The first time I wrote a homepage for my business, I was new to copywriting and more than a little overwhelmed. A headshot, list of services, email signup, BLOG POSTS, CONTACT FORM, HELP ME—there were so many options for sections and widgets that could go on the page, and it seemed every business website I looked to for inspiration was completely different.
I eventually realized that deciding what to put on your homepage is actually simple. Once you understand the role the page plays in the larger context of the user journey, you can move past the guessing game and instead approach your homepage with a thoughtful process.
The goals of your homepage
There are a million things you could put on your homepage. However, before you make any decisions, you must understand that your homepage must accomplish only four things:
- Communicate your offering and its value
- Direct visitors to the desired next action
- Offer basic navigation
- Build trust
Everything that goes on your homepage should be in the service of one of these four goals. If it isn’t, you shouldn’t include it.
Let’s dive in.
1. Communicate your offering and its value
The moment someone lands on your homepage, you have literally only seconds to communicate before they decide to either stick around or leave the page.
Therefore, you’ve got to make a big impact. This doesn’t have to be bright colors or obnoxious text (though those things aren’t necessarily bad, depending on your company). Instead, your messaging will be the thing that catches their attention.
The first thing they should see on your homepage is copy that explains what you’re offering and why they should pay attention. This is called your value proposition.
Many people confuse a value proposition with a tagline. The difference is that a value proposition focuses on what benefit the user receives, while a tagline is generally an inspirational statement that helps with brand personality (think Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different”). Taglines can be great for big brands that are already well established, but they’re not effective for small and medium-sized businesses.
So, what does a value proposition look like? At its core, your value proposition should be a statement that explains what you’re offering (focusing on the benefits the user gets, NOT exactly what you do) and what makes you offering different from your competitors’.
Here are some examples of value propositions from around the web:
“Manage all your social media in one place
From finding prospects to serving customers, Hootsuite helps you do more with your social media.”
From this, it’s immediately clear what they’re offering: a way to manage your social media. The image behind the text supports this idea. And what makes Hootsuite different? You get to manage it all “in one place.” The subhead follows up with the idea that the tool also helps you find prospects, serve customers, and “do more with your social media.”
If you’ve ever used Hootsuite, you know that it has tons of features like a post scheduling tool, contest tool, and analytics. But are any of these mentioned in the value proposition? No. The focus remains on the impact those tools have on the user, the benefits Hootsuite provides.
Keep this in mind when you’re writing your own value proposition. For example, you don’t just provide bookkeeping services, you provide the benefit of bookkeeping: peace of mind that your clients’ financials are organized and ready for tax season. You don’t just design websites, you provide an effective point of connection between your clients and their customers.
“The new standard in online payments
Stripe is the best software platform for running an internet business. We handle billions of dollars every year for forward-thinking businesses around the world.”
From this value proposition, we see that Stripe is offering “online payments.” It’s straight-forward. Admittedly, this does not state the benefit directly. Instead, they double-down on what makes their solution different: It’s “the new standard,” which implies that it’s the most popular and modern online payments tool on the market. The subhead supports this with the statement that they handle “billions of dollars every year.”
“We help ambitious brands punch above their weight.”
This value proposition creatively communicates a few different ideas at once. “Ambitious brands” says that it’s for companies that are smaller, but with big goals. “Punch above their weight” is the benefit the client receives, as it implies that they can make a bigger impact with Response Agency than they normally would on their own.
Writing a value proposition
A good value proposition can only come from an intimate understanding of your business: Who you are, who you serve, what you do—and what make you different (more on all that here). This is why I focus so much on brand discovery and strategy with my client before any writing begins.
When writing your own, here are some questions to keep in mind:
- Who are my customers? (Get specific)
- What BIG benefit do customers get from working with me?
- What do I offer that they can’t get anywhere else?
2. Direct visitors to the desired next action
A healthy website isn’t splattered randomly with “BUY!” or “CONTACT ME!” buttons. Instead, those actions are only brought up when you know the visitor has experienced enough of your website in order to take that action.
Since the homepage is primarily geared toward new visitors, it’s far more effective to steer them towards a lower-commitment action. This might be to sign up for a newsletter, download a freebie (while sharing their email), or request a free consultation.
To encourage visitors to take the action, you’re going to use—did you guess it?—mini value propositions! Bushra Azhar of The Persuasion Revolution does this well:
“Enter your email and learn new persuasion hooks every week that you can use right away on your clients, prospects or spouses
(Not your children; this isn’t magic!)“
She communicates what you get (“new persuasion hooks every week”) and what makes them special (“that you can use right away on your clients, prospects or spouses”).
You can even direct visitors to your desired action multiple times. If you look at her page, Bushra encourages the reader to opt-in to her emails THREE separate times! Look closely, though—each one is presented in a different way, with a separate value proposition. Even if the first one call-to-action doesn’t appeal to a visitor, the second or third one might.
3. Offer basic navigation
On your homepage, it’s standard to have some kind of navigation. This is usually accomplished with a static bar at the top of the page. Navigation should be extremely easy to use. Don’t try to get too clever—you want your visitors to be able to find what they’re looking for in an instant. Focus on ease of use above all, and leave the fun elements to the body copy.
Adding “navigation sections” to your homepage
Navigation doesn’t have to live solely in your navigation bar, however. Many successful websites also include navigation in the body of their homepage. This might look like a “recent blog posts” section with links to different articles, a “services” section that gives a brief description and links to your Services page, or a short bio that leads to your About page.
These “navigation sections,” as I call them, help target people who have different levels of familiarity with your brand. A new visitor who wants to know more about you can easily get drawn to your About section and follow the button to the full About page, while a return visitor can instantly see what’s new on the blog.
Like everything else, however, your navigation must be in service of your main goals. It might be tempting to add sections on your homepage for every page on your site, but stay focused on that second goal, “Driving visitors to the desired next action.” Adding too many navigation section can draw attention away from this goal.
To determine which (if any) navigation sections to add, ask: If a visitor isn’t ready to complete the desired next action on the homepage, what section of my website will help better prepare them?
For example, maybe your desired action requires a high degree of trust (for instance, if you’re asking them to call you), and you expect many people would want to learn more about you first. You could add a navigation section that directs to your About page. Then, make sure the About page offers another opportunity to complete the action.
4. Build trust
Twitter feed widgets, testimonials, fun images—do these still have a place on your homepage?
YES. But only if they’re in service of our fourth goal, building trust.
Inspiring trust throughout the page is important to help your visitors complete the desired action. There are many, many ways to add “trust signals” to your website, but they generally fall into two categories (according to Kissmetrics): Reputation and Security.
Reputation means you’re building your credibility through things like your number of years in business, number of clients served, big names you’ve worked with, and testimonials from past clients.
I’ve saved the best for last…
There’s actually a third element to building trust that most blog articles leave out: Connection.
A sense of personal connection is perhaps the most effective way to generate trust, but it’s also the most work-intensive. Writing a homepage (or any copy) that creates connection requires targeting a specific audience, knowing them very well, and then speaking directly to their fears and desires. That feeling of “They get me” your readers experience is then enhanced when you share your own personality and values in return.
Connection is the element I focus on above all others. The list above is super important, of course. However, as long as you focus on connection (and do the accompanying legwork of learning how to create that connection), you’ll come out with a pretty freakin’ effective homepage.
Writing a website isn’t an exact science
Contrary to what many websites will tell you, there’s no master list of elements that you MUST HAVE on your website to make it effective. As I tell my clients, every business is different, and you have to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish if you want copy that actually helps you make sales.
I hope this has been helpful as you begin writing (or revamping!) your homepage. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, and I’ll help however I can.
P.S. I also, you know, write web pages for a living. If you want to learn more about working with me directly, drop me a note.