What makes a great startup landing page?

This past week, I spent some time perusing all the 2021 Greylock company websites in preparation for this year’s Techfair. After looking through quite a few, I began to notice the same patterns emerge.

That made me wonder…

Why did every landing page seem to have the same structural elements?

To begin answering this question, I studied up on all 57 company sites and took a design inventory of each. Here are my most noteworthy observations and theories.

For the most part, the landing pages shared the same common elements.

A sketch of a typical landing page
Sketch of a typical landing page

It starts with a Hero section.

I imagine this section is the best opportunity to catch someone’s attention and stay on the page. Everything here needs to be clear, compelling, and engaging because it’s the first thing that someone sees when they open your website.

Here’s what the best hero sections I noticed had:

  1. Clear, concise, and useful copy
  2. Engaging visuals
  3. Call-to-action

Diving deeper…

1. Clear, concise, and useful copy

The key idea here is to make every word count. Cut out any words that don’t have a purpose. Replace words that weakly convey what you mean with their more cogent counterparts. Add words that bring clarity.

Kind of like this:

Instawork (Series C)

2. Engaging visuals

Design’s the next big thing. We’ve arrived at a point where an MVP, or minimum viable product, will no longer cut it. It’s now the MLP or minimum lovable product, that will keep potential customers interested and engaged. Including snazzy hero images and fun animations or illustrations are a couple of ways to transform an MVP into an MLP by adding surprise and delight.

My favorite:

Figma (Series D)

3. Call-to-action

Let’s say you knocked it out of the park with your copy and visuals, and the potential customer is hooked. Now’s your chance to rein them in with a call-to-action and thus begin the process of conversion. Some examples of call-to-actions I came across often:

  • Sign-up: Sign up, Get started, Get started free, Start free, Start free trial
  • Demo-related: Sign up for a demo, Watch demo, Get a demo, Try X for free, Schedule a demo, Watch video, Request a demo
  • Other: Join the waitlist, Get early access, Contact us, Learn more, Download

Here’s one that doesn’t use a standard CTA but rather one unique to the company’s core product:

Coda (Series C)

Together, these components make for a powerful introduction and entry point to your product and company.

Then segues into the persuasive body.

Sandwiched between the hero section and ending call-to-action is the body. In this section, I noticed each company employs different techniques to eliminate doubt, establish trust, and build initial rapport with prospective users.

There are different things you can do here. But I found that there’s a base that contains pretty essential elements that make a landing page, in essence, a landing page.

This includes:

Usually in three steps. The main question you’re trying to answer for the user here is how does it work?

Nova Credit (Series B)

What are the key features? What do they do for your target market, and why should they care? Tell it to the world.

Instabase (Series B)

Principles of persuasion come into play here — so do ethos, logos, and pathos.

––– Testimonials

Testimonials employ Robert Cialdini’s 5th and 6th principles of persuasion: liking and social proof.

When it comes to decision-making, people will often see what other people are doing before making up their minds. Even further than that, they want to see what people they like are doing. The more the user associates with and likes a person, the more likely they will be influenced by the person to act.

Featuring individuals, their words, and perhaps background info through testimonials is an ethos and pathos tactic that does this job well. Each component contributes towards the appeal to the product’s target market:

  1. Images of friendly, likable people establish liking (Ethos)
  2. Quotes show proof that the product is effective and life-changing (Pathos)
  3. Background info strengthens liking if you share similar backgrounds or roles (Ethos)
Sym (Series A)

––– Companies and Partners

Cialdini’s 3rd principle of authority is most relevant here. Companies establish trust and credibility by showing logos of their clients. The more clout the clients have, the better.

When we trust a company, we’re more likely to use their products over their competitors.

Retool (Series B)

––– Data

The number of downloads, users, hours saved, etc. all fall into this bucket. This is social proof at play. The number of downloads and users shows how many other people are using the product or trying it out. Hours saved is a logos appeal that doesn’t categorically align with a principle of influence but can be an effective persuasion technique depending on the product’s target market.

Stripe (Series F)

These components aren’t always included, but I figured I’d mention them here in case they may be relevant to some companies and products.

––– Team

Sometimes, showing who’s behind the curtain and building the product can establish credibility and trust.

Applied Intuition (Series C)

––– Case Studies and Use Cases

And sometimes, people need to see success stories and real-life examples themselves to be convinced.

Vanta (Series B)
Scio (Series B)

Of course, there were a lot of variances here. Each startup had its page tailored to its own product and brand. Because of how drastically different the products were, no two body sections were exactly the same.

And ends with a call-to-action.

You made it to the end of the page, but now what?

If everything above was done right and there was a fit, you’d be convinced by the company enough to take action. So, as the company, present an action for potential users to take.

The same call-to-actions from above apply here as well:

  • Sign-up: Sign up, Get started, Get started free, Start free, Start free trial
  • Demo-related: Sign up for a demo, Watch demo, Get a demo, Try X for free, Schedule a demo, Watch video, Request a demo
  • Other: Join the waitlist, Get early access, Contact us, Learn more, Download
Nextdoor (Series F)

The call-to-action ultimately depends on the product, stage of the company, and company goal. Ideally, you lead your market potential down the conversion funnel and convert them to customers through this call-to-action.

This landing page “phenomenon” can be explained by the AIDA Model.

AIDA is a concept used in marketing and advertising that describes the cognitive stages a consumer goes through before making a purchasing decision.

AIDA Model

It turns out, landing pages are just marketing pages which explains why they all follow the same AIDA structural flow.

Now, let’s talk about cheesecake.

To illustrate the theory behind the landing page here’s the AIDA model applied to cheesecake.

With cheesecake (or any food for that matter), appearance is everything. Cheesecakes garnished with glazed fruit, drizzled chocolate, coconut shavings, and a dollop of whipped cream (although maybe not all at once) are the ones that get the most attention.

1. Attention: What is it?

Now, if we combine this with a description that makes out the cheesecake to sound divine, we’re suddenly in the interest stage.

2. Interest: I like it.

Next thing you know, the chef walks out, cuts a slice, and you see the layers and colors that make up the cheesecake on the inside. You take a bite of it, and your tastebuds explode. You’re in cheesecake heaven. You want it.

3. Desire: I want it

As you work your way through this slice and finish the last bite of the outer graham cracker crust, the quote-unquote chef’s kiss that completes the cheesecake flavor and texture suite, you make a decision and take action.

4. Action: I’m getting it.

By the end of your cheesecake-eating, tastebud adventure, you’re likely to do something:

  • Buy a whole cheesecake
  • Say something about it
  • Find the recipe and make it yourself
  • Give your compliments to the chef

And thus completes the AIDA flow.

Summary of the AIDA model, Cheesecake edition

That is my theory on why the 2021 Greylock startup landing pages look structurally similar, explained with the strawberry New York-styled cheesecake. 🍰

To learn is to do. If you’d like to assemble a landing page yourself, check out this neat Figma Landing page UI Kit.

Or, explore these topics further with these additional readings & sources:

exploring the interplay between mind + machine 👩🏻‍💻