Landing Pages for Startups: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Johnathan Dane
Johnathan Dane
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You may not know this, but Pharrell's song 'Happy' is all about startup landing pages.

"It might seem crazy what I'm about to say / Sunshine's here you can take a break..."

What did Pharrell do to have this epiphany about landing pages? He optimized them to their fullest potential and watched his conversion rates skyrocket.

Happy by Pharrell
Because I'm happy, clap along - image source

Well-designed landing pages are an imperative stepping stone to boosting your conversion rate and propelling your website users down the sales funnel.
Since I'm a visual learner, I find it helpful to have examples of what works and what doesn't work, in order to optimize my own efforts and come up with ideas for future landing page tests.
After reading HotJar's homepage analysis of 20 hot startups, I was quite inspired. Startups are the bread and butter of business these days! Since HotJar focused on homepage analyses, I decided to focus on the startup landing pages. How are they spending their AdWords money? Are they optimizing conversion rates with their landing pages?
I guarantee you'll find this landing page analysis helpful, especially because these startups are completely #killinit.

The Landing Page: Your Startups' Front Cover

Picture this: you're wandering around Barnes & Noble for a sweet new paperback book. Your feet take you to the Science Fiction section (personal preference, apologies). You're simply browsing; there is no particular novel on which you have your heart set.
You just want to know what's out there.
You notice a few titles that tickle your fancy, so you grab The Drowned World by JG Ballard from the shelf, only to find that the front cover looked like it should hop its way back to the 1800's. Yeah, the book was written in 1962, but they could have done a lot better.

The Drowned World What is even going on here? - image source
Stephen King Misery

You peer onto the Sci-Fi shelf, and you notice a Stephen King novel called Misery. You grab the novel from the shelf, with high hopes, since you were burned by The Drowned World.
Low and behold! The cover gives you just enough to know that the book is going to scare the living ebbie-geebies out of you. You know there's going to be a lot of death, obviously, because the title is blood red.

I kind of want to read this now - image source
The Goldfish Attention Span

You put the fantasy thriller in your basket, and head to the check-out line.
Landing pages are like book covers. They help site visitors determine their level of interest in your business.
[Tweet "The average attention span as of 2013 is 8 seconds via @statisticbrain #consumerpsychology"]
According to Statistic Brain, the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds... Let me know how you feel about that in the comments.

This, essentially, is your landing page visitor - image source


You have eight seconds, or potentially less, to convince your landing page viewers to make a decision. Eight seconds isn't enough to complete a thought, so you must complete the thought for your customer.
To demonstrate my point, I have selected 8 of the startups reviewed in this HotJar article and dissected their ppc landing pages instead of their home pages.
"Don't believe me just watch..."

Those 8 Hot Startups I Mentioned

Before I get into this landing page analysis I've been raving about, let me first explain to you how I curated this information.
First, I logged their domain into iSpionage, a keyword and traffic analysis tool. From the SpyFu dashboard, I noted the company's 'paid keywords', which I used as search terms in Google.
I laboriously searched each keyword with sweat dripping down my face until I found an ad, which I then selected (Sorry guys, I cost you a click. Hopefully this exposure covers that!) in hopes of bringing me to a designated landing page.
The original list of startups from HotJar is:
HotJar list of hot startups
I went through the list to determine which startups use pay per click agencies to drive traffic to specific landing pages.
The startups I included in my list have unique landing pages associated with their ads. I have not included the startups that send users directly to their website, or this article would have been a rip-off. I'm not about that. Call me Miss. Original.
Here are the list of startups I'm going to be analyzing:

  1. Optimizely
  2. Zendesk
  3. Campaign Monitor
  4. KISSmetrics
  5. New Relic
  6. Wistia
  7. HootSuite
  8. Recurly

Now, let's get started.


What they do: website and mobile optimization platform
PPC keyword: website optimization
Optimizely Ad (Website Optimization)
Landing page (click on image to get the full landing page image):
Optimizely landing page screen shot


What they do: Help desk software
PPC keyword: helpdesk software
Help Desk Software Zendesk Ad
Landing page (click on image to get the full landing page):
Zendesk AdWords Landing Page

Campaign Monitor

What they do: email marketing platform
PPC keyword: email marketing campaign
Campaign Monitor Ad
Landing page (click image to get the full landing page):
Campaign Monitor Landing Page


What they do: analytics platform
PPC keyword: KISSmetricsScreen Shot 2015-03-17 at 1.16.38 PM
Landing page (click image to get the full landing page):
KISSmetrics Landing Page

New Relic

What they do: software analytics
PPC keyword: server monitoring
New Relic Ad
Landing page (click image to get the full landing page):
New Relic landing page


What they do: video hosting
PPC keyword: video hosting
Wistia Ad
Landing page (click image to get the full landing page):
Wistia Landing Page


What they do: social media planning
PPC keyword: social media management
HootSuite Ad
Landing page (click image to get the full landing page):
HootSuite Landing Page


What they do: recurring billing management
PPC keyword: recurring billing management
Recurly Ad
Landing page (click image to get the full landing page):
Recurly Landing Page

Now, for the analysis...

These landing pages may look sleek or well put together to you, but their success is multi-faceted.
Each of these landing pages provides worth and temptation to their visitors.
You might be asking 'how?'
According to Unbounce's article: "The 5 Essential Elements of a Winning Landing Page", they must have the following:

  • Unique Selling Proposition (Tell me what makes you unique and why I should spend my money on your product / service)
  • Hero Shot (that big picture of your product or service in action)
  • Benefits (How does this make me more awesome than I already am?)
  • Social Proof (OMG she uses it?! TOTES McGoats I need one!)
  • CTA (What do you want me to do)

Let me explain these features a little more in-depth.

Unique Selling Proposition

Why should we choose you? What about your company's products / services tugs at my heart strings?
A great unique selling proposition (USP) generates a desire for your product out of thin air.
Fizzle (an online business training company) curated 10 of the best USPs they could find. Here are some of my favorites:

The above mentioned are more slogans than USPs, but your business' slogan can provide great motivation for your USP. What I'm looking for is a USP that makes my jaw drop and also tells me what the startup does.
Saddleback Leather, for instance, could create a USP like: "Good Leather is an Investment. Our Leather is an Heirloom."
The Art of Manliness could use a USP like: "Learn the Art of Being a Man. Read The Art of Manliness Blog."
Do you see what I'm talking about?

Hero Shot

"90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text" -HubSpot

Hero Shot GIF

[Tweet "For the all-too-common lazy readers, visuals provide a source of knowledge that otherwise would be left unknown."]
The best way to attract the visually inclined to fill out your form? Show them how they would look with your product or benefitting from your service.

Bonus points if you throw in a twirl - image source

See? I bet that GIF helped you visualize a 'hero shot'. Am I right? I'm right.


Why do you buy something? Or even simpler: why do you do the things that you do?
Probably not because they're:

  • expensive
  • horrible for you
  • the epitome of everything you hate
  • 'relatively' fun or useful
  • embarrassing

Why I buy things:

  • Because I look better if I have it
  • Because I feel better or feel healthier having it
  • Because it makes me look smarter, happier, prettier, etc.
  • It makes me feel good
  • It makes me more money

If you're nodding your head while reading, it's because you're a consumer, too. Just because you run the business, doesn't mean you're exempt.
Why would you want to buy your product?

Social Proof

Think of your favorite sports drink.
Is it Gatorade? RedBull? Powerade?
Regardless of your choice, there is a famous athlete associated with your favorite sports drink.
Gatorade - Michael Jordan
RedBull - Lolo Jones
Powerade - Lebron James
If Michael Jordan drinks Gatorade, then it must help you become a professional basketball player. Right? Consciously, we may realize we have a two inch vertical, but subconsciously, we think it will make us faster, stronger, and more agile. Like a Daft Punk song.
[Tweet "If Michael Jordan drinks Gatorade, I need Gatorade to play in the NBA = #SocialProof"]


Call-to-Action. The Holy Grail of your landing page and website.

"Calls-to-action targeted to the user had a 42% higher view-to-submission rate than calls-to-action that were the same for all visitors" - Hubspot

Targeted Call to Actions

What is a 'targeted call to action'?
It's an action button that's specific for a person or a group of people. Maybe your service can be used by teachers, students, and industry professionals. If that's the case, use targeted CTA's.
That would look something like this, from HootSuite:

If you're using HootSuite for your personal social media accounts, there's a solution for you. If you're using HootSuite as a manage your business Facebook page, there's a solution for you. If you're using HootSuite as the government of Botswana, there's a solution for you.

More importantly, a CTA works the best when you tell people what will happen next when they click your button, in addition to the value a button click would bring them.

Our CEO's favorite Danish CRO guy, Michael Aagaard, has amazing research on that specific topic.

But really, this is my analysis...

LOST on an Island

I want to use these five features as the blueprint of comparison for each of these startup landing pages. Not to point fingers, but simply to point out that most of these startups are (as mentioned before) completely crushing their landing pages.
These findings relay one major idea: a pretty landing page does not automatically mean more conversions.
Wistia's landing page, for example, is beautiful. You would think they'd score an 8/8 on the landing page scorecard, but they're missing two key elements: closing argument to keep users engaged and their best benefits.
[Tweet "Pretty #landingpage = mediocre success rate. Pretty + efficient landing page = greatness!"]
If we made this a competition, which it most certainly is, I would call it: "The Battle of the Startup Landing Pages" and the losers would be sent off the pay-per-click management island.


You may have technology, but the technology isn't helping you - image source

I digress (too much reality TV).
Here are the rankings:

  1. Campaign Monitor / New Relic / HootSuite
  2. Zendesk
  3. Wistia
  4. Recurly
  5. KISSmetrics
  6. Optimizely

Yeah I just said it. The only startup that actually does conversion rate optimization as a service has the worst first-impression landing page.

What I learned

Yoda Do or Do Not

[Tweet ""Do, or do not. There is no try" - Yoda (referencing #landingpages in #StarWars)"]

Listen to the Yoda master - image source

By using the Unbounce landing page article as a basis for comparison, it helped me to differentiate between the most-effective startup landing pages, and the least effective startup landing pages.
Two characteristics appear on each landing page, which leads me to believe that these characteristics are the general skeleton of every landing page:

All of the landing pages have a headline. 

These are mandatory no matter the size, shape, or color of your startup. You must have an engaging headline with your ad's associated keywords.
Here are the headlines for each landing page:

  1. Optimizely - "Experience Optimization by Optimizely"

  2. Zendesk - "Quick & Easy Help Desk"
  3. Campaign Monitor "Send beautiful emails and you’ll get better results."
  4. KISSmetrics - "KISSmetrics connects all your data to real people."
  5. New Relic - "Server Monitoring from the App Perspective"
  6. Wistia - "Free business video hosting."
  7. HootSuite - "There's a better way to manage social media"
  8. Recurly - "Choosing a Subscription Billing Provider"

All of the landing pages have a CTA.

You also must have a call-to-action. Here are the CTA's from the landing pages:

  1. Optimizely - "Test it Out"
  2. Zendesk - "Free 30 Day Trial"
  3. Campaign Monitor - "Create a Free Account"
  4. KISSmetrics - "Get Your 14-Day Free Trial Today"
  5. New Relic - "Sign Up For New Relic"
  6. Wistia - "Create Account"
  7. HootSuite - "Start your 30 day free trial"
  8. Recurly - "Download"

72% or 6/8 of the landing pages in our study have provided social proof.

By listing the companies that use their products / services, each business has established credibility.
Credibility is important, especially if you're a startup.
Maybe the two startup landing pages that didn't include social proof are brand-new startups, who don't have enough clients to feature as social proof. Whatever the reason, I'm more likely to desire a product used by a company like Facebook (mentioned by Campaign Monitor), than a company who doesn't feature their clients at all.

72% or 6/8 of the landing pages have a reinforcement statement. 

A headline is not nearly enough for your landing page.
More often than not, your headline is like a bag of Dorito chips. A bag of Doritos sounds fabulous as a midday snack, but once you pop open the pouch, you find that your bag of chips is only half-full of half-broken chips.
When you feature a kick-butt landing page headline, but you don't elaborate on that headline, you bum people out. How is someone supposed to trust: "The Best Donkey Taming Business in the World" without an explanation as to why you are the best donkey taming business?
Stop over-promising and under-delivering. It doesn't look good on anyone.
A good headline is like a tube of Pringles: always filled to the top. Good going Pringles!

Pringles Reinforcement Statement

Why? Because they actually fill up the tube - image source

62% or 5/8 of the landing pages in our study have 'hero shots'. 

Here's what they look like:
Zendesk Hero Shot
Campaign Monitor
New Relic
NewRelic Hero Shot
Wistia Hero Shot
HootSuite Hero Shot
Pretty sleek photos and videos, right?
According to Digital Sherpa: "Videos Increase People’s Understanding Of Your Product Or Service by 74%" (source)
Most people who end up on your landing page have no idea what you do. Help them out!

In Conclusion

Landing pages are important. How you construct said landing page is more important. Do it right.
Which startup landing pages have you found to be the most awe-inspiring that got you to convert?

Chapter 3:
Landing Page Types & Examples

What You’ll Learn: There are a gazillion different types of landing pages that all serve a unique purpose. Learn about each type and see the best examples that you’ll want to copy ASAP.

Chapter 4:
Landing Page Tips

What You’ll Learn: There are landing pages that work and then there are landing pages that blow the roof off all your past conversion rates. Follow these tips to get more conversions that you know what to do with.

Chapter 5:
Landing Page Optimization

What You’ll Learn: Get a read on what’s working and what isn’t with these landing page optimization strategies. By following these strategies, you’ll learn how to fine-tune every element for the most conversions possible.