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Landing Pages and the Decision Making Process

Posted on 4.30.2008


Landing page optimization and testing are complex activities that require knowledge of many fields — usability, copywriting, math and Web design are a few. But at its core, we are still trying to influence the behavior of people, and human nature does not change.

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 are moved to act and reap the benefits of the course of action

The key to properly applying this model to landing pages is to ensure continuity and ease of flow through each of the steps. All four steps must be completed in order and none of them can be skipped. That is not to suggest equal emphasis should be placed on each within your landing page, nor that visitors will spend an equal amount of time in each step. But there should be a clear path and proper support to keep them moving forward toward your conversion goal.

In his book Submit Now: Designing Persuasive Web Sites (New Riders Press, 2002), Andrew Chak closely follows the AIDA model and applies it specifically to website visitors. He correctly suggests that the website or landing page should be designed for four main types of users corresponding to the mind-set of each stage:

  • Browsers: May not know exactly what they want, but have an unmet need
  • Evaluators: Know enough to compare the available options and are looking for detailed supporting information
  • Transactors: Have made a buying decision and need to quickly go through the mechanics of the actual transaction
  • Customers: Have completed their transaction and need to sustain their satisfaction level until their next transaction

It is also helpful to realize that AIDA applies to different scales of tasks and different time frames. If I am a consumer researching a new computer, I might take days or weeks to make a decision. And over the course of that process, my interaction with your website may be only one of dozens. I may have long ago forgotten about your website by the time I make my ultimate decision — depending on when I visited, the intervening research that I have 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. Sometimes a desired conversion — or, a user’s task — is to simply 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 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. If your conversion action typically has a long delay, try to provide mechanisms to record your visitors’ progress, and restart them in the most recent and relevant state upon their subsequent visits to your landing page.

The typical time spent in the Awareness and Interest stages on the Web is very short. Most of the question “Do you have what I want?” is  answered during the Desire stage. However, without attention and interest, Desire does not happen. Similarly, although the bulk of “Why should I get it from you?” is answered during the Action stage, it cannot be reached without passing through the other three stages in order.

Taking some time to consider AIDA and how it relates to your unique selling proposition, along with some creative landing page optimization  will provide a solid framework to creating effective pages. When you facilitate known consumer behaviors, chances are good you will have success converting visitors into customers.

About the Author: Tim Ash is the President of SiteTuners.com, a performance-based landing page optimization and testing company that specializes in large scale tests with its non-parametric TuningEngineSM technology. He is the author of "Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions

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