The Clueless Marketer's Guide to Building a Landing Page from Scratch
In today’s post, you’ll learn how to build landing pages from the ground up and see which option is right for you. By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to start building a landing page that will drive conversions. Unless it looks like the one above, in which case you’ll probably want to rethink your life choices.
Building a Landing Page the ‘Hard’ Way
First, let’s look at each of these web technologies and what they do.
Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, is the “language” of the web. Note that HTML isn’t a programming language, but a markup language (as its name implies) that is used to define the content and structure of web pages. Let’s take a look.
Image credit: Mozilla Developer Network
See how the content and structure of the page are defined by the code?
The basics of HTML are beyond the scope of this post, but there are several excellent resources on the web that can help you learn. Some of the best are:
- Treehouse (extensive video library, free trial, monthly subscription)
- Mozilla Developer Network (free text-based tutorials on various web technologies, including HTML)
- HTML Dog (more tutorials with plenty of code examples)
HTML defines the content and structure of web pages, while Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) define how web pages look. Style sheets are referred to as cascading because changes made to a top-level style sheet can “cascade” throughout the entirety of a site, allowing you to make wide-scale changes to the appearance of your site by adjusting the code of a single style sheet.
In the past, CSS code was inserted directly into HTML documents, but this isn’t a best practice – sure, it’ll work, but don’t get into bad habits. Keep your CSS and HTML code separate.
Here’s an example of what CSS code looks like:
Again, we’re not going to get into properties, values, selectors and declarations here, but there are plenty of resources to help you get up to speed, including the sites listed in the HTML section above.
To get an idea of how powerful CSS can be, check out Dave Shea’s CSS Zen Garden. Although it might be hard to believe, each of the example styles you’ll see there are applied to the exact same HTML code. Pretty cool, right? By making changes to your landing page’s CSS, you can experiment with radically different designs without having to go back and manually adjust the HTML of every page.
- Submit information to servers through web forms
- Create pop-up windows
- Authenticate user input such as login credentials
- Animate navigational elements…
If you’re serious about making your own landing page from scratch by hand, you’ll need some technical skill, but the rewards can be great. For one, you’ll have complete control over exactly how your page is structured, displayed and interacts with your servers. You also get major bragging rights for having designed and coded your page singlehandedly. Templates? We don’t need no stinkin’ templates!
Still, this approach is time-intensive for the coding newbie – not to mention a little intimidating. There has to be an easier way, right?
Building a Landing Page the Easy Way
So you need a landing page fast. What do you do? Use a template! Don’t feel bad, though – in many cases, this is the best way make a landing page. (If using a template still has you drawing a blank, check out some landing page inspiration to get those creative juices flowing.)
There are plenty of sites where building a landing page is a breeze. We’re going to look at two of them – Unbounce and Wix.
The landing page at the top of this post was built from an existing template using Unbounce, which bills itself as “the landing page builder for marketers.”
One of the main benefits of using Unbounce is that it includes a range of functionality specifically aimed at people who are primary focused on conversions. Another advantage of using Unbounce is that you can A/B test two versions of a landing page to determine which is more effective at improving conversion rates – bonus!
Unbounce offers more than 80 templates for just about every type of landing page you could ever need, including product launches, email newsletter subscription pages, eBook downloads, online learning pages and more. I chose the “Click Through Minimalist Desktop Light” template for the example at the top of this post. You can also choose to start with a blank page and start with a clean slate if you’re feeling ambitious.
Let’s say you want to create a landing page for a lead-generation PPC campaign you’re running. The “York” template is a great place to start for this type of page.
Unbounce allows you to adjust every single element of the template to suit your needs. You can change copy, use different fonts, switch out images and even move entire elements wherever you like. In just a few minutes, I was able to come up with this variation:
It’s not terribly well-designed, but that’s not the point – this quick and dirty redesign took less than 10 minutes to throw together and required zero coding. Imagine what you could do in a few hours!
Overall, Unbounce is an excellent platform for building a landing page. It’s not free (pricing starts at $49 per month for entrepreneurs and new businesses), but you can sign up for a free trial to start getting your hands dirty.
Whereas Unbounce is aimed specifically at marketers hoping to drive conversions, Wix is a bit more general purpose.
Wix offers a range of templates to start from, categorized by type of business and industry. For this example, let’s say you run an e-commerce site specializing in handmade arts and crafts.
Once you’ve selected your business type, you’ll be presented with a range of templates designed with your type of business in mind. These are some of the templates for online craft and hobby stores.
Now it’s time to start customizing your page. I chose the “Lil Pillow Shop” template because I’d secretly love a pillow with a video game console controller on it. Shame my cat would probably destroy it – this is why I can’t have nice things.
Wix offers some customization options, though not nearly as many as Unbounce. Of course, if you don’t need to tinker with every last page element, this may serve your needs just fine.
One of the biggest drawbacks to Wix is that many of the templates can’t really be considered landing pages, as many of them lack calls to action, forms and other elements your landing pages really need to have.
Something else Wix lacks that many marketers and business owners will find frustrating is the inability to add custom forms and other elements to a page – if it’s not there to begin with, you’re out of luck. This could be particularly irritating if you find a template you really like but lacks the functionality you need.
Overall, Wix is a great service for small businesses that need a web presence quickly, but for building a landing page it leaves a lot to be desired.
Of course, Unbounce and Wix are far from the only tools that can help you build a landing page. Other notable mentions include:
- SquareSpace (strong analytics support, domain registration, hosting services)
- Moonfruit (responsive designs built in HTML5, e-commerce-friendly)
- Weebly (drag-and-drop UI, analytics support, low monthly pricing)
Bear in mind, though, that while each of these services makes building a landing page easy, they might not offer the functionality you need, especially if you’re planning to create landing pages with highly specific calls to action that will compliment your PPC efforts.
If You’re a WordStream Customer …
Of course, it would be remiss to talk about building a landing page without mentioning WordStream’s Landing Pages and Leads. Built into our WordStream Advisor software platform, Landing Pages and Leads enables you to quickly and easily create landing pages that are highly optimized and connect directly with your existing AdWords account. We provide a range of templates, and our easy-to-use customization options enable you to build a landing page that adheres to best practices with zero hassle. We even host the pages for you!
Get started with your WordStream Advisor free trial today!