I can’t emphasize enough how important the home page and the first impression are when someone arrives at your website. For some excellent thoughts on designing your home page, I want to turn again to Roger Parker’s book, Streetwise Relationship Marketing on the Internet, which I published.

4 Key Points for First-Time Visitors

Roger Parker says four things should occur when visitors first hit your home page or during what he calls “the introduction stage”:

  1.  Mutual introduction. From the moment they hit your website, visitors should begin learning about your firm, the products and services you sell, and your philosophy of doing business. The benefits you offer should be immediately apparent.
  2. Image. Your website should project a unique image, one that is distinct from your competitors as well as appropriate for your philosophy of doing business.
  3. Registration. Visitors must register by submitting, at bare minimum, their email address and, preferably, additional information.
  4. Qualification. Visitors have differing information requirements. Your website’s structure should make it easy for visitors to qualify their information needs, which will help them quickly locate desired information and help you fine-tune your dialogue with them.

How to Introduce Yourself

Within seconds of landing on your website, visitors should be able to learn a lot about you, your business, and the products or services you offer. Your success depends on your ability to immediately engage your website visitor in a meaningful dialogue while introducing your products and services. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of speed. Visitors are in a hurry and will not stick around unless they are presented with meaningful information tailored to their needs.

The biggest mistake most firms make is to create a home page for their website that features a big logo and their name, followed by a series of buttons with vapid titles such as “About us,” “In the News,” “Our Products,” and “Contact.”

It’s interesting that businesses that have mastered the art of business-to-business or business-to-consumer direct mail fall down with a resounding thud when it comes to creating their home page. Home pages that waste their visitors’ time and fail to offer meaningful information or engage visitors in a dialogue are doomed to failure.

Is Your Home Page Effective?

Start by viewing your home page from a visitor’s point of view and ask yourself, “What does the home page teach me?” If you can’t provide a meaningful answer to that question, your home page needs work. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the website load quickly?
  2. Does the website communicate the firm’s area of expertise?
  3. Does the website describe the products or services offered?
  4. Does the website offer news value that I will benefit by learning?
  5. Does the website communicate how the firm differs from its competition?
  6. Does the website invite me to participate?

The easiest way to improve most websites is to reduce the size of the graphics and choose more appropriate titles for the navigation links. In many cases, reducing the size of the logo—which really does not offer visitors any information or value—creates the space necessary to begin the sales process by focusing on a specific product or service that identifies the firm’s area of expertise. Another advantage of this approach is that reducing the space devoted to your logo makes it possible to add news value to your website by frequently changing the product or service featured. If your website’s home page always appears the same, even if the contents are changed, visitors are unlikely to come back because the new content isn’t visible.

The second simple, but major, way you can improve your website is to choose titles for navigation links that offer obvious benefits to visitors. Think in terms of direct-response marketing. You’d never receive an envelope or catalog in the mail with words such as “About us,” “Our Products,” and “Contact.” Instead, every word on the envelope or front cover of a direct-response catalog is designed to offer a benefit and ask for an action.

Accordingly, strive to replace inward-directed links with links that offer benefits. Translate the categories of your website into clearly identified “benefit chunks.” For example:

  • “Products” could be translated into “Resources.”
  • “About us” could be translated into “Experience.”
  • “Contact us” could be translated into “Register to win” or “Free valuable report!”
  • “FAQ”—shorthand for “Frequently Asked Questions”—can be replaced by “How to be an informed buyer.”

In each case, the goal is to have every word of your website appeal to the visitor’s point of view, rather than the business’s point of view.

The home pages of many websites have brief “mission statements.” Invariably, these, too, are written from the business’s point of view rather than the visitor’s point of view. “Our goal is to create happy and satisfied customers.” What does that tell you about the business? Is it believable? Does it help separate the business from its competition? Does it offer a benefit?

In most cases, mission statements, taglines, or mottos simply waste space and are ignored by visitors on their first visit and irritate visitors upon subsequent visits. Why subject your visitors to the same words each time they visit? Instead of wasting space on an empty claim that cannot be proven, or a claim that is difficult to translate into a visitor benefit (“Family-owned since 2005”), concentrate on developing headlines and links that satisfy your visitors’ need for information.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Home pages that don’t immediately engage visitors with meaningful information will turn off potential customers.
  • Turn the categories of your websites into clear “benefit chunks.”
  • All content on the page should appeal to the visitor’s point of view, not the business’s.