How to Build Empathy Into Your Landing Pages During COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 has changed the daily lives and habits of millions of people worldwide, and businesses across most industries are scrambling to adapt. 

Brick and mortar retailers, restaurants, and hotels—just to name a few impacted sectors—are hurting from a stretch of time without customers. Some could end up closing their doors for good. Other companies have seen a higher demand for their products and services. Productivity-related SaaS companies like Slack, Zoom, and Trello are seeing sales boosts because their business is crucial for work-from-home environments. Similarly, some direct-to-consumer brands are seeing increased demand from their ecomm storefronts.

In either case, these are challenging times—to say the least. There are various opportunities to improve (or damage) your relationship with potential customers through how you talk about COVID-19. How you address the current moment can “make or break” you. 

As a marketer, there’s never been a better time to stretch your empathy muscle: you’re going to need it. With that in mind, let’s explore how to get it right (and some of the places it can go wrong).

Match Your Message to Your Audience’s Concerns

We, the marketing community, constantly harp on the importance of being empathetic. But what does that actually mean?

Generally speaking, being empathetic means that you are showing your ability to share and experience the feelings of others. (That’s the dictionary definition, anyway.) In marketing, this often comes down to creating (or reworking) your copy, campaigns, and offers to demonstrate a deep understanding of your target audience’s immediate concerns.

For instance, if you’re a SaaS company and your target audience works in the restaurant industry, be aware that most restaurants are losing customers and may not be able to afford your software. (At the very least, they may be reconsidering what tools are essential to their business.)

For this reason, the message you deliver should focus on helping your audience manage their time and money effectively. Remember, they need your guidance (and expertise) right now, not necessarily ways they can spend more money. 

Take a look at the example below. Restaurant365 smartly added a sticky bar at the bottom of their homepage to provide resources for managing restaurant operations during COVID-19, with no sales-style messaging at all:

Genuinely providing assistance (and avoiding the hard sell at all costs) shows you care about your visitors, while still generating future leads and building a potential pipeline for when times are better. Plenty of brands say they want to help, but this is a good way of putting your money where your mouth is.

Where Should Your Message Be Placed?

If your message is about additional resources or a pricing change you’ve created to support your target audience, you can create a sticky bar similar to Restaurant365. These are especially helpful if you want your message to be seen on multiple pages of your site since you can set them up to appear in more than one place. (Sticky bars can also be used to make mission-critical statements about your status, like reduced hours or shipping delays.)

You’ll also want to create the resource itself, whether that’s a blog post, web page, or landing page. For instance, here’s an example created by the marketing wizards at Procurify to discuss special pricing, using Unbounce:

Image courtesy of Procurify. Click it to see the whole thing.

Procurify balances empathy and usefulness here in a way their prospects can appreciate. They’ve read the room, and it shows. Notice they avoid language around special “offers” or “deals” on the landing page. Instead of building hype, they make a case for their product’s usefulness. They also detail the waivers and extended terms for essential industries. And they even link to a COVID-19 resource center. (In other contexts, like their “Boost Your Workspace” contest, they even try to “spread a little joy” in a way that’s very people-first.)

If your product offers an immediate solution to the challenges of the new normal, you may also want to place that message front and center on your website. For example, Zoom has a slider on its homepage that portrays various messages and sentiments around COVID-19, without using the term “COVID-19” or “coronavirus.” (When you mention the actual term in the wrong places, it can seem as if you are leveraging the hard times to improve sales.)

You probably wouldn’t lead a sales call with, “Hey [Insert CFO or CTO name], I know the times are hard and Coronavirus may be impacting your business…” Similarly, in your copy, genuine empathy should come across in your voice and tone, without necessarily mentioning COVID-19. (As a matter of fact, a good way of gut-checking your copy would be to remove all specific references to the times. Then ask yourself, does it still seem in tune with people’s concerns?)

Slack’s page shows off their unique value prop (security and remote connection), all while using positive terms like “together” to convey empathy and understanding. Notice they also don’t write “We’re in this together” to avoid leading their COVID-19 messaging with a claim about themselves.

Communicating Empathy on Your Landing Pages

Being empathetic means you aim to understand the feelings of other people. It requires a deep awareness of your audience.

Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and ask these questions:

  • What am I currently feeling?
  • What are my employees currently feeling?
  • How has the coronavirus impacted my industry?
  • What obstacles are my business currently facing?
  • What solutions am I looking for?
  • What would I respond positively to?
  • What would I respond negatively to?

Once you get a firm hold on the current needs and desires of your customers and prospects, you can address their emotions on your landing pages.

How, exactly, can you get a better window into how people in your target industry are reacting?

  1. Ask for feedback from your most valuable fans, who consistently interact with your brand across social, through sales, and via email. They are most likely to give you the best responses in regards to what to expect from the rest of your audience. It doesn’t hurt to ask! 
  2. Don’t be afraid to run your messaging past other members of your team (or even other teams in your org) and get a second opinion. Play devil’s advocate and gut-check one another to make sure nothing you’ve written can be misinterpreted. You all share the same brand and want to make sure the brand voice meets your audience appropriately. 
  3. Check what your competitors are doing. Do they sound tone-deaf in their messaging? Or are they doing a good job? How does it align (or misalign) with their existing branding? What would you change?

Unbounce wants to support you as much as we can during this uncertain time. Check out the COVID-19 Small Business Care Package for a roundup of useful resources—including tech discounts, government subsidies, and marketing tips to help lessen the impact on your business.

Using More Empathy in Your Existing Assets

Now that you understand your target audience and are aware of their thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the situation, use that information to upgrade your landing pages.

Here are some easy fixes you can start with:

  • Switch out typical call-to-actions (CTAs) for more empathetic messaging. For instance, an aggressive CTA (“Buy Now”) could be replaced with one that’s a little more tentative.
  • Change graphics to photos that include humans, while voiding cheesy stock photos of blandly happy people. 
  • Find a little humility. Include less copy that explains why your company so great. Instead, talk about how you meet your visitors’ needs, even in a time of crisis.
  • When you don’t have the time to make major changes to your website, use popups and sticky bars to deliver empathetic messaging instead. 

Let’s look into some real-life examples of how some big names are using empathy to reframe their existing messaging:

Switch your CTA to meet people’s needs

After COVID, Asana switched their header and the main CTA on their homepage to better address the challenging times. Back in February, their header copy focused on increasing business efficiency through time management and task tracking. (At the time, this made a lot of sense.)

February 1, 2020:

In April, though, Asana’s header section refocused on “keeping your team organized and connected,” no matter when or where they work. 

April 22, 2020:

This is more than just a shift in words—it’s a shift in messaging that much more strongly relates to the visitors’ current feelings and the obstacles they face while working from home. Asana always offered these features, but they’ve highlighted them as a more direct solution to an immediate problem faced by customers.

For companies that already have a remote workforce and ones that are just starting out, Asana provides an immediate, actionable way to move forward.

Use real photo imagery and meet people’s needs

Similar to Asana, Slack switched their header section to include revised copy related to the WFH reality we’re all facing. In this case, Slack added real images of humans communicating and using the platform.

February 1, 2020:

More specifically, they replaced their header section, which showed what looks like bingo balls (your guess is as good as mine) with images of people interacting using Slack.

April 22, 2020:

The message about replacing email is gone. Slack also uses relatable language like “Let’s review at 1 pm EST,” “Working from home!,” and “Hopping on the video call” to better humanize their product (and hammer home how it helps bring teams together, even when they’re apart).

By revising the header in times when people face other challenges, Slack connects with visitors on a deeper, more empathetic level. This is an excellent example of how strategic savvy and being human can align to define a brand in times of crisis.

What Should You Avoid?

So, we’ve explored a few examples of empathetic messaging done well. But there are definitely certain tactics that have been popping up online (and they’ve been getting attention for all the wrong reasons). We’ve all seen ‘em in our Twitter feeds, but the worst offenders do stuff like:

  • The casual coronavirus name-drop. Let me be clear, I’m not saying avoid the term altogether, but dropping it into every call to action and header that you have is not the answer. “SEO Proposal” should not suddenly become “Coronavirus SEO Proposal.”
  • Using the coronavirus as a main selling point. Coronavirus should not be leveraged when selling. It comes across as insensitive and tone-deaf. Think about how you would feel if you were a restaurant owner, and someone leveraged the fact that your business is losing money to sell you a loan? 
  • Falling back on cliches. Since most of us haven’t done marketing during a global pandemic before, so it’s understandably difficult to find the right words. As a result, we rely on what we hear elsewhere. If all you’re doing is repeating messaging heard everywhere else, though, it won’t come off as empathetic.

This example below (it’s not a real one, but something we based on what we saw on some websites) shows a heading and CTA from an effective landing page published back in January. At the time, nothing about this messaging rang false. I imagine it would have been really appealing to potential customers. 

January 16, 2020:

But then things changed, while the copy didn’t adapt in an empathetic way. Take a look below and see if you can spot the difference: 

April 22, 2020:

Did you spot it? Suddenly the proposal is about “COVID-19,” without explaining why this will impact their audience. It feels abrupt and opportunistic, as if this company is simply using the term to get more attention and leads.

Here’s a better shift in wording that they could use in their header:

Current: Get an SEO Proposal to Counter COVID-19
New Header: Improve SEO Performance
Additional Subheader: Our team is ready to partner with you to improve your SEO performance. We’re all in this together. 

Even something as simple as adding a more empathetic subheading can greatly impact how this page comes off. But this brings up another issue…

Try not to sound like everyone else. Companies everywhere are going through the same situation, so it’s possible to fall into cliches. As this brilliant Youtube compilation shows, the responses from big brands are starting to all look and sound the same:

You don’t want to end up on a video like this one, right? At best, it comes off as insincere—at worst, it might seem glib. Companies of all sizes are in a difficult spot looking for the right “message” to share without backlash, but it’s better to focus on the specific, positive ways your brand can meet your audience’s newfound needs and go from there. 

Communicating with Empathy Can Be Easy

Building empathy into your landing pages isn’t rocket science, but it’s been sadly neglected in some cases. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Think through your messaging and imagery. Are you hitting the right notes? Are you reading the room? Is there any potential to be misunderstood?
  2. Decide what action you want visitors to take. Your goals may be the same (conversions), but sometimes shifting your strategy from seeking direct sales to building leads will feel more appropriate.
  3. Be genuinely sympathetic to their current situation. Don’t ask things of your visitors they aren’t able to give you. And don’t expect them to respond well if you misjudge their priorities. 
  4. Use engaging, human imagery. Lean on the desire for human connection in a time of social distancing. How does your business meet this need? 
  5. Be ready to adjust if necessary. Watch your content closely and monitor any responses (whether in the comments section, via email, or on social media). When emotions are a little raw, you don’t want to alienate your audience simply because you’ve chosen the wrong word.

Above all, be a thoughtful human. Be a reliable brand.

By following straightforward guidelines to provide empathy on your landing pages—and marketing thoughtfully—you increase the likelihood of growing your brand equity and empowering your sales, even if you don’t see it just yet.

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“What’s a good conversion rate for my landing page?” [New AI-Backed Research]

Imagine you’re an ecommerce business using landing pages to sell sweaters for miniature pigs. Recently, you’ve done a round of A/B testing—adding a little more oink to your calls to action, let’s say—and tweaked your social ad targeting to reach the hardcore piggy people on Instagram

After all your optimization efforts, your landing pages now convert at 3.57%

But actually…even if it’s a big improvement against your personal baseline, how do you know you should stop there? How do you know that your hard-earned conversion rate is worth celebrating? Heck, how would you even know if a 30% conversion rate is any good for pages in your industry? (Maybe everyone’s getting a fat return off of pig sweaters but you.)

It’s hard to be confident in the numbers when you don’t know how everybody else is doing. Doubt settles in. Maybe you’re missing out on reaching your conversion potential without even knowing it.

Well, we feel your pain. That’s why, at Unbounce, we’re on a continuing mission to answer the big question for you. It’s the one we hear time and again from our customers:

“What’s a good, bad, or average conversion rate for my landing pages?” 

That’s where industry benchmarks come in—and that’s why we’re thrilled to bring you a fresh (and free) new version of our Conversion Benchmark Report

Benchmarks can energize your digital marketing strategy in three big ways:

  1. They’re a form of competitive intelligence. They help you identify gaps between your performance and what the rest of your industry considers to be a good conversion rate. 
  2. Our benchmarks reveal data-supported best practices, and you’ll waste less time and traffic testing unproven optimizations that our machine learning analysis shows don’t necessarily work. 
  3. They help you build a culture of continuous improvement in your organization. It’s harder for your marketing team to be happy with “just okay” if they’re seeing something to strive for.

Sure, some folks like to pooh-pooh industry benchmarking—“Why should I care how other marketers are converting? Why don’t I just focus on how I’m doing?”—but they’re your best window into what success really looks like. Going forward blindly, when you could have both eyes on the prize, is just silly.

Oh, and these benchmarks were generated with help from an honest-to-goodness AI crunching millions of conversions, so the results are far more reliable than the anecdotal best practices often found online. As part of the Unbounce Conversion Intelligence™ approach to digital marketing, these machine-derived insights help you pair your hard-earned expertise with AI to create the highest-converting campaigns of your career.

Introducing the 2020 Conversion Benchmark Report

This year’s Conversion Benchmark Report uses machine learning to assist our data team in analyzing 186.9 million visits to 34,132 Unbounce-built landing pages. In terms of sample size, we analyzed more visits to these pages than the populations of Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, Laos, and Ireland combined. 

For full context, the previous (2017) version of this report was also built on machine learning insights, but in three years we’ve refined our approach to provide tons more real, proprietary customer data to feed the machine. Now we have even better, more reliable outputs—as well as a few new ways to break down our findings, like by conversion goal. (These are boundaries we’re going to keep pushing, too.)

But what kind of info does the report contain? For one thing, you’ll find median conversion rates broken down to 16 key industries. In many cases, we’ve got wide enough sample sizes to sort them into subcategories too, so you can see how your brother’s pest control service measures up against your sister’s HVAC company. (Or how your uncle’s cybersecurity software converts against your great aunt’s cloud accounting platform.)

The Conversion Benchmark Report includes 16 industries broken down into dozens of subcategories.

Why do we report on median instead of average (mean)? Our goal is to provide you with a realistic picture of where you stand, so this year’s report lists median conversion rates as our measure of central tendency instead of the mean. We found this reduces the impact of outliers (like pages that convert five times better than the rest) on the final benchmarks.

Not clear enough? Then imagine you want to find out, on average, how many eyes people have. The median tells us they have two eyes. According to the mean, though, they have slightly less than two. Because outliers (people with one or fewer eyes) bring that number down.

Both these measures are correct, but which one would you prefer to rely on if your business is selling sunglasses?

What if your industry doesn’t appear in the report? For this year’s report, we’ve tried to be even more representative. With machine learning helping us to sort thousands of landing pages in a logical way, we’ve increased the number of industries covered from 10 to 16, and we’ve even added subcategories whenever sample sizes allow.

If you still don’t see yourself represented, though, compare your conversion rates to industries with similar audiences and conversion goals. While we don’t actually recommend comparisons between very unrelated industries (except for fun), let your judgment be your guide. 

A note on COVID-19. The conversion data in this report comes from 2019, so we realize it shows norms that have been disrupted for some vulnerable industries—like travel, events and leisure, restaurants, and medical practitioners. These benchmarks show what you can expect in stable periods, and they provide insights about how your visitors typically behave (and why they convert). We hope they’ll help you set up your digital campaigns for success—and inspire your rebound.

If you face uncertainty, though, please also check out the COVID-19 Small Business Care Package for a roundup of useful resources to help lessen the impact on your business.

Below, I go into more detail about the findings and insights we’ve been able to pull from them. But if you’ve got an itchy mouse-finger, you can jump right into the Conversion Benchmark Report now. (It’ll open in a new tab.)

Going beyond the benchmarks

Benchmarks are tremendously helpful, for all the reasons I talked about above. (If you work for an agency, you know this already. They’re a baller way of showing the value of what you do—and helping clients determine their true conversion potential.) 

How do I best communicate with my target audience? 

In copywriting circles, the received wisdom is that clarity comes above all else. If you’re looking to put up the fewest hurdles possible between audience and offer, it can make sense to keep your vocabulary basic and your sentences tight and untangled.

Our data, however, complicates this equation. Is simple always better? Nope. It turns out that different industries tend to convert more often at different reading levels (and some see weaker relationships between conversion rates and readability than others). 

There are even cases in which it’s good to sound sophisticated. B2B companies offering lead-gen consulting or instruction, for instance, appear to benefit from more challenging language. We see a drop in conversion rates as pages become easier to understand. (Frankly, that’s not what we expected.)

When it comes to reading ease, pages for lead-gen consultants appear to benefit from being harder to read.

Our machine learning analysis enabled us to look at copy from 34 thousand pages. Each page is assigned a Flesch reading ease score based on the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence. More syllables and more words means more…harder.

Here’s roughly how the scoring breaks down:

What’s the perf word length for my landing pages?

While it’s true that shorter pages tend to convert better, many industries have sweet spots that break the rule—which means, if you’re going to create a long-form landing page, you should go this long. This is especially true in the wild territories beyond 200 words, where unexpected correlations between length and conversion rate have led many a marketer astray.

At what length do landing pages for family services convert best? The graph provides answers.

Depending on your offer and industry, you may find that you need to use more words to get your point across, but graphs like the one above can let you know what’s ideal. For family services, that’s 300-500 words (if you can’t get it shorter than 150 words). For other industries, it can be more or less. Whatever the case, creating variants based on our findings can definitely be a good candidate for A/B testing or Smart Traffic.

What emotions might relate to better conversion rates?

You likely know in your gut that people’s feelings can impact their decision to buy, but which ones actually drive conversions on your landing pages? To find out, we ran an ML-powered sentiment analysis that looked at emotion-associated words that might relate to healthy conversion rates—and which might even be slowing you down. 

(Spoiler: using trust words isn’t always advisable. “Trust us.”)

For SaaS, the concentration of anticipation words on a landing page correlates with its conversion rate.

When it comes to SaaS conversions, for instance, it turns out that language that conveys anticipation (words like gradual, highest, improve, and launch) sometimes correlates with better conversion rates. Or, to put it another way: as we find more of these words, we also often tend to see better conversion performance.

You can explore this example, and many others, in the report.

A good conversion rate is one you can improve upon.

When it comes down to brass tacks, all this benchmarking is valuable insofar as you can use it to build a better conversion machine from what you learn. How do you do it?

  1. Explore the insights in this report. The report is broken down into 16 industries. How are your landing pages stacking up against the baseline? Are you way out ahead? Are you falling behind? Start with your industry, sure, but take a look at others too. There may be insights that are worth exploring outside your own arena.
  2. Apply the data learnings to your own campaigns. Create a variant (or more than one variant) of your page that applies some of the insights we’ve provided. For example, you might dial down the jargon until you hit the optimal Flesch reading score. (You can use the free readability formula tool here to test it for yourself.)
  3. Optimize and test. Keep in mind that data analysis reveals trends and tendencies rather than absolutes. You’re making informed decisions when you apply these learnings, but testing is still your best way to confirm. Run A/B tests or, if you’re short on the time or traffic to do so, just publish your variants and turn on Smart Traffic in the Unbounce Builder. It’ll use machine learning to automatically decide which variant is right for which visitors, and it’s otherwise hands-off. (If you’re looking for more ideas on how to build variants, I’d recommend this post from Garrett too.)

In short, this year’s report uses ML to identify opportunities you simply couldn’t spot without the processing power of a machine. Optimizing your pages doesn’t have to be aspirational. We believe this is the future of digital marketing—and, going forward, you’re going to see more and more efforts like this from Unbounce to help you enhance the skills you already have. (If you’re curious about what else we have planned, you can read more about our push to bring you Conversion Intelligence.)

Whether you sell pig sweaters, chicken harnesses, or something altogether more practical—are you confident enough to swagger into your next meeting, snap your suspenders, fire those finger-guns in your boss’s direction, and let everyone know about your team’s big win? “Soooooooo-ie!”

Take a gander at the 2020 Conversion Benchmark Report, and let us know what you think in the comments below.