by anthony on 10/28/10 at 3:36 pm
Does your website offer value to users? The chances are that it does, but users can’t see it. If users can’t see the value of your website, chances are they won’t stick around for long.
The Scan Test
When users visit your website for the first time, you only have a matter of seconds to communicate to them what kind of value you offer. Users will scan your home page to find value. If they can see the value you offer, they’ll likely invest time and energy into clicking through to read your content, or learn about your product or service. If they can’t see any value, they’ll likely leave your site and never come back.
Your site has to communicate the value it offers quickly and clearly. To do this, design your home page for scanning, not reading. Users are more than willing to scan your site, but they aren’t willing to read in detail to figure things out, until they know that your site has value to offer them. The goal is to transition users from scanning your site, to reading and investing their time and energy into it. This means that your site has to pass the user’s scan test.
Headlines & Images
To pass the user’s scan test, make sure you use headlines and images to describe the value you offer. Headlines and images are easy to scan. They allow users to quickly see whether or not your site offers what they’re looking for. Make your headlines and images big and put them above the fold so that users can see them as soon as they enter your site.
Your headlines should avoid pretentious marketing words that exaggerate your offerings. Instead, stick to the facts and speak honestly and concisely. The images you use should accurately represent whatever it is you are offering. For example, if you are selling a product, you should display an image of your real product, not a generic stock image that resembles it.
When users notice that your site has value, they’ll click through the home page to view other pages of your site, increasing your chances of conversion. If your home page fails the scan test, users will likely abandon your home page and visit someone else’s site. If this happens, it’s because users can’t see the value your site offers quickly and clearly enough.
The opportunity to engage your users starts as soon as they enter your site and expires in a matter of seconds. You have seconds to engage your users and the best way to do that is to use headlines and images.
The opposite way to engage users is to use paragraph text and stock images on your home page. Paragraph text is often ignored because it takes users more time and effort to digest. They are for reading and should display on the pages that users land on after the home page. They’re useful for explaining things in more detail, but they don’t belong on the home page because they’re hard to scan.
Stock images on your home page can also send users running. When users notice generic stock images on your site, they’ll start to question whether they can trust your website. If they’re unsure, it’s likely they won’t sign up for anything or buy anything from you. Just like a customer would want honesty from a salesman, your users want honesty from you. When you show them fake images, users can feel like you’re trying to trick them.
Ideally, you want users who visit your site to feel that your site can offer them immense value. This can only happen if your home page describes and communicates your offerings in a highly scannable way. Once users scan your site and find the value they want, the rest is history.
[Update: This article confirms that paragraph text negatively affects conversion rates, and that descriptive and meaningful headlines and images increases it: http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/split-testing-blog/landing-page-optimization-tips-increases-sales-conversions]