A web site’s front page must captivate its audience and cause them to read further. It must first grab a reader’s attention and then lead them to a specific outcome. However, when the mechanics of that very first page are ignored, it often causes visitors to click out of a site from as soon as they arrive.
Although some web sites get a large number of hits, many never seem to produce the anticipated level of response. This article does not focus on traffic-building specifically or on the programming elements of a good first page, but on its content, copy, looks, and consistency that will effectively captivate that traffic’s attention. In other words, it is to compel today’s leery and undiscerning audience to surf deeper into your site and to ultimately lead them to buy from you, subscribe to your newsletter, tell their friends about it, fill out a form, etc.
Remember that every single day, your customers are bombarded with a continuous flow of information and marketing messages, and that the competition for their attention is exceedingly fierce. Therefore, if your site is but a silent billboard in cyberspace, it won’t do you much good. You have to capture their attention so that you not only have them visit deeper into your site and generate a desired outcome (sale, subscription etc.) but also have them visit your site again and again as well as refer your site to others. Here are some basic rules to follow when designing a front page:
Target your market! As the adage goes: "You can not be all things to all people." It’s a paradox but you will indeed get more with less. This means focusing on a specific group of visitors. Cater to their unique needs or center your site on a strong, single theme. In other words, focus like a laser on your niche and, consequently, your site will burn into their minds.
J. Nicholas Schmidt of Profit Stream, Inc. (see http://www.profitstream.com), is the master when it comes to the theme store concept. According to Schmidt, 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 for that matter — to find exactly that for which they are looking. However if your site is unique, highly specialized, and focused, people will be inclined to surf deeper into your site once they hit the first page. Not only will the content be far more credible but it will also be easier to lead visitors to a successful outcome since visitors are in fact pre-qualified once they hit your site.
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. An effective web site must have a specific goal. It should 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
For instance, is your web site meant to be like a rÃ©sumÃ© 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 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? Is it to solicit inquiries for more information? Is it to increase memberships? You get the picture.
The mind hates confusion
Visitors can only do one thing at a time. If they have to do too many things on the front page, they will do nothing. If you want to offer a variety of different options, then try to focus on one alone and create other pages 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. Use one major theme and revolve your message around it.
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, pictures, and news articles are always carefully selected.
In fact, the most read part of a newspaper is not only the front page but also the top section (or "above the fold"). Web sites are no different. Therefore, the front page of your site should be treated like the front page of a newspaper. It’s 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. Focus on your site’s major benefit "above the fold" and keep your copy to the point. 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, communicate 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," "by visiting this site, you will learn," or "here are the reasons why you should browse this site"). In http://success-doctor.com/article17.htm, the article described the fact that 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.
Present a problem and emphasize it
Focus on an existing gap — the gap between a problem that the visitor is currently experiencing (or one that the visitor may experience without the benefits of your offer) 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. The first page must confirm that there is a problem and show how exactly you can solve it by surfing deeper into your site.
Your site should download fast. According to an article published in "Home Business Magazine", 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 certainly 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. Therefore, anything that slows that ability down (such as by having a front page over 30-40 kilobytes in size), especially when compared to quicker-loading competitor sites, will cost you in lost sales. Nevertheless, always keep in mind that you are allowed but a brief moment to capture your visitors’ attention before they leave.
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 page. It is where the selling process actually begins. It surprises me when I stumble onto some sites that smack of being put together horrendously quick — even when the company is reputable.
Presenting a professional image on the web is crucial since the computer screen is often the only thing that separates you from the visitor. Consistency, color, and content are probably the three most important elements of a repeatedly revisited and often referred web site. The front page must therefore be clean, concise, and clear. It must appeal to your audience by using a language that they can easily understand. Visitors often react with hostility to a site whose message or design confuses them. As Og Madino once said, "It’s the little things that count."
A final caveat, though. The first page should not be the only one that follows the above rules. Applying most of these pointers to an entire site should be carefully considered. Needless to say, however, that if you are able to make visitors pass through that all-important first page hurdle, then persuading them to take action later on should be a cinch.