Howto: Great Product Homepages

Key takaways from 20+ years of building product pages that actually sell.

Posted by bastianw on Feb 26, 2021

Improve your messaging

Most marketers love to talk about “positioning”. If you don’t intervene, they will spend enormous amounts of time and money on it without ever giving you a clear definition of what positioning really means. Cut through the bullshit and stick to this simple definition by Oglivy: “what the product does, and who is it for”.

If your product can’t be unique, your brand has to be. In commoditized markets, products need great stories to sell. A brand is a story. Start by targeting niche audiences that competitors ignore.

Mediocre marketing focuses on you vs. the competition. What makes you different is a good place to start. But only if you focus on what makes you truly great, you stand a chance of winning over people’s hearts.

Marketing only works if your advertisements contain a big idea. Ads need to be able to unhook people’s rational thought process - and if they don’t, you’re essentially wasting money. Big ideas are very hard to come up with, that’s why most ads are so dumb, boring and certainly won’t move the needle. The best big ideas are promises of clear benefits. Ads that do not promise a benefit to the consumer will never sell, yet most campaigns contain no promise at all. Big ideas can come from anyone - so ask people in totally different departments.

People do not have short attention spans, but short consideration spans. On average, 75% of people that visit a website abandon it immediately. You have to get them hooked quickly. Create compelling in-depth content all you want. But ensure the first 30 seconds are incredible.

New big ideas are more likely to be valuable. At the same time that makes it less likely there are examples you can learn from or classes about them. But personal exploration often leads to unique opportunities to build something powerful. Design by committee rarely yields anything beyond mediocrity.

Technical products usually have extremely hard to understand websites. Sometimes this is because they are written by their technical founders, especially in the early days. A terrible explanation of a product and not giving reasons to convert are the two main draws that can seriously hurt growth. That’s why at some point you will need to hire people who are better with words than you. Chances are, the first thing these people will want to rework is your website. Their approach will most likely be very different from yours, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will make things worse. Here are some takeaways for good website design and copywriting:

  • A great stage doesn’t state what the product does right away, but instead, focuses on the problem it’s fixing. Only after having explained the problem, it introduces the product as its perfect solution. Example: “Your sale page doesn’t convert. Here’s how to fix that.”
  • What you find out in customer interviews should never be directly translated into copy on your homepage’s stage. For example, just because someone describes their difficulties in the decision making process, you should never start with “Trouble buying <Product>?”. Instead, focus on the problem your product solves directly. It should be the one actual customers are willing to throw the most money at. It’s a very costly mistake to focus on a smaller problem a lot of customers may have voiced, but which are not the most valuable.
  • Being customer centric doesn’t mean repeating what a customer said. Quite the opposite: What you really need to do is surprise them. Aim for breaking their thinking pattern, try to really stand out and spark their curiosity.
  • A great stage needs to build up on a big idea. Unless you have identified one, your website will likely suck and you have no chance of standing out. Approach each big idea originally, pick the one you want to pursue and stick to it throughout the whole website.
  • When trying to come up with a big idea, look for inspiration. Do not start in your industry, but in marketing-heavy industries like sports apparel or consumer goods. What stands out there, will likely stand out in your industry even more.
  • Your website really does need to stand out. Be prepared to break the expectations and conventions of your industry. If you’ve found something radical, ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen if I attempt this?” - most of the time the worst thing that could happen isn’t that bad. Asking yourself this question enables you to challenge norms of your industry.
  • On average, 5x as many people read the headline compared to the adjacent copy. So unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your website’s impact. Use A Rationale. Give a good reason for why an action should be completed.
  • It is extremely hard to come up with a good headline. Start with a simple copywriting formula and fill in the blanks: “Who else wants <Benefit>?” / “Want to get <Benefit> without <Problem>?”. Iterate from there.
  • A great stage promises a specific benefit and at the same time creates a bit of curiosity by not telling too much about the product if you don’t click on the CTA.
  • Skip what is obvious, write with a consistent tone. Just because you’re targeting business customers doesn’t mean you should sound corporate. A unique tone is the perfect way to frame your product differently.
  • Avoid the words “We” and “You” in the same paragraph as it creates distance. Go high on „You“, go low on „We“.
  • When writing a paragraph, focus on the first and the last three words. People are scanners, so start with a punch, and make sure to end with one too. If you end with a cliffhanger, people will be intrigued.
  • Numbers are brain candy for headlines and paragraphs. They help people visualize context and organize info. Odd numbers work best (“Want 83% better performance?”)
  • Make your words flow. Copy becomes more likable, trustworthy, original, memorable, and persuasive when it sounds poetic. Use rhyme and alliteration. Here’s are some examples: “Delightfully Capable. Surprisingly Affordable.” or “Don’t Dream it. Drive it.”.
  • Don’t waste any words. After you have written a paragraph, ask yourself how you could condense it if you only had four words. Start with a keyword, then get to the point. Example: “Better soles. Stronger feet.”
  • Do not use the long form sales letter format, at least not on the homepage. Instead of obsessing over features and target groups, great homepages are very short, spacey, contain only a few sentences and most importantly one clearly prioritized CTA.
  • This may surprise you, but generally, on the internet, most people know exactly what’s going to be on your website before they visit it. If that wasn’t true they would never have clicked on a link or searched for it in the first place. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to put long lists of features right on the homepage.
  • The long form sales letter format is still valuable, but use it only on separate pages deeper in the funnel, for example to explain specific product benefits to target groups. Link to these pages from the homepage, but again: Never use the long form sales letter format directly on the homepage!
  • Unless you’re clearly the cheapest in the industry, never emphasize your pricing on the homepage. Make people want your product first. Then let them find out how much it will cost them on their own (for example, in a separate “Pricing” tab). For pricing information, the latest point in the funnel works best. Instead, use the homepage to describe the value your product will add. Don’t tell your reader what it will cost them, rather tell them what they will gain. Do not use the words “buy” or “pay”.
  • Do not claim your product is “easy to use” or “simple”. Even the most hideous products on earth are described that way. Plus, it dumbs your product down. Instead, when drafting the concept of your website, ask yourself “What would this look like if it were easy?”
  • Claiming your "users want flexibility" is essentially like saying you don’t know what users want. If the rhetoric around your product revolves around the idea of users loving "choice" or "control", you probably don’t know what is good, and you are very likely clueless about what your customers goals are. From an end-users perspective, choice, control and flexibility are always just a fallback. They are a clearly inferior way to operate when you don't trust that the product will provide you with exactly what you need. A fallback like this always sucks and that is the reason why promising flexibility, control or choice make for a shit value proposition.
  • Avoid buzzwords like “Artificial Intelligence”, “State of the art”, “Innovative”, “Disruptive” and “Agile”. Buzzwords are meaningless and people grow sick of them.
  • Language is really important. Avoid marketing-speak at all costs and try to sound like a human being talking to another human being.
  • Reduce to the max. Being concise, reducing the number of fonts and graphical elements on the homepage, keeping sentences short are all good practices, but extremely hard to get right. Almost every website is too long, no matter how much effort was put into it. A good question to ask is “If I am saying yes to this, what am I saying no to?”.
  • Take extra care with all text that is centered on a homepage. It is very likely that the person who put it there just didn’t know anywhere else to put it, or worse, didn’t really think about it in the first place.
  • People do scroll. But if you don’t get your main CTA across before “the fold” (yes, this is still relevant), there is a good chance people won’t find it, and your CTRs will be shitty.
  • It’s a bad idea to not care about SEO when concepting, designing, copywriting and coding for a website. Title tags, Metatags, h1-Tags, the text on the buttons (“All about <TOPIC>” instead of a pale “More info”) and the number of words on your homepage (no, it shouldn’t be all splashy images!) are all very important.
  • Collect your visitor’s e-mail addresses right on the stage of your homepage. Most producers see a “homepage” and a “signup” as two different entities, linked by a “call to action” button on the homepage. They separate the two on entirely different pages. This is an extremely bad practice and will cost you between 25% and 50% of conversions on average. Put an e-mail signup form right on the stage of your homepage.
  • On-boarding should demonstrate a user how to get value from the product in less than 30 seconds and nothing else.

Here are some additional copywriting formulas for headlines:

Your search for <Desired Outcome> ends here!

Let <Product> work on your <Problem> for just 3 months - and you'll see the difference.

To the <Audience> who will settle for nothing less than <Desired Outcome>.

Make <Desired Outcome> that matter.

Start saving money on <Desired Outcome>.

Tired of <Problem>? Get started with <Product> today!

Want <Desired Outcome>? Get <Product> now!

<Audience>: It's time to stop <Problem>. Use <Product>.

90% of all <Authority> are wrong about <Desired Outcome>.

<Problem> shouldn't be this hard.

50 ideas you can steal from <Authority>.

The best way for <Audience> to get <Desired Outcome>.

The biggest and easiest secret of <Desired Outcome>.

<Authority> show you how to <Desired Outcome>.

Don't make these <Problem> mistakes.

No one-off projects

Professional Marketers and Content producers will come up with their own ideas for new projects. Be careful about building “one off projects” that don’t improve your core product. Examples are marketing campaigns that require development work or partnerships that need engineering resources. It might be valuable in rare cases, but they rarely solve real problems for customers.

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