Hate writing landing pages? So did I. Here’s how I got better at it.

Oli Gardner (@oligardner) gave me a chuckle this morning as he punched landing pages in the throat, then apologized and made googly eyes at them. I was laughing with him, not at him. . . I have had days where my own hate for landing pages flares across my pulmonary trunk down into the lobes of my left lung before swan diving across my transverse and ascending colons and then skipping past my no-no parts into my gracilis. You know, the typical flight pattern of landing page hatred.

Why all the landing page rage? Easy. I hated writing them. Add an f-bomb into that previous sentence and you still can’t get close to how much I hated it. I had used up all my good ideas writing email copy to push people to a landing page.  I had nothing left, and the act of writing landing page and / or webform copy was an act of trying to take the same meager crumbs I scraped from the cold, naked input brief and spread them across a few more deliverables that were supposed to be amazing.

Rant: If I had a shovel, and the person that came up with the word deliverables was standing in front of me, I would promptly give said person a dull metallic thwack in the thorax with said shovel and leave them with the words “work,” “projects,” “products,” “output,” and the phrase “things you are working on” to heal them back to tip top condition.

Tweet from @joshuacmerritt: Friends don't let friends say "deliverables"

3 reasons I wanted to shank landing pages in the knee caps

I probably did go through denial, and anger for certain, although I don’t remember grieving landing pages. For me, acceptance of my hatred came in the form of understanding why I felt the way I did. It boiled down nicely to three reasons:

1.) When I had already spent a long time working on the first part of a project – say, an email or a display ad – the landing pages become the last barrier between my work day and freedom. Not a good place to be.

2.) Subject fatigue. I’ve written about the same topic for hours now – what more can I say on a landing page?

3.) Landing pages are sooooo not sexy. Not even dorky twenty-something librarian cute, or “I wonder how Helen Hunt looks in The Sessions” intriguing. It’s a landing page.

I’d be surprised if most other copywriters haven’t felt some version of these same thoughts. So what can we do about them? Here’s how I changed my own landing page languish into a much healthier stalker / stalkee relationship.

Stop saving landing pages for last.
First up is the matter of my lazy, skinny rear end procrastinating the entire project to a single day. Most writers work in high volume environments, and few (that I have ever worked with) are really great at time management. Since being recently introduced to David Ogilvy’s 24 hour rule, I’ve altered it a bit for unintended uses, and it’s worked quite nicely across the board. Ogilvy’s original memo encouraged writers to step away from an important piece they have worked on for 24 hours, then revisit it, before sending it off for client review. This allows you to see it in a new light. I’m taking this a bit further, when it comes to projects with multiple pieces like a series of emails that also require landing and form page copy.  Now, I write the emails, then set the entire project aside for 24 hours. Then, after reviewing the emails again and tidying up the dust balls, I tackle the landing page copy, etc. It’s all about time management, but it makes a world of difference. Writers need space to create great work, and it’s my job as a writer to protect my own space.

Spread the good ideas around – don’t use them all up front
Truthfully, this one is less about being tired of the topic or out of ideas, and more about not properly spacing my ideas across the full project I am working on. What do I mean? Let’s say I am writing an email with the goal of driving the reader to a white paper. There are two pieces I need to deliver: 1.) The email (with a few subject line choices and calls to action) and 2.) The form page copy. In the past, I’ve gotten myself into trouble because I’ve spent so much intellectual capital kicking out the email, that I feel like the landing page ends up just being a rehash of what the reader will already have read in the email.

For the longest time, I blamed this on my clients. “They didn’t give me enough material to write about, or enough direction on what THEY WANTED the form page to highlight.” Horse patties. I may as well ask my daughter’s Polly Pocket what the page should say before I ask the client – it simply isn’t their job, and certainly not (often) their skill set to know about landing page strategy, or what the most compelling thing you could put on the page would be that would drive the visitor to convert. I’m sick of the passive writer, and it makes me sick when I find myself being the passive writer. I’ve written thousands of pages of marketing copy in my life – if anyone is the expert on what will work, what we should highlight, it’s me.

So I took ownership of subject fatigue. I realized the problem was in my pacing, that I was giving all of the information away in the email and not saving anything for the landing page.

My rule of thumb is to treat every component in a multi-touch project as an extension of where the last conversation left off. Every component – from email to landing page to registration page and thank you copy – should ADD something to the experience. When you change your mind to think of the project end-to-end, as the sum of its parts, instead of as individual, standalone pieces, you can lay out a story that makes the result much stronger and more intentional.

Example: In the email, when I introduce the whitepaper offer, I may give away 1 or 2 compelling facts or stats or tips as a teaser. On the registration page, I throw in one more, instead of giving all three away in the email. This might seem obvious, but I assure you, it’s not when you are heads down in hour six of email writing.

The goal of every line of copy should be to get people to read the next one. If we rehash the same stuff, or worse yet, paste the copy from the email into the landing page verbatim, it gives me no incentive to move further. It looks lazy. Quite frankly, it’s shite.

Wake up and smell the entire experience
Average writers think about the piece they are working on. Great writers think about how all the pieces connect. It took me a while to get here on my own, but I realize now that landing pages and forms are probably the most strategic part of most marketing campaigns. I’ve completely changed the way I think of landing pages. I actually view them as one of the most important parts of the written experience. I’ve even thought about hiring a writer dedicated to landing page and web form copy – these are the gatekeepers of conversion, after all. I think it’s truly easier to get someone to open an email, or click a link in an email, than it is to get someone to take the last step and commit, registration required or not. The stats would support this, too – open rates and click thru rates are exponentially higher than conversion rates for a reason. Once I changed my own perception of landing pages – from “annoying afterthoughts at the end of the day” to highly strategic tools worthy of my most intentional, careful copy, they became a much more worthy challenge.

I’m a better writer for it.

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