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 , but you’ll stay with the company that looks after you. And that becomes a big part of the brand then; that’s really hard to overtake.”
Gardner’s Tips for Becoming a Better Marketer
- Develop empathy for the user. Gardner refers to the example of a disabled-accessible bathroom stall that places the toilet paper at a height that would be difficult for someone in a wheelchair to access. “It’s stupid mistakes, that’s the stuff that annoys me,” he says. “Because they have no empathy for the person who’s gonna use it.” Avoid this in real life and online.
- Practice changing online behavior. Gardner says he loves doing research and looking at data to spot where users are getting off track. Then, he’ll try to design little “micro-experiences” that change online behavior. “When you can get some success with changing behavior, it’s an amazing experience and it accelerates your growth as a marketer, as an optimizer,” he says.
- Treat your customers well. This may seem obvious, but too many companies rely on their products to sell the brand and forego the human element. “The differentiator becomes experience and support and that kind of thing,” Gardner says. “Just getting a signup isn’t enough. You have to be willing to treat your customers differently from everybody else.”
ATTENTION: We are excited to announce that Oli has partnered with the Foundr School of Entrepreneurship to teach a powerful course, Landing Page Formula. If you want to learn the principles of conversion-center design and get a step-by-step blueprint on how to construct a high-converting landing page (templates included), Oli reveals his proven framework in this in-depth course. We only offer open enrollment a couple of times a year, for a limited time. Get on the FREE VIP waitlist here to be one of the first we notify when we open.
- The history of Unbounce and how the company rose to prominence
- How to make a landing page that impresses Oli Gardner
- Gardner’s top three tips to becoming a better marketer
- The fundamentals of conversion-centered landing page design
Full Transcript of Podcast with Oli Gardner
Nathan: The first question that I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Oli: How did I get my job? Many weird ways I’ve got jobs in the past but this one, we have six co-founders and we’ve worked with each other in many different companies, other startups, little ventures on and off for, like, about the decade prior to Unbounce. And then Rick, our CEO, he had…and we’d just finished.
Me and Rick, we were just down in Costa Rica prior to that working for a really sketchy online casino. He had two ideas and kind of gathered a group of people we’ve met over the years. We were about 12 of us to begin with. We’re just having dinner, we’re talking about things and riffing on these ideas and it got smaller and smaller, the group, because some people aren’t serious, some are.
And we debated which idea would be best. We chose the right one. I have a vague recollection of the other one. It was some kind of dynamic ad-serving platform. I don’t know.
Nathan: Like ad or something?
Oli: I don’t know. I think it was where you’d have an ad, there would be somewhere on the site but you could dynamically change content maybe, but I don’t think anyone would approve that. It’s not like you’re getting an ad space on nba.com and then you’re allowed to change it whenever you want because actually, it needs to be approved. But I’m not sure if that was exactly it.
That’s my recollection. So then we decided, yeah, landing pages. We knew they were needed. We had done some validation and we whittled it down to five of us and then with a sixth guy to help, but then we quickly realized he should be part of it too. So then, yeah, we kicked things off with six co-founders, which is kind of strange but it has worked out well.
Nathan: Yeah. Amazing. And you talked about validation, like, what did you do to validate it?
Oli: Kind of half of it was just the experiences we’d had. So I think someone said it well, our Town Hall the other day. Rick wanted to get landing pages built and Karl didn’t want to build them for him. Karl’s our CTO. So he was the CTO at Bodog, this gambling company we worked at prior to the other one.
Five of the founders were there. And so Rick was creative director and led the creative team and Karl was CTO and marketing needed landing pages and it was always the tech team and IT that had to build them and they don’t want to build that shit. They want to build product. And so it was a giant headache. There would be massive backlogs and delays and it would take weeks and if you got something wrong, it would take days or more to get it fixed.
So we knew that…and we’d worked at, you know, different people, different marketing teams and different companies. We’d seen it repeatedly. The first part was just experiencing the pain. And then the second part was just when we began, we ran some simple Facebook ads just talking about the idea and the problem to see if people, Lean Startup stuff, you know, to see if people would click and express interest.
And they did and every marketer we talked to said, “Yes. I need that.” So it was pretty clear. And there wasn’t much out there doing that. The landing pages were being talked about but there was only one tool out there which was ion interactive and that was kind of enterprise.
So there wasn’t a self-serve market. So that’s what we plugged into. But then, there was another competitor who started almost exactly the same time as us, Performable. And they eventually…they did a lot of stuff right but they created, like, a markup language for their builder instead of being like a WYSIWYG kind of thing.
So it was very difficult for people to embrace from a technical level and they eventually pivoted to be an analytics company and it got acquired by HubSpot. So we were kind of left alone for a while which is good and bad, because you need competition to push you and now we have it locked.
Nathan: Interesting. So man, you’re six co-founders, that’s a pretty big starting team to be honest.
Yeah. To be honest, I’ve never, like, out of…yeah, I’ve interviewed a lot of founders man, yet I’ve never interviewed a team of six. I know it does exist but do you guys have like they say, you know, Paul Graham, they say that the magic number is three. I’m solo. I’m a solo founder but…and they say solo founders always fail.
But they say the magic number is three and you guys are six. You guys fight much or have much disagreements? Or has it been tough that way?
Oli: You know, not really. I can see why three would be an ideal number because you need someone to step in between two people when there’s an argument but honestly, I mean things get tough over time but for the first like four or five years, there were no disagree…we didn’t fight. There was none that existed and four of us are active still. Two have gone off and done something else and on good terms and still have their equity.
And now, I mean the great thing though at the beginning was that we could do anything. We had a really great mix of creative and technical and a lot of overlap too. We could fulfill every role we needed as a startup and didn’t have to hire anyone for two years. So that was a big advantage from that standpoint. Obviously when you get to the end, like if we get acquired or something, then you’re like we got diluted because it’s six of us and we have some small investors, not large.
We would raise less than a million Canadian which is like…that’s quite equivalent to Australian dollars. But yeah, no. There’s not…the word problems, I mean, obviously, there are a little disagreements here and there but we’ve all kind of charted our own path being responsible for our own corner of the company. And when you grow, you become less and less…I’m the least operational of the four remaining founders because primarily, I was a public speaker and stuff like that.
I don’t manage people anymore. I’m just an individual contributor which is good. It’s good for me. I like that. I don’t want to manage people and people are probably happy that I’m not managing them.
Nathan: Yes. Awesome. It’s hard, hey.
Nathan: So talk to me, what is, like…you said you used to be a public speaker.
Oli: No. That’s what I do now.
Nathan: Okay. Got you.
Oli: Yeah. That’s like 50% of my time, probably 40% to 50% of my time.
Nathan: Got you. But you’re predominantly like a UX…your background is UX-UI design. That’s your background, right?
Oli: Yeah. Kind of all over the place. I started as a coder like way back in ’97 in London. I was working in the financial district as a C programmer. Because I accidentally stumbled into that through bad decision making when I did it in my university days. But then, I gradually moved throughout from back-end code to back-end web to front-end web, then interaction design, usability, and as a creative director.
And then became a marketer the day we started Unbounce because I’ve never done it before. But I think the usability portion was a perfect lead-in to optimization because that’s what it is. It just wasn’t called optimization then, like conversion optimization. And I’m very opinionated so I think that also led it to me playing that role as a marketer. So yeah, that’s kind of how that began.
And I’m glad I did the technical part at the beginning. It didn’t make much sense at the time and I was kind of meandering around, but I’m so grateful for that now because I think the future of marketing, well, the future of marketers is technical marketers because they can build shit themselves. They don’t have to rely on other people. My coding is good enough to get stuff done. It’s not good enough to have a coder look at it and not laugh, but if you’re just trying to prove a concept or you build a little tool for marketers or something, that’s all you need to kind of get some momentum.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s cool. So man, I can hear a little bit of an accent.
Oli: Where are you picking up the signals from? Where’s the scent trail taking you to?
Nathan: Is it Irish or Scottish?
Oli: Scottish. Yeah.
Nathan: Yeah. There you go.
Oli: Good. Nice one. I was actually born in the north of England. I’m a Geordie, Newcastle but I moved to Scotland when I was 10. And so I’ve been…thing is that because I acquired a Scottish accent, I was then able to lose it so now I’m kind of a mutt, like, I have this Scottish-Canadian weird kind of thing going on.
I remember like one of my favorite moments which is absurd because, like, at the time when I moved to Scotland, so I’m 10 and I show up at a primary school first day, and it’s in a little village. We were in this tiny village called Gold Ray. It’s like 800 people and there were, like, hardly anyone in school. And we go out to the playground, you know, play time and this kid walks up to me and says, “You and your English boy.”
And I said, “Aye.” Because I said “aye” which is good because we say that in north of England so at least I had that word with this Scottish kind of thing. And I said, “Aye.” And he grabbed my hair…grabbed me by the hair, smashed my head off a brick wall and said, “Welcome to Scotland.”
Which I love now but at the time, I was like, “That’s a little bit harsh.” It’s weird. I was so naive when I was a kid, but I was so naive, I had this weird…when I was a kid, I thought two things. I thought France was this, just this big beach where people lived in tents.
So I thought that’s what would happen if you got to France. And I thought when I got to Scotland that they, for some reason, wouldn’t know…they’ll be terrible at football, like soccer. So I wasn’t any good but…so I show up and this kid, we started talking. He’s like, “Do you play football.”
And I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Where’d you play?” And I’m like, “Center forward, striker,” just making shit up. And he’s like, “All right.” So we go out in a local shop and the shop owner ran the school team and he said, “We got a new player.” And so they put me up front playing these games and I was fucking terrible. I scored one goal accidentally with my knee and it was offside.
And then they kicked me off the team.
Nathan: Wow, man.
Oli: It wasn’t the smoothest introduction to Scottish culture.
Nathan: Yeah. Thank God. That would have been rough.
Oli: But fun.
Nathan: Yeah. Awesome. So coming back, like you started Unbounce, was it about eight years ago?
Oli: Yeah. 2009, August 14.
Nathan: Awesome. How did you guys get traction? So you said you validated it. What happened next? You said you were kind of the marketer. What happened next?
Oli: So we started building the product. So I started to blog. I put a website up in the first few days and I started to blog about seven days in. So I was blogging like seven months before the product was launched so that we could build some traction. And back then, we were some of the first, among the first companies doing content marketing back then.
So it was easier to stand out from that perspective and I just went crazy on content creation. And then I wrote an e-book so that we could do some lead gen so the bio time, six, seven months rolled around, we’d have a list.
It wasn’t huge. It was like 1200 people but at least we’d have someone to contact and say, “Hey, we’ve launched this thing that I’ve been talking about, blah, blah, blah.” I think there were two kind of really good things that pushed us forward at the beginning. They were on the technical and on the content side. So on the technical side, we integrated with MailChimp.
People doing lead gen, landing pages, you send your leads through to any email or CRM or Salesforce, whatever. We have all the big integrations now but back then, we chose MailChimp because they were similar from a brand perspective like we…
Nathan: Yeah. I agree.
Oli: We liked them as a company and at the time, it was the right level, kind of their size. They were bigger than us but not hugely. They hadn’t got to where they are now and it made sense. So that was our first one. We came to that fairly quickly but the way we kind of ordered our integrations and integrations, if you have any kind of tech, like integrations are so key because, and I hate the term sticky, but it makes you more sticky because the more tools people connect together, the less likely they are to disconnect them.
And so what we did was we put this…we did this as a brainstorm, where we would fill the wall full of stickies of all of the tech companies out there that we could possibly integrate with from tiny to massive and we researched using Alexa and compete.com like back then and based on traffic, them to us, we gave them an X.
So Salesforce was like 400 times us in terms of traffic. MailChimp was 3X. This other company might be 0.5X. So we’d have this landscape of how big they were compared to us and we ignored the top and the very bottom because the ones at the top, obviously you’re like, “We want to partner with them.”
But they don’t give a fuck. They’re not going to put the effort into co-market with you because they got better things to do. And also, they have a massive list and you have a tiny list. So we chose ones that were some a little smaller but mainly just a little bit bigger than us and that really helped from the co-marketing standpoint. There may have been other tools that would have been more useful to potential customers but you have to weigh that up because co-marketing at the time was really important in terms of getting new audiences.
So that was on that side but then on the content side, so I was…I mean I’ve written 300 plus blog posts about landing pages which…
Oli: …and that was…I stopped writing about it like two and a half years ago, which is kind of absurd but it really…I mean you can look at Google Trends for the term “landing pages” and it’s basically when I started writing in 2009. It’s just like…and it’s…but then, because we were new, I had to do a lot of guest blogging to get into bigger communities.
So I jumped on the MaRS community because it was so epic back then and they had the uMaRS model so you could…anyone could blog on uMaRS and if it got picked up, people liked it, they moved it to the main blog. And then it goes crazy because it was so big. So I wrote an initial post there, “The 12-Step Landing Page Rehab Program,” which was a fun kind of post.
It had like a, not an infographic but a diagrammatic kind of element to it as well and it did really well. So Rand asked me to come back. He said, “Are you going to write again?” And I said, “Yeah. And this time, it’s going to be epic.” Because actually, if there is something that I found personally successful is telling people what I’m going to do.
Like putting that peer pressure purposefully on myself because when you say you’re going to do something, if you don’t, you feel like an idiot. So I find that is good at generating the right kind of pressure. So I wrote this 15,000 word, 15 million pixel infographic blog post called “The Noob Guide to Online Marketing,” which was a self-referential guide to how to become a marketer, like basically zero to hero because I hadn’t done it before.
So I was kind of telling my own journey in written and visual form and I think that’s why…and it smashed every record on MaRS for three years, in terms of likes, comments, shares, everything. It was shared, I don’t know, an absurd amount of time, near a million. And even total views, absurd and, like, downloads of e-books for it, because I did it in PDF format as well.
And it’s been translated into about 12 languages. We got photos of people because it was a six-foot poster if you printed it out.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow.
Oli: And people would have it on their walls and send photos in and it was amazing but it took a long time, it took me, you know, on and off, probably two or three months like doing it, a portion of my time. And Rand, when I submitted, he’s like, “Dude. What are you doing? Why would you give that to us?”
Nathan: You should put it on Unbounce.
Oli: Well, that’s what he was saying, “Are you sure?” And I was like, “Yeah.Because your community is massive and ours is just beginning. If I put it on our blog, no one will see it by comparison.” And then two years later, I said, “Hey, can I repost it on ours?” He’s like, “Of course you can.” I always like to ask if I’ve done a guest post. And so I did it, I put it on ours and we got some traffic from that.
So that was a huge awareness piece. So those two things, the technical product side and then on the content side, that’s kind of really what gave us our first launched kind of break.
Nathan: Yeah. Got you. And fast-forward to now, like, you’re able to share around traction and like how big you guys are because you guys are one of the biggest landing page builders in the space and you’ve really carved out a really distinct offering as well.
Oli: Yeah. We’re about 170 people. Mostly, like almost everybody is in Vancouver, Canada and we have a small team in Berlin. They mainly do kind of customer support, some local marketing sales so that we can be in that time zone for support and extend our time zone reach for support and things like that.
We’re around…I’m forgetting the numbers. We’re around 20 million annual revenue, somewhere around there. But yeah, it’s been a pretty crazy journey. Now we’re in the part of like okay, now we’re actually a mature company.
You don’t get to say start-up anymore. You say startup for years and then you’re like, “Come on.” That’s ridiculous. I remember we got…we won a startup award twice like two years back to back in Vancouver and people were so pissed off the second year.
Nathan: Oh really?
Oli: Yeah. They’re like, “Come on. These guys again?” And we’re like, “We were still a start-up but I understood their reaction. You’re like, “You win once, you go away.”
Nathan: Yeah. So man, that’s interesting you guys don’t consider yourself a startup. You still have that culture and feel though in…
Oli: Oh yeah, for sure. And I don’t know what other people think. You could ask 160 people here and you’d get 100 or you’d get 80 different answers. Some would say yes, some would say no.
So in some respects, we are but I think we have…once you get to a certain point, you have to not look at yourself that way. You have to start looking at operating in a different way, thinking in a different way because at a certain point, you’re not…you have like a big growth period and then things calm down a little bit and then you have to work on like how do we get our…called the second camel hump.
How do we work on getting to that and how do we become a very secure safe kind of business where our employees love coming to work? As an entrepreneur, there’s a mix of crazy and calm and I like chaos personally but that’s not for everyone.
Some people structure and security and so you have to cater to the two different kinds of people when you have a team that size because not everybody wants to be in the, I don’t know, the more risky side of things. You have to work with people in different ways and consider them in different ways.
Nathan: Yeah. I agree. So fast forward to now, we recently shot a course with you around basically CRO and really, really excited as I said offline. I’m just so excited because it was shot at…we’ve got a backlog of all these courses.
We’re launching 12 this year and I just can’t wait to go through yours myself and get our team to go through it because we’re massive on CRO and just increasing our conversion. So man, I’m really excited to go through it and also share it with our community. I know so many of you guys that are listening right now, you’re going to love it. It’s always an absolute beast but I want to talk some technical stuff around conversion, landing pages, design.
But do you have like some sort of record for…is it a Guinness record or around how…seeing the most landing pages? Is that true, man or is that just a thing?
Oli: No. It is a large number. I mean, it was my tagline for a while. It still is kind of, like I’ve seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet, probably around the 100,000 mark. But a lot of that was early on but what I did was because I was writing a lot of landing page critique posts because people loved them. They were great for in battling for search.
They were excellent because people want to be inspired so they looked for landing page examples. So I wrote a lot about that, a lot of critique and suggestion about how to make them better and that kind of thing. And it was very opinionated and sometimes funny kind of stuff and I think that led to some of, you know, people wanted me to speak later on. So to do that though, because the hardest part about anything like that is gathering the examples. You serendipitously stumble across some that are awesome or terrible but for the…but it’s not easy.
So what I did, basically I had our tech team, someone in IT, like every month, I’d say, “Hey, can you just like give me a giant dump of screenshots of our customers pages?” And I just sit there and click through 3000 at a time just going… …like horrendous monotonous work. But it’s what I needed to do to gather the content.
That’s kind of how I initially saw that huge number of pages and now it’s a combo of research and just stumbling across things. But yeah, no official records. I remember, I think I told Navis in New York, that I was…one of my first gig.
It was in Berlin and the guy introing me said, “So this guy claims to have seen the most landing pages ever on the planet.” I’m like, “Okay, you got that right.” And then he goes, “But I’m not sure. I’ve seen quite a lot myself.” I’m like, “Way to discredit me right before I hit the stage you asshole.”
Nathan: Yeah. That’s a great way to set the scene, hey.
Oli: But yeah, I’ve literally no idea whether it’s the case or not but I’d be very surprised if anyone has gone through that same experience.
Nathan: Yeah. Got you. So one thing Zach tells me is, and we talk about it in the course, is you hate shitty design. Tell us about that and why do you…because we…I’ve found like we’re very, very big on design and we test so many different pages and we find that like for our brand, the better design always out converts.
Simple landing pages, like super minimal, always for some reason, the shorter form ones, seem to convert better and also when we make them awesome design, like just really, really solid design. But yeah, I’d love to hear your thoughts, why. Because there are a lot of shitty design landing pages out there and why is that important.
Oli: Yeah. And it’s like one of the first things I said in my very first talk, I did like four years ago, was 98% of landing pages suck. And that was based on a little study I did just based on clicking hundreds of ads and seeing what the resulting experience was.
So many people get it wrong and it’s good for me because if they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job. I’m a very critical person so I am very…I observe things and complain about things and try to fix things constantly. Like every experience I have in the real world downline, I get frustrated and a little bit angry sometimes and I want to find ways of fixing it.
I love Macgyvering. I love, like, what can I grab from the room right now to make this thing better. So a lot is born out of that and I think for those around me, it probably comes off across as negativity sometimes, but it’s not. It’s frustration and it’s a desire to make things better. And I get frustrated when people make silly mistakes like sending traffic from a paid ad to your home page.
It’s just a stupid thing to do. And I say that not trying to sell the concept of landing pages but just because it’s a better way of doing marketing. And from a conversion standpoint, I love doing the research, looking at the data, looking at recordings, doing usability tests to spot where people are going wrong and then try and design experiences like little micro experiences that change on-page behavior.
Because when you can get some success with changing behavior, it’s an amazing feeling and it accelerates your growth as a marketer, as an optimizer when you can learn to do it like that and I cover a lot of that stuff in the course. But yeah, and I’m not a design geek. I spend a lot of time on my slides. I’m a big fan.
I consider my slides very important. Some speakers don’t because they’re more just about themselves and not as visually communicative and some people just suck at it and have horrible slides. But I love to create a visual experience with people when I speak. So I spend a lot of time doing that because I think it’s important.
Because design, it’s really important. It matters. It changes how we feel. If you go through a day and you suffer through 20 bad interactions because of poor design, that’s frustrating. Conversely if you have a whole bunch of positive experiences, either you’ll not notice it because it was that good or smooth or you’ll be delighted by it.
And it’s the small things because you have one thing wrong, it’s not usually a big deal. You have 20 things wrong in a page or on a website, that is a big deal. And, you know, you talk about like short-form pages and with very clean design. People have said in the past, ugly websites convert better. No. That’s total horseshit. If an ugly site converted, A, it didn’t convert better than a well-designed site because you don’t have that.
All you have is your shitty version. But the reason it might convert is because when there’s not an emphasis on design, there’s usually an emphasis on copywriting and copywriting is more persuasive than anything else typically. If you then took that further and combined it with excellent design, it would probably do even better. And it depends on what your brand is and how important visuals are.
If you’re a high-end brand or if you’re just fashion or something like that, there’s different levels of requirement and necessity from design. But at the end of the day, I mean design is way more than just the visual. It’s the interaction.
Nathan: It’s how it feels.
Oli: Yeah. And when I was coming, we have these webinar rooms, as I was coming from the hallway with the elevators into here, we’ve got a glass door, startup thing. We have the little beeper thing to scan your card. And I’m carrying a can of Monster and my laptop and I’m trying to skew my hip up to make it beep as I walk to open it because I don’t have a free hand.
And it’s in the wrong place. It’s like eight inches too high. I’m kind of jumping in the air. And then I finally stumble my way in, the door closes on me, knocks my drink on my hand, goes all over the floor. There’s things like that because someone was just…they weren’t thinking when they made these design decisions. Like when you go into a bathroom stall, let’s say it’s an accessible one for a wheelchair and the toilet paper, the holder, is two feet, or a foot off the ground and like there’s nobody ever going in there that needs it to be that far.
That’s hard for everyone. You’re reaching down. It’s all touching the floor. It’s stupid mistakes that’s the stuff that annoys me because they don’t consider. They have no empathy for the person who’s actually going to use it. They make decisions based on their assumptions and it’s… I don’t know. I complain a lot about bathrooms.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. So basically, I got a good story and I think this is a really good one. So when I first started the magazine, this is like four years ago, basically I got the first version knocked up by another designer and didn’t pay much because I didn’t have any money at the time and it was just a passion project.
And then what happened was I met this other designer who was absolutely incredible and his name was Cran. And he goes to me, you know, I showed him what we created and I said, “Look, maybe we’ll work with you for the second issue of the magazine and we’ll get you to do all the branding then.”
And he’s like you could but from my experience, investing in design really pays its weight in gold in terms of returns over a long period of time. And he’s like, “I highly recommend that you let me do the branding and ID now and that’s what we launch with, and that’s what we start with.” And at the time, I didn’t really have the money and it was quite a lot more that I was going to pay compared to what I had with the first issue.
But I just copped it and it was probably one of the best decisions that I made because I believe that to be very, very true, like people can and do look at your brand or your startup or your business, and a form of USP can be design. I know it’s not powerful but it definitely can be a form of USP.
And if you can give people a great experience of where they get excited just by looking at your site and just like, wow, that’s extremely powerful. And people will judge the validity of your brand and company on your design even if they’re not thinking that.
Like great design is expected. I believe it’s a commodity now that if you have a start-up like, you know, you look at all the top startups, they all have exceptional design. It’s just something that is required now. I’d love to hear your thoughts and take on that.
Oli: You’re 100% right and especially when you are in a competitive landscape. Because behavior changes because people are impatient. So one way people will search, will search for landing page software or something, and because the entire above the fold experience now is paid ads on Google, often they go, “Yeah. That first one, two. Yeah. That’s about landing pages.”
They’ll put their finger on the Command or the CTRL key, whatever, on the keyboard and go click, click, click, and just open up all the ads and maybe the first organic result in tabs. And then they’ll quickly go through them comparison-shopping mode and go like, “That’s not what I asked for.That’s not what I asked for. That looks terrible. That looks amazing.” And they’ll make these snap judgments and design plays a big part in that.
The design and clarity, like if you can communicate really quickly with a great headline that really describes you and you’re benefit and all that kind of stuff, that company with great design will win over the others because people don’t spend that much time. Now they will get more considerate when they are closer to buying than they’ll probably re-check out some of the competition.
But if you were the one that they paid most attention to at the beginning because of some of those aspects, you’re definitely going to have an advantage. And yeah, there’s a few things that I…when I go looking to buy something and I find a company, there’s a couple of things I do first of all. First thing I’ll go, like if it’s a software typically, I will scroll to the bottom, I kind of see the top and I’ll look for an About Us page.
I want to see their faces. I want to see the team. I want to see the address, where their office is.
Oli: Because then I…I just believe they’re a real company then. I want to see the people behind it. I don’t want to see some shell company, some invisible…I just don’t trust it when I can’t see that human side of it and that kind of thing is important to me and I think it’s important to other people that might not go through that kind of level.
But I know from listening to our customers and our customer success team that that stuff…that’s one of our biggest competitive advantages is our support and how amazing they are and how helpful and transparent and caring they are. So it’s always the human side that is a big…is really important because you may sign up for several things but you’ll stay with the company who actually looks after you and, you know…
And then that becomes a big part of your brand there and that’s really hard to overtake. Software can be written quickly these days. You can compete from a technical perspective in many ways. SaaS business, like the business model is mature now. You can rock up a SaaS business pretty quickly.
You need a website, you need payment processing, you need a pricing page, a blog, a Home page, Features page, About Us. There’s a lot of stuff you can rock up really quickly. So then the differentiator becomes experience and support and that kind of thing. So just getting a sign up isn’t enough. You have to be willing to treat your customers differently from everybody else.
Nathan: Yeah. Amazing and can you talk to me about the clarity that you talked about, like clarity equation.
Oli: Yeah. So part of looking at all these bad landing pages, I was like, “Okay, well, let’s look at some good ones and I reverse-engineered what I considered to be a good above the fold experience, something that from a headline or written perspective and from a visual perspective, delivered the value prop really quickly and really clearly.
And then just wrote this equation after reverse engineering these portions of it and then created kind of an interactive calculator that goes with it. So there are exercises you can go through to score yourself on this seven part scale as part of this equation to help you understand where you should and shouldn’t be optimizing because you’ll see quickly by going through these exercises, I’m doing really well on this aspect.
I’m not doing so well here. On immediacy, I’m failing. I have a hyperbole problem. Distraction, I’m doing great. That’s like how many distracting links or whatever. Visual identification is a part. It’s like if you take your hero image, the main image on your page, and you look at it in isolation and you ask people, “What does our product or service do?”
If they can’t answer, then you’ve got meaningless content. You have an image that doesn’t represent you. It isn’t adding to the clarity. It’s probably removing clarity from that experience. So in that short period of time, people might be going, “I don’t…I don’t really get what you do.” So the more you dig into this, the little fine details of what produces clarity, the more quickly you can solve those problems and kind of get yourself up to the level where you give yourself an advantage when people are impatient and comparison-shopping.
Nathan: Yeah. I see. It just comes back to that level of simplicity. We’ve found this too. People think that the best landing pages or sometimes anything that you do when it comes to the tech is just super complicated stuff but as time has gone on, man, everything we do, I’m just all about simplicity and just keeping things nice and simple.
That’s so key because it’s easy, because there’s so many tools, there’s so many things you can do, there’s so many ways you can spin it. And man, it’s all about just having nice simplicity, things, like, just very clear.
Oli: Yeah. Because people don’t have any time. They don’t have time to put up with your bullshit or whatever version of how being clever you feel. Being clever is for marketing campaigns. It’s not for your main value prop. Clarity is kind of where it’s at, at least so people go, “Ah, I’m in the right place.”
You’re delivering on what you promised in your ad or your tweet or your email. Now I’m confident that you can probably solve my problem. I’ll explore, I’ll scroll, I’ll click through the other pages or what have you but you have to give that immediate sense of confidence that you’re delivering what you’re promising.
Nathan: And attention is so scarce too. So like when you get that person’s attention, it can go pretty fast too.
Oli: Yeah. That’s why sending campaign traffic to a home page is a bad idea because A, there’s all these distractions that make it more complex to figure out if it’s the right thing. But also, you’re giving people, you’re actually offering up ways of getting away from what you’re trying to get people to do.
Like oh yeah, you can click through all these links. You can go to these different pages. Which people might need to do as their deeper research after they’ve been convinced that you have something cool which you do that with the landing page. It confirms that you have this thing and you describe it like, “Yeah, I’m into this and I may do further research. I’ll go to your website to sign up or whatever.” But in that first instance, you’re just inviting people to wander off somewhere else, get distracted and go, “Okay, this is too much work,” and leave.
And they might not find their way back to you if they didn’t have a strong enough experience. Next time they’re in the mood for searching for a solution, they’ll search again and they might find someone else. An example, an e-commerce example I sometimes mention is, I was looking for same-day flower delivery because I want to send flowers to my mom in Scotland.
So I search in UK places, UK same-day flower delivery. And I went through eight different websites and they all promised it in their ads. And then when I got there, not a single one had anywhere, and it was all home pages, had anywhere on their site, same-day delivery. They all said next day delivery. So A, that wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t what they promised.
But also if next day was okay in that moment, I’d be like, “Oh, next day. Okay. So maybe…no, hang on.No. No. I wanted… yeah, reverse that. I wanted next day.” It was a Friday, I want it on the Saturday. So now if I see them all saying same-day delivery, so I got it completely backwards.
They weren’t saying next day on the website. They were saying same day. So I was like, “Oh, not so much of a hurry. I’ll come back tomorrow and I’ll do it then.” Because they’re not showing me next day, they’re showing me same day. The problem there is when you come back the next day, you’ve changed my search. Previously I was searching for next day, now I’m going to search for same day and now I might find a competitor because they’re bidding on different and I can see different ads.
So you lost me by not putting me in the right place, providing the right experience. If you don’t…because people put out just ads on anything. They’ll bid on stuff and you show up and they just don’t have it or it’s really…you have to work so hard to get the thing they were actually advertising. And yeah, it’s just a bad experience.
Nathan: So if you are a physical product business right now and you’ve got a catalog of products, how do you…and usually when people buy, they come to you, you sign and they kind of explore. If you were buying traffic and you want to increase sales and get a return, would you recommend to set up a landing page with a suite of products for certain categories or how would you…what are your thoughts there?
Oli: E-commerce is different. For other things like SaaS or software, anything like that, landing pages are the best thing as that initial touch point. For e-commerce, it’s a little different. If you are bidding on a product, then just send them through to the product page of your website because it’s an e-commerce experience that people are familiar with.
You’re still delivering the product you were saying you have. So that’s still a good experience because people are familiar with how to shop. If it’s a category, you can send through the category page. That’s also okay. Just don’t…so many times, like, if you’re out there just go do it. If you search for red shoes, you’ll get a link that says red shoes and it takes you to, like, a generic homepage with, like, shirts and sweaters or something or they’ll take you to a page for blue shoes.
That kind of thing is wrong. But sending people to a category or specifically a product page, that’s okay. If you’re running a campaign though, with let’s say a discount like 60% off, our entire inventory for like this weekend, that needs a landing page because then you confirm, yes, this discount exists. Here’s your code. Here’s all this kind of stuff, then push them through.
Maybe with some categories like here it is and then click through based on the category you want and we’ll pass this discount through. That’s smart marketing. But yeah, so I’m not in the business of saying that these are landing pages for everything. No, there’s for most things but not for everything. And something I like, as well, when you come to e-comm sites, it’s very common that they’ll show you a pop-up right away with a discount.
And pop-ups are usually annoying. We have pop-ups as part of our platform now. But if done right, they’re excellent. And for e-comm, typically, that’s what happens when you show up. They’ll be like, “Get 10% off, 15% off.” It’s a little too aggressive though because I haven’t looked around, I haven’t done anything yet, but I might be interested in it.
So there was a new kind of interaction method I was proposing back in January, I was doing a lot of writing again, an idea called “Maybe Later.” So when you show up and that discount is there, you’re like, “Get out of my way. It’s too much but I am interested in the offer.”
Instead of like the yes/no, like, “no, the thing closes and I don’t get it again”, “yes, it’s too soon for that,”having a third option now, “maybe later,” where the pop-up would close and then a sticky bar would appear that follows around the site. It’s very subtle and it just…it has that offer for you for when you’re ready to use it. So it’s just changing how we use technology to help people and we can create better experiences that way when we kind of actually consider how they might best use it.
Nathan: Yeah, man. That sounds like a sick feature. I like it.
Oli: Yeah. I whipped it up like as an exercise, this demo in this blog post I was doing. It needs a little bit of that custom coding stuff but I think it’s a pretty cool experience.
Nathan: Yeah. I agree. Awesome, man. Well, look dude, we can talk all day but we have to work towards wrapping up and then as I said, I’m really pumped about our course that we’ve done together for Foundr and like Zak said, you guys absolutely crushed it and I helped him work on all the course outline. And like I said, I’m looking forward to putting our whole team through it.
And man, like I’m just curious. We’re just wrapping up. What’s next for you? Two last questions. One is what’s next for you? And second one is where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Oli: What’s next is I’m kind of working on a really big R&D project. It’s pretty advanced content marketing because content marketing is how we got our start. But everyone does it now so that it’s becoming harder and harder to be effective and we need to be able to, especially for your product, you need to be able to show your product in your content but not do it in a salesy way.
So I’m trying to build an advanced content marketing framework where it’s designed on the aha moments of your customers. So you create experiences that will accelerate their path to those moments instead of just like, “We have a product.” It’s using interactive content which lets people choose their own adventure, walk through your content in a kind of gamified or fun way.
But as they do that, they self-identify, they leave context trails which allow you to personalize the experience, give them these moments whether it’s in media like video or an image that you change in the moment to get them closer to those aha moments that you’ve identified by talking to your sales team. There are five main ones I’m working on for our own version of this.
That’s what I’m going to be talking about mainly when I speak this year. It’s a massive project but I’m really excited about it.
Nathan: Yeah. Amazing, man. Awesome. It sounds awesome. I look forward to seeing it. And where or when can people find more about that?
Oli: TBD is… I feel terrible…
Nathan: You said it now.
Oli: Yeah. It’s such a big project. I’ve spoken twice recently where I was supposed to talk about that and I had to change it last minute because it’s just not ready. But I will be speaking about it in Minneapolis in three weeks, and then Chicago after that, and then Moz con in July and CTA conf in Vancouver, our conference in August. But yeah, so I think, Twitter, @oligardner is my preferred hangout and then as we get closer to those times, I imagine I’ll be putting a lot more content on the blog to really explore this concept.
Nathan: Awesome. So unbounce.com?
Nathan: Awesome. Well, man, look, I just want to say thank you so much for your time. It was absolute pleasure man. And yeah, I wish we keep speaking but I’ve got to wrap.
Oli: Yeah. My pleasure man. It was great being on and I will see you in Barcelona.
Nathan: Yeah. I’m looking forward to it dude.