Get visitors to read and remember your home page – the principles

This blog post is in two parts, this is the first, the second is here. These marketing posts are put into context here. The process here described has also become a step-by-step project on startuptodo.com.

The day you realize that nobody is interested in reading your product or service homepage because you love it, may be a bit depressing, but may also be the start of a re-design that will lead to more returning visitors. Nobody is going to link, talk, or blog about your product without a good reason to do so. There must be something surprisingly interesting, beautiful, disruptive, horrible, rarely thought of about your home page contents to get people to look at it.

Here I will consider some redesign principles that you may use once you got this “satori”.

So, you understood that your web site needs to convince people: you need a home page that will capture visitor’s attention. Taking the user’s perspective is non trivial, say Dan & Chip Heath, because you are under the “Curse of Knowledge”: it is very hard for you and your team to look at your product from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about it, if you don’t dedicate some time to this. This project is heavily inspired by the principles which can be found in the book Made to Stick by Dan & Chip Heath. The aims of this blog post can be summarized as:

(1) get visitors to read your home page

(2) get visitors to remember your home page

Home page effectiveness analysis

As an example, consider this analysis done on the startuptodo.com home page:

startuptodo.com_01

The crucial part of the home page is the pitch or lead, in this case “be successful faster”.

The transparent 1,2,3 are a likely order of attention of the first time visitor: she will first read the lead, then the text below, then eventually go more in detail. In a following step we’ll get back to this structure.

Now focus on another part of the home page:

startuptodo.com_02

If you can talk about your product / service features using a story, instead of a set of features, you will be much more effective: people tend to remember stories.

Let’s finally focus on a third part of the page, where the site is asserting its credibility:

startuptodo.com_03

By Sinatra effect it is meant that a single great testimonial can raise your credibility considerably (“If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere…”). This example can be summarized using a scorecard:

startuptodo.com_04

The pitch and page scan flow

There is a sort of “page scan order” assumed in designing such pages:

startuptodo.com_05

The 1,2,3 numbers in the first screenshot of the site above are a sort of reading order, which you should follow in writing contents. The web site gives different levels of information to the visitor, trying to lead her to the evaluation part.

A perfect sample application of “the pitch” principle and of the page scan order is on the UserVoice site:

UserVoice home page

Notice that the pitch “Your customers have great ideas. Are you ready to listen?” talks about advantages for the users, not directly about features of the service. Below one gets more information, in two further levels. The pitch is even inserted in the service name!

Now go and (re)design your home page

Some steps that you may follow in designing your own home pages.

Describe your product / service

Describe your product / service and its advantages, the problems it solves, the pain it takes away, in short sentences, using a simple language.

It is often done in a group “brainstorming” session.

Find the pitch

This step will be crucial for making visitors actually read your home page, together with the following step “Break a pattern”. This is the hardest part, probably best done in isolation by the most “creative” writer of the group. You have to find the pitch searching in the second and third level descriptions found in the first step. It has to be a short sentence that presents the product advantages to its users. What it is often used as pitch is a sentence which summarizes the descriptive sentences found in the previous step. Mistake! What you should find as pitch is what the user will gain from your system, not a resume of what the system does. It is a subtle but essential difference.

Write a story about some humans using it

Find a storyboard for a video, or write a short story, with characters, people, talking about your product / service. This is the step which will solve point (2), making visitors remember your home page.

Break a pattern!

Something in your home page must break a pattern. Never do the mistake of cloning a successful site layout and that’s it. People just don’t look at known stuff. Either the graphic layout, the text, add a joke, something must be unexpected. The unexpected should be in a context very friendly and predictable: don’t take this as a hint to start surprising the user in general with developers tricks on the interface. Just “going wild” is a commonplace too, and won’t work.

Consider also this case: a bored PR man is taking a look to a set of sites, all with their plain obvious marketing hypes and strong words. Then it comes to your site and… finds something different, interesting…

Design page and publish it

Once designed and published, ask for reviews, test page speed and wide compatibility with the various tools which can be found online. The home page speed in loading and browser type and screen resolution compatibility is important. Put a beta of your page online, with Google analytics on it, and analyze how many people in % get to your “enroll” or “download”. Try variations. Buy a test at http://www.usertesting.com or similar services. Remember to get someone to read this blog and then evaluate the scorecard against your draft. Good luck!

End of part 1 – what is in part 2

In order not to make this blog post uncomfortably long, the following  part, concerning how we in Open Lab applied the principles above, is published here, in a second blog post.

A note on how to give titles blog posts: the first title of this post was “Writing an effective product homepage”; but for the very reasons explained in this same blog post, this wasn’t a good title. A candidate title was “Turn homepages from feature reports to ‘short novels’ “, but that is a bit cryptic, so the one I choose is the one above, “Get visitors to read and remember your home page”, which talks directly about what you gain from this post, instead of indirect advantages through features.

Comments
15 Responses to “Get visitors to read and remember your home page – the principles”
  1. I enjoyed the article – we are designing our website and this topic has perfect timing. Your focus on designing a simple but strong, meaningful, and memorable presence is exactly what we are trying to achieve.

  2. Dennis Crane says:

    Very practical and timely tips. I’ve just submitted this post to StubleUpon. I’ll try to adopt this technique for upcoming redesign of our web site.

  3. Robert says:

    Great article, thanks! stumbled…

  4. A tool you should use when designing the home page:

    http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/

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  1. […] part of the “Get visitors to read and remember your home page” theme, the first is here. These marketing posts are put into context […]

  2. […] leave a comment » A really nice blogpost, inspired by startuptodo.com, on how to get visitors remember your homepage posted by my friend Pietro Polsinelli: http://pietro.open-lab.com/2009/10/19/get-visitors-to-read-and-remember-your-home-page-the-principle… […]

  3. […] your home page” October 20, 2009 Pietro Polsinelli Leave a comment Go to comments Here. Categories: Web marketing Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment […]

  4. […] user model in mind. Consider the theme of my previous post about finding a pitch for your product (Get visitors to read and remember your home page): The day you realize that nobody is interested in reading your product or service homepage because […]

  5. […] proposed to participate in the talks with an evolution of the Get visitors to read and remember your home page blog posts, which is an important topic for a startup which is attempting self-promotion. We will […]

  6. […] Get visitors to read and remember your home page – the principles « Keeping it brief &nd…  […]

  7. […] Get visitors to read and remember your home page – the principles […]

  8. […] (update) Pietro Polsinelli – Una Homepage memorabile […]



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