How to Keep Landing Page Design From Killing Your Copy

In a recent email I wrote:

“Good design can’t fix bad copy, but BAD design can destroy good copy in a heartbeat.”

And reader Juan responds with a query:

Would you say that good design can enhance good copy?? Or it really doesn’t matter?

This question is EXTREMELY relevant to what I’m working on right now at Simple Programmer.

The big project we’re working on for the next couple of months is launching a new book on Amazon.

I just put up a “prelaunch” landing page—essentially a sales page, but instead of a Buy Now button, there’s an optin form.

If you’re interested you can see it here:

The way I originally designed the page is pretty much Internet Marketer 101—black text on white background, large-type headline, testimonials, and big honkin’ call-to-action buttons in bright orange.

It’s bland, and not very polished.

Now for this book launch, one of our objectives is to present the book as professionally as possible.

We don’t want it to scream “self-published”—we want readers to take it as seriously as a book produced by Random House.

This is where design comes into play.

Often there’s a balancing act between what converts best and the “look” that is most appropriate for your overall goals.

The current version of my landing page converts pretty well—right now around 37% of the people who visit the page are signing up for the prelaunch.

(Actually my ORIGINAL original landing page for this was just a simple “squeeze page” with name and email fields, and THAT converted at 57%.)

However, neither of these pages help us project a professional image for the book.

For this book, we want a landing page that makes the book look like a New York Times bestseller.

To see a good example of this, check out:

So here’s how I walk this tightrope:

My first cut at a landing page is going to be as simple as possible.

The “design” is little more than a readable presentation of the copy, with a few visual elements to break up the slabs of gray type.

I run with that for a while—this gives me a baseline.

The next step is to work with a real designer to convert my plain-vanilla landing page into something more polished.

The goal with this “designed” version is to convey the right visual feel while preserving the effectiveness of the copy.

You do this by keeping the design focused on the copy, emphasizing readability while providing visual interest and support (meaningful photos, diagrams, charts, etc.).

Then when the page is done, you can compare the conversion rate to your baseline “plain jane” version.

In our case I’m expecting that a “better” design will actually lower our conversion rate a bit, but in this case that’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make.

Doing it this way puts the emphasis where it belongs—on the copy first, design second.

The mistake most people make is they just want their page to “look nice.”

They start with the visuals, and write the copy to fit a preconceived design.

When you do that you’re headed for trouble.