Today’s post comes from one of my all-time growth marketing HEROES, Peep Laja of ConversionXL. Peep is a master conversion rate optimizer, and created multiple ultimate guides on CRO before “ultimate guides” were a thing in content marketing.
Awhile back, I asked Peep to review a few landing pages for a few 500 companies who had volunteered for the critique from Batch 13. Little did they know what they were signing up for…
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Landing pages can change fast and A LOT — especially startup landing pages, and especially if you’re doing growth right (aka running experiments). Peep’s commentary on the landing pages reviewed for this post reflects the strengths and weaknesses of those sites at the time of review. While these sites may have changed since the original critique, the fundamentals of CRO have not.
HUGE thank you to Peep. Everyone else, listen up.
Most of startups have a single goal: to acquire more customers, more leads. That’s what we’re optimizing for.
It’s tough to see problems on your own website (hard to call your own baby ugly), so here’s some outside feedback. I’m going to review 5 startup websites – pass on my feedback – and hope some of the lessons will apply to your website as well.
I’m only focusing on the above the fold area as that’s the only bit most of your new visitors will ever see. While the size of the fold varies from device to device, fold is very much alive and matters a great deal. People do know that scrolling exists, but they need to be compelled to do so.
How do I go about the reviews? By using heuristic analysis.
How to go about heuristic analysis
Heuristic analysis is a structured experienced based assessment. We evaluate a web page against a set of heuristics, and apply our field experience on top of it.
Just like someone who’s been fixing shoes for 10 years is way better able to assess what’s wrong with a broken shoe compared to a layperson, the same way an experienced conversion analyst is able to have better instant ideas on what’s wrong with a web page.
When you analyze a site, the worst possible way to go about it randomly. “I think this is bad” and “I don’t like it” is not the optimal way. Unstructured approach yields less value as you’re not really sure what you’re looking for, “stuff that’s bad for conversions” is way too generic.
You need a structured process.
When evaluating a site, I will:
- Assess each page for clarity – is it perfectly clear and understandable what’s being offered and how it works? This is not just about the value proposition – it applies to all pages (pricing, featured, product pages etc).
- Understand context and evaluate page relevancy for visitors: does web page relate to what the visitor thought they were going to see? Do pre-click and post-click messages and visuals align?
- Assess incentives to take action: Is it clear what people are getting for their money? Is there some sort of believable urgency? What kind of motivators are used? Is there enough product information? Is the sales copy persuasive?
- Evaluate all the sources of friction on the key pages. This includes difficult and long processes, insufficient information, poor readability and UX, bad error validation, fears about privacy & security, any uncertainties and doubts, unanswered questions.
- Pay attention to distracting elements on every high priority pages. Are there any blinking banners or automatic sliders stealing attention? Too much information unrelated to the main call to action? Any elements that are not directly contributing to visitors taking desired action?
- Understand buying phases and see if visitors are rushed into too big of a commitment too soon. Are there paths in place for visitors in different stages (research, evaluation etc)?
You can learn more about this approach here.
Let’s now analyze 7 startup websites using heuristic analysis.
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen any data – qualitative nor quantitative – for these sites. Half the advice I will give will probably make no difference, and I don’t know which half. Heuristic analysis is always only the starting point for a proper data-driven investigation.
The main thing in the visual hierarchy here is the embedded YouTube video. There’s no prominent headline to tell me what this site is about. First piece of text I see is “Try out the Storygami player” (which isn’t a link or button).
I guess it’s some sort of a video player, but why should I try it out? No clue. Most websites that feature a promo video see on average a 10% play rate. Storygami gives no reason to watch the video, no indication of how long the video is, so the metric might be even lower for them.
In any case, if ~90% of the people are not watching the video, what are they missing out on? Make sure that info is conveyed via images + text.
The actual value proposition is conveyed on the right, but it’s very small and unimportant compared to the video, not easy to notice even.
The headline “Add amazing content overlays into your video embeds” suffers from poor clarity.
The word “amazing” – like any superlative – instantly lowers credibility.
Only as the very last thing the benefit – 90% higher video engagement – is mentioned (yet no proof offered).
The last poor idea here is the premature form ejaculation. You’ve shown people 2 vague sentences – and expect them to sign up for something that they don’t even understand yet. The conversion rate for this is going to be very poor.
Main things I’d change / test:
- Add a value proposition above the video. Lead with “Increase video engagement by 90%” or similar
- Add a strong reason above the video to actually play the video. Experiment with auto-play: even though it’s annoying, I constantly see it win in A/B tests.
- Offer proof of claims via case studies and testimonials next to the client logos. Also add context to the client logos.
- Instead of the sign-up form, invite them to a tour page that shows examples and offers ample proof. As a secondary call to action, add a sign up text link for returning visitors.
The first experience on this site is seeing this “loader” animation:
Reminds me of 2001 when half the websites online started with “loading Flash.” Not the best user experience. Site loading speed matters.
After the site finally loads after too many seconds, the animations continue as you scroll down. These are distractions that stop people from focusing on what really matters – is this place for them, and how can it help them?
The 800-pound gorilla in the room is a complete lack of clear, benefit-driven value proposition. No human being can understand “what” and “why” without scrolling down, and that’s a huge waste.
If these guys are measuring scroll depth (they should), they will most definitely see more and more people dropping off as they scroll deeper.
No meaningful attempt is made to communicate what is this place, who it is for, what can they do with it and why should they do it. This is conversion optimization 101.
Main things I’d change / test:
- Instantly get rid of the “loading” thing. No technical reason can be used as an excuse for this.
- There is no value proposition conveyed, only buzzwords.
- Instead of the stock photography, show a screenshot or three of your app – way better clarity, way more value.
- If you want people to watch the video, compel them to do so.
- Tell — or show — people that there’s so much good stuff below the fold.
This is pretty good – starts with a statement that will resonate with people, and arouse curiosity. They could be more specific about “art” – are we talking about $10 wall prints, hand-made sculptures or original paintings?
Way down the page it’s revealed that it’s $200-$3000 – and whether that’s affordable or not depends on the target audience. You might be able to increase your lead quality by stating that up front, at least in your paid acquisition campaigns.
Next obvious step in the customer journey is well laid out, but the call to action is too vague.
Click fear is a real thing. Your landing page CTA should make it absolutely clear what happens when I click on it, and it should be low-commitment at this stage.
The bottom of the page is a needlessly large FAQ section. The thing about FAQs is that there shouldn’t be a need for an FAQ section, and all the questions that will arise should be answered in context.
Main things I’d change / test:
- Clarify what kind of art are we talking about here + address some of the key FAQs above the fold via bullet points (3 max).
- Test low-commitment, high clarity call to action copy on the button
- Test moving the first question of the quiz to the home page right away
- Remove social sharing here, but consider adding social proof as a standalone line
There is a prominent headline, but the handwriting font makes it hard to read. The second line is crucial to communicate who this site is for, but nowhere is the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) mentioned. What’s the value proposition? Will I increase online sales? Reduce return rates?
Also, it’s an app. When it comes to software, you can’t have enough screenshots. More screenshots! They are the best tool you have to communicate what you have there.
Show me proof that it works, and instead of pics of lipstick show me the product in use – like in a retail setting.
“Learn more” button merely scrolls down – what a waste! Instead of the world’s worst sales pitch (“Interested? Get in touch”) demonstrate them the value of your product, and show them how easy it is to implement it. Make me want it!
Main things I’d change / test:
- Use a different font for better readability
- Improve the clarity of the value proposition – tell me what this will help me do!
- Add proof that it works
- Show me what it’s like: move screenshots / photos above the fold
- Create a page where you demonstrate the benefits, and show the ease of implementation. Link to that page from the main call to action on the home page.
First impressions matter, and this one’s telling me “it’s still 2007!”
The value proposition is vague at best (“achieve more” hardly strikes an emotional chord with people), and the descriptive sub-header does not pack much punch either. They definitely need to involve a copywriter who understands qualitative research.
The testimonial photo is prominent, but it’s a terrible choice – looks like an unrelatable stock photo model (no full name presented which makes it even more suspicious – he’s OK to show his face, but not disclose the name?). Even the quote looks fake, who talks like that?
Out of curiosity I did an Google image search for it – and what do you know, it really is a stock photo – used on a large number of website. If it looks fake, it is! Don’t use cheesy stock photos, everyone can see through it. It only hurts your credibility.
Next in the visual hierarchy is the box with a call to action – “sign up for a free initial call with a coach”. There is no benefit communicated here – not even trying to make me want it. No specifics – who is this coach? Will this person be able to actually help me in my specific circumstance? I might be an executive in a large manufacturing organization, yet the coach has only SME experience. That wouldn’t be a match. They do have a “find a match” option down the page, but most won’t see it. Move it higher!
Main things I’d change / test:
- If you’re already using standard templates, test against a better one
- Get rid of the fake stock photo dude
- Improve your value proposition: test different offers, nail the main benefit that people actually care about – find the emotional button
- Add specifics on how the coaching program works, give me an idea about costs
- Most people need to be sold the idea of getting a coach to begin with – create a page for that
The landing pages reviewed here suffer mostly from the same issues, and these are problems I see again and again.
- Lack of a clear and compelling value proposition
- Asking for a transaction (sign up) before the user is ready
- Add proof to your claims to minimize friction
- Entice people to scroll down
The point here isn’t to call out the few brave companies that volunteered for this review, but to show that EVERY BUSINESS can stand to improve conversions on their landing pages.
You have 2 main levers to compel people to take action: a) make taking action as easy as possible, and b) increase your visitors’ motivation, so they’d actually want to do it.
These 5 websites lacked in the visitor motivation department. Does yours?
1. BOOKMARK Peep’s site ConversionXL.com.
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