November 11, 2016
First impressions, for better or worse, are hard to overcome.
Plus, they happen at the blink of an eye.
Mind Tools suggests that “it takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time.”
That’s right – three seconds.
Fortunately, you may have a little bit more time than that online. Unfortunately, it’s not much more. Tony Haile, of TIME, says that the majority of internet users spend less than 15 seconds on a website.
Here’s the obvious and quantifiable truth: the better the content of your home page, the longer the visit.
And longer visits mean greater potential for user interaction and conversion.
This is, of course, due to the Weibull distribution.
The Weibull What?
There are more than one billion websites on the Internet today. In this vast ocean of URLs, the general consensus is that most webpages are terrible. There’s even a hilariously awful website, www.webpagesthatsuck.com, that teaches people how to “learn good web design by looking at bad web design.” In fact, Hubspot’s Marketing Grader only gave passing grades to 26 percent of the millions of websites they analyzed.
When something happens with this much frequency, people tend to take it as a given. It’s just the way things are. So, when something breaks the trend, when a website has high-quality content, it does more than just stand out. It gives the site visitor pause.
In other words, they spend more than 15 seconds on your site. And the more time they spend, the less likely to leave they become. That’s the Weibull distribution.
The Nielsen Norman Group points out that if you can get people to stay for 30 seconds, they’ll likely stay for up to two minutes – which roughly equals forever in Internet years.
When you consider the above along with Pew Research Center findings that showed 75 percent of the time a website’s home page is the most viewed part of the site, the following becomes clear:
1. First impressions are important.
2. You have very little time to make a first impression.
3. High-quality content can extend that time.
4. The first impression will be made on a site’s home page the vast majority of the time.
5. The home page is the most important part of your site, and it needs to be great.
So: the home page is the most important part of your site, and it needs to be great.
Like so many things that are worth it, that’s easier said than done. But there’s help out there.
The following are my five key ways to turn your jalopy webpage of yesteryear into a sleek Italian hypercar. They’re key strategies to take your home page copy from 0 to 60 – in under three seconds.
Five Key Strategies to Improve Your Home Page Copy
A little disclaimer: we’re not talking about videos or photos. We’re not talking about gifs or flash animation. We’re talking about copy – engaging, evocative copy that motivates visitors and moves them all the way to conversion and evangelism.
1. Copy Placement According to Priority
Online, a visitor’s eyes scan a site in almost the same pattern every time. That’s great news, because it means you can predict where attention will be focused first, then second, then third, and so on.
Imagine a webpage divided into three columns and three rows. You’ve probably seen this grid if you’ve ever taken a photo.
This allows for the golden standard of photography and film: the rule of thirds. The human eye is drawn to the points of intersection on that grid. This idea actually originated in Renaissance painting, not modern photography.
Many pieces of art before this time featured subjects smack-dab in the middle of the painting – which gave the subjects a very static (and boring) feel. Placing the subject on one of the intersections indicates movement.
History lesson over — now back to your webpage.
This is how it works: it starts in the top left, scans to the right, moves back to the left-hand margin, scans down, scans right if there are subheads, continues down the left-hand side, and then meanders briefly across the bulk of the page (mid-mid, mid-right, bottom-mid, and finally bottom-right).
Got it? Here:
It’s sometimes called “The F Pattern,” and it’s also how most of humanity reads. Knowing about it means that you can now build your home page according to the priority of your content. The following is a list of suggested priorities on how to plug copy into this pattern:
1. Logo, company name, brand – people need to know who you are.
2. Navigation – people need to know where they are and how to use the site.
3. Menus – people need to know what’s available.
4. Visual Tone/Feel – this may be somewhat controversial placing, but this should be a higher priority than where most people would place it. Remember, the Internet is drowning in websites. Your company voice is crucial. Also, media assets and web design can help you snag a visitor for a few more precious seconds.
5. Headlines – people want a quick summary of your content before they decide to read it.
After this, the priority list is up to you. It will change on a site-by-site basis. A company promoting interior design will want more photos. A company selling technical services will utilize more copy. Keep it clean. White space is your friend. Flow helps.
2. Make Your First Impression Your Best Brand Impression
This is riding on the coattails of the first strategy above, but in your miniscule window of opportunity to make an impression with visitors you need to get it right. Your brand is your identity. We could have a sermon on that sentence alone, but it’s true.
Chances are that people actually click through to pages that have something to do with what they originally searched for. In fact, chances are very high. It’s only obvious that someone searching for “title agencies in Knoxville” won’t be clicking on a page for “Horse Feed, Inc.”
So, your brand should say who you are, what you stand for, what you do – it should convey your identity. For copy, that includes tone of voice, point of view, how you talk about yourself and your products, what others say about you, and so on.
Do NOT bury your testimonials. Influencer marketing is so powerful, and one of the hottest marketing trends of today (though it’s always been effective and it’s really that people are finally talking about it a lot).
Do NOT underestimate headings and subheadings. This is where visitors are truly going to get a feel for what else you have on your site. Are they snappy? Are they snarky? Are they all business? Are they inviting?
Headlines and subheadings on your home page tell a visitor what’s important to you and what you think is important to them. They know, you know, and we all know that the home page is valuable real estate and whatever on it is going to reflect the quality, tone, and branding of the rest of the site.
3. Length Matters
How long should your home page be? How much copy should you use? Those have got to be the two of the most common questions when building a home page. The answer, frustratingly, is that it depends on you.
Generally speaking, lengthy home page copy can be overwhelming. It also sends a message that this is going to be a wordy website. If a visitor is prepared for that, or came to your page on a specific search (say, for a detailed review or specs check), they might stay.
Remember how people usually spend 15 seconds or less on a website, though? In those 15 seconds, they’re not reading word-by-word either.
Neil Patel says that 79 percent of visitors only scan a new page. If your home page is a copy-and-pasted 10-page treatise with all the important conclusions buried at the bottom of a five-minute scroll, guess what?
No one will ever know what you wanted them to know.
One way to navigate this decision, Patel says, is to consider what action you want people to take and what information they need to do so. If what you really want from your home page is sign-ups, you might need to take more time to fully explain perks and benefits of membership. If what you want is social media shares, you might want to lead with something short and funny, inspiring, or emotional.
Of course, the flipside of pith’s power is also true. A site that is light on good copy can leave users wondering. That’s a one-way ticket to the back button or a closed tab.
4. Be Precise And Concise Or No Dice
Again, people need to know what you want them to do. You must make sure your copy is crystal clear. Read it, and then read it again, before publishing it. In fact, read it again. Read it out loud.
The power and value of testing cannot be overstated. Any good website will likely go through a period of testing. However, many testers and developers are used to the language of websites. They’re used to the copy of their industry.
That’s why you should take your copy and test site (even just a jpeg or pdf of the home page will suffice) to someone who has no idea what’s intended or planned for the home page. See if they can figure out what is going on.
Do they know where they should click and what will happen when they do? Do they understand what the copy is saying? Are they engaged by the copy? Do the headlines and subheads pop? If they answer no to any of these questions, it’s back to the editing room.
5. Problem, Agitation, Solution (PAS)
Joanna Wiebe, at CopyHackers, is a genius and she approaches home pages much differently than most marketers. She points out that far too many people lead with the solution. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be better.
Rather than having your home page barking at your visitors what will happen to them, or what will be provided for them, it can be much more effective to get them to discover the solution on their own.
The way to do this is to get your readers to ask themselves a question. They need to understand that there is a pain point they relate with. Then you agitate the pain point by pointing out just how bad things can get if the initial problem is left untreated.
By the time the solution is introduced in this PAS formula, visitors are begging for the solution. Or at least they want it just enough to stick around and move on to your well-crafted supporting body copy.
Home Pages Are Stubborn Animals
Writing copy for a home page is difficult. Far too often we want them to be landing pages. Or we just want them to be afterthoughts – just a pretty page that moves people along to some other part of the site where you can promote specific copy.
Home page copy can be more, though. It can grab attention. It should. It can quickly convey brand and identity. It can concisely summarize. It can call to action. If you follow PAS, it can even influence site visitors to teach themselves what you want them to know.
Placement, precision, using the right length for your objective, and executing PAS will help anyone create great home page copy.
Julia McCoy is a top 30 content marketer and has been named an industry thought leader by several publications. She enjoys making the gray areas of content marketing clear with practical training, teaching, and systems. Her career in content marketing was completely self-taught. In 2011, she dropped out of college to follow her passion in writing, and since then grew her content agency, Express Writers, to thousands of worldwide clients from scratch. Julia is the author of two bestselling books on content marketing and copywriting, and is the host of The Write Podcast. Julia writes as a columnist on leading publications and certifies content strategists in her training course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and one fur baby.