February 1, 2015
One of the more typical questions our first time clients ask us is “If we improve our Homepage, will that help to boost our traffic? We know that it should look better, but apart from that, are there other concrete changes that we can make?” The answers we give tend to vary only for the simple reason that with each type of business, or service, certain aesthetic differences apply.
Upon a little reflection I’ve been able to narrow them down into four questions:
- Does your homepage load quickly?
- Is your business messaging clear?
- Are there direct calls-to-action?
- Does your branding work with your messaging?
By now, I’m sure that you know the basic industry statistic: users are going to click through to your web site, look at it for maybe 30 seconds, and either decide that it's worthy, or reach for the almighty back button on their browser and scramble out. I will, however ask for a little latitude. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that it’s only your homepage that these questions relate to - far from it. The standards that apply to your homepage should be upheld throughout your entire website, no doubt. But, for now let’s dive in and deal with them as they relate to your homepage.
Does your Homepage load quickly?
Apart from having large .jpg backgrounds or headers, this problem can often be narrowed down to two subcategories:
Flash landing page: Does your site load quickly, regardless of what device someone might be using to access it? You might think large graphics or Flash animations look cool, but they may kill the first impression people get by making them wait and wait. That’s on a desktop, mind you. What do you think happens on a tablet or mobile device? Think offline for a second. How thrilled are you to stand in line at a grocery store? Would you go out of your way to stand in the longest line, just for the simple pleasure of waiting? Nope – you want immediate gratification – the shortest line, please.
Mini-me homepage: If a user has to reach in, pinch their screen and expand your site on a mobile device – bzzz, you lost that viewer. How would you feel if you walked into a local restaurant with great décor, music, candles, and music, and the waiter handed you a menu that was the size of matchbook? Would you have the patience to take out a magnifying glass and read through it; and then order? Why expect people to do the same on their tablet or mobile device? Responsive Web Design is the solution.
Is the messaging on your homepage clear and to the point?
This is what we do – you’ve come to the right place. No cute splash pages or over-sized pictures that infer your business model – in case you missed the above point. No vast amounts of text that confounds and diffuses your message. Yes to a benefit driven statement – in sales jargon usually referred to as an elevator pitch. If you were riding an elevator with a prospect, can you explain to that complete stranger, in 30 seconds, why your website exists – before she/he gets out and walks away from you?
Let’s look off-line again in an effort to crystallize the point. Go to your local mall and walk around, or better yet come to New York and walk up/down Madison Ave. between 72nd street and 86th street. Look at any of the store front windows and ask yourself: "Is there anything in that window that is not a part of that particular business’s overall messaging?" The answer is: No. Everything is designed to let you know: “This is what we do, you’ve come to the right place - come in, please.”
Stores have known for a long time that they need to get your attention – heck, they literally need to get you to stop walking. Your homepage is similar, it needs to get their attention and get you to stop clicking. Unfortunately for you, people’s attention span for a visual driven medium is much shorter - your point has to be made quickly and convincingly. It takes a lot less effort to click the mouse than walk a few steps.
An important side note on messaging: make sure that you attract your core audience! You need to embrace the idea that half of all success is knowing your core audience and not trying to water down your messaging so much that it appeals to everyone. Don't patronize me by trying to sell me on the idea that everyone should care about your product or service, it won’t work. Only the people who need to care will care, and that's who you are talking to. So have the confidence to act like it.
Are there direct calls-to-action?
I'm invested: I am now willing to spend even more of my time checking it out. What do I do next? Where do I go? Your job is to make this easy for me. you can call this the “put a big giant blue button here" rule. You can have more than one, but I'd draw the line at two. And make the text on the button descriptive, like "See A Demo" or "Sign Up Now". If you require a login at this point, I strongly urge you to skip that barrier and have a sample I can view without logging in, just to get a taste of how things might work. If you're really slick, you will make it seamless to go from an unregistered to a registered state without losing anything I've done.
The point being: people need to be told what to do, period! I have yet to see a company blossom because prospects used acontact us form and begged someone from the sales department to call them. It just doesn’t happen.
Does your branding work with your messaging?
Congratulations, your Home page downloaded quickly and grabbed your intended users’ attention with its messaging. Now comes the hard part, making them feel that your branding is helping to sell your product/service that your messaging articulated. Put another way: branding and messaging need to be working as a team. They need to interact with each other and provide a strong platform that puts the prospect in the right frame of mind: engendering the trust that you know what you’re talking about - logo, color scheme, buttons, fonts, all working in unison with what you’re selling.
Fashion websites are usually very good at this, not surprising given the nature of their work. Check out: www.nastygal.com for a great example of consistent, strong branding – relax, it’s a clothing site that was recently courted by Urban Outfitters. Cleverly enough, your initial reaction is actually a well thought out part of their branding.
Why is it hard for some fairly decent looking websites to stumble on this particular point most often? Personally, I think that one of the main reasons websites seem to suffer from the ability to have branding and messaging work together as a cohesive experience, is the reliance on template driven architecture.
Cookie cutter (template driven) websites were deemed to be passable for awhile - analogous to the ubiquitous corner grocery, drug and hardware stores that popped up as this nation’s growing population streamed into the cities. Grab a history book and flip through it: all of the stores tended to look eerily similar. Exterior: front windows with hanging sign displaying general items to be found inside and a couple of doors. Interior: crammed with goods, shelves, counters and a few cash registers. Cookie cutter design by necessity rather than desire: the proprietor had to sell goods, quickly, or his family starved.
Ah, but then Mr. Woolworth, Mr. Walmart, the Johnson Family et al, started to brand not only their products, but their establishments as well. Up sprang Sears, J.C. Penny’s and others, and before you knew it, businesses realized branding and messaging were vital elements of the sales process and could be ignored no longer. Stores needed to look different, and as differences grew, they needed to attract their users more effectively! Your website is no different - unless, of course, in the off chance, you don’t have any competitors.