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Use Sticky Landing Pages to Build Tribes – Board Member’s Memo

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This spring, at The Write Thought, we decided to jump into digital book publishing.

I had sold my first publishing company, Quill Driver Books, in 2008, and my non-compete agreement was approaching expiration.

For a few years, I’d been lollygagging around my son Josh’s wholesale company, American West Books, helping out a couple of days a week, inserting myself into his business lunches, and trying to stay on top of the roiling book industry.

Being the perceptive people we are, Josh and I noticed that e-books were swiftly gaining popularity, and that uncertainty and turmoil were the industry flavors of the day. Intrigued by the opportunities this chaos seemed to be opening up, we began looking at digital publishing in earnest.

One of the first things we noticed was that the focus was moving to a more granular level of sales. The importance of reaching business partners such as bookstores and wholesalers—which buy books in large quantities—was fading in relation to the importance of reaching readers, who generally buy one book at a time.

This meant Web sites, social media, and other aspects of the Internet took front stage. We had a lot to learn. .

Engage Readers

The new key word was engagement. Publishers and authors needed to become engaged with their readers. In his books, marketing guru Seth Godin (keynote speaker at IBPA’s Ben Franklin Awards in 2010) has illustrated the way to do this, touting the importance of building and interacting with groups he refers to as “tribes.”

Godin defines a tribe as any assemblage, large or small, of people who are connected to one another via a common interest.

As publishers, our goal is to build tribes around what we publish. Members of our tribes will then not only buy our books, but tell other tribe members about them, and they in turn will buy the books and tell others. A fruitful cycle indeed . . . if you can get it spinning.

Collect E-Mail Addresses

Robust email lists are one of the most important assets a publisher can use to effect this engagement. Of course, there are many ways to build such lists.

When I speak at conferences, I pass around a lined pad and ask the people in the audience to write their names and email addresses on it so I can send them each a free article.

This works well because I’m right there in the room with them. But what if you don’t happen to be in the same room with your public?

Almost all other ways to collect email addresses—direct mail campaigns, magazine ads, Google search ads, links in tweets, even scratched notes on the back of your business card—require your potential tribe members to go to a page on your Web site and leave their information.

Develop Sticky Landing Pages

The landing page you direct people to often provides the first impression your company or Web site makes. If the page isn’t done well, it might also be the last. Astronaut Alan Shepard was noted for observing, “They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” But a landing page people can easily walk away from isn’t a good one.

Recently, with an eye to amassing a tribe or two for The Write Thought, I did a bit of research on landing pages and their design. Here’s a distillation of what I learned. Take from it what works for you.

Include five elements

The most effective landing pages ask visitors to do something. For publishers it might be to subscribe to a newsletter, sign up for information about new releases, or buy a book. In each of these instances you can capture an email address for further engagement.

The best landing pages usually include the following five components:

  • headline
  • copy that relates to the reader
  • call to action
  • one or more images
  • trust builders

Headlines should grab visitors’ attention. They should rarely be more than seven to ten words. Headlines that promise to solve problems, deliver information, simplify one’s life, or answer a question work well.

Copy should be short, to the point, and focused on benefits to the visitor. The use of subheads and bulleted lists will help make your copy snappy and easy to read.

Use copy that readers will relate to themselves. Consider where readers are likely to have come from and who they are likely to be. Answer the question in their minds: “What’s in it for me?”

If your potential tribe member will be getting to your landing page by clicking on a link, make your copy relevant to the content the visitor was reading before clicking on the link. If the source page deals with one subject and your landing page another, you’ll lose your visitor in a New York minute.

Make the action you want visitors to take apparent. Do you want them to sign up for an email newsletter? Buy a book? Follow you on Twitter? Take a quiz? Friend you on Facebook?

Don’t make people jump through hoops to do whatever it is you are asking of them. If you want them to sign up for an email newsletter, put the form they need to fill out on the landing page and have as few fields to be filled in as possible.

Strong images add color and interest to a landing page, but don’t overdo it. One image plus your logo is likely enough. On a landing page about a book, show the book’s cover.

Build trust with short testimonials and endorsements. These trust builders assure visitors it will pay to stay active on your site.

Design for simplicity

Keep the design simple and functional. Use large fonts and plenty of white space.

Simplicity of design is more important than ever, given the proliferation of mobile devices with limited screen size.

Don’t use Flash or anything else that will make your landing page slow to load.

Include call-to-action buttons: “Buy Now,” “Subscribe,” “Take the Quiz.”

Use similar graphics and colors on the landing page and the page that contains the connecting link. This gives visitors a continuity of experience and reassures them that they have come to the right place.

Fine-tune, then fine-tune again

Test variations of your landing pages to find the most effective one. Say, for instance, you are planning a two-month-long Google Adwords campaign. Use one landing page for the first week, a variation on that for the next week, and a third variation for the third week. For the rest of the campaign, use the most effective page.

Or, you might even play with fine-tuning your page during an entire campaign, and then use what you learn for your next campaign.

Create more than one landing page and collect data even if you don’t collect email addresses. Use a unique URL for each promotion you do; track hits to each page to judge the effectiveness of your promotion. Then use what you learn to get still better results going forward.

Stephen Blake Mettee, CEO and publisher at The Write Thought, is chair of the IBPA board. He blogs sporadically at TheWriteThought.com/blog.

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