When it comes to building a website, most marketers think “home page.” When you review WordPress themes, a key differentiator is the home page layout.
But home pages aren’t what they used to be. When you’re looking at websites, you might find yourself thinking, “This isn’t what my mentor’s home page looked like.”
And that’s a good thing.
About 10 years ago, Seth Godin argued that home pages don’t need to exist. You could have an index, a page for “newbies,” or a page to give people a first impression when they encounter you on the web. But, he says, your home page is not your home.
There’s a lot of truth to that.
Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers argues that it’s hard to write copy for home pages because these pages attract visitors at all stage of awareness. A reader who’s completely unaware she has a problem will respond differently than another reader who knows he’s got a problem but doesn’t realize solutions exist. And they both call for different strategies compared to the person who’s down to comparing solutions.
“What is the role of your home page?”
Today there’s less consensus than ever before on what a home page should be. I know this because I recently revised my own home page. I sent around a screenshot to get feedback. The comments I got were like a Rorschach test — not for the draft, but for the way different business owners think of home pages.
Belief #1: Your home page should share your story.
Interpretation: People giving this advice will view their Home Page as a place to make a personal connection with visitors.
Reality: You do need to establish personal connections with visitors. But these days, the best way to establish a connection is to add someone to your list. You can connect momentarily on a personal (or non-personal) level. One minute later, the visitor is gone, just like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. All that’s left is the grin …. i.e., a new name for your opt-in list.
Additionally, the notion of “your story” has begun to change. More and more, we’re realizing that every business owner has multiple stories — not just one. Specifically, the story of “how I came to be here” will resonate with some markets — but not all. Do you really care if your cardiologist has recovered from a heart attack?
Sophisticated, experienced marketers have become skeptical. They’ve heard many motivational speaker style stories, beginning with, “I was homeless, sleeping on a mattress in a church basement,” and ending with, “Now I’m in this mansion, with a Lexus and a boat and lots of time to spend relaxing on the beach.” We’re seeing a new skepticism: “How many times did she max out her credit cards on the way to success? By the third time, how’d she manage to have any credit cards left to max out?”
If you’d like to learn more about why these stories won’t work, check out my new kindle book – Grow Your Business One Story At A Time.
Anyway, you won’t have room to share your story directly on your home page.
But that doesn’t mean you must lose your most versatile marketing tool, storytelling. Use stories to plan your website. Dig into your ideal client’s backstory and your own origin story for inspiration. Set the stage for the stories you’ll share on your About Page, Services Page, and blog.
Want to download a pdf copy of this post, so you can read (and re-read) at your leisure? Download your own copy here.
Belief #2: Your home page shouldn’t be a landing page.
Interpretation: These marketers believe the primary role of your home page is to help visitors decide if they want to work with you.
Reality: Many of us (including me) used to say, “Your home page needs to answer the question, ‘Am I in the right place if I need a certain type of service?'”
That’s still true. But today’s visitors resemble butterflies. They treat your home page like a landing page, whether you set it up that way or not. When they see a mouth-watering lead magnet, they’ll grab it right away. They’ll get a snapshot impression and make a snap decision … on your lead magnet, not your service.
So often the first visit to your home page isn’t the first step in building a relationship. It’s the first step in getting your visitor interested in building a relationship. After they join your list, they’ll get autoresponders and emails. That’s how they’ll relate to you … or decide to fly off to another website.
Belief #3: Your home page should be LONG.
Interpretation: Visitors will spend a lot of time on your home page.
Reality: Home pages have fewer words today – sometimes a lot fewer. Designers encourage you to use bigger type to communicate visually the importance of your ideas. They also prominently feature images. Large images — often taking up all the space above the fold — have become popular. Free graphic programs like Canva make it easy to superimpose text on the photos.
If visitors want to learn more, they’ll dig deeper into your website.
That’s why many of the most successful websites today have two main parts.
The top half features a large photograph, hopefully something visitors haven’t before. Some designers urge you to stay away from stock photos. Personally, I think it’s fine if you can find a stock photo that hasn’t appeared all over the Internet. You can also make changes through cropping and colorization, so the photo becomes yours alone.
Designers often encourage their clients to hire photographers for custom photos. This idea makes sense if you’ve been around awhile, you’ve got a firm concept of your business value proposition, and you’re confident you’ll use these photos for at least a couple of years. (Websites get outdated quickly.)
Even better, if you’re a photogenic person who projects warmth in your persona, use photos of yourself on the home page. (Get objective advice on this one. Most people can come up with a warm, inviting smile. Others actually lose business when they share their own photo.)
Short copy doesn’t mean life is easier for copywriters.
Today’s copywriter needs to understand how to organize the home page and how to find software and tech resources to support the home page’s goals. We need to be awareof platforms and themes that will turn out to be a major headache. We need to focus the copy around your lead magnet; in fact, copywriting often includes selecting the title of your lead magnet and perhaps editing the content.
And getting a message into fewer words calls for tighter copy. Writing a blurb under a photo takes a lot of concentration and effort, with no access to the conventional copywriting tools, tricks and swipe files.
So… what is the TRUE role of your home page?
Today your home page has two main functions: Get visitors to sign up for your list and give them a choice of paths to dig deeper into your website.
You can divide your home page into two parts.
The top half serves as a mini-landing page.
You promote a lead magnet that encourages visitors who might actually buy your service (and gently discourages the rest).
This section opens with a headline. But even though the headline appears first, you may choose to write it last. Like all headlines, you can benefit from templates. Google “home page headlines” and you’ll find dozens of examples. Hannah Shamji suggests 3 key questions to test your headline:
- Clarifies your target market
- Writes to the client directly (“Are you ready to stop bad dating and start meaningful relationships?”) OR uses first person (“I’m SO tired of going out on bad blind dates”)
- Makes your clients feel understood (you “get” where they’re coming from)
Writing for Kissmetrics, copywriter Joanna Wiebe emphasizes writing to the percentage of visitors — 20-35% – who will actually be interested in your product or service. Choose words and phrases that resonate with these target visitors. Writing to everyone generally means writing to no one.
And as usual, when writing headlines, write at least 25. Some copywriters say 50.
When I first learned copywriting, I resisted formulas. Using a formula seemed like cheating. Besides it was so … uncreative.
Today, I use formulas all the time, but not just as plug-and-play. Start with an article like this one – 7 proven headlines that convert. See if you can use formula as a variation as you write your 25 headlines.
— Formulas don’t substitute for copywriting intuition. Start with a clear idea of what resonates with your audience.
— Don’t be afraid to modify the formula rather than using it verbatim.
— Write conversationally. Some formulas sounded natural and friendly at one time, but today they come across as stiff and unfriendly. And if you’re writing for a market that gets a lot of sales letters, your formula will be less effective because it’s seen as a fill-in-the-blanks template they’ve seen a thousand times. In particular, “Who else wants to … ” may have outlived its effectiveness as an attention grabber.
Your Lead Magnet: The Live Wire Of Your Home Page
After the headline, you might write a short paragraph summarizing who you are and what you do. But keep it short. The goal of your home page’s top half is to collect signups from your ideal clients.
We won’t go into detail about your lead magnet, as you’ll find whole courses on this topic. Just make sure you have one before you hire a designer or copywriter; some copywriters will help you with the lead magnet along with the home page copy. Just a couple of tips to create one:
— The more specific you can be, and the more benefit-oriented, the more you’ll get signups. Sue Ann Dunlevie’s giveaway could serve as a model: The 5 Step Blueprint to Your First $1K Blogging. It’s got specific steps, a clear payoff, and a perfect identification of her target market. She’s aiming for raw beginners for whom $1000 will seem significant. (This page was taken down when Sue retired, but it’s still worth studying.)
— You don’t have to offer an ebook. Ian Brodie at one time showcased a 5-step challenge to becoming an authority in your field — a current promotion featuring the theme he’s following now.
It’s timely and focused on coaches and consultants who have been around long enough to understand the importance of becoming an authority. He spells out some of the benefits, but they’re strategic rather than tactical. His clients have gotten beyond scrambling to get started; they may have had setbacks but they resonate to different messages compared to beginners
There’s some disagreement about the place of your signup box. With software like LeadPages you can create a box that leads to a sign-up form. The form itself doesn’t reside on the page, just the “click here” button. When you click on the button, you see a popup box or a page with a form.
To maximize the number of signups, don’t ask for too much info on the forms — perhaps just a first name and email address, or even just the email address.
However, as with most guidelines, you’ll find exceptions. When you add more fields, theoretically you get more involved prospective buyers. You’ll also get a lot of fake information from people who wanted your lead magnet but don’t really want to get to know you better. It’s a judgment call. You might do better to get the signup, but add more form fields on the contact page, where you need to qualify prospects.
The bottom half of your home page gently guides visitors into your website.
Copywriter Nick Usborne advises, “Unless you have a single product or single service, you are going to have to help people find the second-level page that best matches their immediate interest.” Today we commonly see 2, 3 or 4 paths to guide visitors to specific points in the post.
You can label your paths based on your offers, such as “Consulting, Training, Writing.” Briefly explain how each offer creates a benefit or serves your audience. Here’s how marketing coach Nancy Marmolejo does it:
Or you can label them based on what your prospects are looking for. Here’s a good example from Lacy Boggs. You choose your path based on which what you’re looking for. Lacy’s site has been created around a strong personality, and her choices follow the style:
Those parts make up most of the home page. The footer of your page might have links to previous blog posts, testimonials, and/or disclaimers.
So maybe you’re wondering if you should replace your old-fashioned, text-y home page with a cool big-picture layout.
The truth is, many very successful marketers haven’t changed their websites for a long time. They can tell their message works because they attract qualified leads and ideal clients. Some of them don’t even bother with a home page: they just use the first page of their blog, with or without a sticky post.
If you fit that category, you can enjoy your success and turn your attention elsewhere.
Or you can skip the whole home page thing and open with your blog.
Why not? Lots of successful people do that.
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