Conversion optimized sales page templates are a big fat lie

If a page building tool or service offers you templates that have been optimized for conversions, ask them if they’ll throw a quart of snake oil in to sweeten the deal.

The claim that a template design can be optimized for conversions is absurd (with one small caveat I’ll get to later).

People aren’t persuaded to make a decision to buy or opt in by the design of a page. The copy and the offer are what carries the day.

The whole point of sales page design is to build a page around the copy and offer that enhances and amplifies the sales message.

You shouldn’t be writing copy to fit into a pre-designed template or, even worse, cutting and hacking copy to make it fit a page layout that was created with no thought whatsoever for your product.

Design doesn’t sell

Have you ever thought “my, the negative margin on that image was unexpected, but the way it overlaps that color block to the left is really quite exquisite, I must buy a bottle of these magic fat burning pills”?

Or when was the last time you said to yourself “that heavy serif font, paired with Roboto Sans Condensed would seem a left-field choice, but it’s truly a treat for the eyes, so let’s drop $47 on improving my golf swing”?

Or do you ever recall waving your credit card around shouting “you got me at the magenta and peach color scheme”?

Unless you’re Percy Chuckles (he can get a bit wayward when shopping online with my plastic) I bet you just recorded three straight no’s to those questions.

You may think you prefer visually striking sales pages to plain and simple ones, but that doesn’t mean you buy more from visually striking sales pages.

Do you have an email list?

Assuming you do and you actively send to that list, do you send richly designed HTML emails or plain text?

If I guess you send plain text (I’m including hybrid here too) emails, I bet I’ll be right more often than not. Certainly in the information publishing space, that style is prevalent, occasionally with a banner or animated GIF thrown in, but mostly just text emails.

You may have just picked up on that style as a result of receiving such emails.

Alternatively you may know that there was some research into this some years ago. That study found that when asked, most people said they preferred to read attractive rich HTML emails.

The same study also found that the same group of people more often clicked links in plain text emails.

People think they prefer good looking HTML emails, but they more often engage with plain text emails.

One suggestion for this effect was that plain text emails look more like the emails we receive from family and friends and so we’re more relaxed and trusting of such emails.

I don’t see any reason to argue against that premise, but I’d offer another.

Once we start reading unadorned plain text, we’re not going to be distracted by images, graphics or other adornments that may break our focus and stop us reading any further.

All there is is text and if it’s interesting, short of the room you’re in catching fire, there’s no reason for you to stop reading.

Any reason you think a different set of rules should apply to copy in a sales pages?

A template is an empty shell

A template doesn’t contain anything that is selling the product that is shoehorned into it.

A template can never be optimized because it’s just a template.

The copy is what sells.

You can’t begin to know what the page is going to look like until you’ve got the copy.

It might open with an effusive quote from a previous client.

It could be five paragraphs and then the first subhead.

Maybe a simple opening sentence and bullet points.

Each approach needs a different design and there are I’ve seecountless more possible ways to write copy.

“Ah”, perhaps you’re thinking, “that’s why we need so many templates”.

No, we don’t need so many templates.

We have so many templates because there are businesses making a royal living off selling endless variations of the same thing.

But they know the templates that convert best

I know at least two page building services that let you list their templates by the most popular or best converting.

Clearly that could be an attractive shortcut for anyone who doesn’t feel confident in their own ability to make an objective choice.

If you’re a bit green and I tell you template A converts more than template B, you’re probably got pick A.

You can probably see how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more popular template A becomes, the more often it’s recommended. The more often it’s recommended, the popular it becomes.

Obviously with more people using it, the more conversions it generates.

But they know the elements that convert best

We can take this “they know best” argument to a more granular level.

I’ve seen at least one ebook from a funnel building service that shared a series of experiments.

While I don’t recall much the content, I do remember one showed that changing the color of a button to red had a marked positive effect on conversions.

Lazy people looking for paint-by-numbers answers will likely read that and spend the rest of their online life telling anyone who will listen that their CTA buttons must be red because it converts more.

Those prepared to think a bit more deeply and try and understand how to create more successful sales pages will be more likely to take from that the knowledge that they should be prepared to experiment with their pages and funnels.

The book was, after all, a series of experiments and while their results may present convenient starting points, there’s no guarantee that what worked best in that context will work best in another.

The one small caveat

Having insisted throughout that you can’t optimize a template, I do accept that I can argue against that in one specific case.

That case being a single screen height(ish) opt-in page. With such a page, the content parts that appear are almost always the same.

The headline, short product description, product image, opt-in form and a CTA button (or two).

In those tightly defined circumstances, a template that uses a two-step opt-in to present the form, rather than presenting it immediately on page load, is probably better optimized.

But how many versions of that template does the world need? As long as it can be tweaked to match the brand, I think one version of that is ample.

Ultimately, sales page templates are meant to be time saving, but unless you treat them as a very loose starting point, they’re likely to restrict you and your ability to present your products in the most effective way.