The end of the conversion funnel rightly garners a lot of attention. By getting to that stage of the process, your visitors have shown that they have a great deal of intent to convert, so work done at this stage can have significant impact. However I thought that I’d talk a little about how people begin, at the other end of the conversion process—often, with your website’s homepage.
A couple of weeks ago Scott Brinker wrote an excellent piece for the Conversion Science column, Brand Champions in Conversion Optimization. One line I liked in particular was this:
“Brand is the experience that people associate with you and your products that differentiates you from the competition.”
The homepage is the first bite of the brand that the visitor experiences, so it is massively influential in building the long term success of the website and the company. If done right, branding can have an impact on conversion rate in the shorter term too. So what factors can we test to improve brand and conversions?
“Speed, it seems to me, provides the one genuinely modern pleasure.” – Aldous Huxley
The first point is one that is getting a lot of mileage at the moment but has been around since the dawn of internet time: speed. This is a 2006 blog post by Greg Linden which talks about Google seeing a 20% drop in traffic with a half second delay and Amazon seeing major drops in conversion rate for every 100 milliseconds extra needed to load the page. There are other reasons why a simplified homepage could work better, but at the heart of it is the fact that you don’t want to make your new visitors wait on the doorstep. Get them in the door as fast as possible.
Amazon offers a great example of how complex pages can be loaded quickly. Even though not everyone can manage their exceptional efforts, the Yahoo Developer Network offers plenty of options out there for the mere mortals of the web. If you can get people into the site faster they are more likely to stick around and take a look at your page.
“There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams
One of the options for speeding up load times Yahoo’s list is “optimizing images.” In that context they are talking about the speed that the image loads, but it can equally be applied to the message that your image is giving off about the brand. Are you differentiating yourself from your competitors or are you reinforcing similarities? If someone is browsing through a number of similar sites, what are you doing to make yours stand out?
Using stock images is an easy way to switch users off. They are used to seeing the same type of stock image so this gives the opportunity to present yourself in a different way. Could you try using pictures of real people rather than models? Could you try an image that puts the emphasis on fun or something inspirational rather than merely functional?
Many ecommerce sites convert better showing images of products in use, such as a sofa in the middle of a stylish living room, rather than a plain, product-against-white-background shot. Or could you use a video introduction rather than a static image? Although this could fly in the face of the “speed is good” message, a video can speak to people directly and on a more personal level than a slogan emblazoned across the homepage. It can sell the features and benefits more effectively, as a short video clip will be able to get across more information than copy. The same message written out could lead to a longer page and a higher likelihood of bounces.
Of course there is a risk to this. Load times could be a problem for some users, and videos may put off people in browsing-mode who don’t want to invest a minute to listen to the video. However it’s certainly an interesting option and, for many businesses, it’s a great way to make the homepage come alive.
“Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob.” – Oscar Wilde
Another great testable element for a homepage is social proof. If you have a bucketload of happy customers, tell people as they come through the door. Let them know that people just like them have been using the service or buying the product. Although social proof works well at the product level of a website with testimonials, reviews and ratings, it can equally be leveraged at the wider level, giving the brand itself a boost by expressing its popularity. How many products did you ship today? How many people are signed up with you? How many people are logged in right now? These elements can be added without taking up too much prime real estate on the page.
This can give the site an air of authority and trustworthiness that simply saying “we’re number one” won’t achieve on its own. By positioning your brand as popular and trusted you can create the right impression right away. It’s also worth testing links to an “about us” page, testimonials and security logos. While sites use this powerfully at the end of the funnel, it can have an impact at the start too.
“Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried.” Frank Tyger
If you want some testing ideas for your homepage or just a landing page in general, then I thoroughly recommend spending some time on whichtestwon.com or ABtests.com. They offer an excellent way to test out your prejudices about what makes a good converting page. Even if you’ve got a keen eye for conversion boosting elements, you’ll be sure to find some examples that go against your instincts. It can be useful to be reminded that however sensible your test and however well designed the new page, ultimately it is only by testing and testing again that you are going to hit on the best formula.
Here’s a good example from ABtests.com for carelogger. In this example the homepage contains a direct conversion element within the page so in some respects it has more in common with a deeper landing page, but the important aspect here is that getting the message right and highlighting the important point gets them the sort of conversion rate boost that makes testing so worthwhile.
Hopefully this has given you some thoughts on what to test on your homepage. And to finish with one final quote:
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent van Gogh
Not every test will see big conversion rate boosts, but by consistent work and learning bit by bit, great improvements can be made. Van Gogh may have been mad enough to cut off his own ear, but he was on to something.
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