Does Your Home Page Help or Hinder Sales?

As obvious as it may seem, if you want to increase your online sales, you have to begin at the beginning. Your home page is literally 90 percent of the battle. If it doesn’t do what it should, your visitors won’t be able to get deeper into your site — or they simply won’t want to.

That’s actually a double disaster. First, there’s no sale. And that means that the marketing budget, creative effort, and time you invested to get those visitors all go up in smoke. We advise our clients emphatically: It’s better not to drive visitors to your home page at all than to drive them to a page that loses them. They not only will never come back (repeat, never), but statistics show that a person who has a bad online shopping experience tells five times as many people about it as someone who has a good experience.

Good news about you travels fast, but bad news travels even faster. You simply can’t afford not to do it right.

Eye Candy Is Dandy, But…

So what are the key things your home page has to do to “do it right”? First and foremost, it has to download fast. How fast? Eight to ten seconds is ideal. More than that and your visitors start to bail from impatience. Beyond 20 seconds and you can kiss most of your marketing budget and all of your potential impulse buyers goodbye.

Designers, talented though they may be and understandably eager to show off that talent, typically live in a world of T1s, LANs, and DSL (when it works). What they may not know is that only seven percent of the market has broadband, and broadband penetration is leveling off. The hard reality of the online sales world is that most customers by far surf at 56K or slower, and the majority — roughly 60 percent, depending on which study you read — still surf at only 28.8K.

So when we’re talking 8-10 seconds, we mean at 28.8K. Impossible? Amazon and Yahoo do it, as do many others.

In concrete terms, this means your entire home page file should be around 35K, 40K max. True, most home pages are bigger — a lot bigger. But that’s precisely the problem. They take so long to load that the visitor is gone long before the designer’s creative talent can even be seen. If you want to maximize sales, as opposed to having a beautiful design showcase that actually discourages sales, then the designer’s challenge is to develop a great look and feel within the constraints of 35-40K.

Obviously, too, fast download time is just the beginning. Equally important is what the visitor sees once the page has loaded. Here are some of the more critical elements:

  • Is the look and feel professional?

  • Is the navigation obvious and simple? (And is it consistent throughout your site?)
  • Is your unique selling proposition (USP) clearly stated and strong?
  • Is your information architecture constructed from the visitor’s point of view?
  • Does your navigation anticipate and clearly support all reasonable path choices?
  • Does the layout reflect knowledge of eye scanning patterns and “sweet spots”?
  • Does the choice of page elements reflect knowledge of how visitors use text versus graphics online as opposed to in print?
  • Are the graphics and the text appropriate and well chosen/written?
  • Does the page reflect principles of good usability?
  • Does the page utilize expert sales principles that encourage a buying decision (which I explained in my last article)?
  • Does the page utilize knowledge about consumer psychology and the different personality types?
  • Does the page make use of knowledge about online buying behavior?
  • Does the page inspire trust and build rapport? (Be aware that security is more of an emotional issue than a technology one.)
  • Is contact info easy to find?
  • Is help available? Is it user-centered (versus tech-centered)?
  • How many help channels do you provide? (e.g., email, FAQ, phone, live on the web)
  • Are the smallest details, such as fonts and colors, chosen with an understanding of all of the above and a knowledge of what maximizes sales?
  • Does the page delight visitors and inspire them to go deeper into the site? Does it actually guide them in doing so?

Apply the “AIDAS” Test

I’ll be discussing many of these items in more detail in upcoming articles. In closing, though, I’d like to share a tool from the world of offline sales because it is just as powerful online — and perhaps even more so. It’s known by the acronym “AIDA,” or as my company has expanded it, “AIDAS” (attention, interest, desire, action, and satisfaction).

Every successful professional sale incorporates these elements at every step; they drive the process of turning visitors into buyers. So apply the AIDAS test to your home page:

  1. Does the page grab visitors’ attention — in about eight seconds?

  2. Does the page stimulate their interest and reinforce that they’re in the right place?
  3. Does the page inspire the desire to take the action of clicking deeper toward a purchase?
  4. Is how to take that action obvious and easy?
  5. After they’ve clicked, does the next page give them satisfaction by providing them with exactly what they wanted exactly how they wanted it?

Once you’ve tested for AIDAS on your home page, test every other page on your site. And when you’ve implemented AIDAS on the micro level of the page, step back and test whether AIDAS is working for you on a macro level, too. Are your visitors moving comfortably but irresistibly from your home page, through your entire site, to and through the checkout page?

If you can’t answer yes, then you’ve got some work to do. Take comfort in the fact that the results of that work will be worthwhile.

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