Websites are dead.

“Websites are dead. Landing pages are where it’s at.” 

Marshall Epie, Nerd Twin & CEO of Marshall Epie Technologies Ltd

A bold statement, but I suspect M does have a point: websites are starting to lose some of their shine and sparkle, and fade to the background of our digital lives. They’re looking a bit dusty, a little worn out; lagging behind and struggling to keep up – out of breath and panting – with the younger, cooler generation of tools that now define our presence on the web.

Speaking of generation: the first time I came across the term “Lead Generation” as a landing page category, I took it to mean something like Generation X – which betrays both my age and my ignorance of all things marketing. I imagined, perhaps, that it referred to a generation that was in the lead, and avoided clicking on it because I didn’t feel I belonged. It was only after M spoke the term out loud the other night that my brain caught up: lead generation; generating leads. Ah. So much for my IQ score.

Once upon a time – around the time of Generation X, in fact – websites were truly in the lead, and everyone had to have one. Your web presence and your website were one and the same, your mark upon the digital world, and it was non-negotiable. Without a website, you didn’t exist. And in this sense, M is completely right: websites are no longer where it’s at. They’re no longer where we are at. We’re on facebook and twitter and LinkedIn and Google+ and Instagram and YouTube and Pinterest and SnapChat. We have gravatars and About.me profiles, numerous digital identities floating about in cyberspace. We’re all over the place, and we can always be found. But does the fact that we’re no longer tethered to our websites mean that they’re becoming obsolete?

It’s certainly going that way, but we’re not there yet. I, for one, am still very suspicious of any organisation or product that doesn’t have a website. That doesn’t mean I will use the website, but I want to know it’s there. Like a point of reference; a means of digital validation. Like needing a postal address to open a bank account, even though you’ll receive all your statements by email. It’s the old mingling with the new, Generation X and the Lead Generation trying to find a way to co-exist in an ever-changing reality.

And it’s relative, of course. It depends on the organisation or product you’re aiming to promote. Some still need a comprehensive website, with several pages where visitors can access the information they need. But for most of us, increasingly, a simple website that states “I’m here” combined with a strong and consistent presence in the social media makes much more sense.

In the particular case of the Nerd Twins, and our current pursuits: I am a writer, promoting my books, and M has developed a smartphone app. Neither of us really needs a website, or SEO. I don’t expect readers to be looking for me online; they’ll come to me through word of mouth, reader recommendations, and my facebook page. I don’t want them trawling through a website: I want them going straight to Amazon, to buy my books with a single click. And who, in the history of ever, does a random google search for apps? You might look up an app you’ve heard of by name, but generally you’ll just go to the App Store and download it. And you’re more than likely to have been directed there from a landing page.

Landing pages, then, are the missing link. Essentially single page sites, they can more than replace the traditional website in terms of raising awareness, promoting sales and generating leads. (See how smoothly I used the term there? Like a pro!) And they come with much more flexibility and easy-to-implement functionality than a website, at least for the non-web designers among us. You can change, update, delete and replace them willy-nilly, without the hassle of editing an entire site. And while I’m sure you can make WordPress your bitch and have it do whatever you want if you’re a WP developer, the rest of us are limited to themes and plug-ins, and what little snippets of code we can write.

But a landing page is a beautiful thing: fully customisable, clean, to-the-point, and easy. Within two weeks of first hearing the things existed, I can now whip up a page in five minutes flat. And it looks good – professional. Which is crucial. Just like there’s nothing like a badly-designed website to put you off, there is nothing like a professional-looking landing page to build trust in what you’re offering. Plus, they come with built-in analytics: they track visitors and conversions for you, making it easy to monitor the effectiveness of your campaigns.

For the sake of clarity: our experience of landing page platforms consists mostly of Instapage. After a brief examination of the top contenders (as described in this post), the Nerd Twins happily settled on Instapage, and we have not been disappointed so far.

In the two weeks of our budding romance with landing pages in general and Instapage in particular, M and I have come to reconsider our respective websites, and re-examine their purpose and necessity. In M’s case, we redirected the homepage of his app website to this landing page (by publishing the page directly to WordPress – one of the publishing options on Instapage), where visitors are invited to sign up to his mailing list (through Instapage/MailChimp integration). Though a streamlined version of the original site (two pages, very little info) still exists on the server and is accessible through a sub-domain, we have effectively replaced it with the landing page we designed. That, at this stage, is all M needs. In my case, I have created an Author landing page, where visitors can buy my books, read my bio and reviews of my work, and sign up to my mailing list. It is, in essence, a very straightforward single page site, which contains all the information a potential reader might want, and handy, obvious links to buy my work (known as Call-To-Action buttons, in case you wondered). I have made no changes to my website as yet, but I am increasingly choosing to direct people to the Author page instead. It’s early days, but I’m already seeing results.

I don’t think websites are dead, but they’re definitely an endangered species and they’ll need to evolve and adapt in order to survive. We all need to re-imagine our web presence and find new ways to bring our old sites into the future, so that we don’t get left behind with them. And perhaps landing pages are the way forward – not necessarily as a stand-alone solution, but combined with all the other resources available to us. I’m already seeing quite a few examples where a site’s homepage is replaced by a landing page, which, however, includes links to other pages on that site, should the visitor require them. It seems Generation X is finally catching up.

Testing, and being tested: the Nerd Twins try out Unbounce and Instapage

thenerdtwins-compare-unbounce-insta

I am far from tech-stupid. M even less so: he’s a bonafide techie, and a genius to boot. But Unbounce tested us both a bit, and that’s not a good sign. If two self-confessed nerds with higher-than-average computer skills find the UI frustrating, what chance does the average user have?

In our quest for a landing page creation platform, Unbounce was our first port of call, and we came to it with great enthusiasm, as it had been recommended by a Proper Marketing Person. We screen-shared on Skype, and admired the name (“Un-bounce: get it? As in, you don’t bounce off the page!”) and the variety of different templates on offer. M signed up for a free 30-day trial on one of the Pro packages, while I created a free account. Our next step was to add me as a team member on M’s account, so we could collaborate on building our pages. First hurdle: it really isn’t immediately obvious how you may achieve this. It took almost ten minutes of increasingly agitated clicking and muttering to finally complete this seemingly simple task. I then had to consult the Support section to figure out how to rename the Default Client, when all I wanted was to get started on building our page. This did not serve to ease my frustration.

I am not a reviewer, and this is not a review; I am not going to go into a detailed description of the page-building features of Unbounce, or the holes I dug myself into in the three hours I spent navigating it. (Suffice to say: there was slamming of fists on desk, and several repetitions of the word “fuck” and variants thereof.) All I can tell you is that, once I finally came to actually building this page – with slightly less enthusiasm than when we started – I found it just that tiny bit too complicated; just enough to send me bouncing off in search of other alternatives. And yes, I am certain the experience would improve with time. And yes, it would no doubt help if I took the time to consult the Getting Started guide provided. But, really, I just wanted to go straight in there and create a functional page. So I bounced off, and landed on Instapage.

In Unbounce’s defence, it arguably isn’t targeted at the average user I mentioned before; it’s made for marketing professionals who, presumably, have both the time and the motivation to study the thing, use all the available resources (and there are a lot – these guys have a whole Academy of tutorials and e-courses) and get the best out of Unbounce. But that’s not us: we want a platform that’s easy to use, and that takes the effort out of our marketing efforts. And we don’t want to invest too much time in trying to figure it out because, frankly, our time is best spent on other things – namely, creating these products we’re trying to promote.

Giving things a chance is good, but you gotta know when to give up. So we closed down the Unbounce account, and (after a cursory look at a couple of other platforms) promptly signed up for Instapage. I like Instapage: it’s clean, it’s friendly, and there aren’t anywhere near as many holes for me to fall into. It just makes sense. M and I both ventured into the page builder last night, and came out the other side undamaged, with a couple of pretty cool landing pages [check mine out] and smiles on our faces. And that is a good sign. Oh, and Instapage have been talking to us on Twitter. Which is nice. And I’m a sucker for nice. So I think we’ll stick around.