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Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 at 9:00 am

When Landing Page Optimization Isn’t Enough

By Bryan Eisenberg
August 14th, 2009

extreme makeover san jose 09As I was preparing for my SES Extreme Makeover session, analyzing the lucky businesses that were chosen for a free makeover, I became fascinated with a particular e-commerce site.

There was no question that the pages on this site performed exceptionally well. Bounces were under 20 percent and the exit rates were very low. I also knew this company had been testing using Google Website Optimizer.

Clearly, this company was dedicated to continual improvement and working hard to improve its conversion rate. The analytics shouted proof that someone was minding the store.

So why was its overall conversion rate painfully low?

I dug deeper into the analytics, going back and forth between the numbers and the site. Then I knew exactly what was wrong. I was curious if my staff would be able to see exactly what I saw.

As much as I’d like to brag about my staff for being brilliant (they indeed are), I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, they’re trained to look where others don’t. Without hesitation, they saw exactly what I saw.

All Is Well…on the Surface

The marketing was good and relevant, the site was well designed, the landing pages and product pages were sticky, and traffic seemed to move through the site with ease. Even the checkout process was good. Instead, the site suffered from a severe persuasion scenario problem.

The site attracted interested prospects and gave them enough big call-to-action buttons and shiny products to browse, but made it difficult, even impossible, for prospects to gain any resolve to buy the right product for them. This is a site with a slow drip. Prospects are falling off one by one in hundreds of different places. It’s proof that landing page optimization isn’t enough.

Moving Beyond Best Practices, Usability, and Testing

Joel Spolsky best summed up this site’s dilemma in “User Interface Design for Programmers“:

Usability is not everything. If usability engineers designed a night club it would be clean, quiet, brightly lit, with plenty of places to sit down, plenty of bartenders, menus written in 18-point sans-serif, and easy-to-find bathrooms. But nobody would be there. They would all be down the street at Coyote Ugly pouring beer on each other.

The site is nice, well lit, well run, but not selling. So how do you begin fixing the problem? First, you have to understand it a bit.

We created a simple, one-dimensional persona who was early in her buying process. She knew she needed a certain product but didn’t know where to start. The site sells sporting recreational goods with the average price point in the hundreds of dollars. This isn’t an impulse-buy type of site.

We clicked through the site as this persona and, no matter where we started, we ended up hitting a virtual brick wall, confused and frustrated. The site seems to have good prices but little guidance on what products are best for the beginner. The site even offers packages to make it easier for the customer.

Yet it didn’t help the persona answer the question: which is the right package for me? Even when we were a persona further along in the buying process, we still had a heck of time sorting and finding the right products for our need.

Simple persuasion issues not addressed on product pages and category landing pages are the Lilliputians sucking the lifeblood out of the site’s conversion rate. Proof again that too many sites spend way too much time and money on best practices and page performance to the detriment of site performance.

The Good News

This site will get a makeover that will undoubtedly stop many of the drips. Some solutions are as simple as adding a little copy to category pages, creating several pages specifically addressing the needs of different buyers, and leveraging some great content already on the site.

The site can serve as a lesson to those of you who have come up short on your optimization expectations. It can remind you to optimize not just for better page performance but also for the actual visitor using those pages.

Here are a few steps you can take if you’re suffering from a slow-drip persuasion scenario problem:

  1. Start with a simple persona, putting her in a typical buying process for your product or service.
  2. Click through the site as that persona, doing your best to pretend that you don’t know where the content she needs is. Is it easy for her to find? Did she get distracted by something else? Does the content do what you intended it to do: does it move users forward through the site and give them greater resolve that they have found or will find the right product for them?
  3. Run a usability test. Sometimes it’s hard to see your site with fresh eyes; you may need to bring in some help.
  4. Remember that site engagement metrics, like bounce and exit rates, click-throughs, and time spent on site, are important key performance indicators. If your site’s engagement metrics look healthy and your conversion rate remains low or unchanged, you must now focus on selling and persuading the customer, not designing the right button or searching for a better hero image on a landing page or even finding better qualified traffic. You will likely need to create some content that will help visitors find the product they need and want. That’s a persuasion issue, not a usability or best practices issue.

Are you spinning your wheels, looking at your site analytics and running out of things to optimize or test? If you’re willing to share your situation with my ClickZ readers, tell me your story. My staff and I will select one or two sites to look under the hood of and share findings in a future column.

Add Your Comments

Comments (27)

  1. Great article, Bryan! I see this problem all the time. People want to do a landing page (or optimize their current one) because it seems like a quick way to get a great return. Well, that’s not always the case. More often than not, it’s best to focus on existing pages and scenarios on the site and make sure they square up with the traffic that’s being driven there.

    When product and category pages (for instance) are done right, they can be used as landing pages, so customers with bigger questions about the product or brand can dig deeper and, hopefully, gain confidence to buy.

  2. Bryan,
    I’ve been reading your site and receiving your newsletters for quite a while. You always have rock solid information and I’ve never left your site without some nugget I can use later on.

    This was a great article, especially for those of us who have multiple product lines.

  3. Excellent post Bryan, well said. Page optimisation can be easily addicted to and technical so that the most important element is easily forgotten. Understanding your product and your customer is still the gold. Thanks for the great article.

  4. Good article. I am near the beginning of testing I feel for my website in general, I have ran about 5 to 6 tests in Google Website optomizer so far. I just started testing my UVP on my home page and it looks like that one change alone will increase my conversion rate to my shopping cart page, around 81.0% improvement. Needly to say I am very excited.

  5. Hey Bryan,

    Great post! I actually had a client just last week with the same issue. They had a bounce rate in the 20s, good pageviews per visit and time on site but a conversion rate under 1 percent. We ended up approaching someone we didn’t know and had them walk through the site and tell us if they could find what they’re looking for.

    Very timely post. Sometimes your usability and reach is awesome but your site still sucks.


  6. You are right Bryan.Sometimes Landing page Optimization isn’t enough.In fact clean categorization plays an important role and can always affect your Conversion rate.

  7. Great post, Bryan.

    I really love your nightclub-analogy.

    In your face, Jacob Nielsen :-)

  8. Excellent point Bryan – especially for women.

    Women tend to have even more questions than men. One of the number one complaints I hear from the women I survey is that the website does not answer their questions.

    And yes, one of the biggest questions is “which product is right for me and my particular situation?”

    I also love the nightclub analogy :)

  9. Good article. I am near the beginning of testing I feel for my website in general. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Great article. This is something that is very difficult to do if you are too close to the information. I need to have someone look at my own sites and review them for these problems.

  11. Great article Bryan. Thanks.

  12. Hey Bryan,
    It’s a nice read.
    I think Landing Page optimization is good trick to get the quick result. But there are others facts as well we need to consider on like you have discussed, categorization of your content and site always plays big role in web optimization.

  13. When Landing Page Optimization Isn’t Enough;
    We are already to optimize the other pages.

  14. Bryan,the article is very great.thanks!

  15. HI,Bryan,thanks

  16. Bryan, just goes to show that internet marketing is still marketing and you need to 1) differentiate and 2) appeal to your audience. You captured these two ideas in this article. Cheers!

  17. [...] When Landing Page Optimization Isn’t Enough [...]

  18. [...] When Landing Page Optimization Isn’t Enough [...]

  19. This is an insightful article.
    Landing page Optimization has an access to have a quick result.
    But it is far from enough.

  20. This just goes to show you that there is always more testing that can be done and it is a never ending cycle.

  21. It’s pretty difficult to build a good landing page…

  22. Pretending to be a customer and clicking through ones own site is such a simple idea and yet I have never thought of it before. I am going to run it on my own site right now.

  23. Good article. I am near the beginning of testing I feel for my website in general. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Having a potential buyer on the web site makes a big difference, since all of the reports may not give you what you can see from a real potential customer. I will recommend having even more buyers. Web site can encourage this approach with free coupons or gifts just to have better focus group.

  25. I outsource landing pages to professionals. I am not good at designing landing pages.

  26. I’ve been reading your site and receiving your newsletters for sometime now. It’s best to focus on existing pages and scenarios on the site rather than landing pages.

  27. I am about to implement my first landing page and welcoem your advice.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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