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Oli Gardner has probably seen and critiqued more landing pages than anyone on the Internet. He is widely respected and feared for gently telling it like it is when it comes to conversion optimization on landing pages. We invited him to speak at our upcoming roadshow in Chicago to do just this: call out ideas for improvement on landing pages of eager attendees live on stage. (Learn more about the FREE roadshow here.)

We recently interviewed Oli to give you a preview of what he’s all about.

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Back in the day, Oli was the Usability Lead at online gambling company Bodog – playing in a live poker tournament while wearing a kilt to win a seat at the World Series of Poker.

Optimizely: In a recent AMA on Inbound.org, you mentioned that “The day we started [Unbounce] was the day I became a marketer.” What has founding and building a company focused on landing page optimization taught you about being a marketer?

Oli: The most interesting — and challenging — aspect has been that marketing to marketers with marketing content that’s about how marketers should be doing their marketing is pretty damn hard.

A big part of doing content marketing when you have a related product is establishing your selves as thought leaders. If marketers respect the content we put out, the more likely — in theory — they will be inclined to trust in the product we’re building.

You’ve built excellent content around topics related to design (like “The 7 Principles of Conversion Centered Design.”) Yet in your experience, you’ve also been a developer and a creative director. How do you reconcile the different skill sets and goals for these roles in a cross-functional task like conversion rate optimization?

I’ve had quite the laundry list of roles in my career: beehive factory worker, C programmer, front-end web developer, C# developer, Expedia photographer, interaction designer, usability team lead, producer, creative director, marketer, writer, and speaker. Each one has given me a different perspective on what it means to create online experience and communicate to marketers. The turning point towards conversion rate optimization really happened with the usability role, it’s where my critical and opinionated approach was born.

When we started Unbounce and I became a marketer I had to quickly learn how to switch my thinking from User Centered Design to create the Conversion Centered Design methodology (CCD). When it comes to landing pages, CCD is a mixture of conversion science and the art of brand-driven communication.

Besides A/B or Multivariate testing, what are tools and techniques you would recommend marketers focus on honing to make their conversion rate optimization efforts more successful?

Instead of the usual roundup of conversion tools, I’d like to suggest an exercise that people can use to improve the clarity of their landing pages. I informally call it the “BS Detector” as it’s a great way to uncover holes in the communication on your landing pages.

Essentially, your aim here is to put yourself in the shoes of an impatient web visitor. When someone arrives on your page, they will quickly scan the most visually dominant elements on the page such as the headline and the subheads for features/benefits. Your goal as a marketer is to be able to communicate the purpose of the page without having to read the minutiae.

Here’s the exercise:

  1. Print out your landing page.
  2. Quickly read out the content as you scan the most prominent portions.
  3. Do this while walking in a circle.

You read quickly to represent impatience, and you walk to simulate distraction. By speaking out loud you will be more likely to hear elements of your page that don’t communicate anything of value. This is where you should focus your copywriting efforts.

Repeat the process until the communication is crystal clear, to you and a colleague.

What mistakes do you see marketers making the most often on their landing pages? Do you feel like there are any common threads or patterns that you tend to see across these mistakes?

There are two very fundamental mistakes that a large majority of marketers are making.

First, sending campaign traffic (from PPC, email, social, content, remarketing) to their homepage. Secondly, not matching the post-click headline and design of the landing page with the copy and design that was present pre-click.

The exceptions that I’ve noticed are SaaS companies with online products. These types of company are often ahead of the curve as they seem to spend more time learning the intricacies of effective campaign marketing.

What have been some of your most surprising discoveries as you’ve tested landing pages, both for Unbounce and your customers? Is there any landing page advice you’ve given that didn’t pan out for an unexpected reason?

As a self-serve platform, I don’t run tests for customers, only our own Unbounce campaign landing pages. One thing I’ve found is that when it comes to optimizing landing pages for email campaigns, it’s incredibly hard to move the needle as your visitors are often much more qualified than other inbound channels. What this means is that you have to spend your time designing more dramatic changes, as opposed to simple copy or layout changes.

I have given out advice while doing landing page critiques, some of which has worked well and some had no impact. The lesson here, as in all testing, is that the majority of things you test will have no impact. For me, the most successful tests have come when the test hypothesis was built around solid research.

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