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People Do Judge Websites by Their Front Pages

"Drive thy business lest thy business drive thee."
--Benjamin Franklin

I remember how illuminating the experience was to me when I first started with the Internet and grew along with it. While 6 years ago the source of my business was 90% offline and 10% online, today that figure has literally flip-flopped.

However, I must admit that I learned faster and much more easily what I needed to do in order to profit on the Internet than what I had to learn in order to profit outside of it.

The Internet is a phenomenal place for resources, tools and information that can help quicken the entrepreneurial learning curve, which can be dramatically slow for many new businesses in today's hypercompetitive world. It is important to realize, though, that the web, as in all things, has important elements one can never ignore. One of them is the human element.

While cyberspace is cold, emotionless and mostly run by robots or "bots" (i.e., software), it is still managed -- and visited -- by people ... Yes, people! (Can you believe it?) And when designing a website, the human element is often the first to be ignored. Of course, it's easy to do so because the web is the most automated medium there is, but an online business is run by the same forces that shape an offline business:

End-users. People. Human beings.

When creating or marketing a website, one must remember the important human element. Why? Because a site -- and especially any online marketing message -- is easily filtered (both literally and figuratively). Unlike that annoying commercial on TV forced upon us in the middle of our favorite show, one can easily click-away from a site at the drop of a hat.

People, offline or on, will jump to conclusions no matter what. People do judge "books by their covers" (or in this case a website by its front page). Consequently, if that first page fails, then the entire site fails altogether. Of course, this is not entirely true all of the time, but the risk of failure is greater if that important first page doesn't perform.

A successful website is an extremely effective sales tool since it has the ability to gain the attention of a captive audience and become quite profitable for some who follow the basic rules. And it all starts with the first page. So here are some basic rules to follow when designing it:

    Target your market! As the adage goes, "You can not be everything to everyone." You can, however, position your site effectively to meet the needs of a specific group.

    It's a paradox but you will indeed get more with less. This means understanding who your customers (and visitors) are and what motivates their buying decisions. Therefore, do your homework. Know your customer. Focus like a laser on your niche and, consequently, your site will "burn" into their minds.

    Websites centered on a very narrow theme or idea will create visitors of greater interest, and especially leads that are much more pre-qualified and apt to buy. Look at it this way: When you narrow down your message and focus on a niche, visitors will be 50% sold the minute they hit your site's first page. Then, it is up to your content (your copy, offer, and call-to-action) to take them through the remaining 50%.

    When focusing on a niche, the content of your site's first page will be far more credible than the see-through puffery of one's own blatant promotional message. Additionally, if you cater to a particular audience, it will then be easier for your first page to lead visitors to a successful outcome.


    Answer this skill-testing question: "What exactly do you want your visitors to do?" Simple, isn't it? But it doesn't seem that way with the many sites I've visited. An effective site starts with smart planning and it must have a clear objective that will lead to a specific action or outcome. If your site is not meant to, say, sell a product, gain a customer or obtain an inquiry for more information, then what must it do?

    Work around the answer as specifically as possible.

    Don't be vague. Be specific. Is your site meant to be like a resume or billboard that only advertises the fact that you are "open for business"? It shouldn't, unless you are intimately involved with that specific medium (i.e., you are a designer or host, or in other words your site *is* the product).

    If not, is it to generate qualified leads? Is it to sell a particular product? Are you trying to persuade your visitors to switch from another company to you? Do you want them to call you on the phone for more information? Are you trying to have them subscribe to some program? You get the picture.


    When you are in the process of buying a book, for instance, the one thing that has attracted you is the cover (if you're not aware of the author beforehand, and even then the cover plays a key role). If the adage, "Don't judge books by their covers," exists, it is because we as humans have the natural inclination to do so. In fact, newspapers capitalize on that intrinsic human behavior, which is why front page headlines and news articles are always carefully selected.

    Therefore, the front page of your site is "the cover of your book," so to speak. It should entice readers to surf further into the site and not lead them to take action right then and there (unless your site is a single, long copy page).

    If it's multiple pages, then keep your front page copy short and to the point, allowing the reader to quickly understand what's in it for them. Use bold, attention-grabbing headlines and subheadlines (even surheadlines) to emphasize the major theme and the core benefit that your site offers.

    In fact, list the benefits. Why should a visitor surf your site? What's in it for her? In other words, focus on the visitor and communicate the reasons why she should browse further. Therefore, your website's first page should focus on the benefits of visiting your site and not its features.


Nevertheless, remember that, in marketing, the package is also just as important than the contents. In fact, the package is part of the "whole product." Similarly, your front page is part of your website's package. Once you make your visitors pass through that all-important first page hurdle, then persuading them to take action later on should be a cinch.

About the Editor
Michel Fortin is a consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. See for more. Magnetize your online business with practical ideas, tools and strategies anyone can use to dramatically transform a mediocre online presence into an unforgettable -- and highly profitable -- one. See for more information.

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