The question on everybody’s mind: Should I use a landing page or should I use my website homepage?
The answer nobody wants to hear: It depends.
In truth, though landing pages and website homepages share a lot in common, they’re more like distant cousins than siblings.
Like cousins, they share some of the same DNA, but they’re two different people with two different sets of strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
When it comes to choosing one or the other, it’s not a question of who is better overall; it’s a question of who is better for what and when.
In this article, we’re going to answer both.
When you’re finished, you’ll have the insight you need to make landing pages and homepages a critical part of your digital marketing strategy, including:
- Website homepage definition (+ examples)
- Landing page definition (+ examples)
- The blurring lines between landing pages and homepages
- The seven key differences between landing pages and homepages (+ examples)
- When to use a landing page or a homepage
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What is a website homepage?
Think of your homepage like the online equivalent of a tri-fold brochure: it quickly and efficiently showcases everything you have to offer.
It’s the one piece of website real estate that everyone will visit eventually, no matter who they are, what they want, or where they came from.
If homepages could talk, they would say: “Welcome. How can I help you?”
- Evergreen: Though you may update your homepage, it will always live on your root domain (www.rootdomain.com).
- Broad targeting: Homepages have to appeal to everyone who will see it, not just some of them.
- Information-oriented: The primary goal of a homepage is to provide an overview of everything you offer, then direct visitors to the sections of your website most relevant to them.
- Integrated: People can visit your homepage from anywhere on your site by clicking the logo or finding the link in your navigation. Everyone can see it, always.
- Out of control: You can’t control which customer segments land on your homepage or which marketing channels send traffic to it.
What is a landing page?
A landing page is a standalone web page used for specific marketing campaigns and optimized to increase conversions. Everything from persuasive copy and attention-grabbing headlines to social proof and a compelling call-to-action (CTA) work together to motivate visitors to act on a single conversion goal.
If landing pages could talk, they would say, “This way or bust.”
Landing pages are:
- Campaign-based: Landing pages are ephemeral; they last as long as the marketing campaigns that drive traffic to them last.
- Narrow targeting: Landing pages target narrow audiences with narrow messages
- Action-oriented: The primary goal of a landing page is to persuade visitors to take an immediate action.
- Silod: Links to landing pages don’t live in your website’s navigation; you can only reach them via a campaign link.
- Full-control: You can control who sees your landing pages and when.
The truth: Landing pages and homepages have grown closer and closer in kind and function over the years. Mainly because marketers and web designers have grown privy to the principles of conversion-optimized design made famous by landing pages.
Today, the lines between landing pages and homepages have blurred.
For example, let’s look at LeadPages’ homepage vs. their landing page.
Homepage: Click here to view full page screenshot
Landing page: Click here to view full page screenshot
What’s the difference? Not much.
Both feature an attention-grabbing headline and enticing subheading above the fold.
Both provide “Start a free trial” CTA.
Both direct visitors to pricing.
Both use social proof in the form of client logos and testimonials.
And both make an indelible first impression.
The only difference between the homepage and the landing page is that the landing page doesn’t have a navigation menu or footer, and the homepage doesn’t have the “Watch demo” CTA. That's it.
So what gives? If the lines between landing pages and homepages have grown fuzzy, what’s the difference between the two? And when should you use one over the other?
Differences between landing pages and website homepages
While homepages and landing pages might closely resemble one another in certain instances, they differ in seven distinct and important ways:
- Traffic source
- Conversion goals
- Exit links
The purpose of a landing page is to increase campaign conversions by tailoring messages and offers to specific sources of traffic. Unlike homepages, landing pages stay laser-focused on converting visitors into leads, subscribers, downloads, or whatever conversion goal you decide.
Landing pages don’t seek to satisfy everyone; they seek to satisfy specific people with specific goals.
For example, Gusto’s PPC landing page for the keyword “HR software” has one goal and one goal only: to capture leads.
The purpose of your homepage is to satisfy the informational needs of the broad range of visitors who will encounter it. Which means no tailored messages or offers.
Homepages provide a bird's eye view of everything you offer. Instead of satisfying a single source of traffic or need, they have to satisfy multiple sources of traffic and needs.
For example, Gusto’s homepage delivers a brief overview of everything Gusto offers, from payroll and hiring to time tools and health benefits.
2. Traffic source
When it comes to your homepage, every source of traffic will encounter it, from organic search traffic to direct traffic to referral traffic and beyond. All roads lead to your homepage.
For example, ClickUp’s homepage will get traffic from social media, email, internal links, Google search, direct visitors, and even paid traffic that bleeds over into the homepage.
But when it comes to your landing pages, only certain sources of traffic will encounter it, namely PPC campaign traffic. And you have full control over who sees it and who doesn’t.
For example, ClickUp’s PPC lander gets traffic from paid ads only. It doesn't live within their website navigation, and no other source of traffic will see it.
Typically, you’ll only use landing pages for ephemeral campaigns or paid campaigns, like PPC ad campaigns, offline campaigns, promotions, or sales—and for good reason. When you can control the traffic source, you can control the message too.
Conversely, you'll almost never want to send paid campaign traffic to your homepage. It’s too broad and untargeted.
Using the ClickUp example, since I discovered their landing page after clicking on a Google PPC ad (search term: “buy project management software”), they know what I want and where I am in the buyer’s journey. Hence the narrow messaging: “All your projects, in one place.”
But since their homepage needs to appeal to all traffic sources and segments, they don’t know who I am or what I want, hence the broad messaging: “One app to replace them all.”
3. Conversion goals
Think of your homepage like Grand Central Station. Like a terminal, it transports visitors to every important page on your website.
Since all traffic sources and customer segments will visit your homepage, it needs to provide conversion paths for all stages of the funnel and potential customers, not just one.
Different strokes for different folks.
Now think of a landing page like a silo: once you’re in, the only way out is to convert on the offer.
One stroke for a specific type of folk.
Since you can fully control who visits your landing page (and who doesn't), you can tailor landing pages and offers to different stages of the buyer’s journey and different customer segments. Consequently, you can offer a single path to conversion, not many.
In other words, whereas a homepage might include dozens of conversion goals (e.g. get started, visit the blog, explore apps, try tool, download guide), a landing page only includes one (at least it should).
For example, though the primary goal of the Wix homepage might be to convert visitors into users (“Get started”), it includes 14 different conversion goals with calls-to-action (not including the navigation):
- Get started
- Explore Wix booking
- View all website templates
- Create an online store
- Create a free blog
- Try Wix logo maker
- Get customer domain names
- Find out more (SEO)
- Email marketing
- Facebook ads
- Landing pages
- Wix analytics
- Learn how to create a website
- Explore the blog
Makes sense, considering Wix’s homepage has a lot of mouths to feed: eCommerce shop owners, developers, SEOs, bloggers, small business owners, solopreneurs, and more.
But their landing page only includes one conversion goal (including the navigation): Start now.
This also makes sense, considering that Wix only uses this landing page for PPC keywords with purchase intent (e.g. “website builder”). They know visitors to this landing page want to buy, not browse, subscribe, download, or explore.
Why is a single conversion goal so important for landing pages? Because data shows that adding more than one goal can decrease conversion rates by 266. Yikes!
4. Exit links
Like a single conversion goal, landing pages should only include one link too (or as close to one as possible).
No footer links. No navigation bar links. No social media links.
One link: the call-to-action button (AKA CTA button) that fulfills the conversion goal.
Oli Gardner of Unbounce refers to this ratio of links to the number of campaign conversion goals as a 1:1 Attention Ratio:
“In an optimized campaign, your attention ratio should be 1:1. Because every campaign has one goal, every corresponding landing page should have only one call to action – one place to click.”
Website homepages, on the other hand, feature dozens, if not hundreds, of links in their navigation, body, and footer.
For example, the Wix homepage has over 70 unique links pointing either to other pages on the website or social media profiles.
Navigation: 30+ links
Footer: 30+ new links
No distracting navigation, footer, or social media links at all.
Like we touched on earlier, since landing pages function as a destination for targeted campaign traffic, their messaging should tightly focus on a specific target audience’s needs (no one else’s).
Which means matching headlines, copywriting, and CTAs to the ad copy that sent them there.
For example, when I search for “booking software for salons” on Google, I find a relevant ad from GlossGenius:
When I click-through to the landing page, their messaging perfectly matches my search query:
Now juxtapose that with their homepage:
Broader message for a broader audience.
Turns out GlossGenius offers a lot more than just booking. But since they knew I only cared about booking (based on my search query), their landing page tailored the messaging accordingly.
6. Call-to action
Since homepages focus on information and landing pages focus on action, both use calls-to-action (CTAs) differently.
A landing page should include an action-oriented CTA that communicates a benefit or motivates visitors to convert on an offer.
For example, on Jarvis’ free trial landing page, they use a clear and compelling CTA that you can’t help but hit: “Claim 10,000 Words Free.”
Since homepages don’t promote specific offers or specific segments (unless you sell one product), their CTAs tend to skew generic.
For example, on Jarvis’ homepage, they use the generic “Get started” CTA.
Heck, in some cases, depending on the industry, homepages don’t even include strong or compelling CTAs.
For example, Hims, the online prescription drug dealer (AKA telehealth company), doesn’t feature a single compelling CTA on their homepage. That’s because they offer dozens of prescriptions products and treatments, and the purpose of their homepage is to showcase them all.
Last, since you'll use landing pages for paid campaigns most of the time, you’ll want to set them to “noindex,” which means search engines can’t crawl, index, or rank them in search results.
For example, when we inspect the code of this Pipe landing page, we can see they set the robots txt to “noindex”:
One of the many benefits of landing pages is that you can tightly control who sees them and who can’t.
If landing pages ranked in search, organic traffic would dilute your paid campaign conversions, making it harder to measure campaign performance.
Homepages, on the other hand, function as the primary hub for your SEO. Not only do they rank, but they attract more links than any other page on your website.
When to use landing pages or website homepages
Ok, not that you know how landing pages differ from homepages, when should you use one over the other?
A lot of times, it will come down to resources or preference.
But other times, you’ll definitely want to use one over the other.
Bottom line: There is no definitive “better” or “worse” option. Both landing pages and homepages play a critical but different role in your marketing program.
When to use a landing page, not a website homepage
- Validating new ideas: No better way to run a smoke screen before launching than with a landing page.
- PPC campaigns (social or search): Send paid PPC campaigns to landing pages with targeted messages and offers. Keep them off your homepage (too many conversion goals).
- Content downloads or upgrades (content marketing): Have on-demand webinars, resource guides, whitepapers, or free tools you want to promote? Great, create a landing page for each so you can easily share them.
- Offline direct response promotions: Think of direct mail, radio, direct response billboards or bus stops like you would an online PPC campaign. Send them to a target lander where you can tailor the message and better measure performance.
- Message testing: Roll out tested and approved messages to your homepage, but do the testing on a landing page where you can control the traffic source and volume.
- When speed matters most: When you have to move fast, landing pages reign supreme. With a landing page builder, you can design, publish and test a lander in literal hours.
When to use a website homepage, not a landing page
- Organic SEO: When it comes to SEO, your homage (i.e. root domain) is the most important asset you have. Send organic traffic and backlinks to your homepage, not your landing pages.
- Contact information (phone number, email, address): Want to share boilerplate information, news or generic contact info? Keep it on the homepage.
- Sharing social media links: Social media icons are like holes in a bucket. Bury them in the footer of your homepage, and keep them off your landing pages entirely.
- Brand campaigns: Running brand campaigns (no CTAs) via TV, online video, or billboards that are designed to reach a broad audience with a universal message? Bravo, send them to your homepage.
It depends (either or)
- Launching a new business: If you want to move fast and validate your new business idea, use a landing page. Yes, you can have a landing page without a homepage. But if you already have a validated idea, design and development resources to build a website, and content to fill it, then go with a homepage.
Though both landing pages and homepages share some of the same DNA, and they even have some features in common, for the most part, they’re two very different people on different sides of the family tree.
Landing pages do better for conversion rate optimization.
Homepages do better for broad, non-targeted traffic and messaging.
Both play critical roles in your program, just in different ways.