If you run PPC campaigns, landing pages are critical to your success. If you run email marketing campaigns, landing pages are critical. In fact, landing pages are critical to organic search engine marketing, press releases and just about all Internet marketing efforts.

Internet cognoscenti know to spend as much time developing the landing page as they do on the offer that drove their visitors to that page in the first place.

As publisher of Web Digest For Marketers, I see what works and what doesn’t. In addition, my colleagues in the Internet Marketing Mafia share with me what works for them and what to stay away from.

Below are my top 10 tactics for creating successful landing pages that will help you recoup your investment sooner rather than later.

1. Know When To Keep It Simple: Some direct response practitioners like an exciting – if not circus-like – atmosphere in a landing page. Perhaps for some consumer categories it works well. But my experience in the b2b space tells me otherwise.

In today’s “give-it-to-me quick-or-I’m-out-of-here” world, you need to keep your landing page very focused and pretty simple. Let’s face it, staring into a light source and reading long tracts of information is stressful and hard work. We all do too much of it as it is.

Help the visitor to your landing page digest what you are offering quickly and easily. Use short paragraphs and bullet points. Offer crisp value propositions to readers that pay off the question in their minds, which is: “Why should I take the action you want me to take?”

2. Tell Them Where They Are: Think about it. When people click on an ad in a Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter, for example, or a link in a solo email, they’re being transported from one medium into another, namely, the Web. Putting language at the top of the landing page telling them they’ve landed in the right spot takes away the first question that any visitor understandably has.

Some advertisers in my newsletter will actually put the words “Welcome, Web Digest For Marketers Subscribers”. Other advertisers have been known to reiterate the offer that caused my readers to click on the link that brought them to this particular landing page.

3. Don’t Take Over My Computer: I’ve seen some landing pages get too tricky and try to wow their visitors. Often this frustrates visitors because they’ve lost control of their own computers. They may well get that control back by simply closing their browsers – and you are a goner.

Yes, yes, there are some categories such as online video gamers who will appreciate the whiz bang effects. But many landing pages tend to go over the top with special effects because some agency told the client it’s a cool idea and it meets with branding objectives. Don’t do it.

Remember, many computers aren’t running the latest apps. So your brand image then becomes a dialog box that says you can’t view this site because you don’t have the latest version of whatever. Also, many computers and networks have firewalls that prevent such programs from running. Again, keep it simple and stay on message.

4. Offer Multiple Calls to Action: Some people click on the first link they see on a landing page. Others read for long stretches before they take action. Have links at the top, bottom and in between. Make it easy for visitors to take action whenever they’re ready.

Track everything. Try to custom tag each link so you know which ones are the most used. This will come in handy for the next time. If you have a multi-stage process, like a survey, shopping cart, or registration form, see where you lose people and work on that.

You’ve spent good money getting people to your landing page. You might as well use each campaign as thoroughly as possible so you can optimize your future landing pages.

Don’t offer escape routes. Amazingly, I’ve seen landing pages that offer the visitor many options to get side-tracked. One advertiser recently told me this was because they wanted to keep the same look and feel as all the other pages on their website.

The case must be made to the powers that be in your company that it is all right for your landing pages to have some similarities to the rest of the site’s interface, but ultimately they serve as stand-alone pages that funnel visitors down to the desired call to action.

If your company is not known to visitors, there is a delicate balance between educating them as to who you are and why they should do business with you, ie., actually taking that action now to get the relationship going. But offering your visitors links to your mission statement, store locator or the like gives them permission to bail out on the reason why they came in the first place. Of course, having a link to your privacy page might not be such a bad idea if you’re asking the visitor to hand over contact information, but do remember to then put the call to action on the privacy page as well.

5. Experiment With Your Registration Forms: Common wisdom is that you lose 30% of your respondents for each registration field. There are different schools of thought on what to do here:

1. Just get an email address so you can start as many new relationships as possible and get more registration info down the road.
2. Get a few fields of data so you can more easily qualify your A leads from your B leads and C leads, etc.

A good rule of thumb I find is ask for only the data the user thinks you’ll need to go about your business. If someone downloads a PDF white paper on industry trends, the visitor typically is sophisticated enough to know you’re considering her as a prospect. So a phone number, title, company, and maybe time frame of purchase seems reasonable. But income level is not.

6. Revisit Your Encore Page: Probably the most astonishing thing to me in online marketing is how many sites do nothing with the resolution page, or what is sometimes called the “encore” page. That’s the page you get after someone has submitted their information for that PDF download or made a purchase or subscribed to a newsletter.

The visitors who have taken action on your landing page are quite apt to be ready to take more action, if you would only ask them. Instead, so many sites simply leave visitors hanging there and using the back button to back out of that page. More often that not, I’ve seen sites that say something like, “Thank you, you’ve been subscribed.” and then leave you hanging there. Some sites offer put a link saying “Return to Home Page”. If you’re doing that, you’re leaving money on the table. Offer them a subscription to your newsletter, or someone else’s newsletter (assuming that other newsletter does the same for you) or give them an incentive to take a survey. Or try to upsell them or cross sell them. Don’t just stand there, do something.

7. Take Nothing For Granted: What’s obvious to you is not so obvious to other people, especially when they are from another company or a different part of the world.

Repeating something for purposes of clarity is usually appreciated by those who are confused, and ignored by those who already know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen anybody get insulted by an interface that repeated itself for purposes of clarity.

8. Test Multiple Landing Pages: “Oh, duh,” you say. Tell me something I don’t already know. I can hear people mumbling that as they read this. But how many of you really do go to the trouble of setting up more than one landing page to test different variables? What sort of things might you test using multiple landing pages?

1. Try different subject headers, if you’re using solo email messages to drive traffic there.
2. Experiment with how many fields you ask for in your request form. You’re apt to find fewer people fill out your registration form, but those fewer are more qualified than those who filled out less fields of information.
3. Test the length of your copy. Yes, I typically suggest keeping copy short. But what you’re selling may need more explanation, and the visitor might not pull the trigger without knowing more. You won’t know until you test this.

9. Leave It Up: Nine months after an ad ran in Web Digest for Marketers for a Webinar, I had an advertiser tell me that he was still getting people to that landing page and signing up for it, even though it had already taken place.

So, if you can, try to make your offer evergreen, or as evergreen as possible, especially for email campaigns. More and more, people do not read email messages and newsletters as they come in. I know many people who have “read” folders that they return to at a given time each week.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of my subscribers who say they have a folder with either my name or that of Web Digest For Marketers, so they can refer back to it down the road. Presumably, they’re also then finding the ads and clicking on them as well – long after their initial run. In short, the tail is getting longer.

10. Follow Eye-Tracking: Look at someone who’s looking at your landing page for the first time. Follow their eyes. Do they follow the usual “Z” path down a page? Are your visual cues helping them advance down the funnel to the call to action?

Try not to interrupt your test subject’s first scan of your landing page. After they’ve finished, then go back and ask them to tell you where they’re getting hung up or what is being misunderstood. I typically ask questions like “What would make it clearer for you?” Very often the reply is exactly the improvement the landing page needs.

It’s good to stay up on eye-tracking studies, especially in this new Internet medium. The Internet marketing industry is still very new. We’re going to be learning things or relearning things for many years.

Some things that work in traditional media carry over neatly to online, while others do not.

11. Bonus Tip: Repeat after me: “I don’t know it all.” In addition to finding out what works and what doesn’t work with regard to Internet marketing and specifically landing pages, realize that it’s a moving target. That is, the audience is a moving target. Their level of sophistication is growing rapidly. The technology is changing and how we use online and landing pages is a work in progress.

That which worked just a few years ago may not work so well now. Time was when people would click on a banner just because it was there and looked interesting. Now they don’t have time for it. Blasting out emails helter skelter used to work. Now it doesn’t.

One thing you can count on is that offers are becoming more and more specific via Internet marketing and landing pages. The more specific the offer, the higher the response rate and the more qualified the prospect. In other words, this is good news for the savvy Internet marketer because it will cause him to spin his wheels less on unqualified leads, while allowing him to spend more time on qualified leads that will result in a more robust return on investment.