Where to Find Inspiration For a Red-hot Home Page

The World Wide Web and its many manifestations have exponentially magnified a company’s ability to tell its story at a relatively negligible cost. The web can take even a small business global.

The website is any company’s primary port of entry into its online presence. When a person hears about an interesting company the first thing they typically do is seek out its website in search of information. And what do they find?

Many times it isn’t pretty. Indeed, most websites are sorely lacking in quality design, navigation and content. The torts and misdemeanors committed on the home pages of business websites are many. They include:

>> Content that is focused on the company rather than the visitor. This is an invitation to make a fast exit from the site.

>> A design that is too busy, disorganized and confusing. The power of simplicity is lost on most home pages.

>> No sales hooks or call to action. If you don’t ask for the sale you usually don’t get the customer.

>> No attempt to develop an abiding relationship with visitors by having them subscribe to a newsletter, blog or podcast. The sales process can be a long one, and developing a communication channel is a promising first step.

>> The home page doesn’t connect visitors to the company’s larger online strategy, such as Social Media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Without Social Media integration the website is unable to project its content and influence.

>> There is no design continuity with the company’s other collateral and promotional materials. Inconsistent marketing materials diminish a company’s brand.

>> It doesn’t offer prominent and clear navigation links. One of the most important things a company must do with its home page is create a sense of destination, and clear navigation is the key to that.

>> No effort is made to establish a sense of intimacy between the visitor and company. Companies, like people, have personalities. Share it with your visitors so people can connect.

But let’s not dwell on the negative. Let’s take a look at an exemplary website that can serve as a model for our own websites, one that does everything right. Open a new tab or second browser window and go to Mint.com.

This is the home page for Mint Software, a very successful Mountain View, Calif.-based company. The first thing we notice is the lean, clean design and pleasing color palette.

Secondly, is there any doubt what business service these guys have to offer you? Not after reading the prominent banner headline: The best (free) way to manage your money. This is crucial. If a person doesn’t understand what you do within a few seconds there’s no reason to stick around.

Pass your cursor over the “safe and secure” link near the lower right corner of the page and a video screen containing a picture of Mint Software founder and CEO Aaron Patzer appears. It a powerful thing when a CEO speaks on a company’s behalf. During the two-minute video Patzer starts by reassuring potential customers that it’s safe to do business with his company because Mint has “bank-level data security” built into its servers. He goes on to explain the advantages of having all your accounts consolidated in a single place, such as easier fraud detection and alerts. Video is powerful and intimate, especially when the company’s leader takes the initiative and speaks directly to prospective customers.

Let’s look more deeply at the other things the Mint home page does to reach out to visitors and tries to create a sense of intimacy, connection or familiarity.

Take a look at the prominent navigation links across the top of the page. Notice something really significant. Four of the five links speak directly to the visitors’ questions, needs and interests.

>> Why use Mint. Pass your cursor over that link and a drop-down menu appears with an extensive list of benefits that answer the question that’s been posed. It’s a fundamental question that needs answering. “What should I do business with your company?”

>> How we can help. Again, the drop-down menu offers visitor-focused elaboration. People are always looking for help, for ways to solve their problems.

>> Find savings. Is there anybody who doesn’t want to find savings in their budget or investment portfolio? Money is a huge incentive for almost any person.

>> About. The “about” link is always one of the most important on the home page because it leads visitors right to the section that gives them a better understanding of the company. But the beauty of the Mint website is that it gives visitors a plethora of information and clarity about the company right on the home page, before any links are used to drill down. But it accomplishes all this without crowding the home page with a jumble of text, graphics and data.

The fifth link, “Blog,” is the site’s effort to provide a continuing relationship and stream of useful information to its clients and prospects. Most people aren’t going to do business with you or your company based on one encounter, so give yourself an opportunity to make several more touches.

The links across the bottom of the first screen, those superimposed over the green grass (a nice metaphor for money and growth), give visitors an even stronger embrace. Let’s review the links and their implications.

>> Understand your money. Ever wonder where your money really goes? Pass your cursor over this link and the home page’s dominant graphic becomes an easy-to-read pie chart showing how the client’s money is being allocated among expenditures like groceries, auto, rent, etc. Simply portrayed data that’s valuable to anyone trying to get their arms around a household budget.

>> All your accounts in one place. A constellation of icons appear representing investments, checking accounts, loans, credit cards and so on. The advantage is spelled out in the adjoining paragraph that says, in part, “Access all your balances and transactions together, on the web or your iPhone.”

>> Easy budgeting tools. Budgeting is the bane of so many, but this link’s bar chart shows how a simple visual can help you get a handle on where you’re spending and how to stay on budget.

>> Find instant savings. Everyone is looking to save money. Mint clearly articulates its service to customers with this statement: “We compare your bank accounts, credit cards, CDs, brokerage and 401(k) to the best products out there. We find our typical user thousands in savings. See what you can save.”

>> Safe and secure. As noted earlier, this link brings up the video of CEO Patzer talking about the high security and advantages Mint provides. Getting your CEO face-to-face with website visitors is one of the best ways to create a sense of intimacy with prospective customers.

The graphics and text that pop-up on every one of these links includes a very prominent orange link that says, “Free! Get started here” – a risk-free call to action at every step. So the site asks for the sale at every turn without being crass about its approach.

Then again, any company will assure you of its value and integrity. They’re not exactly an objective source. That’s why Mint.com’s decision to include home-page testimonials was a stroke of good thinking. It adds credibility to the site’s claims. In unobtrusive gray text just below the banner headline are statements that read:

>> “Best budgeting site” Kiplinger’s magazine
>> “Editor’s Choice Award” PC Magazine
>> “Top pick” Money Magazine

Scroll down the home page and you get revolving testimonials from Mint clients, as well as, “What the press is saying,” “What’s new at Mint” and “Introducing MintLife,” which is the new name for the company blog.

It’s a brilliant, well conceived performance. The layout, design and graphics are excellent, the page speaks directly to its visitors and the text is simple and direct.

Mint must be doing something right. The company was acquired by financial software powerhouse Intuit during the fourth quarter of 2009 for $ 170 million.

Mike Consol is president of MikeConsol.com (http://MikeConsol.com), which provides business writing seminars, PowerPoint presentation skills training, Web 2.0 strategies and media training. Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nation’s largest publisher of metropolitan business journals.
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