All the optimizing in the world can’t fix a landing page that doesn’t match your visitor’s expectations.

With the rising cost of PPC campaigns and the mad competition of organic search, the wrong messaging (especially at the top of the funnel) will lead to higher bounce rates than Ice Cube in the 90s. 

God that’s a solid reference. Anyway…

Landing pages should never be a one-size-fits-all experience.

Presenting the same message to everyone —  cold traffic, warm traffic, email subscribers,  long-time customers — is a good way to come across as tone-deaf.

And broke. Tone-deaf and broke.

Because even if you look at it purely from an engagement standpoint, getting it wrong at the top of the funnel is worse than getting it wrong at the point of sale.

According to MarketingBlender, 73% of consumers report feeling frustrated when your website offers content that has nothing to do with them.

And you know what frustrated consumers do? They go somewhere else.

Not buying right away is one thing. Writing you off completely is another.

Creating a relevant landing page experience sounds easy-ish, but customers are picky as hell.  “Nothing to do with them” is more nuanced than you might think.

The problem isn’t that you’re offering something completely out of pocket. The problem is giving them information that doesn’t match their level of awareness.

What “Problem-Aware” really means

Imagine you’re a first-time homeowner with a raccoon problem.

You are almost positive you’ve seen them in your garage. They freak you out and you want them gone…but you don’t really know the extent of the problem.

You know next to nothing about raccoons. You don’t know if they bite or scratch or spit freaky raccoon acid. You don’t know if there’s something in your garage that could be attracting them.  You don’t know if they’re stealing your tools and you don’t even know if your cats are safe from their weird racoon hand-paws.

You would definitely like a way to get rid of them, but you really want to know what the hell you’re dealing with. 

You are problem aware.

In his copywriting classic Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz identifies the five levels of customer awareness, with problem-aware (just above unaware) described as this:

“Problem aware prospects know they have a problem, and have some idea of what that problem is, but they may not completely understand it. They haven’t dealt with this problem before. They’re totally unfamiliar with possible solutions.”

Even though your prospect knows he/she has a problem, chances are they don’t fully understand it. They’ve never had to deal with this before.

Visitors of your problem-aware landing page are relatively cold. They’re experiencing the pain of their problem and they don’t know anything about solutions.

Would they like one? Sure. But first they need someone who understands what they’re going through.  The problem-aware landing page is where you set the tone.

There are a couple of ways to analyze your prospect’s situation and expectations.

Wider Funnel’s LIFT Model does a good job showing you all that goes into the value proposition when a prospect first comes into contact, but in my opinion it doesn’t show the whole story.

That’s why I prefer the Hero’s Journey. 

Donald Miller lays out the Hero’s Journey like so:

The hero (your prospect) has a problem, and even though they don’t know you, something (ad copy, search results, a well-placed referral link) is hinting that you may be able to point them in the right direction.

This is your chance to enter the story, but remember — your prospect is at the beginning of their journey. It’s still relatively easy for them to “try out” different guides. Whether that’s you or someone else.

So, how can you make sure your problem-aware landing page shows that you understand the problem? 

How do you show that you are worth your prospect’s trust?

Empathy. A whole heaping amount of empathy. 

Working Empathy into Your Problem-Aware Landing Page

According to Googs, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Easier said than done.

Because here’s the tricky thing about landing pages nowadays: they usually check all the boxes.

✔ Clear, benefit-driven copy

✔ Key elements above the fold

✔ Intuitive user design

To see whether or not you’re “optimized” for problem-aware visitors, you have to dig a little deeper. You have to look beyond the 5-second test and ask yourself if you’ve appropriately positioned yourself as the helpful guide.

To help you do that, let’s look at a few common pitfalls that stop well-meaning copywriters, marketers, and business owners in their well-meaning tracks.

Pitfall #1: Misplacing the source of the pain

Your problem-aware visitor might not have a full grasp of their problem, but it’s usually not due to complexity. It’s usually because they haven’t fully considered their situation.

Sometimes they aren’t even aware of what the real problem is.

A good opportunity for you to guide them, right? Absolutely. Except when you aren’t clear on what the real problem is either. 

Take Tego. A location-tracking mobile app to help make sure friends get home safely. 

It’s not hard to see what problem they are trying to solve: Not knowing whether your sweetheart made it home safely after a long night of “studying.” 

But is that the real problem? Is there really no easy way to know if your friend got home safely?  

I would argue there already is – a text message works just fine.

But that text message is connected to the real problem.

We always say “text me when you get home” but our friends never remember to do so. And if something were to happen, you would never know. (Are they gonna text you if they’re kidnapped? Not likely.)

The real problem is the drunk (I mean, over-studied) person following through and remembering to text their friends that they got home – a common situation that many college kids could relate to… and would probably consider a problem that they’d like solved.

As a problem-aware visitor, it’s easier to see the value when the problem references a specific situation, rather than a generic framing of a problem.

If your prospect doesn’t fully appreciate the problem in the context of their own experience, they won’t have any motivation to search out a solution.

Tego could address the real problem more accurately with a headline like:

Because You Can Do Better Than “Text me when you get home”


Don’t Leave Your Friend’s Life in the Hands of a Text Message

Not only does focusing on a specific aspect show a deeper understanding, it then becomes  more of a priority in your prospect’s head.  

Which leads us to the second pitfall.

Pitfall #2: Focusing on the surface-level problem 

Folks with problems don’t always know why they have problems.

In fact, most of the problems that drive us to look for solutions aren’t problems at all. They are symptoms of the real causes.

I like framing customer problems into two types: internal and external.

External Problems = Symptoms. Things that we Google solutions for.

Internal problems = Causes. Things we don’t tell anyone due to shame, embarrassment, unawareness or complexity.

Not sure how to find external vs internal problems? Check out Emotion Sells by Talia Wolf

Problem-aware visitors might truly believe that the problems they are Googling are the reason they are looking for relief. But most (if not all) of the time, they’re driven by something deeper.

As the copywriter, you have to go deeper too. Even when a company solves a seemingly simple problem – like buying a backpack.

Okay, so let’s look at this example from the perspective of internal and external.

External Problem – “I want a cool backpack.”

Easy enough.

Internal Problem – “I need something cool and functional enough that people can see me owning it without it being flashy and annoying. Oh, also I wanna align with a brand that represents me as a worldly, conscious traveler. Preferably one that wants to support local initiatives and cares about using artisanal methods, rather than big factory production. Bonus points for funky patterns and extra-zippy zippers.”


Would their prospects be able to tell you that right off the bat? Probably not.

Would they even agree that they want all of that if suggested to them? Probably not. 

But it’s your responsibility to dig into BOTH these external and internal drivers. (Hey, customer research, you sexy beast.)

Get their head nodding by addressing an external symptom, and then back that up with an internal problem to show how much you understand their plight.

If you’re down for a three minute halftime speech, here’s a video where I break down internal and external problems a bit further.

Hitting them both is huge for you and your problem-aware landing page visitors.

Let’s look at a couple of examples that nail it. 

External problem – “I want to get better at drawing and painting.”

Internal problem – “ I’ve always looked up to artists, and I want to become one myself. It’s not that I just want to draw good pictures – I want a life-long relationship with art. I want to become an artist rather than just a fan or observer.”

See how this distinction creates a deeper level of empathy?

Touching on those internal problems just shows that you get it.

You aren’t just offering a product or solution. You are providing relief, and an opportunity for lifelong transformation.

Sketchbook Skool could have said “We have the best teachers in the world and you will start drawing and painting in 10 minutes flat.”

But they know what their customers really want – a lifelong habit. 

Here’s another one.

External Problem – “I need a better design library.”

Internal Problem – “My work life is a cluttered freakin’ mess. I waste so much time going through folders, renaming files, and clicking around while I should be focusing on client work so I can make more money.”

Eagle shows an understanding that even its audience might not get about themselves.

They realize that disorganization is the reason so many designers get frustrated and unhappy. They dig into the internal problem – the real cause driving them to look for a solution.

As a problem-aware landing page visitor, this tells me that they are designers too, not just some smart dudes who built a product. They’ve been through it, and they know what their audience needs to finally find relief.


Finding the real source of pain and addressing both internal and external problems will solve a lot of your problem-aware landing page issues. But there’s one more pitfall that copywriters should always steer clear from.

Pitfall #3: Forgetting the emotion

According to Paul Ekman, psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions, there are six basic emotions that every human in the world shares:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Disgust

The reason emotion is so powerful in copywriting is because every reader has his/her own frame of reference for a given situation.

A lot of copywriters misconstrue the 5 second rule as “Since I have to quickly show that I’m valuable, I better explain exactly what we do right away.”

The result? Landing pages that breeze over the problem, completely minimizing the emotion and human element that is driving the audience to search for a solution in the first place.

Take this relatively standard SaaS landing page.

I have no doubt that Nurture Labs is solving a very important problem. But they don’t sound very convinced. Moreover, they don’t sound very in tune with what’s actually going on in their prospects’ lives. If they are, in fact, in tune, why not show it?

Let’s analyze it a bit more.

The problem they are solving is this: scaling is hard.

Ok fine. But they aren’t really showing prospects that they understand that scaling is really hard.  There’s a lot that goes into it. Like, having to sacrifice time with your family, relationships and often money out of your own pocket just to see your baby flourish.

All the emotion that goes behind the problem is completely ignored upon first glance of this landing page. Fear, happiness, excitement, anguish. All emotions that, if I were able to feel them as a problem-aware landing page visitor, would instantly bring me closer to the brand.

Remember: At this stage they aren’t necessarily looking for a solution. They are looking for someone who feels their pain – someone who can really talk to the problems and emotions they’re having.

If I were Nurture Labs, I would ask myself things like “what are the potential implications if an entrepreneur isn’t able to scale?” and “what problems in their lives are actually causing the scaling problem?”

That would lead me to copy (and a more appropriate CTA) that better targets prospects’s pains.  Ideas like:

“Need to free up your time and energy?”

“Is a slow pipeline preventing you from scaling?”

“Have you maxed out your resources?”

“Do you not know where to go from here?”

However you put it, you need to dig into the real life issue behind the problem.

This doesn’t mean you have to use a lot of time or copy to marinate on the problem. You can speed up this connection by using emotion. Take this great landing page from

External Problem – I want to take a trip.

Internal Problem – I miss my friends and I don’t want to be alone at Thanksgiving.

Rather than leading with “cheap bus rides anywhere in the country,” which would minimize the problem, they dig into the internal problem and the emotions surrounding it: the human desire for friendship and social contact. It also amplifies the ramifications of not finding relief to the problem. (You’ll be eating a turkey dinner for one.)

Skipping over the emotion is a fast way to make yourself replaceable.

Coming to terms with your problem-aware landing page

At this stage, your prospect isn’t looking for you to tell them what they should understand about your solution. They are looking to be understood.

Later in the customer journey you will have time to show your capabilities and expertise. Right now you need to marinate in the pain.

Your prospect needs to know that you can help.

No amount of clever copywriting can substitute for deep customer research. Dig into the hopes, dreams, fears and limitations of your prospects. Tune in to the conversations already happening in their minds.

If you can get your prospects head-nodding at this stage, the all-important transaction of monies will be much easier and more fluid down the road.

Happy writing y’all.

And beware of those pesky raccoons. Please.