When Too Much of a Good Thing Is Bad
Lamenting the Poor, Overloaded Home Page
How can this be? It’s natural to appreciate its importance when putting a site together, especially one for a musical instrument retail store. But alas, the problem is that far too often it’s a “too much of a good thing” situation – with the pressure on to try to entice visitors, there’s a tendency to throw everything including the kitchen sink at them, hoping something sticks. As Ash points out, if too many things are emphasized, then nothing is important. If nothing is important, then that reflects badly on the operation.
Also, aesthetically, it’s like a messy store. Successful stores are well merchandised with a clean, organized look, excellent signage, and a layout that encourages good traffic flow. That is exactly the kind of approach that needs to be taken with the first page of the website.
Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm. He’s worked with many leading companies and is a speaker at Internet marketing conferences. He is a contributing columnist to several industry publications and is the author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization and founder of the Conversion Conference. Most recently he wrote on this topic for Web Marketing Today.
A Zen-like Reprieve
Sure, there are those who think the home page should mimic the Internet itself: loud, fast, with a shock-and-awe approach at disseminating information. But Ash has a different philosophy. “You often have to interrupt somebody to get them on your site,” either through an e-mail campaign or some other means, so “once you get them to your page, there should be an almost Zen-like stillness. Calls to action need to rise out of this, but it shouldn’t be to the extreme of a Turkish bizarre. Be clear on what your priorities are, but there should be almost a sparseness – you shouldn’t continue an assault on their senses.”
He says when the home page is under a staggering load of content, it groans from the weight of it all not fulfilling its purpose. “It can become a confused, jumbled mess.”
How we use the Web and what we expect from it is constantly evolving, and becoming increasingly sophisticated. So there may have been a time when a home page that overloaded the senses may have been effective, but it’s certainly no longer the case today. Yet it’s not an easy puzzle to solve for most MI stores who cater to a variety of music makers and want the most effective site possible.
The first part of solving a problem is identifying its cause. For Ash, he sees overcrowded home pages happening often because there are simply too many opinions – department heads and other employees and perhaps even some suppliers chiming in about what “absolutely has to” be seen first. It can be a case of “too many cooks.”
“Unfortunately, this often leads to a phenomenon known as the ‘tragedy of the commons,’” he writes in his article. “If too many shepherds have unrestricted access to the unregulated common grazing lands, the sheep will overwhelm the grass’s ability to regenerate itself – destroying it for everyone. The individual self-interest of shepherds undercuts the common good.” He adds that by removing non-mission-critical content, or demoting it to much less prominent status, you focus visitors on what is important.
So first, a single vision needs to be asserted. But for the full-line store that has several locations, one that is catering to everyone from the austere grand piano shopper to multi-pierced rocker looking for a new distortion pedal to the fickle high school band director, it can be a challenge coming up with a page to serve all those interests.
Ash says, don’t even try.
“One of the most important things is to have a page that allows people to identify themselves – find out who they are and what they are interested in, and then direct them to another page that caters specifically to their needs,” he says. “Is it an individual looking for an instrument, or a parent inquiring about band rentals? You want people to use their head and self-select: I’m a kid, I’m a parent, I’m a bandleader – then people can figure out where to go.
“The main purpose of the home page is to get people off it and put them where they need to go. You do this by letting them identify themselves to you. Who are they? That’s the first question.”
The home page should be a conduit for the person who has landed there for a very specific reason; perhaps he is looking for a Music Man StingRay bass. “You really want to have a very targeted conversation with that person,” he says. “The more quickly you can start that conversation, the better.”
The Path to Success
For many retailers, wanting bandleaders to know about special financing programs is critical, but having something about that on the home page may confuse or even mislead the more casual customer. Ash says it’s all about putting visitors on a path specifically designed for them and supplying them with answers and opportunities to buy products they are most interested in.
“The structure you want to think about is getting the right people to do the right activities in the right order,” Ash explains. Citing the acronym AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), he says that anyone who is going to do a transaction with you is going to go through those four steps, so constructing your site, and your home page, must include a plan on how to get them through to the “Action” part.
“The purpose of the home page is to get people off of the home page.”
Ash also makes the case to not busy up a home page with specific product. For the few who might find that Taylor guitar or Mapex kit attractive, there are many more who won’t be interested in it, no matter what the price is. Meanwhile, it’s cluttering up the page.
Ash believes the best alternative is to create simple, but bold sections on that first page that will direct people to exactly what they are interested in. Have confidence in your site and the intelligence of those who land on it that they are willing and able to click through. “People are willing to take any number of steps they need to as long as they are getting closer to their goal, so the key is to create a clear set of choices so they can reach that goal.”
The vision for the home page should have a look that does the store justice. He notes the general lack of professionalism he sees on so many sites. “It doesn’t matter what is on the page, if the site is perceived as cheesy, it’s not going to pass the basic test,” he says. “The first impression is formed in 1/50th of a millisecond. It’s a lasting impression that carries over to the likelihood of buying.”
And you can overdo it by getting a too-hip-for-the-room graphic designer, too.
“Graphic designers are rarely trained in maximizing conversion. The best ones pride themselves on their ability to be non-conformists, and their ability to ‘think outside the box.’ They are bored with doing regular production-oriented graphic design work and like to keep themselves entertained by doing something new and interesting on every project.
“Common over-the-top visual elements include wild background colors, giant graphical billboards taking up prime page real estate, garish text treatments in headlines and buttons, visual embellishments and flourishes on unimportant parts of the page, and unnecessary animation or video.”