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Building Landing Pages That Rank for SEO

John Doherty —  August 31, 2012
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I’ve seen an alarming trend recently in startup websites. Most want to follow this model:

It’s not uncommon to see this sort of page on a startup’s website:

It’s super simple, just a few points, and a form (and this even asks for your phone number. Talk about asking for too much on the first date). And the reality is that it’s not going to rank for anything substantial because there is simply nothing useful on the page for the search engines to index and rank.

Today let’s talk about the difference between squeeze pages (directed towards conversion) and ranking pages (that can also convert, but will do so at a lower conversion rate).

Squeeze Pages

A squeeze page, or landing page, is a page directed at conversions. It is a page meant to convert someone coming into your site on very targeted traffic, such as through paid search, who is ready to convert. Historically, these pages have been quite simple, with a bit of content and a simple conversion form.

Here are some examples for you. Notice what they all lack though – substance. They are directly geared at conversion, not at building a lot of trust.

All of these pages have the following:

  1. A form (some seem too long);
  2. A few points about what the product is about;
  3. Big call to action;
  4. Little content.

They are also all fairly short. I’m sure they convert well, but when your business is one where customers return a few times to convert, this kind of page will not keep them coming back. It’s great for very targeted traffic, but you completely lose out on the casual browser, someone looking for some info and doing their research.

Landing Pages That Build Trust, Rank, and Convert

I know what you’re thinking now: “How the heck can I build a page that converts just as well, can rank for important keywords in the search results, and captures the casual viewer as well as the person ready to convert?” It’s a fine balance, but it can be done.

Start With Personas

Who is going to be hitting this page? Who are your best users? As an example, here is one way to break up your personas:

 Image Credit: Keyword Level Demographics by Mike King

What are these people doing? Some of them are going to convert, others are going to browse, others are just looking for information. Who is the page targeted at? For the ones browsing, your challenge is to build enough trust with them to get them to convert.

Then Think About Content and Calls-to-Action

As you know, without content on the page you’re not going to rank. I’m not just talking about text content either. I’m talking about images, videos, quotes, and more. One good example is KissMetrics, run by Neil Patel who is a master of landing pages and conversions (and he builds great products). Check out this homepage (broken up into three screenshots for emphasis):

Above the fold, KissMetrics appeals to all of the different parts of the Analytics person. There are also two calls-to-action that stand out from the rest of the page. I’d be testing that button to see what color converts better (and I’m sure they are).

The middle third of the page seeks to build trust with the users and gives three important points for what makes KissMetrics different (aka the Unique Value Proposition). Directly below is another call-to-action that stands out from the design, right alongside “hundreds of customers”.

Down at the bottom of the page, you see the clients (big names), as well as having strong calls-to-action again for both the demo, a free trial, and more information. This page is geared towards conversion, to be sure, but it also provides so much value that it will and should rank for its terms.

The only thing I would do differently on this page would be to add a product video. Get the video snippet showing in the search results, and bingo. SERP domination.

Another great example that I found is Podio, the project management software. I’ve used them from time to time. This was one iteration of their homepage:

Here is an iteration of their current project management software page (which unfortunately is on a weird company.podio.com subdomain):

I personally prefer these over their competitors, from an SEO perspective. Their main competitors, Asana and Basecamp, both trap their users straight towards conversion without convincing them at all. Sure, they get those ready to convert, but they leave so many potential users on the table.

They’re pretty, sure, and Podio could even take some tips from them, but I’d rather work with Podio who understand the needs of users, not just their own needs of conversion:

In short, pages built both for customers and rankings, as well as conversions, have the following usually:

  • A longer page with more media types;
  • Features and benefits;
  • Ability for the user to move deeper into the site easily, not just sign up;

The shorter pages rely on converting every user. The longer user-focused pages can afford to have a lower conversion rate because they are able to earn “free” organic traffic, and thus even with a lower conversion rate, the CPA is lower and the company can thrive through more than paid search.


If you’re looking for inspiration for landing pages, allow me to recommend that you look at the landing page examples page on Unbounce, where the guys over there have put together many posts about landing pages that you can take inspiration from. They critique many of them as well.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns?

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

16 responses to Building Landing Pages That Rank for SEO

  1. How do you overcome the rabid terror of adding content to pages?
    General experience with clients suggests that the idea of adding more than a paragraph of cursory brand grumph to a page instantly causes instantaneous and full on panic, no matter how compelling and joined-up the persona-based thinking is (never mind getting agreement to design the content as an integrated element, rather than a dirty, necessary evil bundled at the bottom of the page)…

  2. Hi, I love what you’ve got to say on this. This is an area I’ve put a lot of thought into… and that highlights one reason NOT to take this approach. It is much harder to get the balance right on a complex blend of landing page, sales copy, social proof, pitch, rapport building etc etc.

    One rule of thumb I keep coming back to in SEO/web marketing is that each page should have ONE purpose/function, and excel at that rather than trying to kill multiple birds with one stone

    However I think you are on the right track with this. It just aint going to be easy.

    The multiple user persona model is useful, but the biggest difference I see emerging is multiple device types.
    The iphone use is going to have a very different experience, and that will influence how likely they are to take different actions.

    Wham, the complex job just got harder.

    I’m going to share this with my team: its helps us get our head around where we are going with this plan.

    Thanks

  3. Good stuff, John – this opens some interesting questions.

    I’m a big fan of Conversion Rate Experts. Their case studies are incredible conversion lessons.

    They were actually instrumental in helping KISSmetrics convert at a much higher rate (though I’m not sure the current home page was designed by CRE).

    In general, they have found long (incredibly long) sales/landing pages convert far better than attempts to keep it all “above the fold.”

    They worked with SEOmoz a couple of years back as well (case study here). Again, the split test showed the MUCH longer landing page converted better.

    So it seems that, at least in many strong examples, there really is no dichotomy of SEO vs CRO. Quite often you can leverage the best of both worlds.

    Would be neat to see some SEO metrics around these landing pages from KISSmetrics and SEOmoz – not sure these pages were ever rolled out with crawlability/SEO in mind, but it would be interesting to see whether both inbound traffic and conversion rates could be improved by utilizing longer landing pages.

  4. Here’s a pro-tip for those of you reading the comments,
    two words: Jquery accordion.

    You can have tons of optimized content on your homepage, and not sacrifice a sleek design if you incorporate stylized elements that are clearly marked as expandable (so your not cloaking), and then readers can get as much or as little info from the home page as they care too.

    For the quick conversion, it’s not distracting, but for the searchers and non believers (and the search bots) it makes for a richer interactive home page experience.

    Be sure to add Google event tracking to your expand buttons. This will show you whats working and not, and I believe will keep your bounce rate down even if they don’t convert on the first visit.

    I could go on and on like Celine Dion’s heart, but I’ll stop now.

  5. John,

    I like that you pointed out not everyone is ready to jump right in and use a company’s product or service. I think so many landing pages are designed with the minimalist of content, and expected to net tons of conversions without really offering the user more than a form or some quick facts about the company. I know CrazyEgg increased a huge number of conversions after they presented more information and lengthened their page. It’s so important to design with the specific audience in mind, otherwise, like you said, you can be geared at conversion, but not at building a lot of trust.

  6. I think that one of the things people don’t understand about the Dropbox model is that they started out using their page as a Minimal Viable Product. They used a video to demonstrate what their product purported to be and to see if people would sign up. People did sign up, they liked it, then Dropbox used the ‘get some free space if you tell your friends’ model to grow their business.

    People then actually really liked the product and started to use it and write about it and link to it, which helped their site in SEO.

    To be fair, I am not sure how many people overall actually used their product because of this page, but because their friend wanted them to use it.

    • I can’t agree more. Dropbox’s virality indeed helped its SEO. I think for those who were new to cloud storage back then, Dropbox instantly became a necessity. Factor in the social media buzz and the “additional free space” model, it just caught on like wildfire. Early adopters started writing about it and the rest of the internet did their thing.

      I strongly agree with John as well. I may not know much about CRO, but being a user of a lot of web services, I’m more likely to continually use a product I knew beforehand would benefit me right when I converted than those I vaguely understood. “…pages built both for customers and rankings, as well as conversions…”. Learned a lot from this post.

  7. Love it. Always surprised at how many software/cloud services DON’T have videos on their landing page. SHOW me how it works. SHOW me how it easy/awesome/life-changing/orgasmic it is to use your product and i’ll srsly just FedEx you my wallet. Send back whatever you think is fair, good sir.

  8. I think its hard to compare the above landing pages e.g. Basecamp vs Podio, without knowing what their digital strategy is e.g. Basecamps home page is excellent for conversion. They have a pretty strong blog to for their inbound strategy. I am not sure if Podio do the same, but in general, i would never include my landing pages for paid traffic with my organic strategy. Strong converting landing pages simple don’t rank for competitive keywords (your examples are home pages, which aren’t exactly landing pages, if we are talking specific landing pages targeting specific persona’s).

    You can build organic landing pages that rank, but I would not be sending paid traffic to these pages.

    Although, one point you didn’t make around squeeze pages, is although they may be great for conversions (those with little content), following your recommendations are best even for a paid strategy due to QS score. Adding more informative content may decrease conversions – but the decrease in CPC costs will balance this out and you will not be in danger of picking up an account penalty.

  9. I really admire the CRO effectiveness efforts of “Expensify” which is done without an explainer video. I won’t link drop for the sake of moderation, you can google “expense reports suck” to find it.

    If you click the learn more link, you get the full information but the sign up CTA stays top horizontally anchored. I’m not saying this page is a prime example of a one that necessarily ranks in its keyword niche – I haven’t got that time to investigate – however I do notice that they look like they retarget (based on a quick inspection of their code) anyhow based on the click actions of that page which is a another ball game and worth considering when evaluating a competitors CRO strategy.

    I agree with George that with jquery you can do all sorts of wonders that balance people and spider needs. This is a fine fine topic.

  10. I have been looking for valuable resources before starting my squeeze page creation. I appreciate your article. Hmmm..although it has raised more questions for me :)

  11. Though I did enjoy the article, I was hoping for a little more detail on the SEO side of landing pages (more than just add content). But, again a good read on the varying types of landing pages and their comparisons!

  12. Great article as usual ! very interesting writing and tempting images that drips knowledge and information ! :) cheers

  13. I hate to tell you, but your images are broken. Did you have a little spring cleaning of your file directories? :)

    Cheers,
    Mel

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