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So That's What Goes on a Home Page!

by Marcia Yudkin

In the early days of the World Wide Web, the word went around that the thing to do on a home page is to heartily and sincerely welcome the visitor. Today, this is unnecessary, clichéd and ineffective. Instead, an effective home page needs to quickly orient the visitor to what the business or professional practice offers, distinguish these offerings from competitors' and direct the web site visitor what to do if they are interested in learning more.

It's especially important to make a strong and clear presentation on the home page if you want perfect strangers coming from a search engine to spend more than 10 seconds on the site when determining whether or not it is relevant to them. Getting business from such strangers is one of the major payoffs of having a web site, and they lack the patience of someone who has already had contact with you or been referred by a trusted source. Even people seriously inclined to hire you don't have endless patience to wade through hot air, jargon or superfluous preliminaries.

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Therefore, a home page must make it possible to answer these questions within 10 seconds:
* What is being described or sold here? What kind of business is this?
* Why should I do business with this company rather than its competitors?
* What should I do to find out more or get in touch?

In judging web sites for the Webby Awards, I have seen as many rich, large companies as small ones overlook the first essential for a home page - set the context. Orient the visitor. The perfect stranger may need to know things that you assume everyone already knows, such as:

1. What business are you in? Include a commonly understood industry name or the generic name of your primary product or service prominently in the home page copy, if it's not already part of your business name or in the tag line. When this information isn't plainly and obviously stated, many visitors are screaming to themselves, "What IS this?" as they hit the back button on their browsers.

2. Who do you serve? So many businesses - banks, restaurants, dentists - leave it unspoken what state or province and even what country they are in when that's essential to someone figuring out whether or not this business meets their needs. When location plays a crucial role in service, make it unmistakable where the business is. Other times, the answer to this question is more subtle. You need to indicate that you work with Fortune 500 companies, or mostly with authors, or with ambitious fitness professionals and health club owners.

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3. Why should someone do business with you? The best kind of answer to this question involves presenting the benefits someone gets from buying your products or services. Indeed, I recommend putting such benefits right in your home page headline. For instance, for a caregiving support site I created this headline: With Support, Caregiving Becomes a Rewarding Journey. For a site about a book on outstanding women scientists and artists, the headline read: Learn From Accomplished Women Role Models How to Create a Fulfilling Lifelong Career. Note the inviting tone of these headlines. Within the paragraphs of the home page copy, refer again and again to what customers get and what makes you different from competitors.

4. What should I do next? Even though you provide navigation links for people to choose where to go next at the site, it's effective to say explicitly what someone with such and such an interest should do. Your call to action might have more than one part, such as: To learn more about how Hyana Heights Club helps you stay healthy and fit, click here. To book your free tour and complimentary aerobics class, click here. 

Use these guidelines to create or redo a home page, and you'll enjoy a significantly improved response from your web site both from people landing on your site from search engines and those already somewhat interested in what you offer. There's much more involved in turning web site visitors into customers, but you'll certainly thereby have laid the groundwork for a reasonable return on your web site investment.

Marcia Yudkin has helped to judge the Webby Awards for eight years, as well as the Inc. Magazine Small Business Web Awards.  Her home-study course for aspiring copywriters teaches the fundamental writing and marketing skills for success in writing web copy and other sales materials.

Copyright 2013 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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