By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions
Having carried out countless website reviews – some of them live at the various software conferences – we have seen more than our fair share of websites selling software. After a while, patterns have emerged, and it is clear that there are certain mistakes that website owners make time and time again. To help you avoid following in their footsteps, we’ve decided to write about the three index page mistakes we see most often.
Mistake Number One – Not focusing on your customer.
Let’s be blunt: people don’t come to your site to read about you or your plans and aspirations. They come because they need something, and they hope you’ll provide it. They want to hear how you can help them – and the easiest way to do this is to address them directly on the index page. There are two main rules: try to avoid the passive voice, and avoid using the term “we”. Instead, talk to your customers by addressing them with “you”.
Compare these three examples of realistic introductory sentences:
“FunkyTool 3.3 has been developed with ease of use being a top priority.”
“We offer a full range of productivity solutions and time management software. Our first priority is customer satisfaction.”
“Organize your notes, tasks and schedules – save time, and make your life easier and more productive!”
The first example uses the passive voice, and while there’s nothing technically wrong with it, it is a bit dull and bland and probably won’t catch anyone’s attention. The second example is the biggest no-no – at this point, visitors don’t care about you and your priorities, they simply want to find out what your software does. Clearly, the third example is the most immediately appealing as well as the easiest to understand.
It’s simple, really: just leave pompous self-importance and technical details behind, and talk directly to your customers as if they were in the room with you and you only had ten seconds to convince them to buy your software. Simple!
Mistake Number Two – Too many links.
We see this all the time, especially on sites that started out as a one-man business. A website grows, and rather than rethinking the navigation and making things easier for visitors, you simply add a link. And a second one. And a third. Take a look at your index page, and count the links. All the links, including that one to news about the latest update, the little one to the award you got three years ago, the old purple download button that your forgot to remove, and the link to SETI that no longer works. All of them.
With main navigation and footer links included, around 20-40 links is acceptable – but only if most of them are repeated several times. More than 25 unique links is usually a very bad idea, and more than 60 (which we have seen!) should qualify as link assault.
While it is a good idea to provide your visitors with information, too much choice at this early stage will only confuse them. Trim your links down, and leave the ones that really matter. Provide your visitors with a clear path to the pages you want them to focus on, and they will no longer stray over to the ones that you yourself have forgotten about.
Mistake Number Three – Lack of a consistent look.
Your index page is like a shop window. It’s the first thing people see, and so it is your only chance to make a first impression. Now, imagine you’re standing in front of the window of an electronics shop, thinking about going in. The left side of the window looks great, with a wide range of tempting gadgets artfully laid out looking shiny and new. In the middle of the window you notice a big smear on the glass, and there’s a camera with some Christmas glitter on it even though it’s the height of summer. Odd. On the right side, things seem a bit haphazard, and there’s dust and some breadcrumbs in the corner. Disconcerted, you leave the store without entering.
You know this would never be acceptable in a shop window, so why do you think it’s not a problem on your index page? Making your index page look better doesn’t have to cost you anything, either. In fact, the one thing we constantly advocate is completely free: consistency. Deciding on a look and sticking to it can make all the difference in the world.
If you have acquired new graphics for your site, don’t just add them: get rid of the old ones first! There’s no better way to lessen the impact of snazzy new screenshots and slick new buttons than by placing them next to the banner your cousin made in 1998. Be consistent in your colour scheme, too. If you’re using cerulean blue in the header graphic, don’t use indigo at the bottom and ultramarine for the links. The same thing goes for fonts – if you’re desperate to make a sloppy impression, go ahead and use Verdana in the top two paragraphs and Times New Roman in the third.
There you have them – the three most common mistakes we see. Easy to rectify, and even easier to avoid in the first place. Have a good, honest look at your own index page and see if you’re guilty of any of them. You’d be surprised by the difference a few small changes can make!
Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.
[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]