Boost Your Profits By Simplifying Your Home Page

I really should be more diplomatic, but I got into a minor hissing match with one of my clients' web developers the other day.

My client has a really great looking site that is a work of art in every respect. There's just one teensy little problem: It doesn't make any money for my client.

Pretty is nice, but not at the expense of profits.

The problem with most websites is the home page. See if you don't agree with me on this, but most home pages read like a brochure. They talk about the company's "commitment to excellence," tossing in the words, "value-added" at every opportunity and solumnly stating the company is a "full service solutions provider."


So here was my suggestion to my client that got me in such hot water with their web guy:
Clean up the home page and make it an opt in page for an email list.

I wanted my client to clear out all the "commitment to excellence" drivel and give the visitor a compelling reason to subscribe to the company's email newsletter. Have a short video and a few bullet points with an opt in form underneath.

Sure, I allowed, they could keep the tabs at the top to navigate into the site's other content, but put the idea of subscribing front and center on page one.

I supported my stance with two words: "Barrack Obama." Well actually there was a third word, "Google."

In 2008, the Obama Campaign raked in enormous amounts of contributions by doing one thing - creating a home page for their site that forced visitors to decide to either make a contribution or not.

The home page was clean, simple and asked people to make a single decision. Nothing else got in the way until they had made that one decision.

If visitors chose not to give, they could navigate into the site to read his talking points and position papers. Alternatively, if they chose to contribute, they could still get to see all these other goodies after they sent money.

I just checked out today, and it is already gearing up for 2010. Here is a screen shot:

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the site doesn't force the visitor to make a lot of decisions does it? It simply gives them the opportunity to leave an email address before moving into the site further.

Google, if you recall, came into the search engine game far behind Yahoo and MSN. But while Yahoo had a portal page full of options and interesting distractions (want to read an interesting news story or check out your horoscope?), Google just had (and still has) that clean page that puts the query box front and center.

As a result, Google took over the search business leaving the other guys to pick up the crumbs. Bing, by the way is an interesting spin off with its one decision home page combined with beautiful photography. Proving you can have pretty and simplicity at the same time.

So back to my tiff with the web developer.

One of my core beliefs in this business is that a website's main job is to collect leads. It takes a lot of work to get a visitor to land on your site one time. But even after all that, most of these people will not come back unless you have a way of following up with them.

So I preach the gospel of direct response to my clients.

Direct Response Home Pages

In the advertising world there are two camps: The "Image and Awareness" advertising people who see their job as making potential customers aware that the company exists and what they do.

Unless a prospect just happens to be in the market for whatever this advertiser sells at this very moment, chances are the ad will not get a response. But it will raise awareness slightly.

The direct response folks, on the other hand, see their ads as merely tools to build mailing lists of interested prospects. They want to see results now and they do this by giving prospects an incentive to request free information or materials.

These ads used to have coupons to clip out to send in for more information, or a free booklet (nowadays they just direct people to a website to get the free information). A person doesn't have to by interested enough yet to place an order or call for an appointment, just interested enough to ask for the free ebook or CD.

To put it another way, they may not be ready to take action right now, but they might like your information just in case the need arises in the future. From a marketer's point of view, this puts you in line to solve this person's problem while they are still in an information-gathering stage.

Direct response ads have the advantage of being measurable. An advertiser can track the number of inquiries a particular ad generates. Then they can make minor changes like rewording the headline or the graphics or wording in the offer to see if this results in more or less responses.

Direct response ads can constantly be improved scientifically by testing one version of the ad against another to see which one delivers the best results.

Additionally they give the marketer the chance to follow up multiple times. It is a proven fact that people usually don't buy until they have received multiple exposures to an offer. So a series of letters goes out to each person who requested the free information in the ad.

This causes the effectiveness of one ad to go up because the marketer gets multiple bites at the apple or several opportunities to sell to the prospect.

The same rules apply to websites. A site can either be the online version of an "Image and Awareness" ad or it can be a version of a direct response ad. But not both.

The value is to give visitors only one decision to make at a time. Sure not everyone who lands on your site wants to subscribe to your newsletter now. Fine but by making the home page a direct response device, you have gotten that one decision out of the way.

I should also note that no direct response approach works without a valuable free offer. Create a white paper, ebook or CD (or something) that gives helpful information in exchange for opting in. Or you can offer discounts and coupons to subscribers. Just understand that people will not fill out an opt in form without expecting to receive something from you that is of value.

The more enticing you can make this free offer the better.

My client hasn't made up his mind yet. Will he stay with a pretty home page that isn't making money or will he simplify that home page at the expense of "pretty" in order to build a database of email subscribers he can follow up with again and again?

What are your thoughts on home pages? Have you had success with direct response sites and simple home pages? Or are your present results stifled by a "pretty" home page?

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June 8, 2010 at 2:10 AM joancasilo said...

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June 8, 2010 at 6:27 AM Charles Brown said...

Wow, thank you for your kind words. Good luck with your business.

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