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Landing Pages and the Decision-Making Process

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Landing page optimization and testing is a complex activity that requires knowledge of many fields, including usability, copywriting, math, and Web design. But at its core, we're still trying to influence the behavior of people, and human nature hasn't changed.

In 1898, Elias St. Elmo Lewis pioneered a framework for describing stages of consumer interest and behavior. In effect, he created the modern concept of the sales funnel. All people were thought to progress through four stages covered by the acronym AIDA.

  • Awareness: Someone realizes that some number of possible actions is available to them.
  • Interest: They actively self-select and show a preference for a particular course of action.
  • Desire: Their enthusiasm grows as they investigate the course of action.
  • Action: They're moved to act and reap the benefits of the course of action.

The key to properly applying this model to landing pages is to make sure that there's continuity and flow to support a visitor's progression through each of the steps. None of the steps can be skipped, and all of them must happen in sequence. That's not to say that equal emphasis should be placed on each within your landing page, or that visitors will spend an equal amount of time in each step. But there should be a clear path, and the proper support to keep them moving forward toward your conversion goal.

It's also helpful to realize that AIDA applies to different scales of tasks and different time frames. If I'm a consumer researching which computer to buy, I may take days or weeks to make my decision. My interaction with your Web site may be only one of dozens. I may have long ago forgotten about your Web site by the time I make my ultimate decision (depending on when I visited it, the intervening research that I've conducted, and the uniqueness of your company and its selling proposition).

At the other extreme, the Web supports small-scale and short-duration micro-tasks that may happen in a fraction of a second. Sometimes the task that you want the user to perform is simply to click through to another page on your site. Yet the same four steps must still happen during the visit for the conversion action to occur.

Ultimately you must help to answer two questions for a visitor to pass through all of the AIDA stages:

  • Do you have what I want?
  • Why should I get it from you?

This process may not happen during a single visit or interaction. The ultimate goal may be weeks or months away. But you must provide a clear path to that goal, as well as support along every step of the way. If your conversion action typically has a long delay, then try to provide mechanisms to record your visitors' progress, and restart them in the most recent and relevant state upon their subsequent return visits to your landing page.

The typical time spent in the awareness and interest stages on the Web is very short. The "do you have what I want?" question is mostly answered during the desire stage.

However, desire can't even happen without attention and interest. Similarly, although the bulk of "why should I get it from you?" is answered during the action stage, it can't even be reached without passing through the other three stages in order.

Make sure that the right people are guided through the right activities in the right order while they're on your site. If you take a disciplined approach to making sure that every AIDA step is addressed for your visitors and their specific conversion tasks, you should significantly improve your conversion rates.

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