Jeremy Smith Feb 11, 2016 12:49:29 PM 35 min read

Essentialism: Strip Down and Optimize Your Landing Pages for More Conversions

Ah, the wondrous landing page.

The focus of so much drama, controversy, thought, development, brainstorming, meetings, addition, subtraction, testing, orneriness, redesign, persuasion, effort, expenditure, cajoling, argumentation and calling those confounded customers to action.

You’ve put all that work into crafting a page that speaks to your customers and delivers a user experience that leads them inevitably to that one CTA that your entire marketing campaign is riding on.

And I’m about to tell you to blow that page to smithereens.

But it’s not quite as destructive as it sounds.

Instead of outlining a detonation plan, I’m going to scope out the science behind the wonderful idea of essentialism, or reducing your landing pages to what’s absolutely necessary. And I’m going to tell you how to apply the principles of essentialism to what’s happening with your pages.

My goal, as usual, is to help you with your landing page optimization. You spend a bunch of hard-earned marketing dimes to keep those things online. You want to keep attracting eyeballs to them and clicks on them.

But you want more. You want revenue-producing conversions.

This whole idea of eliminating unnecessary things from your landing pages is to help you win more conversions.

The Science of Essentialism

There’s a popular article on ConversionXL called “Why ‘Simple’ Websites Are Scientifically Better,” by Tommy Walker.

conversionXL article

It’s a great article, and I recommend that you read it — later.

The article talks about the concept of “cognitive fluency,” which is “a measure of how easy it is to think about something.”

What the article isn’t so clear on, however, is the idea of essentialism. That’s OK for that article’s purpose, but it’s not OK for me and my deep-dive interest in such things.

I bring the subject up here, because essentialism is ontologically prior to cognitive fluency.

What the heck is essentialism?

Essentialism states that things or concepts have a certain set of characteristics that make them what they are. A thing’s essence, according to the doctrine, comes before its existence.

Remember Plato and his cave?

Plato's Cave

Plato basically said that the ideas of things are their true essence, not the things themselves. He made a distinction between the realm of the ideal and the realm of the non-ideal.

Essentialism, having grown up from from Plato’s theories about isolation, states that everything has an ideal behind it.

The idea of “scientific essentialism” is that objects or entities must possess certain characteristics in order to be that object or entity.

So, take gold for instance.

gold bars

Atomic properties of gold

In order for gold to actually be gold it has a certain set of atomic properties.

If you take away a neutron or two, or play around with the electron orbits, you lose the essence of gold.


What about a cow? So, you have a cow, right? You chop a leg off (sorry). Is it still a cow?


Yes. It’s still a cow, because it’s genetic code has “cow” written all over it.

Something’s essence makes it what it is.

Woah, man. What does this have to do with conversions?

Hang on. We’ll get to it.

The point I’m making is that essentialism teaches us how we ought to view landing pages.

Why? Because the landing page is basically the Platonic ideal of a website.

A landing page is a laser-focused appeal to the customer to take action. All of our conversion savvy, strategy, persuasion, technique and power should be focused on this page.

Your landing pages need to embrace essentialism.

Now, let’s break this down into some real conversion-focused language that is easier to relate to.

A landing page should only contain those elements that make it a landing page. Nothing more. Nothing less.

So, let’s sharpen our axe and start chopping things off (or blowing things up — whatever analogy gets you more excited.)

How Removing Elements Improves Conversions

Let’s take a quick detour to get your conversion juices going.

How in the world does this abstruse philosophical meandering about essentialism help you in your real, frustration-riddled world of data and conversions?

Here’s how. When you get get ahold of the true essence of your landing page, you’re able to focus on what really matters.

And you get a better perspective on what doesn’t matter.

You start tossing stuff, rearranging stuff, improving stuff, adjusting stuff, and eventually you emerge with this paragon of excellence — the essential landing page.

It’s killer.

The undergirding philosophy of essentialism serves as a powerful heuristic to enhance your approach and strategy for building world class landing pages that rack up conversions.

What should you remove from your landing page?

Now, it’s brass tacks time. I don’t want to disappoint you or anything, but I’m not going to give you ubertactical specifics here.

In keeping with the heuristic approach to conversion optimization, I want to share the principles of essentialism, which will help you to understand how and what to remove.

Here’s my primary directive: Eliminate from your landing page anything that distracts.

Like take away a funny picture or distracting meme, right?

Not necessarily. I’m talking about theoretical distractions that divert users from the cognitive flow.

It could be a picture. But, more likely, you will need to remove something more meta — like a direction, focus, feel, sense or messaging.

Let’s get into seven of those theoretical things you need to remove from your landing page:

  1. Anything that readjusts the user’s expectation.

You should remove anything from your landing page that doesn’t jibe with the overall progress of a customer — their journey from intent/expectation to conversion.

How does a user get to a landing page? Generally speaking, they click on a search result or a paid ad.

The query, ad copy, and the landing page should all cohere.

If I search for “great coffee beans,” and see an ad for “top gourmet coffee beans” …

coffee bean search results


… then the landing page should be about those well-roasted Arabicas.

Sagebrush Coffee landing page

Boom. Success. (No other comment on the above landing page, btw.)

There needs to be a continual cognitive flow from query, to ad, to landing page, to conversion action. It’s all a logical progression, see?

If your ad was about coffee roasters (like the oven thing), your ad would be ineffective. It would breach the user’s expectation, leaving her disappointed, unfulfilled and — you guessed it — not converting.

  1. Design that does not enhance your conversion goal.

Most types of websites have a defined look to them.

The mere exposure effect teaches us that familiarity is comfortable. We tend to prefer things that we’ve been exposed to before.

Exposure Effect

(Image source)

How does this apply to the landing page and eliminating non-essentials?

Basically, this: Your landing page should look like a landing page. If it doesn’t look like a landing page, users won’t know how to interact, may lose trust in the page and will be less likely to convert.

Look at this landing page at Wayin:

Wayin landing page

It’s as boring as a white t-shirt, but it looks like a landing page, right? (They've added some art to it since I first looked at it.)

Sure it does. That’s because a lot of B2B landing pages contain the familiar headline/bullet points/capture form model.

The design of the page (as bland as it may be) drives the overall conversion goal.

  1. Emotions that do not contribute to your conversion goal.

Every conversion event happens within a swirl of emotions. Every decision requires emotion.

Your landing page elicits emotion. Even if you designed your landing page with the straightest face and the most boring intent, it contains some sort of emotion.

So, how does this emotion serve or detract from the conversion intention?

It will take some careful thinking, probably some user testing, and some awareness about how emotions influence decision-making to learn for sure.

But you need to understand that:

  • Colors affect emotions.
  • Images affect emotions.
  • Typefaces affect emotions.
  • Word usage affects emotions.

Take a quick emotional temperature of your page. Find out what’s going on with it, and then do your best to align its emotional direction with a tone that will get your users feeling it and converting on it.

The Microsoft Band landing page has emotion built in, primarily through the strategic use of this image:

Microsoft Band landing page

Notice how the image of the cyclist communicates determination, forward motion, energy, action and purpose.

Since Microsoft is selling a health-tracking band, this makes complete sense. The emotion of the landing page matches the conversion intention of the page.

  1. Intention that does not contribute to your conversion goal.

Intention is the point of the page — what you want the user to want.

If you want the user to buy your book, sign up for your newsletter or fill out a form, then the landing page should be about that one thing.

  • Make the intention of the page focused. Don’t push other stuff in the user’s face. Make all your copy about what your want the user to do, all your images point toward it and your form fields there to make it happen.
  • Make the intention of the page obvious. Don’t let the user guess or hunt. Put it right in their face.
  • Make the intention of the page singular. One conversion action. Not two. One.

The landing page below is inviting me to explore a concordance for Jung’s collected works. I think. (Yes, it’s an actual landing page.)

The product is probably awesome, but the landing page has a diffusion of intentions.

ARAS landing page

I’m no Jung scholar, so maybe that’s why I’m confused. Or maybe, the essence of the landing page can’t be fathomed because it has far too many intentions — joining, learning more, reading more, and previewing / purchasing, to name just the obvious ones. They apparently want some social media action, too.

This landing page has no focused intent. The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism is surely set up by some respectable folks, but I would advise them to begin eliminating elements from this page.

  1. Points of interest that don’t contribute to your conversion goal.

Your users are smart people, but if they’re like normal humans, they have a short attention span.

An individual’s attention can shift focus in a split-second. Your landing page must either hold their attention or provide opportunity to shift attention to things that contribute to the conversion goal.

A page’s layout will affect the user’s interest level. When text boxes are spread all over the screen, it can suggest a potpourri of interesting elements.

US Data Corporation

On this landing page, the user’s interest will be scattered just like the many elements that litter the page.

But they want the user to focus on what matters — the conversion goal.

The "Call Us" box is centered and in red, and is repeated in the upper right. Hard to miss. Except that everything else on the page is working to make sure we do.

This landing page has a focused interest:

Eyefi page

It’s totally fine to generate interest. But you want to create interest in one thing — the conversion.

Take a look at this landing page. It has plenty of interest. Somebody jumping. Out of joy or excitement, maybe? Sure! Good emotional appeal.

But notice that this page has a goal — focus on that form! Fill it out!

Sovrn page

  1. Actions that do not contribute to your conversion goal.

What kind of actions are you asking the user to take on your landing page?

Many landing pages call for the user to do something besides convert. That might be OK, but only if it serves the conversion goal.

The landing page below is designed to get you to register for an AdWords conference. It’s a long-form landing page.

SMX Conference landing page

It’s a decent landing page, but notice that there are some action elements.

SMX page video

That video? The user has to press “play” to watch a four-minute talk about the workshop. So far so good.

But what if they decide to open the video in YouTube? What if they choose to watch hilarious cat videos?

You lose.

Extra elements are OK. Videos, specifically, have been proven to improve conversion rates in some cases.

Here, the video provides supporting information from an expert. In fact, that’s Brad Geddes, the workshop leader, in the video. The video’s content adds to the user’s information about the workshop, which serves the conversion goal.

Unfortunately, while Geddes is named in the second paragraph on the page, nothing on the page says that’s him in the video. They may have expected users to play the video out of curiosity or to assume that it’s Geddes in the picture (he introduces himself right away), but a simple “Hear from Brad Geddes:” above the video would have enhanced its value as a conversion tool.

Videos are just one example of extra elements you might find on a landing page. But if the action you are inserting into your landing page doesn’t serve the goal of conversion, chop it.

  1. Decision-making that does not contribute to your conversion goal.

One of the most common, yet conversion-destroying mistakes on a landing page is forcing irrelevant decision-making.

People don’t want to make decisions, especially ones that don’t actually make a real difference.

Here’s an example of a website that has soiled essentialism with irrelevant decision-making.

The goal of this landing page should be to get a custom list of 200 free leads.

But, then I’m faced with decisions.

Hoovers landing page


It gets worse. Dwell on the page long enough, and a chat box appears.

Hoovers page with chatbox

Now I’m really confused.

What about my custom list? Should I chat with them? Call them? Fill out this dang form?

Which is more efficient? I have no clue. It’s already taking too long to decide.

Faced with decision paralysis, I do nothing. I leave the page, wasting the business’s precious AdWords pennies, and further depressing their conversion rates.

A more focused approach comes is found on this landing page:

Pica 9 landing page

They provide three choices, which is OK. These choices align with the conversion goal, and work as useful micro conversions to segment prospects. The “short” video — below the CTAs — is offered for more information; helpful, but not compulsory. (Though it, too, provides the option of escaping to YouTube once activated.)

The bottom line is this: do not add anything to your landing page unless it contributes to your goal. Remove anything already there that doesn’t contribute.

But be careful. You don't want to remove everything to the point where you screw up user experience.

A good user experience is an even more powerful tool than the landing page. And a good user experience, which the landing page must provide, requires attention to all the areas to be developed around the user.

User experience color wheel

(Image source)

While you’re chopping, detonating, destroying, eliminating and carving up your landing page, keep this massively important truth in mind. You don’t want to whittle your landing page down so far that you compromise user experience.

Yes, a picture of a smiling customer on that landing page might distract the user. But maybe it adds just enough interest to keep them on the page, brighten the page’s emotional tone or focus their attention on the form field.

User experience is always the most important thing. Don’t ruin it in some headlong rush for essentialism.


It’s time to get busy on your landing page. Chop stuff. Remove stuff. Blow stuff up.

But keep the user paramount in your mind.

It’s about conversions, folks. If it doesn’t enhance conversions, kill it.

What are some things you’ll be removing from your landing page?


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.