Make Them Click and Stick to Your Home Page

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If you're like most site owners, more than 95 percent of the people who come to your site will never get past the first page. Here are several tips you can use to improve your home page to make your visitors stay longer and drill deeper:


Know what your primary goal is. There are many good reasons for having a Web site, but there are only two that really count: generating inquiries or generating orders. And it's difficult, if not impossible, to do both. Make sure you know what your primary goal is, then design your home page around that goal.


How to capture more e-mail addresses. If your primary goal is to generate inquiries, the more you ask for their e-mail address, the more e-mail addresses you'll capture. Ask for e-mail sign-ups via free newsletter and Web special sign-ups, contact us and "give us your thoughts" links, technical bulletin and software download offers, and so on. Companies have spent millions of dollars on extensive testing to find out the best place for your primary e-mail sign-up box is in the top of the left-hand navigation bar.


Develop killer navigation. There are three kinds of navigation your site should have: top navigation, left-hand navigation and bottom navigation. The top navigation tells your customers what they are supposed to do at your site, whether it be to order or inquire. Top navigation topics that work include Web specials, auction areas and free catalog buttons.


The left-hand navigation is your index information - it tells your customers what's in your store. Your left-hand navigation should include both your subject categories and your information items (100 percent satisfaction guarantee, for example.)


Keep your descriptions short, to the point and make sure they lead your customer through your site in a logical, step-by-step fashion. The bottom navigation repeats the items in the top navigation and includes your site map, privacy statement and contact information links. Once you develop great navigation, it should not change. (Customer familiarity is primarily based on navigation and the look/colors of your site.)


Develop a solid search function. This is, by far, one of the most difficult parts of building a site, so if you don't have the time or resources to do it right, consider private labeling one of the programs that's already out there. (Whatever you do, don't send people off your site into someone else's search function though.) Your search function should be intuitive, easy to use and it should always present your customer with alternative choices for items not found.


Use provocative self-banners throughout your site. Self-banners work just like regular banners but instead of promoting other people's products and services, they promote yours. Your self-banners will work best if they stand out from the rest of your home page. And they're meant to look like mini-advertisements, so bright colors (like yellow and red) and simple animation tend to work best. You should use at least two self-banners per page - one on the top and one on the bottom of your site. Rotate the banners according to your traffic patterns.


Include contact information. More than 25 percent of the people with "intention to buy" will print out your pages before they make their purchase, so make sure that your contact information is in the footer of every page. Your footer should have your logo and company name, a five- to seven-word tag line about your company, your address, telephone number, e-mail address and company URL.


Add a privacy statement to your site. The Direct Marketing Association, www.-the-dma.org, has a good (and free!) privacy statement generator that you can use. Make sure to address what information you are collecting, how you are collecting it, what you do with that information and what choices your customers have about that use.


Develop a site map. Your site map should be an at-a-glance representation of everything that is on your site.


Add the date in the upper right-hand corner. User testing consistently shows that when people see things like the date, they think your site is current.


Add "Please Bookmark This Site" right below the date. Eight out of 10 people will consider it, and two to three people will do it.


Add a "Refer-a-Friend" box. Introducing your site to your customers' friends and colleagues is a great way to increase your site traffic. Remember to offer incentives to both the referrer and the referral.


Be secure. Remind your customers that you offer a secure shopping cart environment on the top and bottom of every page.


The first 250 words are critical. These first words on your home page are critical for search engine submissions. They should include a very descriptive pitch of who you are and what you do. Try to include five to seven active hyperlinks to your newest and most popular products. (Once you get a solid introduction section in place, you should only change it to "tweak" your search engine positioning.)


Be newsworthy. Under your intro blurb, put a news section that you can update with new and interesting items. Your news can have anything to do with your product and company as long as it's interesting for the visitor.


Sell! Sell! Sell! If the goal of your site is to sell (as opposed to collecting inquiries) it's important that you start selling immediately on your home page. Customers should be able to buy and get more information on each of the four to five products that are listed for sale on your home page.


Give a link to your shopping cart. You should be able to see how many items are in your basket and your order total at all times throughout your site, especially on your home page. Don't forget to include a "checkout now" button, too.


Use an offer. You don't have to give away the store but you do need to give your customers a reason to shop or inquire. Offers with deadlines are good because they create urgency and cause readers to focus.


Add a "Top 10 Best Sellers" list. Give your customers short descriptions and hyperlinks to your top-selling products.


Consider adding a "Just Sold" section. Some of the most popular sections online are the "Just Sold" sections - people like to know what other people are buying.


Give links to content. If you want people to stick, you've got to give them a reason to stay. Things like newsletter archives, ask the experts, recipes and community bulletin boards are great reasons to spend a little more time on your site.


Use personalization. This is to welcome them back and give them specific recommendations based on their interests and/or past purchases.


Use alt-text below all of the graphics. Make sure to use this on your home page. Search engine spiders can't read graphics, so it's important that you tell them (as well as people who have turned off their graphics) what the picture is.


Give them a reason to come back. Updating your home page frequently goes a long way with online buyers. Your changes don't have to be dramatic, but they do need to be enough so they'll get noticed. The biggest, most important hot spot to change is the upper right-hand corner quadrant. Change the date, the offer and a visual in the bonus box.
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