Yes, landing pages should be attached to real websites to simplify tracking of bounces to the home page, however it is not a requirement.
While landing pages serve as the rails that guide a visitor to a very specific action, it is unwise to completely block off any exit points to the real website. For example, if you have a logo on your landing page, you should link it to your main website for those curious enough to explore the full site.
If the landing page is not attached to the main website, it can still work, but then you have to worry about tracking cross-domain actions. When your pages are hosted on the actual business website, it makes it easy to track clicks to the home page.
Yes, you can have a landing page without a website
That said, plenty of companies run A/B tests on landing pages hosted with external services such as Unbounce, Optimizely, Hubspot, Instapages and Clickfunnels. They still link to the website and can still monitor session recordings to understand what happened to people who did not complete the desired action (like click a button or fill out a short form).
It is perfectly fine to have a third party like one of the many landing page builders to host your landing page for you as long as you have all of the tracking in place.
I have created landing pages for clients in Unbounce and Optimizely many times and the clients had a great deal of success with both services.
How to link a landing page to a website
If you use an 3rd party landing page builder service and wish to track direct sales on your website, you can link your landing page to your website by creating a UTM URL. Some services will actually allow you to "host" their pages under your domain name by pointing your domain to their servers. Check your landing page builder settings to see if they allow custom domains.
A UTM URL passes various parameters specified by you to your Google Analytics account. This enables you to track clicks on this URL via the Custom Campaign screen in Google Analytics.
If you have the older version of Google Analytics, you will find the reports on clicks and their parameters under Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns.
Check the "Primary Dimensions" area and select by Source, Medium or Campaign to see exactly which of your links are being clicked.
Note: Some platforms will automatically add UTM parameters to your links. However, they may do so per the page and not per individual links if you have more than one. For example, I use ConvertKit for my email automation and they automatically added these parameters (in the screenshot above). But, if I wanted to include multiple links and see which one is getting clicked more, I could use the UTM URL builder to specify specific links.
If the UTM docs from Google sound too complicated, don't worry, you can use a tool like this Campaign URL Builder to generate the links for you based on your specified input.
UTM Parameters Explained
Before you get flustered with all of the available fields, just know that what you put in these fields does not matter as long as you can identify the source of your visits.
You can easily set the fields to fruit names or your favorite songs as long as you know where people originated and where the sale came from. Of course, I recommend making it easier on yourself and setting values that make sense and let you easily identify the sale origin.
- Website URL - simply your website address
- Campaign ID - If you are running ads, you can set specific campaign IDs to see which ones are performing and which aren't. But, if you are tracking landing page clicks, you can use this field to identify the top-most level of your landing page tests. For example, if you are running tests on a home page and on a pricing page, you can call this "Home Page".
- Campaign Source - where is the traffic coming from? Newsletter? Ads? Referral?
- Campaign Medium - identify a specific aspect of the source. For example, if the Source is Newsletter, is the click coming from the newsletter email, or from the published version that sits on your website?
- The other fields are totally optional and you are welcome to tinker around to see if you need additional details in your reports. For the most part, you won't have any problems with the first three.
Landing Page Examples
Here is a landing page example from Salesforce. This landing page is hosted on the salesforce.com website and links to the main site via the logo.
Notice how it's different from a website:
- No top navigation
- Focuses on a form and live chat
- Heavy on showing trust and boasting benefits (stats, pictures of smiling people, logos of companies who use the product).
- Collecting information (leads - prospects who will then be nurtured further to close the sale).
Shopify Landing Page Example
This short and sweet landing page from Shopify does NOT link to the main website and has no exit points other than to enter the email address. It IS hosted on their website. As you can see, there are no rules when it comes to creating your landing pages - you can do as you please!
What makes this landing page work:
- Very short, nothing to do but to try the product
- 1 filed instead of a giant form
- Shows that people will make sales (in the screenshot)
- Shows some customer logos
- Uses the email as a means of collecting lead information. The email list is then nurtured to convert to paid customers.
How to make a landing page
The easiest way to make a landing page is use a landing page builder. This is basically software that allows you to create a landing page without having a website.
Most landing page builders are visual - you can drag and drop elements on the screen, customize text, colors, buttons and most importantly - set up A/B tests. But, not all landing page builders will let you create an A/B test, which is a topic for another discussion. Here are some popular landing page builders (I have no affiliation with any of them).
Carrd is a simple website creator which can also be used to create a landing page. They have some templates (free and paid) and you can build a basic landing page fairly quickly. Carrd is somewhat limited in what you can do so I would only recommend it for the very beginner.
The mailchimp landing page builder is free up to 2000 contacts so it's a nice place to start! Mailchimp features over 100 templates, something for everyone.
Mailchimp also allows you to use your custom domain so even if you create a page within their tool, it can be "hosted" on your website.
Unbounce is a popular landing page builder that lets you create pretty much anything. I personally like Unbounce because it leaves plenty of room for customization and split testing different pages.
If you already have a website, you can use a free tool like Google Optimize to simply test existing elements on your website. You can even split test different pages just by pointing traffic to another page.
My only gripe about Google Optimize is the stiffness in their UX - it takes some time getting used to.