Do you have the same conversation with someone who wanders into your trade show booth not knowing a thing about your company as you do with a customer of 20 years? Of course not.
Yet that’s exactly what many companies try to do on their websites — and alienate half their audience in the process. That’s especially true when website home pages — usually the most important entry pages — try to be all things to all visitors.
Relating to all your website visitors simultaneously requires a delicate balancing act. Here are a few tips on doing so effectively:
Categorize Your Visitors. Before creating your home page, start by listing the different types of website visitors you need to serve. For instance, a greenhouse company might sell to several markets, such as hobbyists, nurseries, and schools. An onion plant grower needs to tailor product offerings to each visitor’s geographic area. Other companies may have to provide different information for experienced gardeners and for newbies, or for wholesale and retail customers.
Determine Visitors’ Needs. Next, consider all the reasons people may come to your site. You may want them all to buy product, but take a moment and consider what they want. Are they in the early innings of product research, but not yet ready to buy? Are they looking for cultural information? Parts for a product they already own? Your contact information? What trade shows you’ll be exhibiting at next? To learn more about your company?
Not all visitors are imminent buyers, but the more user-friendly you make your site, the more likely it is that they’ll be buyers at some point. When you’re developing your content, don’t just think about what you want visitors to do. Think about their needs and what will keep them coming back for more.
Fine-Tune Your Navigation.
Once you’ve identified all your target audiences and the various reasons they may come to your site, make it easy for everyone to find what they need quickly:
Give visitors multiple ways to search, including a prominent search box, and top, left and bottom navigation. If your products lend themselves to searching by multiple criteria (such as bloom time, growing zone, soil type and light requirements), make it easy to deliver personally tailored search results.
* Consider other ways to help customers delve into your site, such as lists of bestsellers, top-reviewed items, or new products.
* Make sure link names give a clear understanding of where they’ll lead. I recently saw a website for a bulb company that included these three links in their primary navigation: Catalog, Shop and Bulb Shop. Which one do you think leads to products? Where do the others go?
* Cover all the bases. No matter what visitors are looking for, make sure there’s an obvious place for them to find it.
* Show your phone number prominently on every page, including the shopping cart.
* Include your navigational frame on every page of the website. Forcing people to repeatedly return to your home page just frustrates them.
Nearly half the success of your website is riding on your navigation, so take time to ensure it’s doing its job.
Use the Squint Test. Take a quick look at your home page through squinted eyes, so you see only photos and major headlines and subheads. Is your main message clear? Can visitors understand what’s unique about your company at a glance? Don’t depend on your visitors to read your carefully crafted copy start to finish. Much as you might wish otherwise, that’s just not how it works.
Offer Reassurance. Purchasing products you can’t see from someone you never met can take a leap of faith. Reassure your prospective buyers every way you can. This can take many forms: guarantees, privacy policies, testimonials, industry awards, customer reviews, product comparisons, and Verisign and similar symbols are just a few of the ways you can reinforce your trustworthiness. Use them prominently wherever you can.
Invite Interaction. Most visits to your website won’t result in an immediate sale. That’s ok. Develop content that will entice your visitors to come back, and keep coming back. Even better, give them good reason to give you their contact information so you can continue to build a relationship with them. Enewsletters, catalogs, blog, white papers, podcasts, forums, Facebook pages, and much more can be used to stay in touch with those who express an interest in your company.
Make it easy for all the visitors to your website to derive value from their visit, no matter what they came to your site to do, and you’ll lay the groundwork for profits for years to come.