After the shopping cart, the homepage is the most important part of any business website. It’s the first page that greets new visitors and it’s instrumental in converting them to customers.
Although web design has the strongest impact on a visitor’s initial impression of a new website, the content it presents is what convinces them to stay and have a look around. This is why the writing (copy) that appears on your homepage is one of the most crucial ingredients to the success of an e-commerce site. Here are some of the things it needs to achieve.
Where am I?
Given that the copy on your homepage is the first information new customers are likely to process, it’s important to make sure it wastes no time in getting right to the heart of what your business does.
“Make your homepage speak your brand the loudest,” advises Janelle Yates, communications director at Mini Mammoth. “Your homepage is the first thing people see about your brand, who you are and what you’re offering, so make sure it represents you the way you expect it to.”
Why am I here?
Copy is the most immediate way of convincing visitors they’ve come to the right place. If it can’t communicate the value of your site to them in the first few seconds, they’re likely to move on to a competitor’s site.
“If a visitor is looking for something specifically, and it’s not being addressed, then they’re going to go elsewhere,” says Sarah McVeigh, web copywriter for Bluewire Media.
“Your attention span is so short on the net, you need to know very quickly that this site is going to provide you with what you need.”
This is why homepage copy has to be as simple, concise and direct as possible. Use small sentences and don’t be shy with headlines.
It’s also wise to use keywords as signposts to the reader when writing for the web. These help to break up the copy so it’s easier to read, help visitors process what they’re reading and can also have a positive effect on how the site ranks in search results.
“Web users scan for information,” says Wai Chim, editor of Switched On Media. “They’re not reading all the words on the screen, they’re looking for information and keywords that will help them go to the next point in their destination.”
Am I talking to a human?
A website is basically the online equivalent of an answering machine and automated switchboard. No-one likes talking to a machine, so it’s vital that your homepage copy reads like it was written by an actual person.
Web copy is a substitute for a conversation with you, the owner, or one of your sales staff, so make it appear as such. No-one enjoys talking to people who use a lot of dense corporate language, so avoid jargon and complex words in favour of directness and simplicity.
Additionally, it’s important that your homepage copy makes it very easy for visitors to contact your business directly. Where possible, display contact details prominently and include more than one method of contact.
What’s in it for me?
It’s also important for homepage copy to appeal to the visitor’s interests.
Customers don’t visit your site because they care about your business; they want to know what your business can do for them and most aren’t willing to spend a lot of time finding out.
“Really, it’s about providing them with direction,” says Switched On’s Chim. “A mantra that writers typically hear a lot is ‘show, don’t tell’. That slogan works for websites as well.”
The key is to avoid overselling your company and its services.
“You don’t want to tell people how amazing your product or service is, you want to show them with clear cut examples and let the customer come to their own conclusions,” says Chim.
“Too many times we see a lot of businesses trying to oversell their products, or oversell their services on the homepage.”
This is why copy should focus on the visitor. It needs to address them directly, using words like ‘you’ instead of ‘we’, as this better appeals to their self-interest.
“Customer focused copy just draws them in a lot more than something that talks about yourself or your company,” says Bluewire’s McVeigh.
She explains that Bluewire uses a system referred to in-house as the ‘red/blue test’. This involves colouring copy that talks about the business in red and copy that talks about the customer in blue, demonstrating which the copy favours.
“If you go through your copy and count how many times you refer to yourself and how many times you refer to the client, you should try and balance it so you’re talking more about them than you’re talking about yourself.”
Not what I expected
The use of keywords in homepage copy has a strong bearing on search engine optimisation, but it’s important not to sacrifice readability for the sake of improving search rankings.
“I’ve had a lot of clients that have used SEO services which don’t focus on the holistic approach to your communication,” says Yates from Mini Mammoth. “Often, they’ve just written copy that makes very little sense to the reader as to the purpose of the website, but it creates high visibility on Google.”
This approach might generate search traffic, but if your SEO strategies are hurting the readability of your site’s copy, not only will conversions suffer, but an increased bounce rate will also work against your search ranking.
Are they professionals?
It’s essential to appear professional; even the slightest chip in your website’s armour can convince visitors that your business isn’t. This is why it’s a good idea to make absolutely sure there are no embarrassing errors in your copy.
“Having it professionally proof read by someone who is experienced in that area, whether it’s a copywriter or editor, will ensure that your copy sounds and reads correctly,” says Switched On’s Chim. “It’s just a little bit of extra time and resource to invest to really make a difference in making your website stand out and look professional.”
Where to next?
If the copy on the homepage doesn’t direct visitors to do something, then it hasn’t achieved its purpose. A call to action – an imperative telling the reader to do something like ‘pick up the phone’ – is crucial if a website is going to have any effect on the conversion process.
“Call to actions really need to centre around action words, inviting people to learn more information, or directing them to convert,” explains Chim. “Whether it’s something like ‘sign up for a newsletter’, ‘contact us’, or maybe ‘like’ a Facebook page – those are the types of call to action that have to be clear. They will engage the user to find out more and interact with the site in the way that you want them to.”
Given that a webpage is a poor substitute to talking with a sales person, Bluewire’s McVeigh suggests that the most important call to actions are those that impel customers to pick up the phone.
“On a homepage, you have to have a call to action, preferrably for direct contact with a human being,” she says.
A sure way of measuring the effectiveness of a homepage’s calls to action is by analysing where visitors click after landing there.
“The homepage needs to develop enough trust that people will decide to then click through to learn about you or what products you have or any of the other pages that you have on your site,” says McVeigh.
“Completely remove any form of risk from the situation,” she continues “Rather than saying ‘buy now’, or ‘pick up the phone’, it’s really important to have a lot of options about the way they can contact you.”
By presenting a limited but crucially effective number of options, the visitor is given the impression that there’s no risk involved in following any call to actions – as far as they’re concerned, it’s their choice to opt in.
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