Teardown Tuesday: Can a Landing Page Ever Be Too Short?

Blog Post Header - String

How long is a piece of string?

When we’re talking about how long your landing page should be, we’re often asking essentially that question: how long is a piece of string?

Answer: as long as it needs to be.

Now, in matters of tying things up with string – whether you’re a hog-tier or Christian Grey – you can usually sort out rather quickly how long your piece of string needs to be. It should be long enough to wrap at least twice around that which you’re tying up, with a few extra inches on either end to allow for a knot. There are variations on this, but as long as the string achieves its goal of binding, well, that’s how long it needs to be.

But in matters of creating landing pages, determining ideal length is not quite so easy.

As with string, the length should likely be determined by your goal; if your page goal is to move a visitor to sign up to get your free ebook, then the page should go as long as it takes to achieve that goal. However, unlike with string, on our landing pages the pieces rarely connect to form a knot – we rarely reach our goal.

Our conversion rates stink. We can’t seem to give away our stuff. And, in the absence of knowing what’s keeping the page from performing, we’re forced to make assumptions…

Our Assumptions About Writing Landing Pages
Are Often Based on What We’ve Been Told

More arguments exist for being succinct – for getting to the proverbial point – than for taking one’s time communicating a message.

Strunk & White promoted lean writing. Hemingway and the modernists were the same. And you’ve probably heard this classic quote, which has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Blaise Pascal:

“I’m sorry I’ve had to write you such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write you a short one.”

We’ve been taught that, if writing is a piece of string, good writing is a very short one. Fast forward to the world of Web 2.0, and we’ve been told that, nine times out of ten, people don’t read online – and, if they do, it’s only in bits and pieces. Writing for the web is the shortest possible piece of string. Writing a landing page is an exercise in whittling away at the words until the few surviving ones are their shortest synonyms, which are then strung together in fragmented sentences…

…Which is not to say that none of that is true. But is it all right?

Is the best page the shortest page?

Do you need more than a headline and a call to action on your landing page, or is that sufficient?

Are most landing pages too long? Is that what’s suppressing your conversions?

How do you know when you’ve said enough? How much needs to be said to help your visitor complete the task at hand and help your page perform as it’s intended to?

The Teardown:
SmallSpec.com

My friend Chris at the Chasing Product podcast asked me to give him a little feedback on the home page / landing page for Small Spec, a solution he’s creating. Here’s a snapshot of the page:

Landing page for SmallSpec - teardownThat’s the entire page. In fact, that’s the entire site – or, at least, it’s as much of the site as is presented to those who haven’t signed up. To help flesh out for whom this page is intended, I understand that developer-types are most likely to hear about Small Spec – possibly via Chasing Product and other spaces like Hacker News – and then come visit.

So I have a simple question for you now, dear reader in a world without readers. Tell me what you think:

Do you believe the copy on SmallSpec.com communicates enough to get you to submit your email address?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Now check out my 2-minute teardown of SmallSpec… which is, for the first time ever, almost exactly 2 minutes long.

Chris is a bit of a Word Nerd, and I have every reason to believe he’s heard that an effective writer says in fewer words what an ineffective one takes many to communicate. He’s very smart. So he’s probably aiming quite intentionally for succinct.

If you were Chris, what would you do differently? What would you keep exactly as it is? What important piece(s) of information are missing for you, if any? Put it in the comments below.

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  • simplemsolution

    What a brilliant idea! I’m creating copy for my landing page as we speak and am realizing that I’m seriously getting in the weeds and need to “slash it to smithereens”.

    You’re right, people hate to read, they only scan. Thanks for taking the leap and doing what we all secretly know should be done.

    Hope it’s ok to borrow your idea!

  • Joanna Wiebe

    Hopefully Chris sees your comment, James. It speaks volumes.

  • Brooke Ballard

    So after your comment about “mofo” in your tagline over on the B Squared Blog, I had to come check out your site (which ROCKS, by the way!). So glad to have connected.

    I also wanted to say that I LOVE this piece. The string analogy makes so much sense, and I’m going to have to “steal” this. I also HUGELY appreciate the VALUE you are offering here. Not many people “get that” and are doing that in the social sphere!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Hey, thanks, Brooke! *tear comes to eye* That’s exactly what we’re shooting for. *sniffle* :) Seriously, steal away ‘n’ keep on comin’ back… ‘cos there’s more where that came from!

  • robertwilliams88

    What’s a spec?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Are you kidding me, Robert? You’re a designer! You must know!!

  • Drew Eric Whitman

    Ahhh… yes, indeed. I’ve written about this extensively in CA$HVERTISING.

    Not only does short copy risk not providing enough information to move “Mrs. Short” to act, but it completely alienates the other half of your audience, “Mr. Long” and his like-minded friends who need more details, benefits. and reasons to take action. These people psychologically NEED more information to satisfy what’s referred to as their “convincer strategies” in order to click… type.. and push the submit button.

    Nobody says, “Hey, this is great! I want this… but, wait just one darned minute… there’s more to read… FORGET IT–I don’t want it any more!” Silly, right? At any time in the process of reading long copy, both of these types of readers can click and submit. They both get what they need. “Mrs. Short” reads only as much as she needs–perhaps skips 95% of it if she wants–and then clicks. “Mr. Long” reads the whole darned thing… convincer strategy satisfied… and clicks.

    In other words, nothing forces any consumer to read the entire promotion. Just make sure you communicate your offer succinctly upfront so Ms. Short can get what she needs and go… and provide multiple opportunities to click–not just at the end–and you’ll appeal to the needs of both groups.

    This debate, decades old, has been resolved via testing in countless media… as old as radio… as new as online… well-written long copy consistently outsells well-written short copy. The industry doesn’t matter. The product doesn’t matter. It’s about the human brain, not the thing being sold.

    Salesperson A who speaks for one minute does not sell as much as Salesperson B who stays for 30 and opens his brief case… pulls out samples… does live demos… gets satisfied customers on the phone for testimonials… and answers all objections. You get the point.

    It’s logical. The testing has been done. It has been proven countless times by organizations in all industries the world over. It’s time to bury the debate and let the dead rest. ;-)

    On a happy note…. love your site, Joanna and Lance. Beautifully executed all the way. Keep up the great work!

    Success!
    Drew Eric Whitman, D.R.S.
    Direct Response Surgeon™
    Author of “CA$HVERTISING”
    http://www.DrewEricWhitman.com

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Drew! (I read and loved CA$HVERTISING.) If only the great long vs short copy debate could be put to rest… but the resistance is very strong.

      There are the rare few who understand the power of longer copy – and they’re / we’re richer for it – but time and again the majority of marketers push back on what they perceive to be snake oil sales, fear-mongering, etc in long copy. Our mission here is to bring the naysayers on board with what we call “conversion copywriting”, a style of copywriting that uses the best of direct response but does so in a palatable way that tests well on home pages and spaces that aren’t commonly meant to ‘sell’. Of course, this is a massive discussion. :)

  • http://www.smallspec.com/ Christopher Hawkins

    P.S. Just in case it wasn’t clear, I am:

    a) Totally *not* offended by having my page picked apart, and
    b) Feel really good that with all the BS artistry there is on the web, you’re all being straight-shooters with your comments.

    I *love* that. Keep it coming!

  • http://www.smallspec.com/ Christopher Hawkins

    Hi Joanna.

    First off, thanks for the tear-down. 2 minutes of free consulting? I’m in!

    Second, this comment is absolutely spot-on:

    “Chris is a bit of a Word Nerd, and I have every reason to believe he’s heard that an effective writer says in fewer words what an ineffective one takes many to communicate. He’s very smart. So he’s probably aiming quite intentionally for succinct.”

    When I was writing my first draft for this landing page, I wrote what you call “long copy”. Then I started cutting and cutting, getting feedback from friends, cutting and cutting, and ended up with what you see on the web now. Aiming for succinct is correct.

    I did have a second version of the page created with additional data in the form of bullet points:

    http://www.smallspec.com/index-b.html

    My worry was that this page was too “wordy”. O_o

    Is it OK if I respond to everyone with a gigantic meta-comment? It _is_? You’re all too kind. :)

    @Avi: “Bonus points if you add some indication of mailing frequency (something like “1 email per month, we promise!”) and ETA of product.”

    Mailing frequency, I like that. I’m going to do that.

    “an additional link (even if just an anchor to somewhere lower on same page) to top 3 features with small screenshots or one big product teaser.”

    It’s interesting that you say that. Initially, I put up a full sales site, complete with screenshots, feature blurbs, pricing tiers, you name it. You had to actually click the “Buy Now” button in order to get to the page that told you SmallSpec was still under development, and asked you to join the launch list.

    That page didn’t collect e-mails very well; I thought that perhaps it seemed too much like vaporware, or a bait & switch. That led to the creation of this polar opposite, super-minimal landing page.

    @Ramsay Leimenstoll: “Not only do I not know what they need my email for, but I literally have no idea what will happen within that window in front of my eyes after I click “I’m in”.”

    You make it sound so scary. :) But in all seriousness, I understand that it *can* be scary, not having any explicit promises made as to what happens with your e-mail address, what you’re committing to (if anything), where you’ll be redirected, etc. That’s clearly something that I need to work on.

    @David Larsen: “Even a tiny teaser image showing what Chris considers a “professional functional spec” would make me much more likely to take action.”

    Noted. I’ll go dig up my screenshots from the old over-down sales site and see if I can incorporate them tastefully here.

    @Lance Jones: “Interesting home page! It resembles a start-up’s launch page, and that was my initial reaction — that I’m signing up to hear about an upcoming product launch. But now that I know it’s not related to a launch…”

    But it *is* related to a launch – and impending launch, at least – and I’ve done a *really* bad job of making that clear.

    “I think a bit more info there would go a long way to giving people the info they require. And as with any SaaS offering, a nice, clear product shot can convey a lot using few/no words.”

    Another vote for screenshots! OK, OK, I get the picture (no pun intended).

    So…takeaways!
    1) The copy needs to better explain what the heck SmallSpec is/does (likely in the form of “main feature” blurbs),
    2) The copy need to better explain that you’re signing up to receive e-mail updates as SmallSpec moves toward launch (and how often!),
    3) The copy needs to be supported by some screenshots

    Whew. I have my work cut out for me.

    Honestly, I’m probably just going to start browsing landing pages until I find one that I feel good about copying. :)

    • http://www.toppingtwo.com/ Lance Jones

      Love your meta response, Chris. :-)

      Here are some great posts on Unbounce to get your juices flowing:

      http://unbounce.com/landing-pages/perfect-landing-page-recipe/

      http://unbounce.com/landing-page-examples/built-using-unbounce/beautiful-landing-page-design-examples/

      http://unbounce.com/landing-page-examples/built-using-unbounce/landing-page-designs/

      If you’re testing the market opportunity for your new product, I think it’s important to give it a good fighting chance. This post and the helpful comments from readers — along with the Unbounce posts above will help you get there quicker.

      Lance

      • http://www.smallspec.com/ Christopher Hawkins

        Those links are gold, my friend, and I thank you for sharing them.

    • Ramsay Leimenstoll

      Hah sorry that it sounded rather over-dramatic, Chris :) Like Avi, below, my best guess was that it was signing up for emails related to a launch, but I misunderstood Lance’s comment and thought he knew it WASN’T launch-related, so I felt like I had nothing to guide me. Now that I understand that it is part of a launch, and Lance was just pointing out that it isn’t explicitly stated, I would have a much better idea of what I’m probably signing up for. However, I’d agree with others in saying that it’s better if I don’t have to guess at all!

  • Avi

    Generally speaking, a page like this signals “beta”, “startup”, “email newsletter” to me. I agree with Lance that it can clarify what I’m signing up for. A single sentence below the text field would be enough for me. Bonus points if you add some indication of mailing frequency (something like “1 email per month, we promise!”) and ETA of product.

    Also, the prominent @SmallSpec placement is nice but I know that I’m not likely to see anything with a lot of “meat” on Twitter with respect to the product. So, I’m with Lance on this as well: an additional link (even if just an anchor to somewhere lower on same page) to top 3 features with small screenshots or one big product teaser.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I agree that it *signals* early-stage or pre-launch… but it doesn’t actually *say* anything about that. The signal alone is enough if you’re trying to speak to a small group of your visitors – those who don’t need much info at all – but is a signal enough to get more people to convert? A red octagonal sign sends a much stronger message when the word “stop” is printed on it.

      • Avi

        No argument about the possibility of it being clearer, simply saying that it’s not a show stopper for a developer-type like me :)

        Seems to me the wording of “I’m in” on the button is what’s causing a lot of confusion, maybe “Let me know” or something would work better.

  • Ramsay Leimenstoll

    I agree with Lance – I don’t know what I’m getting. Am I getting their newsletter? Am I creating an account? Am I becoming a lead and someone from smallSpec is going to follow up with me via email? Does giving my email create an account instantly and that account is the gate that lets me through to the rest of the site which will explain more about pricing and features? Not only do I not know what they need my email for, but I literally have no idea what will happen within that window in front of my eyes after I click “I’m in”. Just a thank-you page while I wait for the email? The unveiling of a behind-the-scenes full site? No clue.

    I think that even if I’d come from another site that was explaining the product and the link said, “Go sign up on their website now”, I would STILL not be sure that hitting “I’m in” was the sign-up process I was explicitly prepped to expect. So that means (IMO) that even people who are educated on what to expect will still be confused, which makes them hesitant, which’ll make some of them leave.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Fully agree! This is an example of a good page that could be a great page if it were optimized to answer the questions you list.

  • David Larsen

    Even a tiny teaser image showing what Chris considers a “professional functional spec” would make me much more likely to take action. The site itself is clean, so that boosts credibility. But I’ve seen flimsy products misrepresented by being showcased within a professional template. The author of the product may not be responsible for the design I see. The “professional template” may not meet my expectations of professionalism.

    An image of some kind would likely win me over.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Your comment makes me think of the classic discussion of showing vs telling and how, in fact, there are layers of showing and layers of telling. Here Chris’s copy and design are showing that his product is efficient and professional… but there’s more showing to be done, a deeper lever of showing, the type of showing that comes very close to telling – and that is in the form of a product shot, which I agree could probably help quite a bit here.

  • http://www.toppingtwo.com/ Lance Jones

    Interesting home page! It resembles a start-up’s launch page, and that was my initial reaction — that I’m signing up to hear about an upcoming product launch. But now that I know it’s not related to a launch…

    This is a page with a single call to action. And we’ve written before on Copy Hackers about what people need to click a CTA. I use a little acronym “RAD” as a reminder of what to do with design and copy around primary CTAs:

    R = Require (visitors require some amount of information to make an informed decision)

    A = Acquire (visitors need to easily find the button to click)

    D = Desire (visitors should feel compelled to click your CTA!)

    I believe Chris has things pretty well covered with “A” (good color choice) and “D” (headline and sub-head make the product sound compelling to the right audience) but the page is light on “R”.

    What am I signing up for? A drip campaign? A trial? The full product?

    I think a bit more info there would go a long way to giving people the info they require. And as with any SaaS offering, a nice, clear product shot can convey a lot using few/no words.

    Continued success with your business, Chris!