Oli Gardner, Co-founder, Unbounce
Oli Gardner Wants to Fix Your Landing Page
The Unbounce co-founder was a pioneer in landing pages, and he’s still preaching the gospel of better marketing.
If you’ve created or refined a landing page for your business, odds are good that you have Oli Gardner’s pioneering insights to thank.
While content marketing and slick landing page copy may be the bread and butter of modern marketers, these tactics were just getting started about a decade ago when Gardner and his company Unbounce helped put them on the map.
After co-founding the landing page-building service in 2009, Gardner and his team played a major role in popularizing landing pages and jump-starting the early years of content marketing.
This was an unusual turn of events for someone with no background in marketing. Gardner started his career as a coder in the late 1990s, then gradually switched his focus to interaction design, usability, and eventually creative direction. “I became a marketer the day we started Unbounce, because I’d never done it before,” he says.
Today, Unbounce employs around 170 people between Vancouver and Berlin, has taken approximately $1 million in small investments, and rakes in around $20 million in annual revenue. Gardner himself has shifted away from operational management and spends nearly half his time as a public speaker.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t kept up with the fine art of effective landing pages. “I observe things and complain about things and try to fix things constantly,” he says. Four years ago, he began a public speaking gig by declaring, “98 percent of landing pages suck.”
In other words, if you have a landing page, he’s probably got some thoughts about how you could improve it.
“This is something people get wrong, and it’s good for me because if they didn’t I wouldn’t have a job,” he says. Here’s how Gardner got that job in the first place—plus what it takes to create a landing page that actually passes muster.
Integration, and Heaps of Good Content
Unbounce was started by six co-founders—an arrangement that Gardner describes as “kinda strange, but it’s worked out well”. When they were just starting out, the team ran a few Facebook ads to see if people were interested in a landing page builder. (For the uninitiated, landing pages are standalone web pages dedicated to a specific marketing or advertising campaign. They’re driven by high-impact copywriting that’s meant to inspire readers’ engagement with a single call to action (CTA).)
“Every marketer we talked to said, ‘Yes, I need that,’” Gardner says. “There wasn’t a self-serve market, so that’s what we plugged into.”
In fact, Unbounce started with only one other competitor, which soon pivoted to analytics. “We were kinda left alone for a while,” Gardner says. “Which is good and bad, because you need competition to push you.” (Today, Unbounce has plenty of that.)
A few days after the Unbounce team started building their product, Gardner put up a website. A week later, he started blogging. He kept it up for seven months before the product launched. He also began blogging in the Moz community, where his “Zero to Hero” marketing guide smashed every engagement record on Moz for the next three years. All told, Gardner has written some 300 posts about content and landing pages.
“We were among the first companies doing content marketing back then, so it was easier to stand out from that perspective,” he says.
Gardner credits going all-in on content creation with half of Unbounce’s early success. The other half, he says, was its technical integration with other tools such as MailChimp.
“The more tools people connect together, the less likely they are to disconnect them,” he says. So he and his team evaluated other tech companies to spot opportunities for integration and co-marketing. They ignored the heavy hitters that were beyond their league as well as services with fewer users than Unbounce. “We chose ones that were…mainly just a little bit bigger than us,” he says. “That really helped from a co-marketing standpoint.”
That combination of filling a much-desired need, playing well with others, and pouring lots of free information and analysis onto the web paid off in the company’s early days.
“It’s been a pretty crazy journey,” Gardner says. Today, the company is maturing out of its days as a startup and into a more established entity.
“Once you get to a certain point, you have to not look at yourself ,” he says. “You have to start operating in a different way thinking in a different way.” Now, Gardner says his focus is on “getting to…be a very secure, safe business where employees love coming to work.”
How to Make a Landing Page That Impresses Oli Gardner
Gardner still keeps an eye out for good design everywhere he goes, both online and in everyday life. (Don’t get him started about the thoughtful design—or lack thereof—of public restrooms.)
All told, he’s reviewed approximately 100,000 landing pages, which is why he confidently claims to have seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet.
So what does it take to impress one of the world’s foremost landing page gurus?
For starters, have a landing page. Gardner says most companies should avoid the cardinal sin of sending paid ad traffic to their home page.
“Sending traffic to a home page is a bad idea because there are all these distractions,” he says. “It’s harder to figure out what you’re offering.” Furthermore, it provides people with opportunities to stray from what you’re selling by, say, clicking through different links. “You’re just giving people a chance to…get distracted and leave,” he says.
Not surprisingly, Gardner also believes that good design is paramount. “Design is really important,” he says. When people are comparison shopping across different search results, “they’ll make these snap judgements, and design plays a big part in that.”
In Gardner’s view, fundamental to good design is empathy for the user experience. “We can create better experiences that way, when we actually consider how they might best use it,” he says.
Also lumped into the category of good design is the issue of visual identification. “Take your hero image (the main image on your page) and…look at it in isolation and say, ‘What does our product or service do?,’” Gardner says. “If can’t answer, then you’ve got meaningless content. You have an image that doesn’t represent you.”
Next up on the checklist for successful landing pages? Clarity. “If you can communicate really quickly—like a great headline that describes you and your benefit and all that kind of stuff—that coupled with design will win over the others,” he says. “Being clever is for marketing campaigns; it’s not for your main value prop. Clarity is where it’s at. … You have to give that immediate sense of confidence that you’re delivering what you’re promising.”
Finally, Gardner places high value on the human elements of a brand. Whenever he appraises a new company, one of the first things he does is look for the About Us page.
“I want to see the real people behind it,” he says. “The human side is important. Because you may sign up for several
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