Landing Pages
Header image featuring woman eating, sleeping, and working out

This is page two of a handbook on Growth Hacking. Begin here.

There's a template. Try to follow it.

This page teaches you to write and design modern homepages.

I walk you through the template I've proven works across today's largest startups.

I cover how to structure your page, write compelling copy, incorporate design, and maximize landing page conversion. It's everything a growth marketer must know.

Why this is important

A great homepage isn’t a nicety. It’s your first impression. The better your first impression, the better your subsequent user acquisition efforts perform.

Around 75% of your traffic will leave after only seeing your homepage. That's what I mean by "first impression." So, don't waste it.

Not wasting it means following the proven template. Don't do something unique unless you have a good reason to. The more you detour from the template, the more confused your average visitor will be: You'll make it more laborious for them to identify what your company does and why they should care.

In other words, the template makes what your company does self-evident. It prioritizes clarity, brevity, and directness.

What it doesn't care about is design innovation. Be innovative in the other areas of your growth funnel — like your ads and your product features. But not your homepage. Typically, people just want information quickly. Don't stand in their way.

I've tested the following template on all my marketing agency's clients — some of the largest SaaS, mobile app, and e-commerce startups of the last couple years. I've shown that improving a landing page usually produces the biggest conversion gain across the entire growth funnel.

If you read only three pages in this guide, make it this one, A/B testing, and channels.

Landing page variants

Before we begin, let's identify the three types of landing pages: 

These three pages are structured identically; they all use the template below. They differ only in what is being pitched and which words and images are used to pitch.

Landing page approach

Think of landing page creation from the perspective of your visitor's likelihood to convert. (Conversion is the term for proceeding to the next step in a growth funnel.)

We can think about conversion as an equation:

Conversion = Desire - Labor - Confusion

In other words, to increase the rate of conversion, increase the visitor's desire while decreasing their labor and confusion.

Here's what that looks like:

The implication is that the first step in creating a landing page is not actually to design the page. Instead, it's to first hone your message. You then back out from there to what the page should say and, only at the end, what it should look like.

In other words, growth is not a design-first process. It's a messaging-first process.

Messaging-first embraces the conversion equation from above:

  1. Identify the selling points that are most desirable about your product.
  2. Identify which text and creative elements convey that value clearly and concisely.
  3. Design your page in a way that further enhances the clarity and resonance of #2.

Let's begin with identifying and conveying your selling points. Technically, these are called "value propositions." After that, I'll introduce my landing page template.

On the upcoming A/B Testing page, you learn to test hypotheses for how to increase desire while reducing labor and friction.

Value propositions

First, some terminology: "Copy" is the marketing term for text. We'll be using it.

Creating value props

A value proposition is a quality of your product that is matched with a unique goal.

For example, your product may have the qualities of fast and secure. Let's start with fast. Below, I match fast with different goals to create three value propositions:

Each variation shares the same core quality — speed — but articulates a unique outcome of speed.

One last example to make sure we got it. Let's take the quality of secure. And let's say our product is a messaging app:

As you can see, the process is straightforward. But, misleadingly so. Because generating value props is so easy, most marketers don't do it exhaustively: They don't dig to find the very best value props that visitors care 10x more about than the next.

To harden yourself against this oversight, here's my process for systematically generating compelling value props. Use it whenever you're pitching a product.

Value prop generation

We'll go through this process using a live chat app (example) as our product.

As you follow the four steps, refer to the green chart underneath for examples:

  1. In column one, list all the non-desirable alternatives people resort to when they don't have your product. And describe what makes each alternative bad.
  2. The bad alternatives are now starting points to brainstorm value propositions from. This is what you list in column two. Specifically, write out how and why your product is better than the bad alternative.
  3. In the third column, which is a separate brainstorming exercise from the first two columns, list just your most valuable customer types. (Most valuable means they collectively pay you the most.) This is to remind you who you're truly seling to and what resonates most with them. For each customer type, list the two product benefits they care most about. 
  4. Finally, reduce the list of value props in column two down to just those that satisfy what top customer types care about. In other words, use the third column to pare down the second column.

What's left in column two are your most valuable value props. You generated them by finding pain points that resonate most strongly with customers worth the most to you.

Bad alternatives

Visitors leave the site
•  Lost sales opportunities

Visitors read FAQ's
•  They're long, boring

Visitors email support
•  Most don't bother

Your solution

Help more visitors get more questions answered by immediately handling objections via live chat.

Address objections proactively so you can better satisfy visitors and close more deals.

Top customer types

Head of marketing
•  Conversion rates
•  Traffic volume

Chief revenue officer
•  Reduce churn
•  Increase ARPU/LTV

Head of sales
•  Increase qualified leads
•  Qualify leads accurately

The cleverness of this process is in ideating value props by comparing your product to the bad alternatives customers would have been stuck with if they didn't have you. Doing this ensures you remain focused on the benefits that matter. And, following this process helps ensure you're exhaustive in your value prop brainstorming.

You later learn to master copywriting on the upcoming Making Ads page.

Where to use value props

On a landing page, value props are the selling points that increase visitors' desire

Think of value props as the ammunition you collect to later disperse across a page template. Specifically, they'll form your header, subheader, and feature paragraphs.

But, you can also use your value props everywhere else you pitch your product:

Try to be consistent across those channels. Value prop consistency breeds familiarity.

Writing out value propositions

Once you have your value props in hand, but before you slot them into the upcoming landing page template, you must first fully write them out.

The trick to writing out value props is to say a lot with a little. This is the principle of information density, which aims to avoid giving the visitor surplus labor — as per our conversion equation.

Here's how to write concise value props that have high information density:

Concise doesn't mean short

Every client I work with at some point asks, “Why is the landing page you made for us so long?” My answer: So long as every word provides unique and compelling value, it's okay to err on the longer side. Length provides more surface area so that you can appeal to more distinct customer types. But length is not an excuse to be redundant.

Succinct doesn’t mean short. It means a high ratio of ideas to words.
– Paul Graham

Landing page template

Finally, we're at the template discussion 😄

Start with the following template and only detour from it once you've nailed its implementation and want to A/B test:

  1. Navbar: The top of the page — where your company logo and links are.
  2. Hero: The main section at the top of the page that includes the header text, subheader text, and big imagery.
  3. Social proof: Logos of press coverage or well-known customers.
  4. Call-to-action (CTA): Your signup button and a concise incentive to click it.
  5. Features and objections: Your key value propositions. Why people should use you.
  6. Repeat your call-to-action
  7. Footer: Miscellaneous links.

Here it is visualized:

All your navbar needs is:

The fewer links you have, the more your CTA stands out from them. This is a good thing. You want few distractions between your users and the CTA.

In fact, if you're feeling bold, you can drop all links except for the CTA. This prevents visitors from being pulled away to other pages that may not help them convert.

Element — Hero

"Hero" is web designer jargon for the big section at the top of your page — what visitors first see before they scroll down.

Your hero consists of your header text, subheader text, and optionally an image. You have to put a lot of thought into each of these. Nailing header copy has the highest impact on your page's conversion.

And it's where we put our value props to work.

But, first, let's explore the hero image.

Hero — Image

Let's start with hero's image.

website hero section

The purpose of your hero image is to visualize the value prop described in the header and subheader. The imagery reinforces the copy. It doesn't distract from it.

Therefore, your image should show off the product. Look at how the example above uses a literal screenshot of the product. That's typically what you want.

If you're selling a physical good, show the good. If you're selling software, show a dashboard screenshot. If you're selling services, perhaps an illustration will be effective.

For example, here's how Slack uses illustrations to show employees using their app:

What you don't want is random stock photography of a smiling woman at a laptop. There's no value in that. It just takes up precious space on your page.

This isn't just my hand-wavy philosophy on landing page design. The data shows conversion increases when visitors have a visual understanding of what you're selling.

And that's the recurring theme of this handbook: be literal, be specific, and be clear. There's so much fluff on the web that you stand out simply by getting to the point.

In advertising, the greatest thing to be achieved is believability, and nothing is more believable than the product itself.
– Leo Burnett

Hero — Header — Intro

A reminder that your hero section has two pieces of text: its header (the primary text) and its subheader.

Let's start with the header.

It must be fully descriptive (yet concise). Because, if the visitor doesn't understand exactly what you do immediately upon landing, they'll get irritated and skim-read the rest of the page until they get the gist. Once they get it, they'll likely bounce because they don't want to re-read the page from the beginning.

Here's the litmus test for whether your header is sufficiently descriptive: If the visitor reads only this text on your page, will they know exactly what you do

The subheader, which I cover in the next section, must satisfy a related litmus test: If the visitor reads only the subheader, will they know exactly why they should care?

Hero — Header — Writing it

Bad headers, which are all over the web including the largest sites, read like slogans instead of descriptions. For example, "Improve your workflow!" or "Supercharge your collaboration!" are useless slogans. If that's all I read, I'd have no idea what the product actually is. As in, I don't know how the product accomplish those goals.

And people really want to know the how. And they want to know immediately.

To find out, they'd have to work harder (do labor) and keep reading the page. But, labor is bad because it reduces conversion, which is our ultimate goal. Most visitors simply won't have the patience to scroll and dig deeper. They'll just leave.

So what does a good, descriptive header look like? Like this:

Ahh. I get what the product is now! Which means I can immediately self-identify as someone who does in fact want this thing being advertised, which further means I'll have patience to read through the rest of the site to gleam the interesting details.

In summary, a header is written to hook visitors into your product through a description that specifically explains how you solve a specific problem.

Let's turn this into a two-step copywriting process for creating good headers:

I. Identify a specific feature that conveys the product's purpose

Find your product's representative feature that's also most compelling when pitched by itself.

Compelling means that most people who read it think, "I want that!" Or, if you're in a market with many similar competitors, compelling means it's your key differentiator that makes people think, "Finally, a reason to signup for one of these products!"

Here's a header example for a video chat app that needs to differentiate itself from competitors. First, I'd start by identifying all its novel features. From that list, I'd choose whichever is most representative of the product's purpose. Its purpose is what it's designed to accomplish for its customers on the highest level. 

Here are some novel features of our video chat app:

As you can see, most of the features listed are standard with any video chat app. A header is too valuable a space to highlight those. We’re looking for the feature that’s most compelling, yet still speaks to our product’s purpose. 

I think the auto-translate feature is amazing. Not only is that feature differentiating the product within a saturated video app market, it's also representing its compelling purpose: the ability to chat with anyone. 

Here’s an example header to represent that feature: "Have auto-translated video chats with foreigners.”

In contrast, here's a novel feature I would have not used because it doesn't represent purpose: "Find someone to video chat with in less than 30 seconds."

If speed is not representative of why people would most want to use your app over the competition, don't highlight it as the first thing people read on your page.

One more example. This time for a business that doesn't need to differentiate itself from competitors. 

A business targeting real estate agents might write its header to be, "We text your real estate leads for you."

If this business offers many features, but auto-texting real estate leads is A) likely to be the most compelling to their target audience ("I want that!") plus B) the most representative of the product's  compelling purpose (the business helps agents automate the laborious parts of leads), then it's the correct feature to highlight.

To recap: Specifically describe one feature that's compelling and representative of the high-level purpose of your product.

II. State the high-level purpose

Now that we've alluded to the purpose of our product, we need to complete the thought by explicitly stating the purpose for visitors who are unable to connect the dots themselves. 

This step is only required if your purpose is not self-evident by the feature alone.

Here are two examples of extending a header with a description of purpose:

"Riley texts your real estate leads for you — to automatically qualify them."

"Have auto-translated chats with foreigners — to have fun learning any language."

Now, here are good examples of header text:

Keep your header to within 6-12 words so it reads quickly.

And here are bad examples: 

This isn't the only paradigm for writing header copy, but I guarantee it's the safest way to ensure you write header copy that isn't bad.

When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative.' I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.
– David Ogilvy

Hero — Subheader

Now that people understand what you do, use your subheader to describe how. 

How is critical to landing page conversion because it lifts the veil on what you do to show people you have real, sensible solutions to their tough problems. They want to know you've thought this through so that they're not wasting their time signing up.

This is counter-intuitive to marketers who think they're supposed to use every square inch of header copy to pitch a product's vague lifestyle benefits.

No. You're not advertising Coke here. Landing page optimization has nothing to do with brand marketing. People are tired of being pitched vague value props. They've seen a million TV commercials do it. They've built up a reflex to ignore sales talk.

Do you know what the antidote to vague sales talk is? A precise description of how your product works.

For example:

There is, however, an exception to the mandate of describing how in your subheader.

If your product's how is very self-evident and therefore non-illuminating to describe (e.g. your header is "We are a photography agency" and your subheader is "We are a team of top photographers"), instead use your subheader to list the 1-3 most compelling benefits you offer:

Keep your subheader within 10-13 words. Otherwise it turns into a dense paragraph.

Unrelated, to read handbooks (like the one you're reading now) a few months before I publish them, subscribe below. I'm releasing how to write well, think critically, and play piano. I email once every three months.

I have another handbook: The Science of Building Muscle.

Element — Social proof

Now that you've succinctly described what you do and why, it's time to convey the credibility of your company through social proof.

Your social proof section is a collage of logos showing off your press coverage and/or your most well-known customers. Or if you're an ecommerce product, simply state how many customers you have (if it’s an impressive amount).

Your goal is to make it seem like everyone already knows about you, and to make the visitor surprised that they haven't yet heard of you.

(In fact, that's kind of the goal of a lot of growth messaging.)

If you don’t yet have notable customers, provide your product for free to employees at well-known companies. Then place their logos on your page if they wind up continuing to use you. 

Element — Call-to-action

You need to write your call-to-action (CTA) section like an ad. It has to be laser-focused on enticing people to convert. 

To this end, it should consist of two sections: its own header copy and a button.

CTA — Header

The CTA header summarizes what the visitor gets from signing up. 

This is the second most important component to landing page optimization.

For example, "Get a new logo in 24 hours" or "Just set your price and go." You want to build a sense of momentum, and you do that by thrusting them to the next step.

In contrast, don’t use something generic like "Get started with your free trial." They've seen that text so many times that they're programmed to gloss over it.

Specifically remind them why they came here.

But don't keep reminding them with the same copy for every instance of your CTA. Have each CTA section's header highlight the value prop that was discussed in the page's preceding section. This rides the page's momentum: If a value prop resonates with a visitor, let them immediately sign up to realize that particular value prop.

CTA — Button text

In keeping with our approach of "remind them what they're here for," make the CTA section's button either a single action word, e.g. "Signup" or "Start", or use a verb phrase that further describes what's about to happen next. 

Example verb phrases:

See Dashboard →
Start trial →
Browse listings →
Don’t write sleazy "clickbait" CTA text like “Give me my free PDF!” That is, unless you're trying to attract idiots as customers. (Some businesses — usually seminar series — genuinely may be 😂)

Visual contrast 

Your CTA's text is responsible for getting visitors to take action. It's your CTA's design that's responsible for getting them to notice they can take action in the first place.

When designing your CTA, follow two rules:

If your hero section doesn't do enough on its own to get people to convert (it usually won't), it's the job of the next section — features and objections — to deliver your full sales pitch. Then, after they've read it, you hit them with the CTA section again.

Element — Features and objections

Pitching any product boils down into listing out the key values customers will receive once they purchase. In doing so, you want to portray yourself as uniquely valuable.

This is also an opportunity to proactively address their concerns and skepticism about your features. Hence, the name "Features and objections."

Remember that value prop chart we made at the top of this page?

Bad alternatives

Visitors leave the site
•  Lost sales opportunities

Visitors read FAQ's
•  They're long, boring

Visitors email support
•  Most don't bother

Your solution

Help more visitors get more questions answered by immediately handling objections via live chat.

Address objections proactively so you can better satisfy visitors and close more deals.

Top customer types

Head of marketing
•  Conversion rates
•  Traffic volume

Chief revenue officer
•  Reduce churn
•  Increase ARPU/LTV

Head of sales
•  Increase qualified leads
•  Qualify leads accurately

The information found here will directly influence not only the types of features and objections you add to your landing page, but also the order you present them in. 

This section will span the bulk of your page. Each feature consists of three elements:

For example:

website feature section
The more expensive or unintuitive your product is, the more objections you should address.

If you’re having a hard time deciding which objections to highlight, study your competitors' homepages to learn how to differentiate yourself from what people expect you to say. 

Let's dive into the three components:

Feature — Title

Write a 3-5 word title describing the specific feature or value. Don't use vague language like "Empower your life" or "Revolutionize your workflow." No, just bluntly describe what it is so visitors can decide whether it's relevant to them.

When you empower visitors to skip over sections they don't care about, you reduce their labor and improve their focus on the sections they do care about.

Here are feature header examples from the CinderGrill.com site:

"Cooks and Sears"
"No Prep or Cleanup"
"Cooks More than Just Meat"

Feature — Paragraph

I talk more about how to write enticing text ("copy") on the upcoming Copy page.

Construct an ongoing narrative

The best feature sections build a running narrative: They tie each feature paragraph back to the primary value prop being pitched in the hero section.

The consistency of your narrative makes your product more divisive and singular. 

You want people to think, “Yeah, you know what, after reading about this for 20s, I am tired of dealing with this problem!”

For example, if your hero value prop is “We help you put down your phone so you can focus on the rest of your life,” a description of your Push Notification Blocking feature should mention something such as this in its paragraph: “… so that you put an end to the habit of constantly looking at your phone for updates.”

If you’re struggling with your ongoing narrative, try this approach. Back in school, you probably wrote essays with this type of 5-paragraph format:

In the introduction, you make a claim. Then you highlight three pieces of evidence to support your claim. Each paragraph has one focal point, e.g.:

Finally, your Closing paragraph sums up why your claim is correct. While compelling them to move forward.

Your landing page as a whole follows this very same premise. 

Before writing your copy, organize your page like you would an essay:

You'll learn to write in-depth content (e.g. blog posts) that convert on this page.

Feature — Image

website feature section image

For your feature's image, include a product screenshot or professional photography that demonstrates the feature in action. Remember, don't just include meaningless eye candy. Visualize the feature in a way that further educates the visitor.

Better yet, use an auto-playing GIF or SVG animation. It’s better to show than tell. 

Think of it this way: Don't add graphics to your site that couldn't be sourced from the product itself. Whether it's a short demo, a link to an interactive component, or a dashboard screenshot, think internally instead of externally.

If you’re showing a screenshot of your SaaS dashboard, and it's too crammed to easily read in its small size, recreate the screenshot in Sketch and exclude the non-essential UI elements and text. 

Should I include a video?+

Most promo videos are terrible. They take too long to get to the point, they have derivative, uninspiring visuals, and wordy voiceovers. 

Visitors don’t finish watching them. This is a problem because visitors watch videos at the expense of spending time reading more of your page. 

Remember, visitors only have so much attention to go around. So don't distract them with something that converts worse than the rest of your page.

However, a foolproof reason to include a (good or great) video is when you’re selling a physical or visual product that's intriguing to see in action. 

If your product qualifies, follow these rules:

You can feature a video anywhere. It can stand alone in the header or, my preference, it can complement a feature paragraph that provides context.

To find video ideas worth stealing, watch the promo videos for the top performing Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns.

Diagrams instead of videos

If you don’t qualify for a video, and if your intent was to use the video to illustrate how your product fits into its marketplace, instead diagram this relationship. 

A well-designed diagram can say in 10 seconds what your took your video 90. 

Landing page design

You want to expend at least some effort presenting your page in a visually appealing way. It does help with landing page conversion — by showing you're not amateur.

For example, instead of just listing your features in a grid or line-by-line, you can stagger them (example). Or you can copy Intercom and blend unique, beautiful imagery into the page’s surrounding white space. 

Your site has to look good enough that:

You can find landing page inspiration on GoodWeb.Design.

This isn’t a design guide, so I’m going to suggest you hire a designer if you don't have one. I also suggest you read the best book ever written on landing pages.

Mobile-first

Most consumer ecommerce purchases happen on mobile web. If you fall into this category, hire designers who can build an amazing mobile-first website experience.

Working with a designer

I strongly recommend creating landing pages through a visual design tool like Webflow (the best, but complex) or Leadpages (much easier to use if you're not already a developer). They allow you to iterate quickly and avoid coding.

I’m an engineer myself, yet I prefer Webflow over coding sites manually. There's no point in wasting time on that. Not for a landing page with nearly zero functionality.

Better yet, if you have the budget, pay a professional designer to create a landing page mockup for you. Then you can recreate it pixel-for-pixel in Webflow. 

To find a designer, head to Dribbble and browse for someone whose aesthetics suit your brand. (I've pre-sorted that landing page link by new Dribbble users — since they haven't yet been flooded with work requests. Feel free to re-sort.)

Contact these designers and convey the following:

If you don’t have the budget to hire a designer and aren’t an experienced designer yourself, read this series on design basics before you take a stab at it.
If dogs don't like your dog food, the packaging doesn’t matter.
– Stephen Denny

Learn this material more in-depth

Bell Curve is the growth agency I built using many of the strategies in this handbook. We work with some of the fastest-growing companies in SaaS and ecommerce. We train you to do what we do.

Asking for feedback+

Once you have your landing page draft, pass it by two types of reviewers: 

For both audiences, assess six factors:

These questions are appropriate for requesting feedback on anything you write — including your blog posts.

Home versus persona

Remember, there are three types of landing pages: your homepage, your product pages, and your persona landing pages. 

Homepages are what we’ve covered so far. 

Product pages

If you sell multiple products, product pages supplement your homepage by going in-depth on each product you sell. Or each grouping of features your product offers.

They can be identical to your homepage, save for a few tweaks: 

  1. Rewrite the hero subheader to highlight the value prop most appropriate for why someone clicked on this in-depth product educational page.
  2. Make the hero section take up minimal height so it gets out of the way of point 3:
  3. Increase the length of the Features section from 3 or 4 features to 5 or 6. And go further in depth on each now that you know which specific product or feature set the visitor is most interested in learning about.

Persona pages

Persona pages (e.g. company.com/salespeople) are the pages we send ad traffic to. 

Persona refers to the fact that ads are targeted to specific audiences, e.g. new mothers or wealthy young men, and those audiences should be served landing page messaging that best suits their presumed interests. 

Persona pages are nearly identical to homepages, but with a few tweaks:

What I love about persona pages is they pull double duty as sales and content marketing collateral: We can handily link to these pages as pitch material when we're targeting well-defined audiences outside of paid ads.

Assessing landing page conversion

You assess landing page performance by tracking a conversion event: a measurable action a visitor opts into taking. Common landing page conversion events include signups, email submissions, and purchases.

You can also track which CTA's on your page are resulting in conversions. I recommend a click tracking tool like HotJar. It shows which of your CTA's are attracting clicks, and which elements visitors are falsely expecting to be CTA's.

For any period of time, measuring conversion rate is seemingly a matter of:

Visits Containing Conversion Event / Total Visits

But it's actually not this simple. 

To meaningfully measure conversion, only count qualified visits. I define this as:

You can track these metrics with any web analytics tool. Most sites use Google Analytics. SaaS apps tend to also use a tool like Mixpanel.

Furthermore, track conversion over time from each separate traffic source:

If you don't track conversion on a per-source basis, then a big monthly traffic spike from a source with a particularly low conversion rate will skew your month-to-month conversion average and you might mistake that as business doing worse than normal.

Never let the total distribution of your traffic distract you from per-source conversion trends. Focus on improving them individually.

On the next page, you'll learn to improve landing page conversion with A/B testing.

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