How to design a great landing page: 3 experts spill their secrets

Claire C. Lewis
Head of people

First impressions are just as important online as they are in real life. As we give users more and more choice, their patience for sifting through poorly designed landing pages gets lower and lower.

According to a 2012 study from Google and the University of Basel, users judge a website’s aesthetic beauty and perceived functionality in about 1/20th – 1/50th of a second. In less time than it takes you to snap your fingers, a user has decided whether to stick around and give you a chance or move onto the next thing. So what can we, as business owners and designers, do to stand out from the crowd? We spoke with 3 of the best landing page designers out there to understand the psychology, strategy, and secrets behind what makes a beautiful, high-converting landing page design.A landing page is only one part of your business. Ready to take it all to the next level? Click hereto join 45,000 entrepreneurs and creatives who get our weekly newsletter.

Give your landing page a single goal (yes, just one)

“The best landing pages are simple, with one goal,” explains Shar Biggers, founder of New York-based PROVOKE design studio who has worked on projects for Hillary Clinton, Sephora, Squarespace, and Clinique. Before you even start working on copy, design, or sharing inspiration, you should know exactly what the goal of this landing page design is. “It may sounds straightforward but often there are elements the client hasn’t thought of,” explains Simone Smyth, founder of Dublin-based HyperBrow Studio. “Are you looking to convert a sale, acquire user data, introduce a brand, or do all of the above? You need to approach each goal differently from a design and development point of view.” “The hierarchy of a Landing Page is critical to its success, so it’s very important for the client to decide what their ultimate goal is in developing the page.” This core goal is what will guide your entire design process and ensure that once you do launch, you know whether it was successful or not.

Write down everything you know about your customer

The first thing you should do when building a new landing page? Know your goal. The second? Know your audience. Just like you need to be clear about what you want to get out of this page, you need to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and think what they want to get out of it. Why should they stick around and give you what you’re after? The more you know about your target audience, the better chance a designer has at creating something that speaks directly to them. And no detail is too small: “[To start] I make myself familiar with their business, their industry, and what their competitors are doing in that space,” explains Shar. “I have them explain their sales process, their pipeline, who their customers are, their conversion or sales goals, and their brand. No matter what their needs are, this information is always relevant to the project.” This process led Shar to make specific design choices for a new members-only landing page for Everwise—a mentorship matchmaker service. Shar’s design is focused around highlighting social proof (who’s using the service) and customer success (96% match satisfaction) with the goal of getting a prospective lead to sign up for more info. Often landing pages are exclusive to a particular audience or clientele, which means you should already know enough about them to give your designer a clear breakdown of who they’re targeting.

Use just enough design to make your landing page stand out from the crowd

As we mentioned before, you have milliseconds to grab a user’s attention. Which means that before you even get into finessing copy, your site has to ‘feel’ right. Harmut Esslingen, the German designer who helped shape the iconic look of Apple products in the 1980s, followed the guiding principle that ‘form follows emotion’. Let’s use your website as an example. When you first visit a site there are certain prototypical elements you expect to see: things like a navigation bar at the top or side for getting around, or a check-out in the top right corner for an e-commerce site. When a site doesn’t conform to these expectations it’s harder for our brains to decode and we almost automatically judge it as poorly designed. However, when it comes to a landing page with a single, clearly defined goal, following these conventions can actually backfire. “A lot of our clients have been MVP or start-ups and their concern is to make sure they do things ‘right’. I think ‘right’ to them means whatever is considered conventional in that space,” explains Simone. “I think we all have a predetermined idea of what a landing page looks like but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right approach.” “Design is critical here to cut-through the competition. You can achieve this through illustration, video, or typography—there is no set formula. “In my opinion none of this should be formulaic because every business is different and more importantly every audience is different. Apple shouldn’t be following the same formula as a small coffee brand and so on.” “Clean and minimal is typically best, but often we undervalue remaining innovative,” adds Shar. “We tend to reserve this for the main website itself, but it’s important for landing pages and all digital advertising (banners and pop-ups) as well. My current favorite email capture page is by, Lenny.”

Focus on user experience to turn visitors into customers

Once you’ve grabbed a user’s attention and convinced them to stick around, the real work begins. “When it comes to designing great landing pages our main rule of thumbs is to consider the term ‘surface delight’ and to reduce the level of pain for the user. Questions we always try to ask ourselves are: ‘does this make it a better experience?’ and ‘Does it add value to the brand?’” explains Jesper Balzer, Managing Director of ajukreizi, a Copenhagen-based agency that has worked with clients like Universal Music and Roskilde Festival. When Jesper and his team were commissioned by Foodscene to build a landing page for their complex food app, they decided to hone in on the emotions of the brand, using a full-screen video to push users to download the app. The result is a conversion rate where 1/3 visitors from the landing page convert to paying customers. Similarly, when Simone was asked to creating a landing page for the Science Gallery Dublin there wasn’t a clear ‘ask’ other than to get users engaged. So they focused on creating a unique user experience. “This may seem bizarre to some but the Science Gallery know their audience. They’re young, curious and consider themselves different to the rest of their peers. So the brief was to create a landing page that resonated with this particular audience.” “Our job as designers and developers was to come up with a landing page that would act as a gateway into the exhibition microsite. If we did our jobs well, then our user would be so engaged by the landing page they’d want to continue through to the site and explore the exhibition online before visiting the Science Gallery in reality.” In both of these cases, the designer channeled the client’s brand to create a page that enhanced the experience for users who were already interested. For Shar, utilizing what a brand already has—the emotions connected to it, what customers already think of it—is a core part of what makes a landing page successful. “Branding is by far the biggest SEO strategy today, including a beautifully written story and visual experience that’s consistent across all digital platforms. A brand’s ties to people’s search history and queries directly relate to who will see their content, especially their landing pages.

Build. Measure. Learn. Repeat.

A successful landing page is a living organism. You can’t just set it and forget it, hoping that it does what you planned it to. Measuring and learning from data is one of the most important ways to get the most out of your campaign. And while you will already know what your key success metric is based on step 1, you can track other metrics to track to see whether or not your design is helping or hindering your cause. “The biggest design metric I think about is the bounce rate in relation to mobile versus desktop. If you find users leaving your landing pages on mobile quicker than desktop, there is likely a problem with the user experience on the mobile page,” explains Shar. “If there are low conversions on the landing page all together, that could mean many things. But primarily it means you aren’t presenting the users with the information they want or find valuable. Sometimes it’s the smaller things like, your capture form is too long, or there is too much information on the landing page.” Google Analytics will let you track things like bounce and exit rates. But if you want to go even deeper, both Simone and Jesper suggest using a service like Hotjar, which gives you a breakdown of where users are ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ on your site. “This is great for ascertaining drop off areas and even basic areas to watch out for like the user journey,” explains Simone.To break it all down, a good landing page design needs 5 things:

  1. A deep understanding of what the most important goal is
  2. A deep understanding of who the ideal customer is
  3. A unique design that grabs attention
  4. A delightful experience that makes users want to convert
  5. The ability to track and measure users’ actions

The one thing you should take away from all this is that landing pages can’t be based on cookie cutter designs. Each page needs to balance your goals and what your users want and need. A great landing page design delights and informs. It gives your user what they were looking for instead of tricking them into signing up for something they don’t.

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