It is amazing the number of websites I come across and have no idea what they do. I’ve been researching a specific industry lately, and consequently, I’ve visited a lot of different sites.
In most cases, their homepage is a buzzword-laden garbage fire. I don’t know what they do, I don’t know who their products/services/offerings are for, and I have no idea what they want me to do.
After seeing these fires all over the internet, I decided to make it my mission to educate the masses. Knowing what to put on your homepage can be hard, but it doesn’t need to be.
Step into your customer’s shoes
The first step is to get out of your business and to step into your customer’s shoes. They don’t know your organisation or industry as you do—in fact, they probably have no idea about it. They also don’t want to take time to sit around and read paragraphs of your marketing guff. Aint nobody got time for that.
I typically use Donald Miller’s StoryBrand for aligning messaging with customers. It is a good tool you can use to walk yourself through engaging your business from your customer’s perspective.
In short, your customer is the hero of the story, and they are engaging you—a helpful guide—to help them solve a problem of theirs.
You are not the hero, they are. This helps frame your thinking. Too many brands try to be the hero.
Your landing page should answer these six questions in order
I’ve found the application of StoryBrand difficult to adapt to websites. It’s a good framework, but I found I needed something else to make it a bit more practical.
I was at a conference where I saw Joel Klettke from Business Casual Copywriting present. You can watch the exact session here. He has six questions that are super practical and I’ve since adopted them as standard practice.
1. What is it?
This is simple. What are you offering?
You should aim to answer this as quickly and simply as possible. Skip the buzzwords—they confuse people. Use imagery to reinforce what you are talking about. Your aim is not to sound ‘sales-y’ yet—remember, you are not the hero in this story.
2. Who is it for?
‘Who is it for’ is something I often see missed on sites without a physical product.
Communicating a physical product in words or with visuals is easy. It is something you mostly see in product photography–a slim, young person wearing some cool jeans or a group of 25–45-year-old friends sitting around a table drinking a hipster brand of gin. The image is communicating the target market with the product in a suggested context for use.
It’s harder to describe who it’s for if you are offering something more abstract—such as the services of a marketing agency or engaging with a charity.
Additionally, if you are a local business, call it out here. ‘We are here for the people of Newcastle’, or ‘Artisan Bakery serving up french style bread to the people of Eastern Melbourne.’ (I’m not a great copywriter, but you get the idea).
‘It’s for everyone’ is not a valid answer. Who is your customer? How do you say it is for them without it being for everyone?
If you try and target everyone, you end up resonating with no one.
3. Why should I care?
This is where you see brands and companies being the hero from the start.
A lot of organisations lead with ‘Australia’s leading blah blah’ or ‘Award-winning X’. If I don’t know what it is and who is it for, why should I care about that? I don’t care what you have to say.
After people realise what you are offering is for them, now is the time to deliver your pitch. Remember, you are the guide in their story, and now is your time to speak with your authority to your expertise, or to your product’s greatness.
Riffing on the bakery idea above, this would make sense:
‘We make every loaf by hand with love. Our bread is made with the finest organic single-origin flours sourced directly from farmers that care as much about their wheat as we do our bread’.
4. How does it work?
This can be one of the easiest or hardest steps, depending on your organisation and the product/service/offering.
It can be really easy—’come to our store’, ‘buy our stuff’, ‘we’re open on these days’. For something more abstract like a service, this is where it becomes more challenging. This is when you need to give them a plan for how it works.
People can remember a plan which has three steps. Any more feels too complicated for some reason, so three steps keeps it really simple.
A lot of SaaS products offer free trials with a three-step plan—”create an account, choose a plan (there is a free one!), create/do awesome stuff!”
Gyms, doctors and other health businesses can use something similar—”book online or by phone, come early and talk to the front desk, and then be seen by someone”.
Businesses make this step way too complicated with too many steps, jargon or a form with 1000 fields. Keep it simple. If you can’t answer ‘how does it work’ simply, you’ve got a problem.
5. Why trust you?
Why trust you? Well, this is when you can roll out your credentials.
‘We’ve won every award ever’, ‘Our customers love us’, or ‘I have six PhDs and have been on Oprah’. You do not make a good impression if all you do is talk about all the awards you’ve won. Nobody likes a know-it-all, or someone who is really arrogant and talks themselves up all the time. Try to use customer testimonials instead.
Customer testimonials are the best way of answering the question. This is more powerful in that it establishes your expertise, credibility or quality of your product and at the same time gives you social proof. It is easier for someone to trust you when they see that there are a large number of people who already do.
Ensure you have a range of reviews. Having only 5/5 star reviews will make people suspicious that your customers aren’t real and you risk undermining your credibility.
6. What next?
This step is also known as the Call To Action or CTA for short.
Again keep it simple—what do you want someone to do next? ‘Call me on x number’, ‘Complete this form and we’ll call you’ or ‘Buy now online’. People shouldn’t ever get to the end of your page and not know what they should do next.
Now that the flow of information is complete, here are a few extra pointers to polish up your page.
Try and make sure your website doesn’t feel ‘forgotten’
People are attracted to people.
Think of two cafes—one that is empty but looks really cool, the other one not as cool but is really lively and full of people. Which one do you go to? I’d go to the busy one. Personally I’m really wary of an empty restaurant—I’ve had a few bad experiences trying to be trendy,so if more people are enjoying it, it must be better.
The challenge with websites is making it feel more like a popular cafe. Too many feel empty, dead or forgotten.
Remember, bring it back to people. Using people in photos helps create a popular, more personable vibe, especially if they aren’t stock images and are real people. Subtly reminding people that there are real people on the other side of the screen can really boost your credibility too. Seeing a face on a website and then interacting with that person in real life can be a cool experience
There are other ways you can keep your website alive. Semi-regular updates can help, something with a date from not too long ago. Real-time sales alerts are also an option you see sites like Book Depository use them but it can be awkward if you don’t have a high sales volume (or you just fake it, which is less than honest).
Keep in mind, big brands can do things differently
When researching for this article, I went through a number of big brands to see how they did it.
They typically don’t follow the steps and they have their reasons. You don’t need to waste page real estate saying what something is when the majority of the population already knows. Big organisations can do things differently.
So seek inspiration from businesses like yours or those that are slightly larger and see how they do it. Make sure you are making the customer the hero and answering all the questions in a way that makes sense to them.
Now go forth and put out some home page fires–good luck!
Also yes, I’m aware the head photo doesn’t have people in it. It just looked too delicious not to use it.