Last Wednesday I gave a webinar entitled “10 Steps to a More Strategic Email Program.” It is part of our new Best Practices Series of articles, webinars and education. (The accompany report will be available within a week or so.) The presentation featured a photo of a football referee holding pom-poms and included a Charlie Sheen quotation, but perhaps even more important was a slide about going outside of email to make email work better. One of the tactics I mentioned was the use of landing pages, which I glibly recommended we all “optimize.” That’s not a very instructive comment, so during the Q&A period following the presentation someone asked a question about how to do this. The incomplete answer I provided then was, “it depends.” So today’s post will go deeper into landing page optimization, and on what the recommended tactics may depend.

What is a landing page?

A landing page is any page you point to with the links in your email. In most cases it is already a page on your website, like an article on your blog or a registration page for your webinar, or a page within your event microsite. It can also be a page created expressly to capture traffic from email, ads, or other external links. In these instances, the landing page can be optimized for the context of the audience. If you know exactly where someone is coming from to reach the page, whatever narrative you start to bring them there the landing page can continue. Content and graphics can be consistent and continuous, and the landing page acts as the next step in moving the reader towards the ultimate activity – a registration or purchase or download, etc.

What is the right landing page for the job?

A landing page for your emails has one of two different functions, a hard ask and a soft ask:

1. Drive the transaction: If your email has done a thorough job qualifying a reader, then you can point straight to a landing page that closes the deal. For example, if you have a webinar scheduled for next week and your entire message is dedicated to explaining the content of the webinar, and you target the message to an audience of subscribers who are likely to be interested in the webinar, you can link straight to a landing page that accepts the registration. In this instance, you are using your email in the same way you would a website or webpage designed to drive people towards a registration.

2. Continue the story: You don’t always have the luxury of a dedicated email for every initiative you are promoting. Newsletters, for example, often promote several different events or programs, devoting a paragraph or less to each one. In these instances, the email has not completed the selling process, so driving your subscribers straight to a “Register now” page will not be as effective. Instead, send them to a landing page that helps to continue the story started in the email. Your objective with the landing page in this example is not to ask for the immediate transaction, but to further qualify your audience so that you are moving them closer to a registration or purchase.

How do you make a landing page work better?

The easiest way to make your landing pages more effective is to choose the right type for the amount of qualification your email has done (above). But even once you choose how much work you can reasonably expect your landing page to do, there are several ways to make it work better.

1. Take your audience’s perspective. If your landing page is an existing part of your website, it is probably constructed and designed in a way to fill that role – to provide the content assigned to it by your website’s navigation. The people reaching it from somewhere else on your website are following a different story than those hitting the page from email. The context that brings your web visitors from one page to the next may be absent from your email visitors. Make sure the landing page makes as much contextual sense for email visitors as it does for its primary website audience.

2. Standalone suitability. Because your audience is coming to your landing page from outside of your website, it should be suitable as a standalone page. Go lighter on the content than you might normally so that the entire breadth of the page can be viewed as soon as a visitor enters. Look at your navigation from the page as well – is it easy for your audience to understand how to get to complementary content that will move them even closer towards the registration or purchase you seek?

3. Include multiple next steps. If people will be reaching your landing page from different emails and other sources, you can expect them to have different levels of qualification. Some may be ready to take the plunge and register or purchase, while others may have some additional questions. Anticipate the needs of both, with links to a “Register Here” page as well as additional links pointing to more of the content that will aid in their decision-making.

4. Create content with landing pages in mind. The more specific a landing page can be to its specific task, the better it will work. For this reason, pointing email subscribers to the homepage of your site or the top of your event microsite is not as effective as sending them to a page that drills down into the specific content referred to in the email you’re using to attract them. Keep this in mind when you create websites for your events and other programs. Anything you believe is worth promoting in an email should have its own page on your site, that you can use as a landing page. Specific conference sessions, speaker bios, innovative programs in your EXPO hall are all items organizations commonly promote in email to show the texture of an event. Take full advantage of the subscriber attention you’ve just earned by pointing directly to a page dedicated to the topic, to further qualify your audience.