8 ways your organization is sabotaging its landing pages

Part 1

In its 2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report, marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa  identified 8 common practices that sabotage commercial marketers’ landing page performance.

Reading the report, I was struck by how many of these behaviors also plague performance on nonprofit websites. I’ve encountered every single one of them in my 7 years as a nonprofit consultant. Fortunately, their existence doesn’t spell doom—it spells opportunity.

Here is a summary of the operational behaviors that can sabotage landing page performance and some strategies for dealing with them:

  • HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) decide: Do you let the arbitrary opinion of the highest paid person in your organization (or marketing team) determine what goes live on your web pages instead of data-driven insight?  The preferences of senior management may have little or nothing to do with the preferences of your site visitors. The smaller the organization, the more difficult this is to overcome. Your best bet is to develop their confidence and begin sharing information about the benefits LPO can have on the bottom line. As they gain familiarity with data-driven testing and decision-making, they may be more open to trying new ideas and measuring their impact. This is the first step in developing an internal culture more friendly to user-driven design.
  • Tyranny of “best practices”:Do you let industry norms (i.e. what everyone else is doing) drive decision-making about what goes onto your landing pages instead of your audience?  Others’ best practices are not necessarily the best practices for you. Moreover, you have no idea whether those practices you’re adopting were validated through objective inquiry.
  •  Copycat syndrome: Related to the previous example, do you adopt a competitor’s page design because you heard it works so well for them, it’s surely got to work great for you too?  It’s important to recognize that your audience may have different wants, needs and experiences than the one you’re copying–and respond differently to the same techniques. Even if you think your audience is similar, you have no idea if these techniques were validated through objective findings, as previously noted.
  • Control freak: Have you put someone in charge of landing page content that’s data-phobic or fundamentally distrustful of letting users decide what they like best?  These folks invariably decide with their gut, or unquestioningly use whatever has been done in the past, with unknown consequences to your bottom line.
  • Artistry not usability: Do you let design considerations (site color palette, background pattern, a beautiful image, etc.) drive landing page design instead of usability principles? Do you design without consideration for web usability principles?  Beauty and usability are not the same thing. On landing pages featuring an important conversion goal, clarity, simplicity and value are what drive results—not aesthetics. Letting web designers create landing pages with no input from staff with direct response experience is a recipe for trouble.  Make sure that someone with knowledge of web usability principles is involved in development of landing pages used for fundraising and other top online goals. If it’s difficult to win support for a cleaner, simpler design, running an A/B test is one way to build your case—hard data on what your site users prefer is pretty hard to ignore.
  • We’re lazy: Does your organization use the same page wrapper (with full navigation, competing calls to action) as the rest of the website because it’s the only one you have?  Pages used for important conversion goals require a different approach from content pages on your site. All of the elements on a landing page featuring a top conversion goal should reinforce, not compete with, your main call-to-action (home pages are an exception).  It’s also important to recognize that different segments of your site traffic may have conflicting needs and behaviors. A design approach that works for one segment is likely sub-optimal for another, so customization of the landing page experience for key segments is the way to go. In my experience, it is well worth the time, money and effort required.
  • Sausage-making: No one’s said it better than Seth Godin: does your landing page copy resemble a “polished turd of prose that pleases everyone on the board and your marketing team” but excites no one who actually reads it?  Effective landing page copy must start a conversation. It should also use a consistent tone, be sincere and coherent, and state a clear point of view. This can’t often be achieved with lots of cooks in the kitchen.Restrict participation in the creative process to those who are familiar with the audience the content is being developed for, and those with a basic understanding of web usability and LPO. These folks are in a better position to write copy that’s relevant and engaging than those with little connection to the conversion process or those with no knowledge of your site visitors’ wants and needs.
  • It’s my baby: Have you been using the same page design for years for personal reasons, e.g. a page that someone in IT built long ago and feels personally attached to?  Page designs that live on your site for political or personal reasons will never be optimal user experiences for your supporters.This can be one of the trickiest problems to solve, but common ground can be found in what a successful fundraising page allows your organization to do—namely, devote more funds to your cause. If that point fails to resonate, you have the wrong person in charge of site content and that needs to change before real progress is possible.

Does your organization fall into any of these common traps? If the answer is yes, don’t despair.

Just like any 12-step program for recovery, the first step is admitting that you have a problem!

In next week’s post, I’ll describe a 10-step process (not the usual 12 – we know you’re busy!) for those who are ready to embrace data-driven decision making and chart a course toward improved usability on your landing pages.

Dawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

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