Folks have made a habit of emphasizing the home page of your Web site as the Sacred Portal through which your visitors enter the cyber-structure of your business. As if all other avenues of entry were blocked, and the process could only start at Square One.
Yeah, right. Everyone knows the process can start at any square that is readable by the search engines. And you can directly influence the starting square through pay-per-click advertisements and email campaigns. It is possible your visitors can arrive and start digging deeper into your conversion process without ever bothering over your home page.
They'll arrive on a landing page - something very much like a focused mini home page - and how successful you are at catching them will depend on what you do with that page.
Landing pages are always sales process pages. They always constitute a step in the conversion process of catching pre-qualified traffic and moving it along its way to taking action. That action might be a micro-action, yet another step in the conversion process. Or it could be the macro-action, the ultimate conversion goal you have for your visitors.
A sales process page actively persuades your visitor to accomplish some phase (and sometimes all phases) of the 5 step selling process . There aren't hard and fast rules I can give you for which pages need to be treated as sales process pages - that will be specific to your business and your objectives. For someone selling candles, the About Us page is probably not going to be a sales process page. However, for someone selling consulting services, the About Us page could easily be critical to the sales process.
A while ago, we discussed what needed to happen on your home page to satisfy the information folks really need when they land there. This holds broadly for your landing pages, too. If a landing page is the first interaction a visitor has with your Web site, it needs to accommodate the home page function:
Unlike any old page, your landing pages can and should be constructed to reinforce the reason your visitors landed there. When they come to you through your intentional online marketing strategies, either by pay-per-click or email, your visitors have a significantly higher degree of interest. You have given them a purpose to come. They see a pay-per-click about a specific MP3 player offer, you'd better make sure the landing page is obviously relevant to that offer (for heaven's sake, don't pay to qualify your traffic and then send them to your home page). They read a new book review in one of your email newsletters with a product link, that link had better take them to the relevant page.
On top of your own marketing strategies, you get traffic from Google, MSN, AOL, Overture, each of which suggests different usage characteristics and behavior. The folks who google tend to do X, while the folks who use MSN tend to prefer Y.
This raises the question of whether you should design different landing pages to serve the same overall function, but targeted to the different questions and motivations your visitor is likely to have.
I've got an answer: Yep. Conversion starts with a single click, even before a visitor lands on your Web site. If she gets what she wants, she'll click again. With each click, she's more convinced you have what she wants. Implement the conversation she expects, and she'll be delighted. She wants to buy from you. You make that possible every time you give her exactly what she wants.
Your overall online responsibility to this person is to figure out what she'll ask and where she'll ask it, then optimize your site based on that. Your landing pages must do a special job in motivating visitors who are more often than not specifically prequalified.
Just remember. If folks turn right around and leave, they didn't really land and they ain't caught!