The Long Way Home

December 26, 2017 | Author:

As online consumers, we want to get answers to certain questions quickly and easily — Am I at the appropriate place for what I’m looking for? Is this product or service relevant and beneficial to my needs? Most sites have done a reasonable job at answering these basic questions on the home page. It’s when we begin to look deeper that issues can arise. Some sites can be very confusing to navigate — like trying to find your way through a corn maze created by a runaway tractor — leaving you hopelessly lost, giving up and hitting the “eject” button. To counter the drop-off as people navigate through a site, there has been a trend to move more content to the home page.  

This approach has helped, but like many trends, it’s been taken to extremes that no are no longer logical — like moving all the furniture in a house onto the front lawn so you don’t have to go navigate from room to room. It’s weird, and also has some important negative implications.

For one thing, putting so much on the home page doesn’t take into account how we behave as consumers. As consumers, we use both our heads and hearts in the decision-making process. We use our heads to gather and analyze ever-increasing amounts of information based on our interest level. We use our hearts to get excited about the product or service we’re interested in and as get close to a final decision, to feel assured that we made the right decision in terms of not just the product or service, but the organization behind it. For more on bringing emotion to website content, see my blog from November 21, 2017.

As consumers, we initially want to invest as little time and effort as possible to get the answers we need to our initial questions, and these way-too-long home pages can be anything but quick and easy to get through. Some are so long they practically cause blisters from the endless scrolling, particularly on a mobile device. On the other hand, if we like what we see, we want more information and we’re willing to go to a inside page and spend the time and effort need. The more we like, the more information we want in order to make a final decision. This page (or pages) can be as long as needed without worry that all this content will turn visitors off and they’ll leave. 

To make matters worse, each of the different sections on the home page of some sites have approximately the same visual weight, putting the burden on the visitor to read each and every one to figure out which is more and less important. So forget the concern about visitors dropping off as they navigating through the site. By requiring them to work harder on the home page, the risk is now losing visitors right at the start.

To reduce the length of any page on a site, including the home page, bullets or truncated sentences have often been used extensively. Unfortuntately, this approach can make a site as exciting as reading a laundry list and doesn’t have the power to engage and fire up the interest of the visitor.  And when superfluous stock images, meaningless icons, and industry jargon are thrown into the mix, one site can seem almost indistinguishable from another. 

Since we’re on the subject of copy, besides trying to minimize the length of a page,  there is another reason people give me for using  bulleted and short amounts of copy. It’s that “people don’t like to read”.  I think this misses a bigger point. It’s not an either-or, bullets-versus-copy argument that a site needs to use either bullets and short copy or full prose. It’s a when and where argument, that is when to use bullets and when it’s okay and even beneficial to provide paragraphs of copy. As I mentioned, the content on a site should dovetail with the way we think and feel as consumers in terms of how much information is provided at any one time, where the information is presented on the site, and how copy is used to get visitors emotionally engaged.

The short version goes something like this —at the start, visitors want to know whether what is being offered addresses what they’re looking for — does it meet their needs/solve their problems/make them better at what they do/save them money/etc. For this, short overview and bulleted copy works best. As interest grows, the more time a visitor is willing to invest, the more content they want, and the deeper they’re willing to dive to get it.