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:
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:
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:
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:
The pitch and page scan flow
There is a sort of “page scan order” assumed in designing such pages:
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:
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.