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“Landing Page Optimization” by Tim Ash: A Review of the 2nd Edition

Back in 2008, I read the 1st Edition of Tim Ash’s “Landing Page Optimization – The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversion.” Since then, I haven’t found a more comprehensive book on the topic. For years, I kept it on my desk for reference.

Recently, I picked up the “fully revised” 2nd edition. It’s 100 pages longer, so what’s new?  And is it worth reading the 2nd edition if you’ve already read the 1st?

What’s (Mostly) Unchanged?

Most sections are similar to those of the 1st edition, including the opening sections that provide high level (but useful) explanations on things like:

  • What a landing page is
  • The various types of landing pages
  • The importance of understanding your business model
  • Conversion actions

And in the latter sections – Mechanics of Testing and Organizing and Planning – the content is similar.

Tim Ash's Landing Page Optimization 2nd Edition book cover

Tim Ash’s Landing Page Optimization 2nd Edition book cover

What’s New?

The greatest enhancements have been in the “middle bits”:

  • Finding Opportunities for Site Improvement
  • Fixing Your Site Problems

Being a UX guy, I’m probably biased. But to me, these “middle bits” are the most interesting part of the process. So I was very happy to see these sections expanded.

There’s lots of new content. My two favorite new chapters are:

1.     “Common Problems – The Seven Deadly Sins of Landing Page Design”

As Tim writes, “This is as close to a ‘Silver Bullet’ as we will offer in this book.”  The Seven Deadly Sins are:

  • Unclear Call-to-Action
  • Too Many Choices
  • Visual Distractions
  • Not Keeping Your Promises
  • Too Much Text
  • Asking for Too Much Information
  • Lack of Trust and  Credibility

Tim gives detailed explanations of the nature of these problems and provides great examples – plus specific recommendations for how to ensure your pages don’t fall into these traps. It’s an extremely useful checklist of things to look for when faced with the task of figuring out how to make a page work better.

If you just read this one chapter, and apply the concepts to your landing pages, your conversion rates will improve. This new chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

2.      “Best Practices for Common Situations”

Another useful addition, this chapter – like the Seven Deadly Sins chapter – provides “a great kick-start in your optimization efforts.”  It takes a look at these common situations:

  • Homepages
  • Information Architecture and Navigation
  • E-Commerce Catalogs
  • Registration and Multiple-Step Flows
  • Mobile Websites

For each situation, there’s a concise yet useful summary of recommended best practices. For example, in the section on homepages, Tim offers a strong opinion on rotating banners, writing that (on e-Commerce sites at least) they “are absolutely evil and should be removed immediately.”  He then provides six compelling arguments to back up his assertion.

If you’re looking for testing ideas, it’s hard to imagine that reading this section wouldn’t give you at least a couple.

What’s missing?

Some sections from the 1st Edition have been removed or reduced, but nothing that anyone is likely to miss.

The 1st Edition had an entire chapter (technically an appendix) devoted to Google Website Optimizer.  The 2nd Edition covers GWO in 4 short paragraphs. However, seeing as GWO was discontinued last summer, nobody will complain about this! (There is no mention of GWO’s inferior replacement: Content Experiments.)

There’s also a bit less detail regarding data analysis of multivariate tests. Specifically, the explanation of the fractional factorial methods (Plackett-Burman, Latin Squares, and Taguchi method) has been removed.  However, few people will miss this: Those who have a strong background in data analysis didn’t need it; those who don’t probably skipped it!

Is It Worth Buying?

If there was a weakness with the 1st Edition, it was its limitations in providing specific guidance on what to test. The 2nd Edition is much better at helping users formulate test ideas – which is arguably the most challenging part of the entire conversion optimization process.

The 2nd Edition takes what was already an excellent guide to conversion optimization, and makes it even more useful. If you already own the 1st Edition, it’s well worth investing in the 2nd. And if you don’t have the 1st Edition, buying the 2nd is a no-brainer.

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