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Your Ad is Only as Effective as your Landing Page

When talking about e-commerce design and usability we often compare web users and customers to monkeys swinging on vines through a dense forest. I wish that one of us at RKG could take credit for coming up with the metaphor, but a well-deserved hat tip belongs to Seth Godin for the concept. In his book, The Big Red Fez, Godin suggests that web surfers are a lot like monkeys: they’re unpredictable, but if you can show them a banana you have a much better chance of getting them to do what you want. Thus every page on your website needs a banana in the form of a clear action you’d like the customer to make, or a clear path you’d like them to follow. When you consider landing pages in the context of advertising, the banana is even more important. After clicking on an ad, customers are landing on your site in a state of half-blindness, they don't know what to expect or what they're getting themselves into and they're trusting the internet Gods to take them to a helpful place. For that reason, a retailer's landing page has to be able to efficiently answer three general questions that go through an arriving customer's mind:
  1. What can I do here?
  2. Why should I do it here and not someplace else?
  3. Where do I start?
By addressing those three questions upfront you'll save your customers a lot of confusion, and you'll be better able to present them with a banana. If I'm a customer looking to comparison shop for polo shirts, a good landing page will show that I can buy polo shirts here, suggest that this website is the be all and end all of locations to purchase polo shirts, and use an interface for sorting through styles, price points, and brands of polo shirts that is recognizable and intuitive. This would likely be a well designed sub-category page. I spend a lot of time evaluating landing pages for our clients, and over the past few months I've seen landing pages that fall over the spectrum between good and bad. But the other day I saw one of the worst landing pages yet, and thankfully it wasn't from one of our clients and it wasn't the end result of a paid search advertisement. Recently, the bank HSBC has been advertising all over the New York Times website. They're paying for the top two ads on the page, and though display ads online don't cost nearly as much as they do in print, I'm guessing that the ad spots pictured below probably aren't cheap. The term "private banking" caught my eye, and I was curious to find out more about private banking and HSBC in general, so I bit my lip, furrowed by brow, clicked the ad, and landed on the following page. The first red flag on this page is the pre-loader for a Flash based interface. Generally speaking, entire websites built with flash are a usability nightmare. For one thing Flash is a browser plug-in and there's a chance customers won't have it installed. Secondly, one of the key reasons designers use flash is to build a custom, non-standard, user interface for a website; and it's in this second instance where a usability issue becomes dead weight on a landing page's conversion rate. As a customer, if I land on a page and I'm trying to get my bearings, the last thing I need is a brand new navigation scheme and interface to try and figure out. Need an example? Take a quick look at the HSBC interface (the picture below may not do it justice, try interacting with the HSBC site: While I first clicked on the ad hoping to get more information about private banking and HSBC, I'm now stuck trying to figure out the spinning globe/incomplete puzzle motif and how it helps me navigate the site. The landing page doesn't address those three general questions we mentioned earlier. There's no banana, and as a monkey, I'm thinking "well what's in it for me?" The strange thing is that if you were to search Google for "Private Banking" and click on the first sponsored link, you'd be taken to a much more reasonable landing page: a map with the locations of all the HSBC private banking offices in North America. This page is built in a more traditional way, with top and left navigation, and interface that seems intuitive enough. It's by no means perfect, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. Some may contend that banner ads or display ads are more about branding than straight ROI. I've never entirely bought that argument, and I'm not sure it pertinent's to this conversation. Regardless of whether we're talking about display ads or search ads it's important to remember that the beauty about advertising on the web is that we can get immediate results from our advertisements. As a consumer, if a banner ad, or a search ad, catches my eye, why wouldn't I click on it? The key is that in either case just getting me to click isn't a win. It's a two part process:
  1. Get my attention
  2. Sell to me
As such, it doesn't matter how many eyeballs or clicks an ad garners, because in the end, the most important thing is that the landing page it points to has plenty of bananas for the monkeys.
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