Drupal Landing Pages and Third-Party Options

ArticleApril 29, 2015

Landing pages are still a staple of any digital marketer.

Yes, we’ve all heard the adage that every page of a website should be designed like a compelling landing pages with clear CTAs, supporting material and the like. Sometimes, however, we need to break out and do something different for a specific campaign, and CMS website templates often limit our ability to do this. 

Landing Pages

Images from Lonely Brand

We’ve all been there. A special promotion comes up and we need a unique, temporary page for it to do well... or we have a video that we know would be great content, but can’t seem to find a good place for it... or we want X form to go directly to a specific sales rep.... there are dozens of reasons for needing landing pages.

This campaign-related headache is why we see so many RFPs that include “landing page functionality” or “customizable landing page templates,” and it’s perfectly understandable why. Marketers want the ability to spin off essentially disposable pages for temporary campaigns, but many content management systems, Drupal included, are not meant to do that out of the box.

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute… why wouldn’t I use my marketing automation platform’s built-in landing pages?" If you have such capability, then by all means go for it! Most marketing automation systems that have built-in landing pages have handy features like pre-filling form data with customer information. For our purposes, however, we’ll assume you’ve got a Drupal CMS (or something similar) and you either don’t have a marketing automation platform or the one you have doesn’t offer landing pages. Ok, moving on!

Why CMS Landing Pages Are Complex

With any aspect of a CMS, the more complex the content, so too is the system to support it. Typically that means higher development costs. Despite their often simple appearance, landing pages are fairly complex combinations of content containing media, layout, design, forms and interaction.  Add in variation testing and cross-domain tracking, and you have a veritable CMS inside another CMS. And all this, just to manage your single page.

It’s not impossible to build landing pages with a CMS, and we’ve often customized aspects of Drupal themes to work with “generic” landing pages, but problems still arise. Customizing a form means digging into the Webform Module, building the fields out, then dropping it into a block and putting that block on a landing page. Doable, yes. Intuitive and user-friendly? Maybe not for a Drupal novice.

There are other problems with site-driven landing pages. You need to be aware of their exposure to search spiders; they may show up in results. That can be a bad thing if you’re trying to isolate your campaign traffic. 

Similarly, analyzing the traffic to sets of landing pages using a larger analytics profile with filters can be difficult. Sometimes you just want to see the one page, and that’s it.

The biggest weakness with CMS-driven landing pages is the noticeable lack of any real-time testing. A/B variation testing and multivariate testing can yield massive increases in conversions, but it’s a huge headache to do manually, usually involving a stopwatch, spreadsheets and a calculator. Imagine using this method to keep track of all the test combinations of five headlines with five different images. It's terrible. Trust me.

Special Tasks Require Special Tools

While Drupal is a powerful tool, it can’t do everything. Well, it could, but you don’t want to pay for it. With the disposable nature of landing pages and the complexity, cost and comparably limited functionality you get with native “landing page creation tools,” it’s worth taking a looking beyond your Drupal CMS. Outside landing page services such as Unbounce or Optimizely are two of our favorites. There are quite a few advantages to using one of these third-party tools, which are built for one purpose: creating and managing landing pages.

One-Off Customization

CMSs are not supposed to be one-off, they are meant to organize like things. Something like Unbounce gives you free reign to create campaigns that match this year's tradeshow booth, for example. Or, a way to test out some new brand collateral, without having to retheme parts of your site.

Built-In Form Management

Third party landing page systems offer dead-simple form creation tools. While it’s not sophisticated lead-gen capture linked to your CRM, there are ways to do that if you need it. If, however, you need something to gather emails and export them later, you're in luck. Landing page tools have error trapping, thank you pages and all the other elements involved with forms figured out.

Variation Testing

Probably the biggest benefit to using Optimizely or Unbounce is native A/B testing capabilities. Testing variations is native to the platform, which does all the heavy lifting of serving variations and optimizing for the best one. Often, they focus on A/B, to limit the amount of variables simultaneously being tested.

Screenshot A/B Testing

A/B Testing results for one of our clients, Boulder Brands, using Unbounce

Other Niceties 

Helpful and fun components such as referrer codes, vanity domains, event tracking, drag and drop editing, and social integrations are often available with third-party landing page platforms. Plus, compared to a retheme of a site or the initial cost of building something from scratch, the price point is a no-brainer.

The Downside of Third-Party Landing Pages

Surprise! No system is perfect. There are tradeoffs for the freedom that third-party landing pages offer. None of your Drupal CMS content will live there. Likewise, you’ll have to get used to two different systems for managing content. If you need tight integration with SalesForce or a marketing automation platform like Pardot or Marketo, you’re going to fall short as well.

So, while you shouldn’t abandon your CMS, you’d do well to think twice about why you’re creating landing pages, how often, what they’re for and how much they’re worth to you. Depending on your answer, you may find using third-party landing page tools instead of building landing pages in Drupal to be an option worth exploring