You know what it's like, you've just finished dinner, you've got the coffee mug next to you on your desk and the prospect of an uninterrupted hour ahead of you. You've just typed in a search at AltaVista or Yahoo! and you've started clicking through the list of sites ... with some you'll hit STOP before they've even finished loading, others will load quickly and maybe you'll spend some time browsing what's on offer.
Getting people to your website is difficult enough, keeping them there and then getting them to look deeper into your site requires even more effort!
What is it that makes you stay? And how can you use these techniques to get people to stay on your site?
Headlines and Front Pages
Your front page is similar to a headline - it must attract your visitors' attention - quickly! If the front page doesn't make an impact, it won't matter how terrific the rest of your site is, because you and your family will be the only ones who see it!
Assuming that your website is a commercial site (no matter how small), here are some of the things a good headline (and a good front page) should do:
* State the strongest benefit associated with your product or service
* Make a promise that will benefit the visitor
* Highlight any big advantage your product has over the competition
* Emphasise any unique element in your product
* Make an appeal to an emotion associated with one or more of the benefits of using your product
* State a special offer
Some examples of headlines you could use to achieve these aims:
"Now you can read the best business books in just 15 minutes each!" - selling a speed-reading course
"Speak a foreign language in 30 days!" - foreign language lessons
"How to slash your tax preparation time and save up to 70%" - taxation agent services
"Choose a tax-free investment portfolio and increase your profits by 30%" - financial management services
"If this is your idea of current financial news - you're history!" - using fear to sell newspaper / magazine
"Are your children going to be able to keep up with new technology?" - using guilt to sell new computer programs hardware
"Call now and receive an additional 3 months subscription - free!" - making an offer your visitors just can't refuse
Once you've achieved the first aim of grabbing your visitors' attention, the second step is to keep them occupied for a few more seconds and to do this, you have to get them involved.
There are a number of proven ways to do this:
* Ask questions. Advertisers do this all the time -
"Are you happy with your hairdresser/mechanic / bank ...?"
It doesn't matter if the answer is "yes" or "no" - the important thing is that you've engaged your visitors' mind, you've made them stop and think about the content of your site
* Get your visitors to visualise themselves doing something associated with your product - ask them to "... choose a colour", "... picture yourself in the driver's seat" and so on.
Even at the beginning of this article, by painting a picture of you at your PC, you felt involved, didn't you? (Well, maybe just a little??)
* Make up a little quiz that is related in some way to your product and have visitors respond to it
Give some sample exercises associated with your product. For an example of this see the Franklin Featherstone exercise.
By this stage, your visitors are used to being on your site, you've made them feel an association with it, they feel comfortable being there.
Next you must try to tell them more about your product or service so that they will try it or buy it (depending on what you're trying to achieve with your site).
Your task now is to give them all the information they could possibly want. Use hyperlinks to send visitors to pages to find out everything they need to know (this reduces the load time of your main page, but still satisfies your visitors' need for information).
Anticipate the questions about your site and set up a Frequently Asked Questions page. If you're selling a technical product, give all the technical specifications Show photos, pictures, diagrams - label these clearly. Indicate the price and methods of payment.
Give plenty of concrete information - not just vague statements.
If your visitors have all the details, there is a much greater chance that they will respond by making a purchase or engaging your services Research.
Research some facts and figures associated with the use of your product:
* how usage has increased in past x years
* factors which have influenced this increase
* age / socio-economic background of typical consumers of your product
* future growth in this area
* factors which could influence usage of the product / service
* quote any research papers or articles that relate to your product
Setting Out Your Content
Pages and pages of unrelieved text are very wearying. Break your text into smaller, more manageable 'chunks' - this makes it easier to read and to assimilate.
*Small boxes of text next to diagrams, illustrations or under separate headings
* Use the Question - Answer technique to highlight not just features, but also reasons for buying "Why does my teenage child need extra help with writing?"
* Use bullets to enumerate benefits, key points
* Use numbered lists
* Make lavish use of testimonials from previous, satisfied customers and clients - these can be sprinkled throughout your text, as well as featured on a separate page
* Use tables to compare your product/services with those of competitors
* Use boxes which show features of different models / versions (if you have them)
* Use tables which compare what happens if visitors use yourm product and what happens if they don't (use your imagination)
We all know how new ecommerce is and we understand the caution many people show when it comes to committing themselves to online purchases - you must do everything possible to allay these fears.
Offering a guarantee is one way to do this. Don't just state your guarantee in a separate paragraph, make a feature of it.
Research has shown that consumers feel far more confident about accepting a guarantee if it's placed in its own framed box.
Use a different font for the word "guarantee", then state the terms underneath. Set these out clearly so that there is no doubt about what you will do if the customer is not satisfied.
Pricing Your Product or Service
All retailers know the effectiveness of plateau pricing, this is why so many things we buy are $19.95, instead of $20; $499, instead of $500.
There are certain plateaus that we all feel comfortable with and we'll happily spend up to that amount - but take us even 5 cents over the plateau and we baulk at paying.
When detailing your price, always try to break it into smaller chunks: not $60 for a year's subscription, but "just $5 a month - that's less than 20 cents a day!"
Also try to express your price as a comparison, "you'd pay $60 for a night's entertainment at a good restaurant and theatre; by subscribing to X, you'll have a whole year's entertainment!"
Explain the Next Step
Your final task is to tell your visitors exactly what you want them to do next.
* Do you want them to order? If so, give clear, step by step directions about ordering methods available. Always have two or three alternative means of buying - secure, online credit card facilities are a must; but also include a postal address for payment by cheque; a fax and/or phone number for ordering by credit card etc
* Do you want them to subscribe to a newsletter? If so give the URL or email address where they can do this.
* Do you want them to download a trial program of free eBook? Give directions and have a friend have a practice run, following your directions to the letter. It's amazing how often you think you've set out everything clearly, but find that it's only because you already know what to do and someone unfamiliar with the process has no idea what to do.
Do you want them to bookmark your site and come back? Tell them.
The Last Word
Visitors will only stay if your site has something of value and quality for them. Your final task will be to proof read your entire site, to ensure that every word is a reflection of your professionalism. Don't spoil all your hard work with careless spelling, poor grammar and punctuation mistakes!
About the Author:
Jennifer Stewart offers professional writing services for web pages, press releases, advertising material, business reports, content for autoresponders, technical booklets and articles for newsletters. For those who want their own writing double-checked for accuracy, Stewart offers proof reading or full editing.