Introducing LinkedIn Analytics and More


Success on social media can often feel like a secret science. Something that only the few can achieve. But creating a successful social media strategy is a skill that can be learned. Mastered, even.

And you don’t need a flashy brand or a big budget.

What you need is a deep understanding of what your audience cares about, and how to get your content in front of them in the right places at the right times.

That’s why analytics are so important. Analytics help you to make better decisions and get better results. And today, I’m excited to announce our latest feature:

Analytics for LinkedIn Pages!

Together with our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter integrations, this makes Buffer’s analytics an all-in-one solution for these four popular social networks for businesses.

Want to see what’s new and why 3,000 customers use our analytics to boost their social media strategy?

Let’s take a look.


If you have been using Buffer for your social media planning and scheduling but not measurement and reporting, I think you’ll be thrilled to try our analytics. The analytics in Buffer lets you track your performance, analyze your posts, and report your results. Ultimately, we want to give you more data and help you get better results.

Buffer analytics dashboard

Let’s talk about the new feature first.

How to analyze and report your LinkedIn performance

We intentionally designed our analytics to be simple so that you can easily get what you need and create reports in a few clicks. For this feature, we managed to work with the LinkedIn team as we built it.

“I’m excited about this new feature by Buffer because we have seen many small businesses leverage their LinkedIn Page to build thought leadership and recruit new teammates. This new feature will help them understand what’s working so that they can get better results on LinkedIn,” said Ting Ba, the Group Product Marketing Manager of LinkedIn Pages.

Here’s a quick 2-min video walkthrough of using Buffer to analyze your LinkedIn posts and showcase your results. If you prefer a more in-depth explanation, feel free to read on.

This new feature will help [small businesses] understand what’s working so that they can get better results on LinkedIn.

– Ting Ba, Group Product Marketing Manager, LinkedIn Pages

1. Know what’s working to optimize your LinkedIn strategy

If you know what content resonates with your followers, you can create more of those content to engage your followers and grow your following.

But how do you know what’s connecting with your followers?

Buffer allows you to easily see your top-performing posts sorted by your most important metric: impressions, likes, comments, shares, or engagement rate.

Sorting posts in Buffer analytics

I like to sort my posts by engagement rate because it tells me how often people engaged with a post after seeing it. To me, a high engagement rate is a sign that the content resonated with my followers. But you can also sort your posts by other metrics, depending on the goals of your strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here.

Once you have sorted your posts, you can immediately see which posts have performed the best (according to your chosen metric). Next, analyze the top posts to see if there’s a clear recipe for success. Think about:

  • What’s special about these posts?
  • Is there a post type (e.g. video, image, article, text) that my audience seems to prefer?
  • Is there a topic that my audience seems to like?
  • When were the posts published? Is there a trend?

To make things even easier for you, Buffer analyzes your posts for you to tell you which day, post type, and posting frequency gave you the highest engagement rate. This lets you experiment with different posting strategies without the hassle of analyzing your posts yourself.

Posting recommendations in Buffer analytics

2. Understand your LinkedIn growth and results

After you have analyzed your posts and come up with more content, you would also want to know if the new posts are bringing in better results.

  • Are we getting more followers?
  • Is the number of impressions growing month-on-month?
  • Or simply, did all the metrics increase?

There are several ways to do this in Buffer, depending on what you want to achieve:

First, if you want a quick overview of your LinkedIn Page performance, you can this at a glance under the Overview tab. This is a summary of your Page’s key metrics and how they have changed compared with the previous period.

Overview performance

Second, if you want to see how these metrics have changed over time, you can look at the metrics insights chart under the Overview tab. This is one of our customers’ favorites because they can visually see the growth of the metrics. It is also a great chart to show others in your reports.

Metrics insights

Finally, if you want to see how your posts have performed on aggregate, you can look at the post summary table under the Posts tab. It tells you the number of impressions, likes, etc. received by your posts and how those metrics have changed compared with the previous period.

Post summary

3. Showcase the value of your work

After all your hard work, you would also want to put together monthly reports to share your results with your team, your manager, or your clients. It is also a great way to show that you understand your numbers.

Every table and chart can be easily added to a social media report in a few clicks.

First, click on the plus button in the upper-right corner of the table or chart.

Add to report button

Then, if you want to create a new report, enter the title of the report. If you want to add the chart to an existing report, select the respective report.

Create a new report or add to an existing report

And there you have it—your social media report! (And not a spreadsheet in sight.)

To make your report more comprehensive, I recommend adding a description of the report and notes for the charts in your report. This will help people who view your report make sense of the data and understand your work.

Description of the report

Once the report is ready, you can export it as a PDF file and share it.

Here’s a pro tip: Instead of creating new reports every month, you can simply change the date period of your report to get the updated data.

Everything that I have described above is also available for your Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter channels. You can create multi-channel reports by adding charts from various social channels into the same report. You no longer have to go to each social network to download the data and compile them in a spreadsheet!


A recap of our latest analytics features and improvements

Besides analytics for LinkedIn Pages, we have also added several other analytics features this year, which I thought you might be interested in:

Campaigns

Campaign report

Social media is not just about posting X times a day. Top brands plan campaigns that span multiple social networks. You can now plan your social media campaigns and get automated campaign reports in Buffer.

Boosted post insights

Boosted post insights

If you boost your Facebook and Instagram posts, you would want to know how they are performing. How does it compare with your organic results? You can do this comparison right inside Buffer.

Best time to post on Instagram

Best time to post on Instagram

The age-old question: when is the best time to post? Our team developed an in-house statistical model to predict your reach potential on Instagram according to your previous posts and your follower activity. This is personalized to your brand specifically. To save you time, we also suggest the top three dates and times to maximize your reach on Instagram.

Hashtag analytics for first comments

Hashtag performance chart

While we had hashtag analytics for Instagram posts for a long time, we were not able to analyze the hashtags in the comments. Many customers put their hashtags in the first comment to keep the caption tidy. To ensure that they can also benefit from the hashtag analytics, we made it possible to track and analyze hashtags in the comments.

New date period options for faster reporting

New date picker

Here’s a small improvement that saves lots of time. Previously, the date period options available were “Last 7 days”, “Last 28 days”, “Last 30 days”, and “Last 90 days”. We realized they were not that helpful because what customers really wanted was to look at their data for the week or the month. So we updated the options to “This month”, “Last month”, “This week”, and “Last week”. This has made weekly reviews and monthly reporting much simpler.

Get more data. Make better decisions.

Doing social media without analytics is like running with your eyes closed. You will get somewhere but probably not where you want to go. We want to equip you with the data you need in a simple and accessible way so that you can make better decisions. Better decisions on what content to post to grow your reach and engagement.

If you already have analytics in your Buffer subscription, the new LinkedIn integration is already available to you.

Otherwise, feel free to grab a 14-day trial of Buffer and start making better decisions.


FAQs

Where can I find the analytics in my Buffer account?

If you already have the analytics in your Buffer subscription, click on “Analyze” in the upper-left corner to see your analytics.

I have a Buffer subscription but why do I not have access to the analytics?

It might be because you do not have the analytics in your Buffer subscription. You can try the analytics for free for 14 days before you decide whether you want to keep it.

Can I connect my LinkedIn personal profiles?

It’s currently not possible to connect your LinkedIn personal profiles to Buffer’s analytics. If you need this, would you be up for sharing your feedback with us?





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Apple Cider Mimosas – Easy Holiday Cocktail


$1.46 each

This may be a no-brainer for my cocktail aficionado friends, but for those who aren’t naturally cocktail savvy, allow me to present these Apple Cider Mimosas, which are the perfect, simple daytime cocktail for Thanksgiving. Chances are you have some apple cider on hand (especially if you’re making my Cider Roasted Turkey Breast), and maybe some fresh rosemary, so just pick up a bottle of sparkling wine and you’re in business! 🥂

three apple cider mimosas with apples and a bottle of wine in the back

What Kind of Sparkline Wine Should I Use?

While you can use just about any sparkling wine that you have available, I prefer a dry or brut sparkling wine because apple cider is already extremely sweet. Since apple cider also has quite a powerful flavor, it can also help mask subtle flavor differences in your wine. In other words, you don’t have to buy anything super high quality. 😉 I just used a $7.49 bottle of Tourner brut sparkling wine from ALDI. And if all the varieties of sparkling wines confuse the heck out of you, this article about Champagne vs. Prosecco is a great place to start.

Sparkling wine being poured into a flute with cider

What Kind of Cider Should I Use?

Again, this drink is extremely flexible. I used an inexpensive cider, but I think it would be really fun to use a fresh local cider if that’s something that is available in your area. You can also experiment with steeping the cider in some mulling spices, then chilling it before making the mimosas.

Make Your Own Mix

I kept the formula simple, with a 50/50 ratio of cider to wine, but as any mimosa drinker knows, you can tweak that to be any ratio that you like. Want a full glass of sparkling wine with just a splash of cider? Go for it! Want mostly cider with just a tickle of bubbles? You got it! This drink requires no expertise, no skill, just pour and drink. 😉

one apple cider mimosa held close to the camera

Apple Cider Mimosas

Just two simple ingredients and one optional fresh garnish make these Apple Cider Mimosas the easiest holiday cocktail around.

Author: Beth – Budget Bytes

Servings: 1

  • 4 oz. apple cider ($0.18)
  • 4 oz. sparkling wine ($1.18)
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional garnish) ($0.10)
  • Make sure the cider and sparkling wine are chilled. Pour four ounces (½ cup) cider into a champagne flute, followed by 4 ounces (½ cup) sparkling wine. Top with a sprig of fresh rosemary as a garnish, then serve and enjoy.

See how we calculate recipe costs here.


Serving: 1drinkCalories: 145.2kcalCarbohydrates: 17.5gProtein: 0.1gFat: 0.2gSodium: 5mgFiber: 0.3g

Nutritional values are estimates only. See our full nutrition disclosure here.


The equipment section above contains affiliate links to products we use and love. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

sparkling wine being poured into a champagne flute in a group of three flutes



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Signed Cookbook Giveaway | Sally’s Baking Addiction


sally's cookbooks with Sally's Cookie Addiction on top

As we head into the final weeks of 2020, I’d love to offer you a chance to win signed copies of Sally’s Baking Addiction, Sally’s Candy Addiction, and Sally’s Cookie Addiction. My 3 published cookbooks each include 75 photographed recipes, most of which are exclusive to the books and unavailable on my website.

This year hasn’t been easy, but I know that baking has brought a *sliver* of joy to many individuals and families– including us! I’m truly honored that my recipes have been part of your lives this year. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. ♥


Giveaway!

As we bake through this holiday season, I’m giving 5 readers the chance to win signed copies of Sally’s Baking Addiction, Sally’s Candy Addiction, and Sally’s Cookie Addiction. Each winner receives all 3 books. If you already have copies, these make a lovely gift!

Read below for how to enter.

How to Enter

To enter, simply comment on this blog post telling me what your favorite holiday dessert is. Just scroll down and comment below. This giveaway is open to the whole world. Giveaway ends Monday, November 30th at 12am eastern.

Five winners will be selected at random and notified via email.



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Homemade Vanilla Sugar | Sally’s Baking Addiction


You can purchase vanilla sugar in some specialty stores, but it’s really easy to create at home. Use homemade vanilla sugar as a 1:1 replacement for regular sugar to add flavor in your coffee, tea, or baking recipes. If you decide to try it out, I have free printable labels you can use below.

homemade vanilla sugar in a jar with vanilla beans on the side

Consider this the sequel to my homemade vanilla extract tutorial. Today I’m showing you how to make homemade vanilla sugar, a simple yet very special ingredient you can use in your baking. It makes a thoughtful homemade gift and only takes a few minutes to throw together. Even though there are many vanilla sugar tutorials available online and the process is basically effortless, I’d still love to teach you what I’ve learned after making it myself.


What is Vanilla Sugar?

Vanilla sugar is regular sugar infused with vanilla beans. It’s a common baking ingredient in some European regions, but in other parts of the world including the US, you can really only find it in select kitchen stores and bakeries. Vanilla sugar sounds pretty fancy and trust me– tastes pretty fancy too– but it couldn’t be easier to mix up at home.

I used to buy vanilla sugar all the time to use in my Christmas sugar cookies, but started making my own last year. I find that 1 vanilla bean per 2 cups of sugar is affordable and works wonderfully. See my recipe note if you’d like to increase the amount of vanilla.


How Can I Use Vanilla Sugar?

What’s all the fuss about this sugar? Well, it’s a simple ingredient that quickly accelerates the flavor of drinks and baked goods. It’s just regular sugar that’s flavored with vanilla beans, so you can essentially use it in any recipe that calls for sugar. Besides using it to sweeten your coffee and tea beverages, I recommend using homemade vanilla sugar as a 1:1 replacement for regular granulated sugar in recipes where vanilla is the prominent flavor and not overshadowed by more flavorful ingredients. For example, I wouldn’t use it in chocolate cake because chocolate is overpowering. Vanilla beans are expensive, so save this special sugar for recipes that could really benefit from it like vanilla cake, sugar cookies, vanilla cupcakes, strawberry shortcake, or even pound cake and spritz cookies.

  • If your recipe also calls for vanilla extract, which is likely, there’s no need to reduce the vanilla extract if you’re using vanilla sugar. (Especially if you want extra vanilla flavor!) However, feel free to slightly reduce the vanilla extract amount. I wouldn’t leave it out completely though.

a spoon scooping up homemade vanilla sugar

What You Need for Homemade Vanilla Sugar

  1. Vanilla Beans: You need the bean itself and the seeds inside. Vanilla beans are expensive, but you only need 1 bean per 2 cups of sugar and you can reuse the beans to make vanilla extract (more on that below). You can find vanilla beans online or in the spice aisle of most grocery stores. I use and highly recommend these Madagascar vanilla beans, these Tahitian vanilla beans, or these Tahitian vanilla beans. (Note that each are different quantities.) The beans are high quality, nice and plump, and a generous size. You can make vanilla sugar with either Grade A or Grade B vanilla beans. Grade B vanilla beans are usually used specifically for extracting purposes and they’re great for making this sugar. Grade A vanilla beans contain more moisture and could clump up your sugar overtime, but I still have year old vanilla sugar with zero clumping. You’re fine using either grade.
  2. Sugar: The vanilla flavor will come through the most if you use regular granulated sugar.
  3. Food Processor: A food processor or blender isn’t required, but it’s very helpful. Any small chopper or even a coffee bean grinder works, too. You can skip the food processor/blender and just mix the sugar and vanilla bean seeds in a bowl with a whisk, but you’ll get better flavor if you pulse the two together. The food processor/blender really helps break up those clumpy seeds, too.
  4. Jar: You can store the sugar in any container where you’d store regular sugar. Make sure it’s always tightly sealed to preserve freshness. This 16 ounce jar is a great size for most and has a convenient swing top. The mouth is pretty wide, which is key for scooping out the sugar. These 8 ounce jars are pretty small, but perfect if you’ll only be using the sugar for coffee and beverages. If you want to gift this sugar to the regular baker, I’m sure they’d appreciate 24+ ounces! Mason jars are perfect for this.

It’s This Easy:

  1. Place sugar in your food processor/blender/bowl.
  2. Cut the vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise. Use a knife to scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds on top of the sugar. (Save the empty beans/pods!) Use a spoon or another knife to scrape the seeds off the knife– they’re sticky and clumpy.
  3. Pulse/blend/whisk until all the seeds are broken up and blended. If you’re using a machine, you’re also breaking down the sugar. Finer sugar is OK to use in most baking recipes. Pour vanilla sugar into your jar.
  4. Submerge the empty bean/pod into the sugar. Cut it as needed to fit. This is actually optional, but the empty bean adds more flavor as the weeks go on.
  5. Use sugar immediately or wait at least 2 weeks for optimal flavor.

vanilla beans and seeds

vanilla beans and sugar in a food processor

vanilla sugar pictured in a jar

What Sugar Do I Use?

The vanilla flavor will come through the most if you use regular granulated sugar– like the kind you use in your coffee or baking recipes. You can use brown sugar if you’d like, but the molasses undertones may overpower the vanilla. If you’re using a coarser sugar such as coconut sugar, make sure you process the granules so they’re much finer. Smaller granules absorb more vanilla flavor. Don’t use powdered/confectioners’ sugar because it will likely clump up.


Can I Reuse These Beans for Vanilla Extract?

After you scrape out the seeds, you can cut and submerge the empty beans/pods into the sugar as pictured above. Overtime, the pods will infuse even more flavor into the sugar. What’s really resourceful, however, is using the empty vanilla beans/pods to make vanilla extract. Even though you no longer have a plump bean full of seeds, the pod still has plenty of flavor that alcohol can extract. In my vanilla extract tutorial, I recommend waiting at least 6 months before using. But now that your vanilla bean pods are practically empty, you may want to wait closer to 12 months before using so that optimal flavor is reached.

  • Note: Reuse the empty beans/pod right after you scrape the seeds out of them. If you submerge them into the sugar, then use all your sugar, the empty beans/pods will have sugar all over them. If you want to use those, you’ll have to rinse them with water and wait for them to dry completely before using for extract. Some flavor may be lost during this process.

Can I Make Vanilla Sugar with Vanilla Paste or Vanilla Extract?

The best form of vanilla to use for homemade vanilla sugar is a vanilla bean. You can use 1 Tablespoon of vanilla paste or vanilla extract per 1 cup of sugar, but both add color and quite a bit of moisture to your sugar. This moisture will affect your baking recipes. You could dry spreading the wet and clumpy sugar on a baking sheet to help it dry out, but the results won’t be the same. I strongly recommend using vanilla beans.

a jar sealed closed with vanilla sugar inside

Free Printable Labels

Because everyone enjoys a fun accessory, I asked my dear friend Jess to design labels for our vanilla sugar jars. They match our vanilla extract labels! So excited to share these with you.

Click this link for the PDF: Sallys Baking Addiction Vanilla Sugar Stickers

Directions: Print out the labels on sticker adhesive paper, then cut out the circles. Peel off the labels and stick on your jars. The labels are obviously optional, but they’re a nice addition if you plan to gift the sugar to others. (Note that you’ll have a crease in the round sticker if the side of your jar isn’t perfectly flat. Looks great on the flat lid, though.)

Print

clock clock icon cutlery cutlery icon flag flag icon folder folder icon instagram instagram icon pinterest pinterest icon print print icon squares squares icon


Ingredients

  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (57 inch long)

  1. Place sugar in your food processor or blender. Any small chopper or even a coffee bean grinder works. (Process in batches if needed.) You can skip the food processor/blender and just mix the sugar and vanilla bean seeds in a bowl with a whisk, but you’ll get better flavor if you pulse the two together.
  2. Cut the vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise. Use a knife to scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds on top of the sugar. (Save the empty beans/pods.) Use a spoon or another knife to scrape the seeds off the knife– they’re sticky and clumpy.
  3. Pulse/blend/whisk until all the seeds are broken up and blended, about 10-12 pulses. If you notice extra large clumps, feel free to keep pulsing/whisking or sift them out. Pour vanilla sugar into your jar or container.
  4. Submerge the empty bean/pod into the sugar. Cut it as needed to fit. This is actually optional, but the empty bean adds more flavor as the weeks go on. You could also use the empty beans to make vanilla extract. See written details above this recipe.
  5. Use sugar immediately or wait at least 2 weeks for optimal flavor.
  6. Store vanilla sugar at room temperature. Give it a shake every few weeks or so. If stored in a cool, dry place, vanilla sugar has a long shelf life, 2+ years at least. (I guarantee you’ll use it up before then!)

Notes

  1. Ratio: I recommend 1 vanilla bean per 2 cups of sugar. Use half of a vanilla bean for 1 cup of sugar. Double, triple, or quadruple the recipe as needed. Sure you could use beans for more flavor, but vanilla beans are expensive and the flavor could become overpowering and/or the sugar could begin to clump up from all the moist seeds.
  2. Sugar: For best results, use regular granulated sugar. You can use brown sugar if you’d like, but its molasses undertones may overpower the vanilla. If you’re using a coarser sugar such as coconut sugar, make sure you process the granules so they’re much finer. Smaller granules absorb more vanilla flavor. I don’t recommend using powdered/confectioners’ sugar.



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How to Make a Thanksgiving Grazing Board


I have to come clean about something. I’ve spent more years than not actively avoiding cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. Pandemic or not, my boyfriend and I often eat some version of this Thanksgiving Grazing Board below instead of a full Thanksgiving dinner. This grazing board is festive, it’s easy, it’s all of my most favorite foods on one tray, and it pairs perfectly with wine and a day of relaxing. And OMG, so much easier than a full meal. 😅

So whether you feel like you just want to skip the big meal all together, or you need something to keep the hungry mouths busy while you’re preparing the big meal, a Thanksgiving grazing board is a great option.

P.S. If you’re like me and would be just as happy with a grazing board of goodies instead of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, give me a shout in the comments so I don’t feel like I’m a weirdo. 😅

Overhead view of a Thanksgiving grazing board

What Goes on a Grazing Board?

When building a grazing board, I like to have items from the following categories: meat, cheese, fruit, bread, dips or spreads, nuts, and pickled vegetables. That way you have an excellent mix of sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy, acidic, and maybe even spicy, that can all be mixed and matched into an endless combination of delicious bites. I think I just described my heaven.

Oh, and garnishes are always a nice touch, if you want it to look pretty. And food that looks pretty is always more fun.

Thanksgiving Grazing Board Options

For each of the categories I listed above, I’ll list what I used as well as some alternate ideas that stay in that Thanksgiving/fall theme, so you can easily build your own custom board.

Meat: I used salami medallions and slices of roasted turkey. Other ideas include: peppered salami, prosciutto, honey ham, genoa salami, or soppressata.

Cheese: I included brie, smoked cheddar, and aged gouda in my Thanksgiving Grazing Board. You want to try to have a variety of textures and flavors. Here are some other cheese options (try not to choose two from any category):

  • Creamy: Chevre, Camembert, Burrata
  • Hard: Parmesan, Manchego, Pecorino, aged cheddar or gouda
  • Slicing cheeses: Cheddar, Provolone, Havarti, Swiss
  • Blue: Roquefort, Stilton, Blue

Fruit: I included grapes and pears on my grazing board, as well as a few dried apricots and dried cranberries to fill in the nooks and crannies. Other fall-inspired fruits could include: apples, pomegranates, figs, or satsumas.

Bread: I used a variety of crackers (from a variety pack) to provide multiple shapes and textures on the board. I also sliced up a baguette and offered that on the side, since there wasn’t much more room on the board for bulky pieces of bread. You can use virtually any type of cracker or sliced bread for your grazing board.

Dips and Spreads: I included whole-berry cranberry sauce, honey, and Dijon mustard. Other fall-inspired spreads include: fig jam, pumpkin or apple butter, whole grain mustard or spicy honey.

Nuts: I used a few pecan halves that I had in my pantry to fill in the gaps on the board, but candied walnuts, almonds, or pecans would also be a nice festive touch.

Pickled Vegetables: I ran out of room to include any pickled vegetables on my tray, but they really do offer a nice flavor contrast to the rest of the items and I usually try to include at least one. Sweet mini gherkins would be my preference for the flavor profile of this Thanksgiving Grazing Board, but a classic olive is always nice, too.

Garnishes: I went with a couple of mini pumpkins and rosemary sprigs for my garnish, since I already had both on hand. Another fun option would be to get some fake or fresh sunflowers, fake leaves, or fake pinecones.

Close up view of a Thanksgiving Grazing Board

How to Save Money on Your Grazing Board

It’s so easy to go overboard when buying meats, cheeses, and other specialty ingredients, so here are my tips for keeping your costs in check:

  • Stick to one or two items from each category. You’ll run out of room on your board faster than you think!
  • Check your fridge and pantry for shelf-stable items you may already have on hand: nuts, dried fruit, mustard, jam, honey, etc.
  • Buy a variety pack of crackers rather than multiple boxes of single crackers. Crackers are always strangely expensive, IMHO.
  • Check for a discount bin at your grocer’s deli section. A lot of deli department will place pre-sliced meats and cheese, or even specialty cheeses on discount when they get close to their sell-by date! If you don’t see a discount section, ask! You can save big using this method, just make sure to buy the discounted items no more than 1-2 days before you plan on serving your grazing board.
  • Use a baking sheet as your “board” (this white enameled baking sheet is linked in my shop). No one is going to see it through all of those beautiful cheeses anyway! Haha! If your baking sheets are looking a little worse for wear, lay down a piece of parchment paper first.
Side view of Thanksgiving Grazing Board

How Much Does a Thanksgiving Grazing Board Cost?

This board cost me about $27.54, with leftovers of most of the ingredients that I could refill as the board gets eaten down (almost two boards-worth of ingredients). I literally “grazed” on this board and the leftovers all week long. Here is a breakdown of what I purchased and what I already had on hand:

Purchased:

  • Salami $3.99
  • Turkey slices $2.99
  • Brie $2.99
  • Smoked cheddar $3.49
  • Aged gouda $3.69
  • Grapes $3.53
  • Pears $1.59
  • Cranberry sauce $0.89
  • Crackers $2.89
  • Baguette $1.49

On hand (I didn’t measure these ingredients so I can’t calculate estimate costs):

  • Honey
  • Mustard
  • Pecans
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Dried Apricots
  • Mini-pumpkins
  • Fresh rosemary

How to Make A Thanksgiving Grazing Board – Step by Step Photos and Styling Tips

pumpkins and sauces on the grazing board

I like to start my board with any larger items and dips and spreads. I find that the little bowls or dishes of spreads make great central pieces to “wrap” other food around. So here I have a bowl of cranberry sauce, two small cups with mustard and honey, and two mini-pumpkins. I also like to avoid having the board look too symmetrical, so I just sort of scattered these pieces around the board.

grapes and pears added to the board

Next I added the grapes and pears because again, these are larger items that will be difficult to place once more ingredients are added. I left half of the pear whole for visual appeal. More pear can be sliced as the the board gets eaten (I actually purchased two pears, so I had an extra waiting to be sliced).

Cheeses added to the board

Next I went in with the cheeses. In addition to having a variety and flavors of cheeses, you want to present them in a variety of ways. Hard aged cheeses look beautiful when crumbled. Slicing cheeses, like cheddar, are great as slices or cubes, and softer cheeses are good to present whole or in larger pieces that people can slice off or scoop up as needed.

Meats added to the grazing board

Now it’s time for the meat. Again, you want to present the meat in a variety of ways to really maximize the visual texture of the board. There isn’t a lot you can do with these little salami medallions, so I just piled them on to make the board look “abundant.” For the turkey slices, I rolled them into cigars. If you have thin slices of salami or cured meat, it’s fun to fold them in half, then in half again to create a sort of ruffled appearance.

Crackers added to the board

Next came the crackers. I like to fan the crackers out and snake them around other items.

Nuts and dried fruit added to empty spots

Now the board should be very full, save a few very small blank spots. I used small items like nuts and dried fruit to fill in the blanks.



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corn pudding – smitten kitchen


If you prefer a softer/looser corn pudding, you could add an additional egg and a few minutes of baking time.

  • 2 cups corn kernels, frozen (from a 10-ounce or 283-gram bag; no need to defrost) or fresh
  • 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup, 4 ounces, or 115 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 7 tablespoons (55 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons (55 grams) cornmeal
Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 5- to 6-cup baking dish (I’m using this ruffly 10″ quiche pan) with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

In a food processor or high-powered blender, blend half — I just eyeball it — the corn until finely chopped.

Slice the butter into a few pieces. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and continue to cook it, stirring frequently, after it has melted — in a few minutes, light brown flecks will appear in the pan and it will smell toasty and wonderful. Briefly remove the pan from the heat; it will continue to cook to a nutty brown color just from the existing heat in the pan.

Pour off 2 tablespoons of the brown butter into a small dish and set aside. [See alt brown butter hot honey drizzle suggestion at the end.]

Add whole corn kernels, blended corn, salt, and cayenne to the brown butter in the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the corn is tender and brighter yellow. Scrape the corn and every single fleck of brown butter into a large bowl and whisk in sour cream. If the mixture still feels piping hot, let it cool for 5 minutes. If the sour cream cooled it to warm, no need to.

Whisk in eggs until well-combined. Sprinkle sugar and baking powder over batter surface and whisk thoroughly to ensure it’s well-distributed through the batter. Add flour and cornmeal and mix until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared dish.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free. Immediately drizzle reserved brown butter over batter. Add a few flakes of sea salt too, if you wish. Eat warm

Do ahead: Corn pudding keeps fantastically; I’d limit it to just one day at room temperature or keep it in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Rewarm in a low oven.

With a brown butter hot honey drizzle: Whisk 1 to 2 tablespoons, to taste, hot honey (both of these are great ones) into the reserved brown butter. Warm gently if the mixture is not runny/pourable before drizzling it over the finished corn pudding.



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The Essential Elements of a High-Converting Landing Page


Huddle up, marketers! Action star Arnold Schwarzenegger has a piece of advice for you. (If you’re not reading this in his voice, you’re doing it wrong.)

The day is 24 hours. 6 hours we sleep, so you have left 18 hours. So don’t ever give me this thing, “I’m working 12 hours so I don’t have time to exercise and to work out.”

Ugh. Worst motivational quote ever, Arnie.

As a one-person marketing team (or even with a couple of coworkers), your day is jam-packed. One minute you’re responding to a nasty post about your brand on Twitter—the next, you’re diving into PowerPoint to polish an important deck. All the while, you’re also expected to create marketing collateral that brings in new customers.

Time for exercise? To quote Arnie’s most famous movie line: fuggedaboutit.

With so much going on, you need to be sure that—whatever you’re working on—you get it right the first time. That’s why we built this list of the must-have elements for a high-converting landing page.

The Five Essential Elements of a Landing Page 

Whether you’re trying to collect leads, drive sales, or do something else entirely, landing pages do what your website can’t by honing in on one dedicated conversion goal.

Websites distract your visitors with multiple products, services, and offers. In contrast, landing pages keep your audience focused on a specific campaign (and make ’em much more likely to convert). If we’re talking quick-fire tactics that get results, landing pages are it. 

But how can you be sure that your landing page is gonna hit the mark?

Here are the five core elements of a high-converting landing page:

  1. Clear unique selling proposition (USP)
  2. Engaging hero shot
  3. Compelling benefits 
  4. Inspirational social proof
  5. Strong call to action (CTA)

Simple, right? We’ll go through each element in detail, but here’s a handy visual to put the puzzle of the anatomy of a landing page together:

Remember: your page should only have one conversion goal. Your conversion goal is what you want to get out of your landing page—leads, clicks, sales, whatever. Before creating a landing page and plotting technical elements like headlines, hero images, and buttons, be sure to identify the one thing you’re hoping to get from your visitors.

One landing page means one conversion goal. Always.

1. Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

What makes you different from your competitors? Why should someone choose you over another brand?

Your unique selling proposition (USP) sets clear expectations for your customers and pinpoints why you are the company of their dreams. It’s not about elaborate features, but rather your one-of-a-kind brand promise to your customer. 

A helpful analogy to consider is The Bachelor, or The Bachelorette. (Yep, we’re going there.)

A room of hopeful singles line up to steal the heart of an attractive host. Each competitor says that they love puppies, have a stable job, and are ready to settle down and start a family with “the one.” Blah, blah, blah

The key to making it to the end of the show (the engagement ceremony) is to stand above the rest and prove the promises you’ve made. This is reality TV—if you lie, Twitter will call you out.

Back in the marketing world, you’re in a similar position, vying for the heart of eligible customers. Just being in the room isn’t enough to be noticed. To stand out from the crowd, your USP needs to clearly outline who you are and how your offer will benefit visitors.

“CPR certified” is a feature. “Saving your life” is a benefit.

How does this look on a landing page?

You should get to the point—and quickly—before your customer moves on. The trick of a good USP is to break down your offering to its most basic level, describing the specific benefit your customers will get by choosing your product or service.

Imagine a terrible, horrible pick-up line. Something along the lines of: “Are you an angel? ‘Cause you look like you just fell out of heaven …” (Oof, facepalm.)

What ultimately makes this opener tank is that it doesn’t set any expectations. What level of commitment is being promised or asked for? A laugh? A few minutes of polite conversation? Getting married, having a few kids, and settling down in Florida? You just don’t know.

Let’s explore the three spots you wanna be sure your USP shows up:

USP tactic #1: The main headline

Your headline is the first thing that people see. It’s critical that it describes what a visitor will get from your company and show the visitor they’re in the right place. Ideally, your headline is short, punchy, and—above everything else—clear. 

A classic example of an excellent USP headline comes from Domino’s Pizza: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less—or it’s free.”

Haven’t we all watched the minutes tick by in agony while waiting for pizza? Knowing it’ll be free if it’s late suddenly makes the time worthwhile. Heck, I almost hope it’ll be late. 

Codecademy, an online coding learning platform, also delivers with their headline:

“Go from curious to confident.” Not only does Codecademy address the emotional state coding noobs have when they land on the page, but they also promise a clear outcome. In five simple words, they explain the full journey a new student will experience with them.

Tip! Can’t agree with your boss on a headline? Maybe it’s not even about words but a big debate between a blue and red color scheme. Page variants allow you to create multiple versions for one campaign to test messaging or address different target audiences.

See how these brands—including Codecademy—optimized their campaigns by experimenting with landing page variants.

USP tactic #2: The supporting headline

Your headline can only say so much if it’s to remain digestible. The easiest way to keep it short and sweet is to add a supporting headline. 

A supporting headline can be used in two ways:

  1. As a direct extension of the headline, where it follows the primary headline (like finishing a sentence).
  2. To extend the message by applying an additional, persuasive layer to support the primary statement.

Here’s a good example from Perfect Keto, a ketogenic snack and supplement producer, for a protein bar campaign:

Where the headline empowers the visitor with support to take on the complicated world of a high-fat-low-carb diet, the supporting headline cuts to the chase. Yes, they’re delicious. Yes, they come in different flavors. And we’ll reaffirm it one more time: they’re keto-friendly.

But one-size-fits-all is rarely the best approach. Different things work for different people. That’s why we love how wine subscription service Winc, experimented with headline structures in landing page variants.

The original shows a clear main headline and supporting headline:

Smart Traffic Landing Page Example - Winc

Though the headline doesn’t quite get to the heart of their USP, it’s a beautiful landing page (click the image for the whole thing). It also gets kudos for being structurally correct.

Headline? Tick ✔.
Supporting headline? Tick ✔.

Now here’s where things get interesting in the second variant:

Smart Traffic Landing Page Variant - Winc

Click on the image to see the full landing page variant.

The original supporting headline has become the main headline without new supporting text in its place. It’s much cleaner and to the point. 

Another thing that Winc does extremely well on both variants? The care they take with the other headings further down the pages. Even if you quickly skim-read, you know exactly what Winc does and what you’ll get with the service. 

The lesson here is simple: Pay attention to every headline on your page, not just the big ones. 

Want to learn more about how Winc experimented with their headlines? Check out this video and see how to optimize campaigns with landing page variants:

USP tactic #3: The closing argument

As your landing page comes to a close, you have one final chance to communicate the benefit of your offering. Think about it this way: before your visitor is ready to commit and live their happily-ever-after with you, they need that final assurance that they’re making the right move. 

You can assuage their concerns by ending your page with some killer copywriting or a clear call-to-action that closes the loop of your USP narrative. 

As with most things in life, keep it simple—like healthy food delivery service Daily Harvest:

Short and sweet. Boom.


2. Your Hero Shot

The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is especially true in the short attention span world of the landing page. Your hero shot is the visual representation of your offer and can help your visitors better understand what it is or what it looks like. 

Before you’re tempted to deep-dive into the blissful world of happy stock photos, take a step back and think about what you’re selling. What does the image say about your product, offer, and USP? 

Cecilia Martinez

Your visuals, together with the copy, need to tell a story. You need to ask yourself what is more likely to resonate with your audience. How does the visual make visitors feel? How does that feeling relate back to your solution?

– Cecilia Martinez, Interactive Design Manager, Unbounce

The idea is to get your customers to empathize and place themselves in a scenario where they’re using your product. Have a look at this example from organic baby food brand Love Child Organics:

This landing page (designed by Banan) could easily have used a visual of a savvy parent satisfied with their purchase. Instead, they shift the focus to their real customers—the picky eaters themselves. This tyke is enjoying a nutritious meal with no airplanes or “choo-choos” required. Don’t you wish that were your kid?

How about some extra reading? Love Child Organics brought in 14 000 email subscribers with a brilliant campaign focused on social media and landing pages. Learn how they built their community.

3. Your Features & Benefits

An effective headline and hero shot get your customer’s attention, while the features section provides a little more detail and answers any remaining questions.

When you’re introducing your features, it’s best to frame them in a way that accentuates the benefit they deliver. Remember: your features describe what your product or service does, while your benefits describe the value you’re providing. Before listing your features, try putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and answering: “How will this product or service benefit me?

Sure, you could write a novel-length landing page covering every feature, but you’ll lose your visitor’s attention quickly. You’re better off writing a brief summary of each (with a focus on value), then maybe a few bullet points for clarity. You can always circle back to remove any bloat or verbose verbiage—y’know, terms like “verbose verbiage.”

TouchBistro, a point of sale system for restaurants, cleverly turns complicated features into situational benefits. A restaurant manager will easily be able to see how using TouchBistro will make their day-to-day operations easier:

Best Landing Page Examples: TouchBistro
This is just a snapshot of TouchBistro’s benefits section. Click on the image to see the full thing.

Another great example (and one that’s a little more B2C-friendly) is Western Rise’s campaign for this line of pants:

By distilling their features into clear, simple benefits, Western Rise ensures that any visitor will immediately understand why these pants beat out the rest. “My Levis aren’t stain-proof. They’re quite uncomfortable, and the hems are starting to fray. Holy cow, I need these pants!

4. Your Social Proof

If you’ve ever bought something online (and especially if it was expensive), you’ve probably obsessively scrolled through thousands of product reviews. 

That’s social proof, and it’s a powerful tool of persuasion.

Simply put, social proof is the use of social signals to illustrate that other people have bought, consumed, read, or participated in what you’re offering. The idea is that people are more likely to convert if they see that others before them have (and were glad they did).

The research doesn’t lie. Research from BrightLocal affirmed that the average consumer reads at least 10 reviews before trusting a business, often spending almost 14 minutes reading customer feedback before making a decision. 

The fact is that if you don’t provide the right social cues, your would-be customers may just head down a rabbit hole of a Google search and find something irrelevant yet convincing—like these downright silly Amazon reviews

Keep control of your brand narrative by using social proof tactics like:

  • Customer reviews
  • Count of how many customers you have
  • Trust seals to establish the security of information
  • Awards from reputable organizations
  • Expert testimonials

5. Your Call to Action (CTA)

Your conversion goal is the purpose of your landing page. Your call-to-action (CTA) is the tactic that makes your goal a reality.

Generally, CTAs are presented as a standalone button on a click-through page or as part of a lead gen form. Poor CTAs are the standard “CLICK HERE” or “SUBMIT.” Terrible CTAs are created without thinking about the visitor journey. 

What does that mean? Have a look at this social media ad from the Seattle Times:

How does the CTA make you feel? Yikes! 🙈

Yes, we’re just talking about a button, but it’s the button. It’s the entire reason you spent all this time creating a landing page. A good CTA ties back to your USP and clearly articulates what a visitor will receive in exchange for their click.  

When we looked at some of the best landing page examples created by Unbounce customers, they all had one thing in common—a clear (and often clever) CTA.

Branch Furniture delivers a masterclass in their CTA copy:

Best Landing Page Examples: Western Rise
Click on the image to see Branch’s full landing page variant.

At first glance, you might be quick to point out that the landing page shows multiple buttons, each with a different CTA. And, true, having more than one conversion goal is a strict no-no—but you can use different CTAs as long as they serve the same goal.

By using CTA copy such as “Build My Office” or “Explore Workstation,” Branch crafts a virtual journey with their would-be customers in the driver’s seat.

Tip! CTA buttons are arguably the most important element on your landing page. By designing these buttons to stand out, you can dramatically increase the chances of conversions. This includes playing with color, fonts, sizing, and placement—all quick and easy fixes.

Have a look at the 7 Principles of Conversion-Centered Design to learn how to optimize CTAs to draw attention on your landing page, plus other nifty design tricks.

But the forms! What about the forms?

Many a lead-gen marketer would argue that getting someone to click on a button is easy, but forms are the real challenge. And they’re not wrong—people are extremely wary about entering their personal details. 

Also, if you have to complete a form so detailed that it includes everything from your mother’s maiden name to your cousin Fred’s blood type, it’s just not worth it. That’s why we always recommend keeping forms to the bare essentials.

Have a look at this landing page for Bariatric Eating (designed by Lifestyle Collective):

How’s that for one field to rule them all? What’s smart here is that the visitor’s experience informs the whole process. Instead of data mining, Bariatric Eating asks for minimal input to get the downloadable in their followers’ hands. 

Another example is from Vancouver-based dog boarding service JetPet:

By implementing a step-based form—also known as the breadcrumb technique—JetPet minimizes the perceived effort of completing the form.

Tip! If you have a long list of questions or input fields required for your lead-gen form, or if you’re requesting particularly personal answers, it’s a good idea to use the breadcrumb technique. People are more likely to commit to big tasks after committing to a small task—allowing you to ask more questions with the appearance of asking less, and all with a higher conversion rate. Win, win, and win!

Since it’s so important, let’s recap CTA best practices:

  • Avoid generic language like “CLICK HERE.”
  • Only ask what you need and keep forms short. If you can’t budge on input fields, break your questions into steps using the breadcrumb technique. 
  • You can use multiple CTAs as long as they serve one conversion goal.
  • The visitor is your priority. Be clear how clicking on your CTA will benefit them or what they will receive in return.

Running Out of Time? Hello, Landing Page Templates!

A few thousand words in, and you’re probably getting a bit overwhelmed. “I was told this would save me time. Now I’ve gotta design something, I need to remember all the different elements to put on my landing page, I’ve gotta test what works. Unbounce—it’s just become a whole, big, thing.” 

Deep breaths, you. It’s about time we talked about templates. 

Templates are the ultimate time-saver when creating high-converting landing pages on a time-crunch. They’re designed for specific conversion goals and they’ve got all the essential elements—they’re just waiting for your finishing touch. Slap on a logo, update the copy and visuals, and bam! You’ve just created an effective landing page. It really is that easy. 

When you can build landing pages in a jiffy, you’ve got way more time for other things. You could even squeeze in a workout—or rewatch Friends on Netflix. Hey, you do you. No judgment here.



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Bûche De Noël (Yule Log)


Let me show you how to make a lovely from-scratch yule log, also known as a Bûche De Noël in French. This traditional Christmas cake is decorated to resemble a log. My recipe starts with a cocoa flavored sponge cake that we’ll fill with cocoa hazelnut whipped cream. We’ll top it with chocolate ganache and a variety of fun optional garnishes including mushroom shaped meringues plus sugared cranberries and rosemary for a shimmery finishing touch. It’s show-stopping and elaborate, yet completely doable in your home kitchen! I set you up for success with my detailed recipe, step-by-step photos, and complete video tutorial.

yule log (buche de noel) with chocolate ganache and meringue mushrooms

Christmas is a time rich with tradition. Christmas cookies for Santa, ornaments and decorations, jingle bells and hot cocoa by the fire. For some and in European regions, it’s making a yule log cake, also known as a Bûche De Noël in French. I’ve tasted plenty during the holiday seasons, but hadn’t attempted a from-scratch recipe until this year. Initially overwhelmed by the process, I learned that it’s just like other at-home baking projects: fun quality time in the kitchen. Made even better with an extra dose of chocolate!

By the way, here’s another at-home baking project: a homemade gingerbread house with a free printable template for constructing it.

Tell Me About This Yule Log Cake

  • Texture: Underneath all this festive decor, we have a soft and airy sponge cake. If you’ve tasted angel food cake before, you’ve had sponge cake. What’s interesting about sponge cake is that, unlike most cake recipes, it’s (usually) made without butter or oil. All of the magic happens with the eggs, a crucial ingredient in any sponge cake recipe. Note: I include a touch of oil in this cake for added moisture.
  • Flavor: My Bûche De Noël includes a light cocoa cake, cocoa hazelnut whipped cream spiked with Frangelico (can definitely skip the booze if you want), and is topped with smooth chocolate ganache. Since ganache is incredibly rich, the other elements have lighter cocoa flavors. In fact, the cake tastes like a mug of hot cocoa.
  • Ease: Advanced, but it’s a fun project to do by yourself or with your family. If you watch the video tutorial and read through the very detailed recipe prior to beginning, you’ll be set up for success.
  • Assembly: If you’ve ever made pumpkin roll or any other jelly roll cake before, you’re familiar with this assembly. If you haven’t, it’s nothing to be nervous about as long as you have a solid recipe and the right equipment. (Tools list below.) Have fun with the garnishes and watch my video tutorial before beginning.
  • Time: Yule log cakes aren’t anything you can rush; this recipe will take you all day. My advice is to concentrate on one element/step at a time. Make sure you’re following the cooling and chilling times closely. I don’t want you to ruin all your efforts by not letting portions of this recipe cool/thicken/set up properly.

sliced yule log with chocolate ganache and meringue mushrooms

Yule Log Christmas Cake Video Tutorial


4 Parts to This Yule Log Cake:

  1. Cocoa Sponge Cake
  2. Cocoa Hazelnut Whipped Cream
  3. Chocolate Ganache
  4. Decorations

Let’s review each part with step-by-step photos to guide us along.


Cocoa Sponge Cake

Start by whisking the dry ingredients together. In terms of volume, there isn’t much: cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder for added lift, and a little salt. Eggs are the cake’s main ingredients. Separate the eggs, then whip the egg whites with sugar into stiff peaks. Set those aside. Then whip the egg yolks with the remaining sugar, a little oil for moisture, and vanilla extract until thickened. You get more volume with room temperature eggs than cold eggs. Before beginning, set the eggs in a cup of warm water for 10 minutes to warm them up.

Below left: whipped egg whites + sugar. And below right: thickened egg yolk mixture.

egg white mixture and egg yolk mixture for cake batter

Below left: In 2 additions, fold the fluffy egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. And below right: In 2 additions, fold in the dry ingredients. Like the finished cake, the cake batter is very light and airy.

cocoa sponge cake batter

Bake the cake roll in a 12×17 inch pan. So there’s plenty of cake for sectioning off and decorating, this a larger roll cake than my champagne cake roll and red velvet cake roll, both of which are baked in a 10×15 inch pan. Feel free to use any of my roll cake recipes as the base of your bûche de Noël, but know that if they’re baked in a smaller pan, you’ll have a smaller cake.

yule log cake batter in pan

How to Shape a Yule Log

Shaping a cake roll is easier than it looks. There are two tricks:

  1. The 1st trick is to roll the cake up, without filling, while it’s still hot. Why? If the cake cools in the rolled shape, it will make rolling the cake with the filling inside EASIER.
  2. The 2nd trick is to roll the cake up with a clean kitchen towel or piece of parchment paper. Why? The warm cake will be sticky and stick to itself otherwise. Dust the towel or parchment paper with cocoa powder to prevent any chance of sticking!

These two tricks help guarantee no rips, no cracks, and no sticking.

rolling up a yule log cake

Cocoa Hazelnut Whipped Cream

As the warm rolled cake cools down, make your whipped filling. Heavy cream is the base and we’ll sweeten it with a little confectioners’ sugar and flavor it with cocoa powder and hazelnut liqueur. Feel free to swap with the same amount of another flavored liqueur such as amaretto, Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, or other. You can also replace the alcohol with strong (cold or room temperature) coffee or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

cocoa hazelnut whipped cream with frangelico bottle in background

Feel free to add finely chopped hazelnuts on top of the whipped filling. As you roll the cake, if it appears sticky and moist, dust with more cocoa powder.

filling and rolling a cocoa sponge cake roll with cocoa hazelnut whipped cream

Assembling the Yule Log

One end of the yule log cake is traditionally cut off and placed on the side or on top of the roll to resemble a branch. You can cut it at a diagonal angle as pictured below:

slicing yule log cake on a cutting board

shaped yule log on white serving platter

Chocolate Ganache

I have a separate and very detailed post showing you how to make chocolate ganache. Feel free to review it if you’re a beginner. You need 2 ingredients: pure chocolate and warmed heavy cream. The ganache is very thin right after you make it, so it’s imperative you let it cool down before using. Ganache thickens as it cools.

chocolate ganache in bowl

Spread the thickened ganache all over your shaped cake. This next part is easy– lightly drag a fork through the ganache so that it resembles tree bark.

running a fork in chocolate ganache to make the yule log design

Decorating Your Bûche De Noël/Yule Log

Your cake is nearly complete! Some garnish suggestions include:

  • meringue mushrooms (recipe below)
  • sugared cranberries & rosemary (recipe below)
  • pinecones set on your platter
  • herbs & edible flowers
  • shaped marzipan
  • chocolate shavings
  • a dusting of confectioners’ sugar to resemble snow

decorated yule log cake

slice of yule log cake on plate

I’m extremely detailed in these recipe directions, so don’t be overwhelmed. If I can do this, you can do this. See my make ahead instructions if you want to get prepared– there’s plenty of ways you can prep this yule log cake in advance. Take your time and enjoy the festive process. Wishing you a season of good cheer. We all need it! ♥

Tools You Need:

  • Electric Mixer (hand or stand) for cake batter, meringues, and filling.
  • An egg separator is very helpful for the eggs.
  • 12×17 inch baking pan for the cake.
  • Parchment paper for lining the pan. I love these sheets.
  • Offset spatula for spreading the whipped cream filling and ganache.
  • Fine mesh strainer for dusting cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar.
  • Wilton 2A piping tip or any tip with around a 1/2 inch opening (plus a disposable or reusable piping bag) for meringue mushrooms.
  • Thin kitchen/tea towel or parchment paper. You need either for rolling the cake, but I strongly recommend a towel because it’s better at helping to prevent cake cracks. It will get pretty dirty from the cocoa powder and cake, but stains should come right out in the wash especially if you rinse it with warm water first.
  • Plus the usuals: mixing bowls, whisk, rubber spatula, cutting board, saucepan, etc
  • Pictured: large white platter from Juliska’s Whitewash Berry & Thread line and square appetizer Christmas plates from Pottery Barn

Print

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Description

The meringue mushrooms and sugared cranberries & rosemary are completely optional garnishes. The recipe below includes both. For all make-ahead instructions, see recipe notes. I recommend watching the video tutorial above and reading the full recipe below before beginning. There’s a lot of cooling down, chilling, and other moving parts here!


Ingredients

Sugared Cranberries & Rosemary

  • 1 cup (120g) fresh cranberries*
  • 45 rosemary sprigs (optional)
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup (240ml) water

Cake

  • 1 and 1/3 cups (160g) cake flour
  • 2 Tablespoons (11g) unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil, canola oil, or melted coconut oil
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For Rolling

  • 3 Tablespoons (15g) unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder

Meringue Mushrooms

  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature
  • less than 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (about 1/16 teaspoon)
  • pinch salt
  • 2 Tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder (optional for dusting)
  • 1 ounces (28g) semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

Cocoa Hazelnut Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup (240ml) cold heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) Frangelico liqueur
  • 2 Tablespoons (15g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon (5g) unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (60g) finely chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Ganache Topping

  • 6 ounces (85g) semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) heavy cream

  1. Make the sugared cranberries and rosemary: If you want to decorate the cake with sugared cranberries and rosemary, start them the night before because they need to sit for several hours. Place cranberries and rosemary in a large bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of sugar and the water to a boil and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Pour sugar syrup over the cranberries and rosemary and stir to combine. Let the cranberries and rosemary sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight (ideal). You’ll notice the sugar syrup is quite thick after this amount of time. Drain the cranberries and rosemary from the syrup and pour 1 cup of sugar on top. Toss to coat. Pour the sugared cranberries and rosemary on a parchment paper or silicone baking mat-lined baking sheet and let them dry for at least 2 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray a 12×17 inch baking pan with nonstick spray or grease with butter, so the parchment paper sticks. Then line it with parchment paper so the cake seamlessly releases. Spray or grease the parchment paper too. We want an extremely nonstick surface for this cake roll.
  3. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside until the next step. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and 1/2 cup (100g) sugar together on high speed for 4-5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl. Using the same mixing bowl you just had the egg whites in (no need to clean it), add the egg yolks, remaining sugar, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat together on high speed for 3-4 minutes or until thickened and light in color.
  4. Add half of the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Beat on low speed for 10 seconds. Repeat with remaining egg whites and beat on low for 10 seconds. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low or fold with a rubber spatula until combined. Repeat with remaining flour mixture. Avoid over-mixing and deflating those egg whites. Batter will be very light.
  5. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Gently bang the pan on the counter a couple times to pop any air bubbles. Bake for 18-19 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly poked with your finger. Cake will look a little bubbly on top when it’s done. That’s ok. Avoid over-baking cake because it will crack if over-baked. As the cake bakes, get started on the next step.
  6. Prepare to roll: As the cake bakes, place a piece of parchment paper (larger than the cake) or a thin kitchen/tea towel flat on the counter. (Note: I find a kitchen towel is better to help prevent cracking.) Using a fine mesh sieve, dust parchment/towel with 3 Tablespoons (15g) of cocoa powder. Once the cake comes out of the oven, quickly run a knife around the edges to loosen it. Immediately invert it onto the parchment/towel. Peel off the parchment paper that was on the bottom of the cake as it baked. Starting with the narrow end, begin tightly rolling the hot cake up with the parchment/towel. Do this slowly and gently. The cake will be warm. Allow the cake to cool completely rolled up in the parchment/towel. Feel free to place it in the refrigerator to speed it up, about 3 hours and up to 1 day.
  7. During this time, make the meringue mushrooms: Preheat oven to 200°F (93°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a completely clean residue-free large glass or metal mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg white, cream of tartar, and salt together on high speed until foamy, about 2 minutes– this is a small amount and the whisk on a stand mixer might not reach it, so whisk by hand until foamy if needed. With the mixer running on high speed, slowly add the sugar and beat until stiff glossy peaks form, about 2 more minutes. Snip off the end of a plastic bag or fit a round piping tip in a piping bag. I use and recommend Wilton 2A piping tip or any tip with around a 1/2 inch opening. Pipe quarter-sized circles (these will be the round mushroom tops) and 1-inch tall cones (these will be the stems). You will have enough meringue batter for about 16 mushrooms. I usually only make 8-12 and discard leftovers, but feel free to make all 16. Using a moistened finger (just a dab of water is fine), smooth down any peaks. If desired, lightly dust mushroom tops with cocoa powder using a fine mesh sieve. Bake for 2 hours. Do not open the oven as the meringues bake. Turn off the oven after 2 hours and let the meringues sit inside the cooling oven for 20 minutes. Remove meringues from the oven and cool completely. When they’re just about cool, melt the 1 ounce of chocolate in a double boiler or use the microwave. If using the microwave, melt in 15 second increments, stopping and stirring between each until melted and smooth. Cool for 5-10 minutes. (Easier to adhere mushrooms if the melted chocolate is a bit cool.) Once meringues have cooled, use a flat spatula to remove them from the baking sheets. Dot a bit of chocolate onto the center of the bottom of a mushroom top. Adhere a mushroom stem to it. Place back on the baking sheet to set. If stems or tops still have a little peak, scrape off with a knife or your spatula, as you see me do in the video above. Leaning them against the rim is helpful if they keep toppling over. Repeat with remaining tops and stems to form mushrooms. Let chocolate cool and harden, about 1 hour.
  8. Remove the cake roll from the refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for a few minutes to warm up as you prepare the whipped cream.
  9. Make the whipped cream: Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream, Frangelico, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa powder on medium-high speed until medium to stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.
  10. Gently and very slowly unroll the cake. Spread whipped cream evenly on top, leaving about a 1/2 inch border around the cake. I like using a large or small offset spatula to spread. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top. Gently roll the cake back up, without the parchment/towel this time. Roll it slowly. This part is messy. Carefully place on a cutting board. If the exterior of the cake looks moist, dust with a little cocoa powder. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days before shaping and topping with ganache.
  11. Make the ganache topping: Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it begins to simmer. (Do not let it come to a rapid boil– that’s too hot.) Pour over chocolate, then let it sit for 2-3 minutes to gently soften the chocolate. Slowly stir until completely combined and chocolate has melted. Ganache will be thin, so it has to thicken before using. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour to thicken.
  12. Remove rolled cake from the refrigerator. Diagonally slice a 3-4 inch section off one end. At this point, I usually place the cake on a serving platter. Place the angled side against a side of the roll, forming a branch. Slowly pour and spread thickened ganache all over the top and sides of cake. Feel free to leave the cut ends exposed (as you see in these photos) or spread ganache over the ends– there should be plenty of ganache to use. Use a fork to make textured lines resembling tree bark. Feel free to wipe the serving plate if ganache dripped all over.
  13. Decorate with meringue mushrooms, sugared cranberries and rosemary, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
  14. Cover leftover cake and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: You can get started on the sugared cranberries and rosemary 1 day ahead of time. See step 1. You can make the meringue mushrooms in advance (step 7) as long as the weather is dry. (Humidity will ruin them.) Store at room temperature for up to 2-3 days before using. You can make the roll cake in advance (steps 2-6) because it must cool/chill completely before filling. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. You can also refrigerate the filled cake roll (steps 9-10) for up to 2 days. You can make the whipped cream (step 9) 1 day in advance too. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make the chocolate ganache topping (step 11) 1 day in advance, but if you let it sit for longer than 1 hour, it will thicken too much. If refrigerating for longer than 1 hour, cover it. To thin it out when ready to use, stir and warm it in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water for about 1 minute. Do not microwave it. Entire cake can be made in advance too. (Steps 1-12.) It’s best to decorate with sugared cranberries, meringues, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar (step 13) close to serving though.
  2. Cranberries: Use fresh cranberries, not frozen. The sugar syrup doesn’t coat evenly on the frozen berries, leaving you with plain shriveled cranberries.
  3. Frangelico Liqueur: This is a hazelnut liqueur. If desired, feel free to swap with the same amount of another flavored liqueur such as amaretto (almond), Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, or other. You can also replace the alcohol with strong (cold or room temperature) coffee or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  4. Chocolate: You need 6 ounces of pure chocolate for the ganache topping and 1 ounce for the mushrooms. Pure baking chocolate is sold in 4 ounce bars, so 2 bars will be a little more than enough. I recommend Baker’s or Ghirardelli brands, both sold in 4 ounce bars in the baking aisle. You can use semi-sweet or bittersweet. If using white chocolate, reduce the amount of heavy cream in the ganache to 1/2 cup (120ml).

Keywords: yule log, Christmas cake, chocolate, hazelnut

Have you made it down this far? Let me show you how to make the optional garnishes.


Meringue Mushrooms

I taught you how to make meringue cookies before. Meringues require precision, so feel free to visit that post if you need a little refresher. As instructed in step 7 above, pipe mushroom tops and stems using a round piping tip. Moisten your finger with water to smooth down any peaks. Bake in a relatively cool oven, then adhere the cooled pieces with melted chocolate.

This seems to be the only way my daughter will eat mushrooms. HA!

the making of meringue mushrooms in 4 step by step photos

meringue mushrooms

Sugared Cranberries & Rosemary

You need sugar, water, fresh cranberries, and rosemary. Feel free to skip the rosemary if you’d like. As instructed in step 1 above, make your sugar syrup on the stove. Pour over cranberries and rosemary and let it all soak for several hours. (Great to make these in advance.) Drain, then toss in sugar. Let it all dry out for about 2 hours before using as decor. You can also use this glitzy garnish on pumpkin pie, cranberry orange bundt cake, gingerbread snack cake, too.

sugared cranberries and rosemary in glass bowl



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Best hikes in South Korea: 8 stunning trails


The best hikes in South Korea offer a portrait of idyllic countryside as well as 5,000 years of distinctive culture and history

Mountain culture runs deep through the history of South Korea. Thousands of years before modern religion made its way onto the peninsula, Koreans worshipped mountain spirits known as Sansin. Today, much of the population remains strongly connected to mountains, albeit in a different way.

South Koreans hike in droves. The membership of hiking clubs has swollen to the tens of thousands. Throughout the year, Gore-Tex-clad weekend warriors flock to the hills to escape the confines of their sprawling cities.

And why not? Mountains are everywhere in South Korea and most can be climbed in a day. In fact, approximately 70% of South Korea’s land is considered mountainous. In a country known as the ‘land of the morning calm’, it is hardly surprising that the people are finding peace outdoors. Personally, I think they’re onto something.

South Korea is a relatively small country, but it manages to pack in 22 national parks, of which 17 are considered mountainous. San, meaning mountain in Korean, turns up in every one of those 17 park names. What’s more, Korea’s outstanding transport infrastructure makes these mountains and their striking viewpoints easily accessible from myriad cities.

Considering the above, it’s a wonder that South Korea’s pine-clad mountains do not lure more international wanderers. The country receives considerably fewer visitors than many of its neighbours.

In fact, South Korea remains a relatively unexplored slice of East Asia, which makes it even more tantalising. Below, we share some of the best hikes in South Korea that showcase the nation’s most striking scenery.

Best hikes in South Korea

We’ve selected the best hikes in South Korea to suit a range of abilities. These trails provide a window into what Korea has to offer walkers. With a wealth of well-maintained trails connecting pristine countryside with eye-catching temples, there is plenty more to explore.

1. Hallasan Summit

Distance: 7.4-19.2km
Duration:
2-10 hours
Difficulty:
Medium-hard

Hallasan is one of the best hikes in South Korea
ju999/Shutterstock Hallasan is one of the best hikes in South Korea

Why not start at the top? South Korea’s highest mountain is located on the country’s largest island. Known locally as Jejudo, Jeju Island has drawn comparisons with Hawaii due to its pretty beaches, verdant countryside and popularity with Korean honeymooners. With a range of beachfront hotels, it is the country’s prime domestic holiday destination.

Located within the densely wooded national park of the same name, Hallasan is an active volcano (although it hasn’t erupted for over 1,000 years). At 1,947m (6,388ft), the mountain’s summit dominates the island’s horizon. There are five trails, ranging in length from 3.7km to 9.6km one-way, leading to the summit.

The mountain can be climbed throughout the year, but April and May when its slopes are dotted with flowering azaleas are particularly delightful.

2. Jirisan Ridge Trek

Distance: 45km
Duration: 3 nights/4 days
Difficulty: Hard

A hiker takes a rest Jirisan National Park
Stock for you/Shutterstock A hiker takes a rest in Jirisan National Park

A network of hiking trails criss-cross Jirisan, South Korea’s first and largest national park. There are myriad day hikes and trekking options, but the park’s premier route is the four-day shelter-to-shelter course running east to west from Daewonsa to Hwaeomsa.

The highlight of the trek is the Jirisan Ridge which traverses no less than 16 peaks above 1,500m (4,921ft). The massif is home to Cheonwangbong Peak, mainland South Korea’s highest point at 1,915m (6,283ft).

Most hikers time their treks to coincide with sunrise on Cheonwangbong Peak on the first morning (second day) of the trek.

3. Bukhansanseong Trail

Distance: 8.2km
Duration:
3-4 hours
Difficulty:
Easy

Baegundae Peak in Bukhansan National Park
Daengpanya Atakorn/Shutterstock Baegundae Peak in Bukhansan National Park

The urban sprawl of South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, encompasses Bukhansan National Park with its granite peaks, remote temples and mountaintop vistas. Known as the ‘lungs of Seoul’, the park’s proximity to Korea’s most populated region means it receives over five million visitors every year so don’t expect to have the trails to yourself.

The most popular route is the ascent of the park’s highest peak, Baegundae at 836m (2,742ft), via the Bukhansanseong Trail. The bird’s-eye view from the pinnacle is spectacular.

Another fine option is the 18.6km Seoul City Wall circuit which follows Seoul’s ancient city wall and takes in the four smaller peaks of Bukaksan (342m/1,122ft), Naksan (125m/410ft), Namsan (262m/860ft) and Inwangsan (338m/1,109ft).

4. Daecheongbong Peak, Seoraksan

Distance: 13.8-20.6km
Duration:
4-6 hours
Difficulty:
Medium-hard

A stunnign sunset over a lake in Seoraksan
Natthawut Utsawachaichot/Shutterstock Seoraksan is hiking utopia

Seoraksan National Park and the Taebaek mountain range is the Korean peninsula’s most iconic landscape. Admired for its unique rock formations, rich wildlife, hot springs, gushing waterfalls, thick forests and ancient Buddhist temples, Seoraksan is hiking utopia.

At its heart is South Korea’s third-highest mountain, Seoraksan (Snowy Peaks Mountain) with its 1,708m (5,604ft)-high Daecheongbong Peak. Watching the sunrise from Daecheongbong Peak is something of a rite-of-passage among Koreans and is worth the trip alone.

The peak can be reached by point-to-point, loop or return hikes.

5. Songnisan

Distance: 14-20km
Duration:
3-4 hours
Difficulty:
Easy

songnisan is one of the best hikes in south korea
Sarasap Boonrak/Shutterstock Songnisan means ‘remote from the ordinary world mountain’

Another superb hiking destination, Songnisan National Park receives significantly fewer visitors than many of its peers but showcases similarly spectacular scenery. Songnisan means ‘remote from the ordinary world mountain’ which sums up the arresting landscape.

The most popular trail – and arguably the most rewarding – is the relatively sedate route up to the 1,058m (3,472ft)-high summit of Munjangdae, once known as the ‘peak covered by clouds’. In winter, expect to find swirling mists at the summit while spring brings azaleas and cherry blossoms to its slopes.

There are several routes up to the summit depending on your starting point.

6. Naejangsan Ridge Hike

Distance: 11km
Duration:
4-5 hours
Difficulty:
Moderate-hard

Naejangsan in autumn is one of the best hikes in South Korea Naejangsan
TRAVEL TAKE PHOTOS/Shutterstock Naejangsan in autumn is stunning

Hikers and photographers alike love Naejangsan National Park for its stunning autumn vegetation. The park will likely be packed in October when its foliage is a vermilion colour, but you shouldn’t let that put you off completing one of the best hikes in South Korea.

There are numerous short and sweet walks on offer, but it is the demanding six-peak Naejangsan ridge route that shows off the scenery at its most spectacular. The route follows the apex of the massif, shaped like a natural amphitheatre, up to Seoraebong Peak (624m/2,040ft) with its panoramic montane views.

7. Geumjeongsan, Busan

Distance: 8km
Duration:
2-3 hours
Duration:
Easy

The walls of the Geumjeong Fortress
terimma/shutterstock The walls of the Geumjeong Fortress

Geumjeongsan is Busan’s most popular hiking destination and for good reason. The 802m (2,630ft)-high Godangbong Peak is the mountain’s highest point and boasts outstanding views of South Korea’s second-largest city. Hikers can choose from seven routes to the peak.

There are several other prominent peaks, various temples and the impressive Geumjeong Fortress. Once the largest fortress in Korea, its stone walls stretched 17km around the mountaintop. Only four gates and around four kilometres of wall have survived, but it remains an impressive sight nonetheless.

Other options in Busan include Jangsan, Seunghaksan and Taejongdae Nature Park on Yeongdo. For something a little less taxing, the 4.7km Igidae Coastal Walk offers sweeping views of the Haeundae Beach skyline from across the bay without ever climbing more than a few feet above sea level.

8. Peace Trail, DMZ

Distance: 2.7-7.9km
Duration:
2-3 hours
Duration:
Easy

Hikers on a walkway in the DMZ
Thomas Maresca/UPI Hikers and their escorts on a walkway in the DMZ

In 2019, South Korea opened up a short network of trails along one of the world’s most fortified borders. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is the 4km-wide, 240km-long buffer zone that has separated North and South Korea since the 1953 conflict that tore apart the peninsula.

Over the six decades since the armistice, the area has been closed off from human interference. Despite the huge military presence, the area has developed into an unexpected refuge for endangered species of migratory birds and wild mammals including deer and mountain goats. The routes take in a seaside trail running along unused train tracks dotted with observation posts.

The Peace Trail is made up of two routes and is part of the United Nations Command-approved educational sites that have made the DMZ a major tourist attraction. Hikers are escorted by armed guards throughout.

Disclosure: This article is in collaboration with the Korean Tourism Organization.


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The Essential Elements of a High-Converting Landing Page


Huddle up, marketers! Action star Arnold Schwarzenegger has a piece of advice for you. (If you’re not reading this in his voice, you’re doing it wrong.)

The day is 24 hours. 6 hours we sleep, so you have left 18 hours. So don’t ever give me this thing, “I’m working 12 hours so I don’t have time to exercise and to work out.”

Ugh. Worst motivational quote ever, Arnie.

As a one-person marketing team (or even with a couple of coworkers), your day is jam-packed. One minute you’re responding to a nasty post about your brand on Twitter—the next, you’re diving into PowerPoint to polish an important deck. All the while, you’re also expected to create marketing collateral that brings in new customers.

Time for exercise? To quote Arnie’s most famous movie line: fuggedaboutit.

With so much going on, you need to be sure that—whatever you’re working on—you get it right the first time. That’s why we built this list of the must-have elements for a high-converting landing page.

The Five Essential Elements of a Landing Page 

Whether you’re trying to collect leads, drive sales, or do something else entirely, landing pages do what your website can’t by honing in on one dedicated conversion goal.

Websites distract your visitors with multiple products, services, and offers. In contrast, landing pages keep your audience focused on a specific campaign (and make ’em much more likely to convert). If we’re talking quick-fire tactics that get results, landing pages are it. 

But how can you be sure that your landing page is gonna hit the mark?

Here are the five core elements of a high-converting landing page:

  1. Clear unique selling proposition (USP)
  2. Engaging hero shot
  3. Compelling benefits 
  4. Inspirational social proof
  5. Strong call to action (CTA)

Simple, right? We’ll go through each element in detail, but here’s a handy visual to put the puzzle of the anatomy of a landing page together:

Remember: your page should only have one conversion goal. Your conversion goal is what you want to get out of your landing page—leads, clicks, sales, whatever. Before creating a landing page and plotting technical elements like headlines, hero images, and buttons, be sure to identify the one thing you’re hoping to get from your visitors.

One landing page means one conversion goal. Always.

1. Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

What makes you different from your competitors? Why should someone choose you over another brand?

Your unique selling proposition (USP) sets clear expectations for your customers and pinpoints why you are the company of their dreams. It’s not about elaborate features, but rather your one-of-a-kind brand promise to your customer. 

A helpful analogy to consider is The Bachelor, or The Bachelorette. (Yep, we’re going there.)

A room of hopeful singles line up to steal the heart of an attractive host. Each competitor says that they love puppies, have a stable job, and are ready to settle down and start a family with “the one.” Blah, blah, blah

The key to making it to the end of the show (the engagement ceremony) is to stand above the rest and prove the promises you’ve made. This is reality TV—if you lie, Twitter will call you out.

Back in the marketing world, you’re in a similar position, vying for the heart of eligible customers. Just being in the room isn’t enough to be noticed. To stand out from the crowd, your USP needs to clearly outline who you are and how your offer will benefit visitors.

“CPR certified” is a feature. “Saving your life” is a benefit.

How does this look on a landing page?

You should get to the point—and quickly—before your customer moves on. The trick of a good USP is to break down your offering to its most basic level, describing the specific benefit your customers will get by choosing your product or service.

Imagine a terrible, horrible pick-up line. Something along the lines of: “Are you an angel? ‘Cause you look like you just fell out of heaven …” (Oof, facepalm.)

What ultimately makes this opener tank is that it doesn’t set any expectations. What level of commitment is being promised or asked for? A laugh? A few minutes of polite conversation? Getting married, having a few kids, and settling down in Florida? You just don’t know.

Let’s explore the three spots you wanna be sure your USP shows up:

USP tactic #1: The main headline

Your headline is the first thing that people see. It’s critical that it describes what a visitor will get from your company and show the visitor they’re in the right place. Ideally, your headline is short, punchy, and—above everything else—clear. 

A classic example of an excellent USP headline comes from Domino’s Pizza: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less—or it’s free.”

Haven’t we all watched the minutes tick by in agony while waiting for pizza? Knowing it’ll be free if it’s late suddenly makes the time worthwhile. Heck, I almost hope it’ll be late. 

Codecademy, an online coding learning platform, also delivers with their headline:

“Go from curious to confident.” Not only does Codecademy address the emotional state coding noobs have when they land on the page, but they also promise a clear outcome. In five simple words, they explain the full journey a new student will experience with them.

Tip! Can’t agree with your boss on a headline? Maybe it’s not even about words but a big debate between a blue and red color scheme. Page variants allow you to create multiple versions for one campaign to test messaging or address different target audiences.

See how these brands—including Codecademy—optimized their campaigns by experimenting with landing page variants.

USP tactic #2: The supporting headline

Your headline can only say so much if it’s to remain digestible. The easiest way to keep it short and sweet is to add a supporting headline. 

A supporting headline can be used in two ways:

  1. As a direct extension of the headline, where it follows the primary headline (like finishing a sentence).
  2. To extend the message by applying an additional, persuasive layer to support the primary statement.

Here’s a good example from Perfect Keto, a ketogenic snack and supplement producer, for a protein bar campaign:

Where the headline empowers the visitor with support to take on the complicated world of a high-fat-low-carb diet, the supporting headline cuts to the chase. Yes, they’re delicious. Yes, they come in different flavors. And we’ll reaffirm it one more time: they’re keto-friendly.

But one-size-fits-all is rarely the best approach. Different things work for different people. That’s why we love how wine subscription service Winc, experimented with headline structures in landing page variants.

The original shows a clear main headline and supporting headline:

Smart Traffic Landing Page Example - Winc

Though the headline doesn’t quite get to the heart of their USP, it’s a beautiful landing page (click the image for the whole thing). It also gets kudos for being structurally correct.

Headline? Tick ✔.
Supporting headline? Tick ✔.

Now here’s where things get interesting in the second variant:

Smart Traffic Landing Page Variant - Winc

Click on the image to see the full landing page variant.

The original supporting headline has become the main headline without new supporting text in its place. It’s much cleaner and to the point. 

Another thing that Winc does extremely well on both variants? The care they take with the other headings further down the pages. Even if you quickly skim-read, you know exactly what Winc does and what you’ll get with the service. 

The lesson here is simple: Pay attention to every headline on your page, not just the big ones. 

Want to learn more about how Winc experimented with their headlines? Check out this video and see how to optimize campaigns with landing page variants:

USP tactic #3: The closing argument

As your landing page comes to a close, you have one final chance to communicate the benefit of your offering. Think about it this way: before your visitor is ready to commit and live their happily-ever-after with you, they need that final assurance that they’re making the right move. 

You can assuage their concerns by ending your page with some killer copywriting or a clear call-to-action that closes the loop of your USP narrative. 

As with most things in life, keep it simple—like healthy food delivery service Daily Harvest:

Short and sweet. Boom.


2. Your Hero Shot

The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is especially true in the short attention span world of the landing page. Your hero shot is the visual representation of your offer and can help your visitors better understand what it is or what it looks like. 

Before you’re tempted to deep-dive into the blissful world of happy stock photos, take a step back and think about what you’re selling. What does the image say about your product, offer, and USP? 

Cecilia Martinez

Your visuals, together with the copy, need to tell a story. You need to ask yourself what is more likely to resonate with your audience. How does the visual make visitors feel? How does that feeling relate back to your solution?

– Cecilia Martinez, Interactive Design Manager, Unbounce

The idea is to get your customers to empathize and place themselves in a scenario where they’re using your product. Have a look at this example from organic baby food brand Love Child Organics:

This landing page (designed by Banan) could easily have used a visual of a savvy parent satisfied with their purchase. Instead, they shift the focus to their real customers—the picky eaters themselves. This tyke is enjoying a nutritious meal with no airplanes or “choo-choos” required. Don’t you wish that were your kid?

How about some extra reading? Love Child Organics brought in 14 000 email subscribers with a brilliant campaign focused on social media and landing pages. Learn how they built their community.

3. Your Features & Benefits

An effective headline and hero shot get your customer’s attention, while the features section provides a little more detail and answers any remaining questions.

When you’re introducing your features, it’s best to frame them in a way that accentuates the benefit they deliver. Remember: your features describe what your product or service does, while your benefits describe the value you’re providing. Before listing your features, try putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and answering: “How will this product or service benefit me?

Sure, you could write a novel-length landing page covering every feature, but you’ll lose your visitor’s attention quickly. You’re better off writing a brief summary of each (with a focus on value), then maybe a few bullet points for clarity. You can always circle back to remove any bloat or verbose verbiage—y’know, terms like “verbose verbiage.”

TouchBistro, a point of sale system for restaurants, cleverly turns complicated features into situational benefits. A restaurant manager will easily be able to see how using TouchBistro will make their day-to-day operations easier:

Best Landing Page Examples: TouchBistro
This is just a snapshot of TouchBistro’s benefits section. Click on the image to see the full thing.

Another great example (and one that’s a little more B2C-friendly) is Western Rise’s campaign for this line of pants:

By distilling their features into clear, simple benefits, Western Rise ensures that any visitor will immediately understand why these pants beat out the rest. “My Levis aren’t stain-proof. They’re quite uncomfortable, and the hems are starting to fray. Holy cow, I need these pants!

4. Your Social Proof

If you’ve ever bought something online (and especially if it was expensive), you’ve probably obsessively scrolled through thousands of product reviews. 

That’s social proof, and it’s a powerful tool of persuasion.

Simply put, social proof is the use of social signals to illustrate that other people have bought, consumed, read, or participated in what you’re offering. The idea is that people are more likely to convert if they see that others before them have (and were glad they did).

The research doesn’t lie. Research from BrightLocal affirmed that the average consumer reads at least 10 reviews before trusting a business, often spending almost 14 minutes reading customer feedback before making a decision. 

The fact is that if you don’t provide the right social cues, your would-be customers may just head down a rabbit hole of a Google search and find something irrelevant yet convincing—like these downright silly Amazon reviews

Keep control of your brand narrative by using social proof tactics like:

  • Customer reviews
  • Count of how many customers you have
  • Trust seals to establish the security of information
  • Awards from reputable organizations
  • Expert testimonials

5. Your Call to Action (CTA)

Your conversion goal is the purpose of your landing page. Your call-to-action (CTA) is the tactic that makes your goal a reality.

Generally, CTAs are presented as a standalone button on a click-through page or as part of a lead gen form. Poor CTAs are the standard “CLICK HERE” or “SUBMIT.” Terrible CTAs are created without thinking about the visitor journey. 

What does that mean? Have a look at this social media ad from the Seattle Times:

How does the CTA make you feel? Yikes! 🙈

Yes, we’re just talking about a button, but it’s the button. It’s the entire reason you spent all this time creating a landing page. A good CTA ties back to your USP and clearly articulates what a visitor will receive in exchange for their click.  

When we looked at some of the best landing page examples created by Unbounce customers, they all had one thing in common—a clear (and often clever) CTA.

Branch Furniture delivers a masterclass in their CTA copy:

Best Landing Page Examples: Western Rise
Click on the image to see Branch’s full landing page variant.

At first glance, you might be quick to point out that the landing page shows multiple buttons, each with a different CTA. And, true, having more than one conversion goal is a strict no-no—but you can use different CTAs as long as they serve the same goal.

By using CTA copy such as “Build My Office” or “Explore Workstation,” Branch crafts a virtual journey with their would-be customers in the driver’s seat.

Tip! CTA buttons are arguably the most important element on your landing page. By designing these buttons to stand out, you can dramatically increase the chances of conversions. This includes playing with color, fonts, sizing, and placement—all quick and easy fixes.

Have a look at the 7 Principles of Conversion-Centered Design to learn how to optimize CTAs to draw attention on your landing page, plus other nifty design tricks.

But the forms! What about the forms?

Many a lead-gen marketer would argue that getting someone to click on a button is easy, but forms are the real challenge. And they’re not wrong—people are extremely wary about entering their personal details. 

Also, if you have to complete a form so detailed that it includes everything from your mother’s maiden name to your cousin Fred’s blood type, it’s just not worth it. That’s why we always recommend keeping forms to the bare essentials.

Have a look at this landing page for Bariatric Eating (designed by Lifestyle Collective):

How’s that for one field to rule them all? What’s smart here is that the visitor’s experience informs the whole process. Instead of data mining, Bariatric Eating asks for minimal input to get the downloadable in their followers’ hands. 

Another example is from Vancouver-based dog boarding service JetPet:

By implementing a step-based form—also known as the breadcrumb technique—JetPet minimizes the perceived effort of completing the form.

Tip! If you have a long list of questions or input fields required for your lead-gen form, or if you’re requesting particularly personal answers, it’s a good idea to use the breadcrumb technique. People are more likely to commit to big tasks after committing to a small task—allowing you to ask more questions with the appearance of asking less, and all with a higher conversion rate. Win, win, and win!

Since it’s so important, let’s recap CTA best practices:

  • Avoid generic language like “CLICK HERE.”
  • Only ask what you need and keep forms short. If you can’t budge on input fields, break your questions into steps using the breadcrumb technique. 
  • You can use multiple CTAs as long as they serve one conversion goal.
  • The visitor is your priority. Be clear how clicking on your CTA will benefit them or what they will receive in return.

Running Out of Time? Hello, Landing Page Templates!

A few thousand words in, and you’re probably getting a bit overwhelmed. “I was told this would save me time. Now I’ve gotta design something, I need to remember all the different elements to put on my landing page, I’ve gotta test what works. Unbounce—it’s just become a whole, big, thing.” 

Deep breaths, you. It’s about time we talked about templates. 

Templates are the ultimate time-saver when creating high-converting landing pages on a time-crunch. They’re designed for specific conversion goals and they’ve got all the essential elements—they’re just waiting for your finishing touch. Slap on a logo, update the copy and visuals, and bam! You’ve just created an effective landing page. It really is that easy. 

When you can build landing pages in a jiffy, you’ve got way more time for other things. You could even squeeze in a workout—or rewatch Friends on Netflix. Hey, you do you. No judgment here.



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