Landing pages are a fixture of paid search. It’s virtually impossible to go a day without seeing a paid ad.
But have you clicked on any of these landing pages recently? One common error presents itself again and again. If you’re in the business of making landing pages, advising people about landing pages, optimizing landing pages, or purchasing paid search, this article is for you.
Let me show you the error.
What is this awful landing page error of which I speak?
Let me show it to you. See if you can pick up on it after a few screenshots:
Query: Phone case
Top level landing page:
Query: Deck chair
Query: Buy jeans
Query: Men’s fleece hoodie
Are you catching on? There are actually a lot of CRO errors going on, but there should be one glaring issue that characterizes each of these.
Too many options!
But aren’t lots of options a good thing? Isn’t this what people want? More choice? Variety? To “shop your way?”
Actually, having too many options is a dangerous thing for landing pages. I’ll show you some of the nuances of this error, so you can understand exactly where these landing pages are going wrong.
The problem of too many options.
The biggest issue, of course, is way too many options. For example, when I search for “buy mug” this is one of the top results:
There are 596 items! If I spent just two seconds looking at each mug, it would take me twenty minutes to consider them all.
That’s not going to happen.
Options themselves aren’t inherently bad. The problem is how does one narrow down these options? There are no customization options on many of these landing pages!
Take this clothing retailer for example. My query was for “buy jeans.” Their paid result was at the top of the list. Naturally, I clicked.
The chances are pretty slim, pardon the pun, that I’m going to select one of these jeans. Maybe I’m looking for a loose fit straight leg destroyed jean. If I can’t find this specific jean on this landing page, then how can I find it?
There are no refine options on the landing page, meaning that I will either start clicking around in the menu to navigate to a more manageable narrowing page, or completely bounce from the page
A worse and more obvious problem is the issue of extraneous results. Here is a sidebar ad landing page got when I searched for “phone case.”
That landing page is for batteries, not phone cases.
Why is this a bad thing?
I’m concerned that marketers are wasting a lot of ad money. They are paying for my click. When their selected landing page doesn’t meet my needs, then I’m going to leave the page without engaging any further.
The deeper reason why this is a bad thing is because too many choices is a bad thing.
Psychologists call it several things — “the paradox of choice” (Barry Schwartz) “choice overload,” or “choice paralysis.” The problem is, the human mind is unable or unwilling to cope with the huge variety of choices. Rather than face the difficult mental work of narrowing it down, they will avoid the situation altogether.
You may be able to relate to this. If you walk into a supermarket looking for salad dressing, then you may be confused by the array of options on the dressing aisle. Even if you want a simple ranch dressing, then you’ll have to decide between six brands, creamy ranch, traditional ranch, cracked peppercorn ranch, homestead ranch, cheddar ranch, bacon ranch, fat free ranch, parsley dill homestyle ranch, or original ranch in an easy squeeze bottle. Choosing from that many options is difficult.
But if you reduce choices, you can increase conversions! The simple act of reducing the burden of making the decision helps the customer to make that decision. You get more conversions even with less options.
What does the customer do when they confront this error?
The problem, then, is too many choices with the inability to narrow down those choices. As a result, the customer is going to respond in several ways.
Customers refuse to decide.
The simplest response is to walk away. If I see this in a landing page, I’m going to conclude that the task of selecting from this many results is not worth the effort or energy.
I’ll find a website that makes it easier.
Customers experience cognitive overload, which impairs their ability to make a purchase decision.
Cognitive overload happens when a customer receives too much information, thus making it difficult or impossible to make a decision.
Often, customers don’t know what kind of a product they want. The problem originates with unspecified search queries. A customer may realize he wants jeans, but he doesn’t realize that there are dozens of different styles of jeans.
Marketers know that this is a valuable query, but they don’t know quite how to handle the generality. They respond by providing general results. Then, the customer is forced to handle the lack of clarity on the resultant landing page.
Obviously, though, few customers are willing to sift through a thousand results on a landing page.
Customers “can’t find what they’re looking for.”
Well, technically, they can. It’s staring them in the face — ”1,891 results.” But who is going to sift through those all those results, especially in the absence of any filtering tools?
What is the alternative to the landing page error?
So, what do we do? Is there a way to solve the problem of general queries met with too many options on a landing page?
On the one hand, I understand why marketers would make a landing page with a lot of options.
In their minds, the scenario works like this:
- A potential shopper knows that she needs a couch, so she searches for the generic term “buy a couch.”
- She lands on the ecommerce website’s landing page.
- The couch seller doesn’t know what the shopper wants, just that she is looking for a couch. What kind of couch? What length? What price range? What fabric? What style?
- So, instead of showing her just one couch they show her 1,655 results.
This is what happens in a real showroom, right? A customer walks in looking for a couch, and she sees dozens of couches. Why not present the most options in order to prove to the customer that there is something for her.
Besides, is there any other way to do it?
The alternative is this: Make it easy for the customer to take the right action.
This is what happens in offline furniture purchasing, too. When you walk into the furniture showroom, you don’t simply browse couches. You speak to a sales professional whose job it is to find out what want, what you don’t want, what your style is, and the exact couch that you want to buy.
Can you replicate this in the online world?
Not everyone is selling couches, so my advice will be generic. We’ll get some specifics with the examples below.
Provide narrowing, not choices.
Instead of giving customers a lot of choices, help them first narrow things down. A furniture salesperson may ask, “So, what room of the house is the couch for?” He is trying to understand how big or what style the couch should be. You can get similar information from customers by allowing them to answer “questions” — to make selections.
In other words, make it easy for the user to narrow down their own query. Zazzle uses this landing technique for the query “phone case.” Here is the landing page:
It looks like a lot of options, but this is a clever narrowing tactic. In purchasing a phone case, the retailer has to identify which type of phone they have. Even though there are a lot options here, it’s an easy choice to make. Most people know what kind of phone they have.
You may wish to feature your most prominent or popular products, but make your narrowing options prominent in the landing page.
The following furniture provider does the same thing. They know that most customers will want to sort by price and color, so they’ve shifted these narrowing options to the top of the menu.
Show them fewer options.
One of the easiest ways to solve the problem is to feature fewer options. Instead of auto-generating a list of hundreds of potential products (and hoping they will choose one), show them one or two products.
I like the way that Branders did it. I searched for “mug” and got their landing page. It’s clever, because they show me one simple mug. There aren’t any frills or unique features about this mug. It’s a plain mug.
I can “shop now,” which is an easy decision to make, or I can select from different types of drinkware.
If you present just an option or two, then you can always create a “Not what you’re looking for?” button. When the customer clicks this button, they can transition to a navigation menu to narrow down their options.
This clothing retailer responded to the query “buy jeans” with this landing page. They provide narrowing options right at the top — ”shop womens jeans” and “shop men jeans.” Then, they feature a single option, the Aeo Denim X.
Fewer options makes it much easier, and I might even want to select their “best fit ever” since that’s featured.
Capture their email.
One of the best ways to engage the user right away is to present an email capture form. Popups are the best way to do this. Instead of blowing them away with all your options, give them an offer. This invites their immediate participation and buy in, and sets them up for a future purchase.
Cellular Outfitter does this with their landing page. They are able to attract customers by providing an instant discount and a free gift.
I searched for “loveseats,” and Wayfair.com was one of the top results. They choose the email popup, too.
(Note: In the case of Wayfair, their content is gated. On this landing page, you must enter an email address to see the products. This is often not a good approach.)
Focus on optimizing your options, not on the products you present.
Most conversion optimizers spend their time optimizing the actual products that are presented. They make the pictures larger, add trust signals, import user ratings, and show dropped prices.
Those are all fine things. But the average customer wants to first find what he’s looking for. Only then will the product optimization be helpful in moving him down the conversion funnel.
For a negative example of this, consider my query for “men’s fleece hoodie” and the landing page that showed up at the top of the paid result:
If you look closely, you’ll see that there is a men’s black heated jacket, a hooded fleece-lined coat, and a fleece-lined denim shirt jacket.
Where’s my fleece hoodie?
The products themselves are appealing. There are high star ratings, discounted prices, differentiated price colors, and the possibility of earning points.
But if I can’t find my preferred product — a fleece hoodie — then I’m going to bounce. Naturally, I’ll look at the “Narrow by” options to the left. But again, there is little ability to customize for the product that I’m seeking. Maybe I’m not familiar with brands. Doesn’t Craftsman make tools?
I have to look a second longer before I see the “Style” options. That’s what I’m looking for. If this style were presented first and more prominently, then the retailer may have a better chance of gaining the shopper’s interest.
And what about the header for the products themselves? The difference between “All Products” and “Sears Only” isn’t apparent. Wouldn’t it make more sense to use this visual real estate for customer-focused narrowing options?
The point is that retailers would benefit more from optimizing their narrowing options. This is where most people will click next. They won’t click the product first. They’re going to find their product first, then click.
To use the furniture example again, here’s the way that one furniture seller narrows down the options. My query was for “loveseat.”
The “Narrow Results” menu makes it much easier to choose, rather than browsing through 778 results.
LaZBoy’s narrowing options are even better.
Even though this is a rampant error in landing page creation, it’s totally avoidable. By strategizing our landing pages rather than indiscriminately creating them, we can score higher conversions, better engagement, and ultimately more revenue.
What do you think? Is it better to present lots of options on landing pages, or is there a better alternative?