Rather than preaching to the choir, use your home page to evangelize new visitors.
BabyCenter.com is one of my favorite sites. With a big red arrow in the center of the page, accompanied by "Start Here!" this site stands out simply because it devotes the central area of its home page to addressing the needs of first-time visitors.
Instead of using that space to publish its own news or promote some high-margin product, BabyCenter.com uses it to draw new visitors into the site.
Instead of saying, "Listen to us," the site is saying, "Tell us about yourself."
Dell does a similar thing. The site uses part of the home page to ask you to identify what type of buyer you are (consumer, small business, large business, government, etc.). When new visitors select an option from the list, they are taken to a page that is likely to be relevant to their needs.
By way of contrast, most sites are less centered on the needs of new visitors and better optimized for returning customers.
It's tempting to take this second route, because it is a great deal easier to build a home page for a customer who has been there a number of times before.
Returning visitors don't need handholding. They don't need to be told what it is you actually do. They don't need to be carefully directed to the most relevant pages within the site.
Of course, the less you have to attend to the needs of the first-time visitor, the more you can use your home page to publish your own news or promote your own products. There's plenty of space for press releases, new product announcements, and special offers.
And with returning visitors, you don't have to pay such close attention to the language. They know where to go and what to do. You can write complete nonsense on your home page, and many returning visitors won't even notice. Sloppy writing works just fine for people who don't need to read it.
But you may want to think carefully about the role of your home page. Unless you run a highly unusual business, you will experience natural attrition among your existing customer base. So, you eventually need new customers. If new customers are a priority, then take a second look at your home page. Is it optimized for first-time visitors?
If your home page isn't designed for people who are looking at it for the very first time, your rate of converting visitors to new customers is going to be disappointingly low.
Here's a quick checklist against which to gauge your home page:
Many items could be added to this list. But these should be enough to tell you whether your home page is optimized for new visitors.
And if it isn't, think about how much business you could be losing.
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Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.
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