A successful Web site is an extremely effective sales tool since it has the ability to gain the attention of a captive audience and become quite profitable for those who follow some basic rules. Like all direct response marketing processes, it must first hook a reader’s attention and then move them to take some action. However, the mechanics of that very first page are often ignored. And such Web sites, although some of which get a large number of hits, never seem to produce the anticipated level of response let alone deeper traffic.
This article does not focus on traffic-building or on the programming elements of a good first page (such as HTML, meta-tags, frames, graphics, ad nauseum), but on its content, copy, looks, and consistency that will captivate the attention of today’s leery and undiscerning audience. It is to move them to surf further into the site and ultimately to the sale — and it all starts with the first page.
With just a few changes, you can turn your Web site into a more compelling and effective sales tool. Remember that, every single day, your customers are bombarded with a continuous flow of information and marketing messages, and that competition for their attention is exceedingly fierce. A Web site that captures their attention and stays active in your customer’s mind will not only generate sales but also have that customer visit deeper into your site (let alone visit your site again and again).
Here are some basic rules to follow when designing a front page:
1. FOCUS ON YOUR NICHE AND TARGET YOUR AUDIENCE
Target your market! As the adage goes, “You can not be everything to everyone.” You can, however, position your site effectively to meet the needs of a specific group. It’s a paradox but you will indeed get more with less. This means understanding who your customers/visitors are and what motivates their buying decisions. Therefore, do your homework. Know your customer. Appeal to their specific needs and psyche. Focus like a laser on your niche and, consequently, your site will burn into their minds.
Web sites centered on a very narrow theme or idea will create visitors of greater interest, and especially leads that are much more pre-qualified and apt to buy. Look at it this way: When you narrow down your message and focus on a niche, visitors will be 50% sold the minute they hit your site’s first page. Then, it is up to your content (copy, offer, and call-to-action) to take them through the remaining 50%.
Niche marketing on the Web is particularly important since people do not have the time to sift through an entire site — let alone a search engine or even the Internet — to find exactly that for which they are looking. If your site is unique, highly specialized, and focused however, people will be inclined to surf deeper into your site once they hit the first page.
When focusing on a niche, the content of your site’s first page will be far more credible than the mere see-through puffery of one’s own blatant promotional message. Nevertheless, if you cater to a particular audience, it will then be easier for your first page to lead visitors to a successful outcome.
2. HAVE AN OBJECTIVE IN MIND AND BE SIMPLE
Answer this skill-testing question: “What exactly do you want your visitors to do?” Simple, isn’t it? But it doesn’t seem that way with the many sites I’ve visited. The KISS principle (that is keep it simple and straightforward) is immensely important on the ‘Net. Every effective Web site starts with smart planning and it must have a clear objective that will lead to a specific action or outcome. If your site is not meant to, say, sell a product, gain a customer, or obtain an inquiry for more information, then what exactly must it do? Work around the answer as specifically as possible.
Don’t be vague and be specific. Is your Web site meant to be like a rsum or billboard that only advertises the fact that you are “open for business”? It shouldn’t, unless you are intimately involved with that specific medium (i.e., you are a Web designer or host, or in other words your site is the product in itself). If not, is it to generate qualified leads? Is it to sell a particular product? Are you trying to persuade your visitors to switch from another company to you? Do you want them to call you on the phone for more information? Are you trying to have them subscribe to some membership program? You get the picture.
The mind hates confusion. If you try to get your visitors to do too many things, especially on the front page, they will do nothing. However, if you want to offer a visitor a variety of different options, then try to focus on one alone and create a secondary site (or more) that are each respective to a particular action, and then link them together at the appropriate locations for flow. In essence, keep your message focused. Do not try to communicate too much — you will overwhelm the reader. Use one major theme and no more than two to three basic messages.
3. COMMUNICATE AS CLEARLY AND CONCISELY AS POSSIBLE
When you are in the process of buying a book, for instance, the one thing that has attracted you is the cover (if you’re not aware of the author beforehand, and even then the cover plays a key role). If the proverb “Don’t judge books by their covers” exists, it is because we, as humans, have the natural inclination to do so. Newspapers capitalize on that intrinsic human behavior, which is why front-page headlines and news articles are always carefully selected.
Therefore, the front page of your Web site is “the cover of your book,” so to speak. It should entice readers to surf further into the site and not lead them to take action right then and there (unless your site is a single page). Keep your copy short and to the point, allowing the reader to quickly understand what’s in it for them. Use bold, attention-grabbing headlines and subheadlines (even surheadlines) to emphasize the major theme and the core benefit that your site offers.
In fact, list the benefits. Why should a visitor surf your site? What’s in it for him/her? In other words, focus on communicating to the visitor the reasons why they should browse further. A great technique for doing so is to use a bulleted list of benefits (such as when it follows the words “With this site, you get,” “in this site, you will find,” or “here are the reasons why you should browse this site”).
Bulleted benefit lists not only give a visual break for the reader but are also appealing and effective since they are short, to-the-point, and clustered for greater impact. Remember that customers buy benefits and not products. Therefore, your first page should focus on the benefits of your site and not its features.
Present a problem and emphasize it. Focus on an existing gap (the gap between a problem and its solution). And then show what your site brings to the table by telling your visitors how, by surfing deeper, they will be able to fill that gap. In other words, the first page must confirm that there is a problem and how exactly you can solve it by surfing deeper.
4. LIMIT THE BACKGROUND INFORMATION, GRAPHICS, AND PLUG-INS
Your site should download fast. Research by an on-hold phone message marketing company found that people start hanging up when put on hold for more than 30 seconds. The Internet is no different. If they have to wait for more than 30 seconds for your page to load, visitors will leave. In short, if they have to wait, they won’t.
Often, people say that our society has entered the “information revolution.” Not so. It’s the “access to information” revolution. The ability to retrieve information in nanosecond speed is the underlying drive behind the Internet. For instance, that same ability has caused entire layers of middle managers to be wiped out. Therefore, anything that slows it down, especially when compared to other, quicker-loading competitor sites, will cost you in lost sales.
Aside from load-time, you only have a few seconds to attract your visitors before they leave. As such, you must communicate and distill your knowledge right down to the really important. Don’t overwhelm them with so much information or glitz that they miss your central message. While your site may have entertainment value, if they do not take action you are still losing.
5. PROJECT A CONSISTENT, PROFESSIONAL IMAGE
They say that “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” First impressions are therefore important to the degree to which visitors are positively impacted by the first or index page. It is where the selling process begins. Consistent color, well-balanced information, appealing and quick-loading graphics, and, most important, the right message targeted to the proper audience are the most important elements of a professional-looking, repeatedly revisited Web site.
In fact, the Web site’s front page message is the highest in priority. Don’t let careless mistakes weaken the impact of your presentation, and always proofread — and have others proofread — your copy for typographical and grammatical errors. As far as the particular image you wish your site to project, first determine the objective. Are you trying to convey that you are informed, serious, credible, fun, helpful, or advanced technologically? The tone of your message can help put visitors in a particular frame of mind and appeal specifically to a targeted audience.
A final caveat, though. The first page should not be the only one that follows the above rules. Applying these pointers to an entire site should be carefully considered. Needless to say, however, that once they are sold on your site, or in other words if you are able to make them pass through that all-important first page hurdle, then persuading them to take action later on should be a cinch.
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning,” when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, “The Profit Pill.” See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!