The final installment of my talks with judges of ThemeForest’s Pagewiz Landing Page Design contest is with Dr. Karl Blanks, one of the founders of Conversion Rate Experts. Karl left rocket science to turn to the world of online business and conversion. Since then, he and the rest of the team at Conversion Rate Experts have worked with some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated companies, including Google, Apple, and Amazon, to help them optimize their online profits.
As part of the landing page template design contest, Karl is judging the $1,000 Top Expert Prize: The Most Effective Landing Page Templates Pack. I asked him about the challenges of designing a template that can be customized effectively, and about the balance between content and design in motivating conversions. Of course, I also asked him to share some details about what he’ll be looking for in his judging.
Don’t Fence Me In
Elisa: Your company takes a very systemic approach with your clients to create an optimized landing page. How can this approach translate to a designer creating a template, designing something for broader use than being able to sit down with a client and saying let us think about what your needs are and what your market is doing?
Karl: A website template, or a landing page template, is analogous to a letterhead. The purpose of a letterhead is to make it easy for the person to finally actually write the letter – to create something that looks branded and respectable. The challenge is to create a template that (i) looks good, (ii) allows them to say what they want to say; and (iii) that it is versatile – not overly restrictive.
Elisa: What’s the balance between giving options for the end-user’s creativity, but not overwhelming the end-user?
Karl: The ideal template is both elegantly versatile, so when the user adds their logo to it, the page looks like it was made for that logo. Whether the company uses a 5-word or 16-word headline, it looks like it was designed for that content.
At first glance, a good template may look less appealing than the fancy template, but once you actually start using it, you’ll see someone has anticipated all the variations. The template is robust!
Look at iPhones; they’re all pretty much the same, but it’s surprising how you stick in one background image and suddenly everyone’s iPhone looks like their own, even though they all allow the same number of icons, they’re all computationally the same – but they all can be customized to look different.
The landing page template needs to be robust enough that anyone can throw their content into it and it looks good.
[tweetthis]”A landing page template needs to be robust enough so anyone can throw their content in and look good.”[/tweetthis]
Design’s Impact on the Content
Throughout our talk, Karl repeatedly came back to the idea that a good template “can’t impose itself too much on the content.” It’s a point I really wanted to explore.
Elisa: Between design and words, what’s the relative balance in terms of what actually creates conversions?
Karl: For every thousand people who use a template, some of them will have successful businesses, and many of them won’t. The only difference between those people is their content. So the content is the most important.
I think the way I’ll test the templates is to actually throw some content into them and see how they fare – see whether they fall to bits because they only look good in someone’s portfolio.
Elisa: I like the Edward Tufte quote that “Good design cannot rescue bad content”, but is the inverse true? Can bad design bury good content?
Karl: Yes, that’s true. A template that is fiddly and a pain in the neck to engage is dangerous. You do not want the layout and the format to constructively determine what the content should be.
[tweetthis]”You do not want the layout and the format to constructively determine what the content should be.”[/tweetthis]
For example, if a template has multiple columns, when you add content to left-hand column, you have to add an equal amount of content to the middle and right-hand columns. If you decide to delete the content in one column because it has become obsolete, you have to think of something to replace it with; because it would look odd to have an empty column.
The layout should serve the content, and not vice versa.
Down to Specifics
I get Karl’s theoretical foundation that a good template design is deceptively simple, in that it provides the end-user with a robust range of the right design options that allow a company flexibility in presenting its content both effectively and uniquely. But what does this mean practically?
Elisa: So for the designer, what design elements does a quality landing page need to have? What elements improve the persuasiveness and believability of a page?
Karl: Fonts that are large enough so people can read them. Having buttons that are distinct enough from the content around them so they don’t get lost. Good headline styles that are significantly different from each other. Body copy that is legible and looks good. And it needs to have all the different kinds of containers that people are likely to need.
Elisa: Such as?
Karl: Plain text blocks. Image blocks for different types of images, and captions for the types of context that users need. Comparison charts. Areas for testimonials. A clear delineation between sections. A clear call-to-action section.
I’ll be looking for a template that contains all the different types of page elements that a company needs. The more a template enforces itself on the user, the more likely it will be unsuitable for someone.
[tweetthis]”The more a template enforces itself on the user, the more likely it will be unsuitable for someone.”[/tweetthis]
This is a challenge indeed – designing a template that’s flexible, but which won’t allow the end-user to make a bad design choice.
Are you in need of converting landing page templates?
Check out the Pagewiz marketing category at ThemeForest and find heaps of unconventional landing page templates that still provide a user experience that leads to conversions.
Elisa Silverman is a B2B content writer with a background in law and technology, who’s spent a career helping diverse groups of people communicate well with each other.