The Ultimate Startup Landing Page Guide

It’s a common mistake of early stage startups to start marketing their product when it’s already usable – at least as an MVP. There’s a huge potential in terms of saving time, getting visibility, scaling and segmenting your market if you set up a professionally crafted pre-launch landing page. Below I share most of the tricks and hustles I learned about how to craft the perfect pre-launch landing page. Although there’s no Holy Grail in growth hacking, moreover, being original is always the most beneficial, the ideas below may save you time and money, while supporting your earliest stage growth – which is basically crucial for any startup.

Startup landing page basics and goal definition

Startups are usually setting up landing pages way before their launch, for these particular reasons:

–       Getting general feedback

–       A/B testing value proposition

–       Finding the perfectly resonating key message

–       Collecting email addresses

–       Getting PR and visibility on social media

In terms of the chosen technology, I’d highly recommend you using WordPress ‘coz there are a ton of downloadable landing page templates for it as well as great plugins – which will save you a ton of grunt work. The setup of a perfect pre-launch landing site shouldn’t take more than one day, and anyone can put it together without being a SW developer. Here’re the 21 key things you should pay attention to:

1. Make it load fast

There is a good deal of research showing that 40 % of your visitors will navigate away if your startup landing page is loading slower than 3 seconds. Quite obviously: make it load faster. Even if loading time is under 3 secs, make it as fast as you can – a quick loading time gives users a sense of dynamism and professionalism. Just optimize the hell out of it until it’s lightning-fast!

2. Define the mood

A landing site should be consistent in terms of the key message, images, fonts and colors. Defining the mood you want to “broadcast” is the initial step of a good landing page design. Match colors with this mood, as well as fonts, image and of course the key message itself.

3. Mind your key message

Your key message is a slightly broadened value proposition. It explains

A)   What you’re doing

B)   Who are your customers

C)   How you stand out

There are other ways to form a good key message, but the value for a specific type of people (your most probable future customers) should be included. You might want to communicate the end result of using your product, just like Tumblr did: “The easiest way to blog” or AirBnB: “Find a place to stay”. Don’t bug your visitors with a complicated scientific explanation – or they’re gonna disappear faster than Houdini.

4. Keep it short and clear

The key message shouldn’t be more than a couple of words, sometimes a 3-4 word tagline and a 10-15 word explanation. Or less. Don’t write too much, the average attention span doesn’t last more than a few seconds online. Here you can read more about what words convert the most. Just remember: keep it simple as hell!

5. Use ads for testing

Test key messages by advertising on 4-5 of them and measuring CTRs. With this method, you’ll find the key messages that resonate the best while also being able to experiment with the right ad message to find the highest CTRs at the same time. Don’t spend a big chunk of money on this, 20-30 dollars on each while keeping the maximum CPC low.

6. A/B Testing

As soon as you have the most efficiently converting ad message down, you’d better match the landing page key message on your landing site with it so that you improve conversion on the site and decrease the number of visitors bouncing back. Just A/B test a set of 3-4 variants of the key message built on the best performing ad to fine-tune the final message.  Surprisingly, 9 times out of 10, key messages are not aligned with the ad message. That’s one royally dumb mistake!

7. Match the images with the message and mood

The human brain processes an image in just 13 milliseconds. That said, your visitors will have an emotional impression about your landing page way before they process the key message itself. Needless to say, this emotional impression is like spice on your meal – it can boost the experience or ruin it badly. My advice: test more images and pick the one that generates the lowest bouncing rates! Oh, and pick ONE image and NO SLIDERS on a landing page, plz – here’s why!

8. Call-to-Action text matters

Call-to-action buttons (CTAs) are the most important elements of every landing page. By the time the user gets there, she should be introduced to the value proposition and a clear promise of what happens when she pushes the button. The CTA should be visually in high contrast with the whole page, yet logically aligned with the context. In terms of placement, use white spaces to highlight the CTA, and mind the text on it: A title like “Sign Up” is much more scary than the one with a title like “Receive updates”.

9. Twin call-to-action structure

If you only have one CTA on your page and your visitor decides not to take action, you lose her. In order to avoid this, you can use a psychological phenomenon here: The human brain processes information through various non-conscious filtering methods. If anyone ever gets introduced to two pieces of anything of the same kind, she automatically makes a choice, without even knowing it. You see two people of the opposite gender approaching you on the street – you make your choice which one looks better. You’re looking at two last slices of a pizza – you automatically make your choice, which one would you consume, etc… So just put there a primary CTA and a secondary one (smaller button, or less harsh in color). Even if the two CTAs are almost identical in terms of what they do, there’s a higher chance your visitor will make a choice. (Sidenote: Single CTAs work better if you’re reinforcing your visitor deciding about an exact business offer which involves a purchase.)

10. Use an exit-intent conversion optimization tool

If your twin CTA didn’t work either, this is your last shot. Tools like Optimonk or BounceExchange can detect exit intent of visitors, giving you one last chance to grab their attention. It’s only a question of creativity what kind of message works here the best, try several of them and measure results. One thing is sure, using exit intent technologies will raise your conversion rate.

11. Remove main navigation

Sometimes your landing page is not a classic pre-launch landing site, only one page on your site that you’re using to promote your product. In such cases it’s important to prevent the “navigation leak”, the opportunity for visitors to navigate to another page on your site without having a clear understanding of your key message. Besides the two CTAs and social media buttons your visitor shouldn’t have any other optional way to go. People are more likely to wonder around on your site without taking any action if you let them to do so.

12. Collect email addresses

Ideally, by the time you start operations with a product-MVP or an early beta, you’ll have hundreds of thousands of email addresses from early adopters desperately wanting your product – sure, that’s only happening once in a blue moon – but collecting email addresses is still something mandatory on your landing page.  Besides paying with real money for a pre-order – providing email address is the purest proof of engagement of a user, to say nothing of the potential in future email marketing.

13. Offer value right on your landing page

Incentivizing the sign-up rate is also a good idea. Offer something to early birds, as this is a clear value proposition people often experience and understand. If you have a paid product plan, offer a free or discounted plan for folks signing up on your landing site. People like special deals because these give’em the sense of making a prudent financial decision. Moreover, if people are paying for something, that’s a rock solid validation of your product/market fit at the same time. So just offer a deal – some dudes will grab it.

14. Add social proof

Since visitors of these landing sites are even more time sensitive than an average online visitor, testimonials won’t work here – besides they’re barely credible about a not yet existing product, people are unlikely read’em on a pre-launch landing page. Use numbers, like a counter of subscribers, or a facebook fan box if you have hundreds of thousands of fans.

15. Add trust elements

Well-known logos bring you credibility – even if they’re small and barely visible on your site. People already trust them and associating your unknown brand with familiar elements makes them attach this credibility to your brand. Even a simple Verisign symbol can bring you a 40+ % increase in conversion. The real point of social icons on a pre-launch landing page is also more about creating credibility, not just being shared – since the latter one rarely happens. If you have absolutely no connection with anyone out there, just create a trust badge for yourself. People seldom click on it, but it’s still beneficial as a visual element on your landing page and the unconscious part of the visitors’ brain detect these elements seamlessly.

16. Add a post conversion page

For those users taking your desired action, add a rewarding post-conversion page. Tell them how important they are in the early stages of a startup, provide them positive verbal feedback, praise them, and reward them just to make them feel better. Emotional impressions about brands usually last much longer than exact memories. These  emotions will come in handy when you make a remarketing campaign based on your already existing users…

17. Create scarcity

The psychology behind scarcity is clearly described by Robert Cialdini in his world-famous book ‘Influence’. The vast majority of people associate scarcity of any resource with value. There are many ways to create a sense of scarcity in people, like waiting lists, limited offers, restricted early bird access, special subdomain availability, etc. Since the scarcity-value pairing is such a deeply ingrained bias, it will almost always work.

18. Set goals for users

Try playing around with users and offer something if X happens. Saying “We’ll show you our sexy assistant in a red swimsuit if and when we got tweeted 10,000 times” is a playful insult most people won’t feel as offensive. You can offer a sneak peak into the product, Early Adopter badges, lifetime free plans, etc. People like to play and creativity can take you anywhere.

19. Use various analytics

What is all the hassle worth if you don’t refine your learning experience through it? A startup is validated learning, so as a minimum, implement Google Analytics with demographics and interest reports turned on and a visitor heat-map solution into your landing site.

20. Make it move

One of the best ways of testing your key message is putting something on the landing page that has a “click for more” function, like a video, which has to be clicked to start. If you’re monitoring the click-throughs of that particular button and compare it to the daily uniques (without the bounced back visitors, of course), you’ll have a sense of the estimated future conversion rate. A video is a always a genius tool in general to provide a better understanding about what your startup is trying to do.

21. Success has two secrets

One: Don’t tell everything… The so-far-closed Hipster collected 10,000 email addresses by simply not telling what it was about. Their landing page suggested such a general value proposition, saying “Something cool is coming to San Francisco”. Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to know what it is.

It’s not a nice-to have, it’s a competitive edge

Quite often it takes months for a startup to launch even a bug-stomped public beta. So just roll up your sleeves early on and don’t waste precious time not learning about your customers, your market and how you can scale your business. Your efforts will pay off in the long run if you set up a beastly landing page. Besides learning important metrics and collecting life-saving data super-cheaply, you can attract future investors, since every one of them is looking for the fastest growing ventures on the market. A professional landing page is the perfect tool to start scaling early on. You can browse some best practices here, but please keep in mind that the one single most important feature of a perfect landing page is originality. Until you get there, just go balls out applying all the above mentioned tricks and optimize the hell out of your landing page.

If you have any additional techniques, questions, remarks, I appreciate if you add your comments below.