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Lessons in Conversion Centered Design: 7 Arm-Twisting Persuasion Techniques for Your Landing Pages

Conversion Centered Design is a strange two-headed beast. On one side it aims to utilize principles of User Centered Design; usability, clear & relevant communication, targeted design and ease of navigation. On the other is a relentless desire to coerce visitors down a one-way sales funnel, where navigation and exploration are actively discouraged.

Standalone landing pages differ from websites in that they are designed to persuade you to engage in a single offer, product or service. Typically used for promotion based marketing, the job of the landing page is to take an interested party - who clicked on a display banner or paid search ad - and convince them to convert right here and now (as opposed to the self-guided exploration facilitated on a website).

Here are 7 methods you can use on your next landing page to persuade your visitors to convert:

7 persuasion techniques to make your landing pages convert better.

1. Learn to point - subtlety is not your friend

Pointing is rude in some cultures, but when you live in Conversionland you need to learn to be more direct. It's called a Call To Action (CTA) for a reason - the action needs to be called out.

Use directional cues to direct your visitor's attention to the CTA, and while you're at it turn out the lights on the emergency exit sign, there are no distractions allowed here.

Examples of directional cues

This example illustrates the use of arrows and color to draw attention to the call to action.

  • Arrows: Use graphical arrows to explicitly point at your call to action. If your CTA lies below the fold (the button on a lead gen form), design the header of the form area so that it contains an arrowed edge pointing downwards to the button. You can also place an arrow outside the boundaries of your design to interrupt the standard lines of your layout - a dramatic way to lead the eye.
  • Direction of View: If you include photos of people or animals on your landing page, directing their gaze at your conversion goal enhances it's visual importance.
  • Color: Contrasting or emotionally charged colors can quickly direct focus and attention. Although some colors are known to produce specific responses (orange emotes energy, enthusiasm, and a 'get-it-done' attitude), the important thing is to make it stand out.

A real world Example of subtle design persuasion

There's really no ambiguity with the intended action here. CTA win!

2. Let your visitors eat a free grape

Taking one grape isn't going to hurt anyone right? (Source Oliver Macdonald - Wiki Commons)

We all do it - plucking a grape from the bunch and doing an impromptu taste test - some with a little less shoplifters guilt than others (I always find myself looking around to see if anyone is looking before consuming the grape amidst a blatantly conspicuous cough). Nonetheless it seems to have become an internationally recognized form of acceptable thievery.

As a conversion centered marketer you can learn from this by allowing your visitors to taste your wares without fear of recrimination.

The preview

If at all possible give people a preview of what you're selling. Giving away an eBook in exchange for personal data? Provide chapter 1 as a free PDF on your landing page. Some people will realize they don't want your product after all, but it's better that you separate the wheat from the chaff now as opposed to gathering 500 meaningless leads from unqualified prospects.

Amazon shows a classic example of this principle with their "Look Inside" feature that lets you read a portion of the book in advance.

In transparency we trust

By opening your product to scrutiny before the purchase you appear confident. This increases trust in a big way and is an important factor in boosting conversions.

3. The M.I.R.B.O. Principle

Make It Really Bloody Obvious.

You should know by now that web folks are super impatient, and if they have to spend precious time figuring out your point you're going to convert poorly. Some quick insights to help you improve your clarity.

  • Ensure that your primary headline matches your upstream ad: This is conversion 101 and allows your visitors to relax a little knowing they are in the right place.
  • One goal per landing page please! Good multitasking is not a character trait that should be required to understand your offer. If you want to entice a subsequent action from your visitors you can always invite them to do it later on a confirmation page. This is known as post-conversion marketing.
  • Make the CTA bigger: This request is usually reserved for the logo, but on a landing page you should try making your CTA massive (and being bigger than your logo is a good start)
  • Get to the point: Use bullet points to allow for quick absorption of information.

4. Popular + busy = good

If it's this busy then it's probably good. (Source Wiki Commons).

Sheep and lemmings are two of the most gullible creatures on the planet, haplessly following the guy directly in front of them with reckless abandon (in the case of the lemming).

They are being influenced by the crowd, something that happens to people in the real world and increasingly online too.

The power of social proof

Social proof is created by the statistics and actions of a particular crowd and it can greatly enhance the "me too" factor. The major benefit is a level of authentic believability. Take the example in the photo opposite where the lineup outside the store makes you believe that something important is going on even if you don't know what it is. This can result in the car crash effect - where passersby will stop and stare. Similarly, if you can provide a sense that something is happening in your community from within your landing page design you might leverage a few extra seconds of attention to impress your message upon a visitor.

Some ways to show social proof

I'll try it if you do!

To show popularity and busyness together you need to pull from a number of sources in your social networks and business connections.

  • Follower counts: This is a simple one. If you have 10,000 followers (as opposed to 15) on Twitter or Facebook some people will view this as an important sign that you are established and popular.
  • Social streams: This is where you inject the busyness. By including a social stream widget on your landing page you provide a direct window to your community in real time. Just be sure not to overwhelm your primary CTA.
  • Testimonials: A bit old school, but still very effective. The more well known the person the better. Even more powerful are links to proof of the testimonial's use of your product/service in action.

5. Make them care

One of the first questions your landing page messaging needs to answer is "What can this do for me?" Desire breeds conversion and in order for people to care your content needs to be relevant to their needs. There are a few ways to achieve this:

  • Solve a timely problem: Granted, not every product or service has the opportunity to be riding the latest meme, but if you are you'll know that the crest of a wave never stays around forever.
  • Focus on the benefits: Explain how you can improve someone's quality of life rather than simply listing features. Benefits are directly relatable whereas features require the reader to infer how it will help them. A good example would be: "The McSweeper is so thin it can clean under your fridge" vs "The McSweeper is only 1 inch high at the base". (Note: made up example).
  • Show the context of use: Following on from my last point, you can really foster that "I gotta have it!" feeling by showing your product in use. Adding a short video or photo that actually shows the McSweeper sliding underneath a fridge is a compelling image.

Two other ways to make people care are covered in points #6 and #7 below.

6. Create a Sense of Urgency

Buy Now is the effect you want, but the use of this type of image always makes me shudder.

If possible, make your offer time sensitive to increase the need to "buy now".

You can kill two birds with one stone if you ask for some personal data (with a lead gen form) in exchange for a discount coupon code with an expiration date.

Warning: don't be false about this. We all know that you can order the Slap Chop outside of "the next 20 minutes" because he says the same thing 2 hours later the next time the commercial runs.

As far as using cheesy starburst graphics like the one opposite, they are totally fine and can be a good way to highlight the time sensitive nature of your offer. The only rule I like to follow is to restrict this type of verbiage to labels and never use them on your actual CTA, which should provide a specific indication of what will happen upon clicking (for example: download our eBook, book an appointment etc).

7. Be better than the competition

Just because people arrived at your landing page from an ad doesn't mean they aren't shopping around. Stats at Unbounce show that people re-visit landing pages more than once. This could be because they are comparison shopping by clicking on multiple ads from the same source (Google or an affiliate website).

This is more of a rule to live by, but you should always strive to be better than your competition. Part of this is research - spend a little time in your customers' shoes and click on competing ads to see their landing pages.

Improve yourself with a critique

By critiquing the landing pages of your competition you will inevitably point out flaws in your own designs. Look at them side by side to see who does the best job by ranking them against the 7 techniques presented here.

Then do what it takes to make your landing pages better and you'll reap the rewards in increased conversions.

Oli Gardner | @unbounce

Oli Gardner is the Director of Inbound Marketing at Unbounce.com. Using his background in usability and interaction design to write on the subjects of conversion centered design and landing page marketing theory.

Unbounce is a self-serve hosted service that enables marketers to create, publish and A/B test landing pages without the need for IT or other specialized resources.

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Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
In truth the basics of landing page design and construction (writing, messaging and design) are pretty difficult at first - but once you learn the basic principles they become a lot simpler - letting you expand your horizons into the realm of pure experimentation - which is where it gets fun!

If you have any questions about my post please engage and I'd be happy to jump in for answers.

# Posted By Oli Gardner | 4/14/10 3:21 AM
Great post Oli. I really enjoyed reading through it.

We conduct a lot of split tests and when creating optimized test versions, we typically run through a list of potential updates very similar to the ones you've listed in your blog post. And they've all proved to be great techniques. So successful indeed, that I wonder if at some point there'll be a proliferation of identikit landing pages out there on the interwebs. Any thoughts on this?
# Posted By Neal | 4/14/10 9:18 AM
It can take a while for those with classical usability training to understand that being "usable" is not the same as being persuasive. Sometimes the less usable design wins. (I'm sure Neal knows exactly which experiment I'm referring to...)
# Posted By Michael Straker | 4/14/10 11:07 AM
Thanks Neal, much appreciated.

That's an interesting question. I think that as the discipline of using landing pages for marketing promotions increases (it's been said that 2010 is the year of conversion optimization), we're going to see a lot more time and research being put into studying the effects of layout and design on conversion.

This might lead to a series of what are considered the best page templates to use for a given goal.

But generally, every business goal and scenario has different requirements for content and design that will keep this at bay to a point.

The tipping point would naturally be someone coming along with the statistical evidence to "prove" that a certain set of templates converts best (with all other things being equal).

However, like owning a custom t-shirt with a cool phrase on it - you might convert (by having people like it or laugh at it) - despite the fact that the t-shirt (sans writing) is the same as everyone else's.

Point being, that well crafted and targeted messaging will always be a massive part of the conversion equation and the best will always rise to the top despite their platform.
# Posted By Oli Gardner | 4/15/10 1:16 AM
Hi Michael,

Excellent point you're making. Conversion centered design is a fairly new discipline (at least as far as the term is concerned) and has to let go of a few of the classic usability principles and not champion the user experience with quite such voracity. This is obviously made easier by the lack of navigational structures and site hierarchy (for standalone landing pages).

It does make it a really fun mindset though to be so singularly focused on trying to persuade a prospect to participate in a single focused objective.

A/B testing is the perfect venue to uncover the differences - it's always really surprising to see what wins in the end.
# Posted By Oli Gardner | 4/15/10 1:24 AM
Hi Oli,

The hard part, of course, is coming up with good test variations. Your initial post outlines some great guidelines!

I'd just add that it's very helpful to talk to your customers and find out what really motivates them. Then you can develop test pages that press all the right buttons.
# Posted By Michael Straker | 4/16/10 3:26 PM