their customers to get to their e-commerce website or download their app, QR codes are a potentially risky investment. Luckily, they’re inexpensive to implement and relatively innocuous—few consumers will be bothered by the presence of a small barcode in an ad or on packaging or signage. Still, it’s worth considering some of the threats to the long-term livelihood of this old-school technology:

  1. Wireless replacements: While wireless technology might not supplant QR codes printed in magazine and newspapers, elsewhere the threat of wireless technology is very real. Google and others have put their support behind NFC (Near Field Communication), which is a technology very similar to the SmartPass gas station payment cards and security system access cards that many of your currently use. NFC and RFID (a similar system that is slowly replacing barcoding in many warehousing and distribution systems) both constitute substantial threats to QR codes as they become more inexpensive and ubiquitous. After all, if you could get information about a product just by waving your phone near it (instead of holding up and focusing your camera) wouldn’t that be much simpler? As these technologies get even cheaper and smaller, don’t be surprised to find an NFC code in your favorite magazine or in a shelf talker at your grocery store.
  2. Limitations: While QR codes can store many times the information of a barcode, they’re still very limited in most forms. They’re fine for a website URL, a link to an app, or a special link to a promotion, but they’re not too useful for longer-form information. It’s best to think of QR codes as a quick way to transmit a short blast of information—at most, someone’s full contact info – but not much else.
  3. Fatigue: Like all gimmicks, QR codes run the risk of becoming passé, even as they enter the mainstream. As a supplementary form of marketing your product, there’s nothing wrong with throwing a QR code onto your marketing materials. But any marketing strategy that relies purely on QR codes for user response is likely going to be short-lived.

In a strange way, QR codes are actually forward-thinking: they are geared primarily toward mobile users of smartphones. Mobile web usage is skyrocketing and there’s no doubt that a good deal of the future of marketing lies on the mobile web. If you do build QR code campaigns, make absolutely sure that your landing pages (the pages that users go to when they scan the QR code) are mobile-friendly. But I’d recommend against building your mobile strategy on QR codes—they’ll likely be replaced by more advanced technology before you know it.

- Brent Buford

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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