The Tao of Landing Pages – A minimalist design approach to maximizing impact

Landing pages are designed to do a specific job, yet narrow goals have done much damage in the world. How to go about it with some nuance and grace – while staying effective and getting results?
Written by
Merlin Eric Bola

Strategy & Content Direction

This article has a mission

It is to exhale and focus on the signal, not the noise.

This is the mission:

  • To hand you everything to sketch a pretty good landing page, one that's shaped like an arrow and that moves the needle
  • Make you write one with gusto, even if you had thrown ‘landing page’ into the ‘marketing’ basket … that’s earmarked as ‘despicable things to avoid’

The first half of this mission is delivered by universal mental models that should create a general sense of direction and competence for landing page design. Nitty-gritty surrounding knowledge you can look up just about everywhere – like why a headline matters most, what David Ogilvy said about it, and who to talk to in the first place.

To keep its own arrow shape, this article will skip these steps.

The second half of this mission we’ll put in front and tackle first, because it puts the article itself in context:

It seeks to dig a bit deeper than ‘sell more clutter with landing pages’.

Send a signal

Understand landing pages as universal puzzle piece to digital communication excellence.

While they surely can be (and have been) used as a tool to sell crap to crowds and make them ‘consumers’, that’s only one expression of their power. If ‘the family is the nucleus of society’, landing pages are the nucleus of digital action sparks – the Swiss Army Knife of getting action-oriented messages across in the digital era.

Use them to pierce the noise of a lethally distracted culture with some existentially relevant signals.

Pierce the noise with holistic excellence

Landing pages are everywhere, so abundant and ‘meta’ that you might have grown up as a digital native and never consciously recognized them.

They are:

  • Where most ads bring you after the click
  • What’s most often plugged into articles to lead to a product sale
  • The page that got you on board when you signed up for this course

They’re a tool, and it’s entirely up to you to wield it with skill and integrity.

They can be used for:

  • Getting people on board for future-proof NGO work
  • Organic solutions to chemical catastrophes
  • Self-actualization courses with a vision
  • Regenerative consultation work
  • Circular product innovation

It’s good to have a rough idea about the nucleus of digital actions sparks, it’s a fabulous element to add to your digital tool belt …

… for the sole reason that a whole mission and business can run on landing pages only.

You got a tool in your hand – now what?

Before you think about page structure, psychology, sequence and design, start here:

Does what you try to sell deserve the selling in the first place?

So you’re creating a buzz around something – will it be an empty buzz, or the buzz of an idea whose time has come? Let’s say you succeed and it actually takes off … is that a good thing?

Or did it work because your persuation skills dazzled people so that a sub-par offer was able to succeed despite its miserable level of quality?

Only if the purpose of tool use sits right, it becomes sensible to figure out if you’re using it correctly:

  • Does the argument for your offer make sense?
  • Does your sequence connect and flow?
  • Is it aligned with how our brains work?
  • Are there any gaps in the logic?

All of these are easier to deliver if the offer is robust and reasonable in the first place, and connected to what’s actually happening in the world.

Assuming that’s covered, let’s take your offer and …

Shape it like an arrow

There’s a first principle to good journalism: Don’t bury the lead!

That means that whatever the hook of your story is, don’t stray too far from it. Sure, provide necessary context that helps to get to point across, but nothing else. Everything has to lead back to the central message your piece is designed to get across.

It’s no different with landing pages – they have one purpose, one desired reader profile, and one call to action (CTA).

Keep your focus tight, this is not the place to plug unrelated stuff

Understand writing a landing page as a test of your own distractability, a meditative practice of keeping your focus not on your breath this time, but the ‘lead’ that you promise not to ‘bury’.

Make it a challenge

Can you get and stick to the point without:

  • Going on detours into adjacent topics that feel like they’re ‘somehow connected’
  • Link your favourite article along the way and make people leave the page
  • Really doing anything else apart from moving in a straight line toward the goal

If you’re serious about avoiding distractions, you might even remove the page navigation. That’s optional, but whatever you do, don’t bury the lead! Shape your landing page like an arrow instead and point it to the right target – your ‘desired reader’, ‘dream client’ or ‘target profile’.

Systems thinking is irreplacable, but it's time to get precise

Clarity on who you’re talking to is incredibly important, but would blow this article out of proportion. There will be another one dedicated to this question.

Instead, let’s work on the parts of the sequence that are not a detour, but an obligatory tribute to our psychological needs. Let's stick to first principles.

How to align your landing page with how our minds work?

A psychological composite arrow

There are universal elements that every landing page should contain.

They’re designed to create a sense of closure around you offer, to make it feel complete. We have psychological needs, and while marketing has a history of going too far on the back of psychological insight, it has also rightly learned to serve those needs – the work just needs to be done with some measure, grace, and a sense of direction.

Let’s explore 8 crucial steps to get minds on board.

1. Challenge – What’s the problem that you solve?

This is where everything starts.

To the reader, that’s experienced as an effortless recognition that someone is onto a problem that you have. The goal here is to make people feel understood and insinuate that whatever comes next is for them – not to bareknuckle-punch pain points and emotionally coerce people into buying.

Make people feel understood, and they’ll make your offer work.

2. Solution – How do you solve it?

This is simple, straightforward – and optimally somewhat counter-intuitive – juxtaposition to the problem.

Gain clarity on your features, turn them into benefits, and then look for ‘hidden benefits’ without turning manipulative or promising that your fabulous vegetable peeler will help someone’s self-actualization journey. Stay grounded and, as we covered, make sure that your solution is worth selling in the first place.

Don’t get too poetic and fancy here, clarity wins.

3. Objections – Why does it work ‘even if …’?

Think ahead. Anticipate.

Now that a nasty problem is answered with a clear solution, what else could spark uncertainty or distrust? What's the glass wall here, where are the invisible subconscious stumbling blocks that discourage people from moving forward?

What needs to be aired, heard, and answered in order to be overcome?

4. Testimonials – What do other people say?

We grew up in tribes and have never shed our reflex to look to what other people say.

Anyone can deliver a self-serving pep-talk for they own profit motives, but other people? They typically speak up only when there’s true value, outstanding service and something remarkable happening that makes them take the time. This is what people trust – other people, with similar problems, with the same doubts, that went ahead anyway and are glad about it.

Only few people remember to proactively hand over a testimonial, but many will respond if you ask for it.

Pro Tip: If you first ask what sparked doubt and why people went ahead anyway,you can replace isolated objections one testimonial at a time

5. Guarantee – How do you take the risk?

We really don’t like to take risks.

We fear feeling like a failure, having fallen for deceptive messaging that feels obvious in hindsight. We fear projecting a whole lot of relief onto yet another promise only to feel betrayed in the end. So? Shoulder the risk and give a guarantee. Neither side expects actually use it, but it charges your offer with confidence and an anticipation of quality.

Obviously, hold up your end of the bargain should someone activate your guarantee.

6. Character – What makes you unique?

What makes you unmistakable?

People are aware that they’re not doing business with companies, but with people. What about you intrigues and exites others? Explain how you arrived at your expertise and why saying yes to your offer will be an exiting and constructive memory their becoming story.

Be human. Humans are compelling.

7. Bonus – How does this turn into an outstanding deal?

What else would hold a lot of value for someone signing up for your core offer?

To every offer, there are surrounding obstacles to jump and knots to be untangled. What are those? Providing a solution to them aswell, as an inclusive part to your offer, inches it closer to a state of ‘silly to say no’. That’s the bright side of 'the economy': People all over the world are working out solutions to your problems. You just have to find them.

Once other people find you, be a blessing to their life and solve a whole cascade of related headaches.

8. Capacity – Are there any contraints around delivery?

Are you god almighty, the blessed father in the sky?

Because if you’re not, then you’re likely to have some very worldly capacity contraints – only so many hours in the day the deliver service, only so many clients to take on in a year, only so many products produced in the third batch. Stay away from fooling people with fake scarcity, but here again, be willing to be human.

If you are limited in your ability to deliver, say so – that’s a plus, not a minus.

Lead people to your offer, closely aligned with their psychological needs

Create a sense of flow, speed and ease

You do that by creating space – whitespace, that is.

Structure your landing page into these sections, small text segments and bullet points. Spice them with illustrations and leave generous whitespace between all of those. Check in with yourself: You’ve never been mad about a bit more whitespace to scroll over. You never tuned out and closed the tab because there was no wall of text to process – quite the opposite.

The quicker we scroll through a page, the more we feel like we’re making progress. If only by reading a page we feel like we’re making progress, our subconscious mind becomes convinced that whoever was writing this knows his stuff.

If then all our psychological needs are met as we fly through your page, the higher the likelihood that we hit the button you want us to hit with gusto.

Long arrows fly reliably

Common wisdom often turns out to be right, but comes with exceptions.

Due to an awareness of attention spans, common wisdom is that people are quite busy and used to scroll and skim with their eyes glazing over if nothing particular makes their ears perk up.

And that’s correct.

But do you aim at glazed eyes and limp ears? I didn’t think so. Some signals pierce the noise enough to change our behaviour here, and the goal should always be to send such a signal.

The rule of thumb is: Buyers read, non-buyers don't.

Feel free to turn this into anything but ‘buyers’ – if it’s a sign-up to your regenerative NGO, then think ‘signees’. Since you’re not writing to those that don’t sign up, feel free to deliver all the information that’s actually required, without fizzling out into sidetracks.

Keep the arrow shape, and keep the rate of revelation high – reveal new information at every step. Cut out the fluff, chain essences together and keep your reader in a state of curiosity and effortlessness.

If you’re creating an enjoyable, intriguing and promising psychological flow dotted with whitespace – we suddenly turn capable of reading a whole lot.

Don’t be obnoxious

In the past minutes, you read the term ‘call to action’ or ‘CTA’ a whooole lot.

Since this is what makes a landing page work and drives results, it’s common practice is to plug them … just about everywhere. The idea there is to prompt people over and over again in order to make them feel that, at the bottom of the page, a click is due.

The problem with this approach is that this builds resentment for, arguably, most people. We don’t want to be nudged and pushed and pinched at every turn. Most people have turned somewhat aware of marketing techniques and build ‘reactance’ to overuse of psychological tools – a feeling of ‘well now I’m not doing it’.

A sense of spite, and a less-than-optimal judgment about whoever put the message together.

Note: Don't overthink the wording on the button, your CTA doesn't convince anyone to act. The convincing in done before you place your call to action, which only reminds people to act.

21st century effectiveness is in the nuances

As serendipity goes, while I was writing this article, I turned around to my beloved business partner while he was looking up a tool for proposal crafting.

He had two pages before him.

One plugged CTAs after each and every (small) section, and couldn’t possibly be more obnoxious about him SIGNING UP FOR THE FREE TRIAL NOW. If it’s done this way, we develop an inkling that the free trial really is not about giving people a helpful free ride and consideration space whether to use the tool or not, but a ploy to increase conversions – purely strategic.

Does the 'plug it obnoxiously'-approach really work?

The other page actually filled the page with content, guidance, sneak peeks, and – most importantly – a respect for the reader’s brain.

It had one call to action in the menu, and one at the bottom of the page, scrolling along with him. One made him feel taken to be a bit dumb, the other one was smartly designed to avoid this effect. He was cheerful about one and not the other, which had an effect on which tool he was open to use.

The means always give away something about the end.

The point is:

Find the point of balance and grace while staying effective with your psychological acumen. Put calls to action where they fit and where they're sensible.

We’re living in the age of integration, and it will show up everywhere – bit by bit, players that truly integrate knowledge and then use it with a sense of measure will take over.

Landing pages are no exception.

Next Steps

For more insights like this, digital marketing and applied psychology dedicated to the blossoming, not slow demise, of our journey – sign up to the GO Signal, a newletter on digital communication for regenerative ventures (take a big scroll).

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