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Honors Copywriting

What Is a Brand Conversation? (And Do I Need to Have One?)

Online business gurus — especially marketers — love to talk about the “brand conversation.”

It’s one of those terms that bring people into webinars, that’s bandied around with all the hype of a proper buzzword. Synergy. Disruptors. Brand conversation. Freemium.

The thing is, a brand conversation actually means something — and something important. Whether or not you realize it, you’re having a brand conversation all the time, and what you’re saying is much more than just what you’re saying.

So what is a brand conversation?

Simply put, your brand conversation is the sum total of the ways in which your business is communicating with your readers, clients, and would-be clients. It includes the content of your blog and website, your social media, the tone of voice and language you use, and even the visual elements you’ve chosen to represent your business. Every time you communicate to the world under the guise of your business, you’re contributing to your brand conversation.

The content of your brand conversation is obviously key — it’s all about what you’re communicating, what matters most to you as a business. It’s in the subjects you write about in your blog posts, the areas you focus on when you’re creating new products and services, and the website copy you use to support them. A cohesive content strategy is key to holistic, natural SEO. It allows you to simply talk about what’s most important to you, and the keywords that flow from that conversation become the search terms most associated with your website. No need for “keyword stuffing” or any of those other shady strategies that Google (and the others) are increasingly shutting down. Think about what you would focus on if you only had five things you could discuss in your business — five areas you could focus on in your products, your blog posts, your social media. That is the core of your content strategy, and building from there gives your brand conversation focus.

Another key element in your brand conversation is the tone and language you choose you use — what we like to refer to as your brand voice. (If you haven’t already taken our complimentary Voice Values assessment — or if it’s been a while and you’re due for a check-in — now would be a good time to give it a try.) Your brand voice should sound like you, but you at your best — the you who is well-spoken and intentional about what you’re communicating and how, who has a good understanding of what is most important to you, and conveys that to your readers with confidence and consistency. It’s not the you who tends to ramble when there’s a lull in the conversation or who occasionally gets flustered when ordering pizza delivery. (Abby already did a great job explaining brand voice, here, if you’d like to learn more.) The key to a consistent brand voice is, again, setting an intention. Knowing — and embracing — your Voice Values is an easy way to do this, because it helps you focus on what truly matters to you, and it connects you with your Right Person: the ideal clients who either share your Voice Values or who need what comes most naturally to you.

We tend to focus on the brand voice aspects of your tone (as, ahem, The Voice Bureau), but the visual cues you send can be a powerful tool for establishing the texture of your brand conversation, too. We’ve created Pinterest boards for each of the Voice Values to help you begin to craft your own intentional style, but this is something that you’re likely to evolve over time (and having a great designer on speed dial doesn’t hurt).

Of course, the word “conversation” implies a two-way connection, and a brand conversation is no different. Constantly talking at your readers is more of a “brand monologue,” and while you might get some good information out that way, the value to your business is pretty limited, in the long run. If you want to humanize your brand — and as small business owners, this is often one of our biggest strengths — you need to be willing to listen, too.

But what if no one is talking back? One of the most frustrating feelings, especially early in the life of your business, is the sense that you’re simply talking to yourself. And if you’re trying to build a conversation, it can be doubly frustrating. This isn’t simply about getting the word out on your latest offering, this is about building rapport with your Right Person, about establishing a community who is engaged and invested in what you’re doing. And, yes, if no one is tuning in, it makes it a lot more difficult to use even the most stellar social media feed, the best blog posts, and your absolutely premium products and services to bring in actual sales…which spells out a pretty short shelf-life for your business.

There are a few ways you can turn your monologue into a conversation. Consistency matters, of course — blogging, e-lettering, and posting on social media on a regular basis on topics directly relevant to your brand conversation make it easier for people interested in those topics to find you through organic search or sharing. Reply to comments, and try framing your shared content with an engagement prompt such as a question or a survey, where readers will want to speak up and take part in your conversation. Sometimes, a comment will pass by you or an email may slip through the cracks, but the more your readers see you engaging with them, the more likely they are to continue building the relationship.

Then there are paid promotions. Yes, Facebook’s most recent algorithm updates mean you probably do want to set aside a marketing budget, even if it’s only a few dollars a month. There are tricks you can use to boost impressions — try engaging in back-and-forth conversations with readers in your comments, for starters — but a well-targeted $5-50 here and there will make a big difference. There’s no need to go crazy with Google AdWords and social media promotions when you’re starting out, but you may be surprised how effective a few dollars here and there can be, if you use it to promote the right things. (Think high-value offerings for your readers, like free webinars and opt-in gifts, signature products and services, special promotions, and valuable content that can be accessed without a paywall or initial investment.)

These are useful strategies, but the most effective way to build the conversation aspect of your brand conversation is through networking.

I know, I cringe just to say the word — I am the most introverted of introverts, and the idea of schmoozing at some business event is, flat-out, enough to make me pack up my laptop and head back to a day job. I have a friend (and former coworker) who loves to schmooze. He can work a room like nobody’s business and is totally in his element striking up conversations with strangers. Anytime I needed to attend an event during my time as a magazine editor, I made sure to bring him along (fortunately, he was also a photographer), so that I could hide behind him and let him make all the introductions. When I was on my own, I basically counted the seconds until I could dash out the door having claimed that I “made an appearance.”

But as a business owner, I’ve found that I can build my own network in a way that suits my not-so-schmoozy style. Around the time I started my business, I connected with a kindred spirit through some shared interests on Twitter, who introduced me to another…and another…and another… And before I knew it, I had a community, including Abby and a number of writers from our own copywriting coterie. You may or may not be so lucky, but the best way to start is to find someone — or someones — whose style resonates with your own. Try joining Facebook groups or chatting with interesting people on Twitter. Comment on blog posts that resonate with you. Start the discussion, and try to engage with whatever response you get. You’re likely to hit a few dead ends, but over time, you’ll find that you’ve begun having conversations, and those can open the doors for you to share your own content. It takes time and a bit of effort, but it’s worth it. No one wants to feel like they’re just talking to themself, even when your livelihood isn’t on the line.

So yes, you do need to have a brand conversation — but chances are, you’ve already started. Now, it’s just a matter of being intentional, engaging with your readers, and keeping it consistent. Over time, you may find that connecting with your brand conversation is one of your favorite parts of being in business — I’ve definitely found that it’s one of mine.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What do you find most difficult about establishing your brand conversation? Is it something you work at intentionally, or do you find that you can keep it up without setting ground rules?


We recently had to replace our front door.

Our old door (a classic, ‘50s-style wooden panel door, with a half-round arch window, a mail slot, and an old-fashioned metal twist doorbell that perpetually infuriated our chihuahua) had finally succumbed to the carpenter ants cheerily gnawing away at its insides. One hefty shove might’ve sent us flying through the now-hollow shell of paint, dumping us unceremoniously on the dining room floor. Hey, honey, welcome home.

As we spent — let’s be honest — way too much time scouring the internet and every hardware store in a 50-mile radius for the perfect replacement, I was reminded of the blog post Abby wrote nearly four years ago on writing your Home Page like a great front porch. It’s still one of our most popular posts, and it’s packed with great info. (Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.)

In it, Abby highlights a few key points on creating a cohesive, welcoming, uncluttered Home Page, tying in the “front porch” metaphor throughout. But there’s one point I’d like to add:

Not every front porch is welcoming to the same people.


When we were door shopping, we saw a lot of options. Gorgeous doors with lots of glass (too see-through, since our living area is within view of the front door). Extra-large doors to make a grand entrance (too big for the space). Craftsman-style doors (beautiful, but not really the style of our house). Intricately carved wooden doors (an all-you-can-eat buffet for carpenter ants). Hefty, hurricane-resistant metal doors with no window at all (too institutional).

We have a cute little slate blue front porch, with lime green beams supporting the overhang, and a classic 1950s Florida house. We needed something a little bit traditional, a little bit interesting, and with just enough window to let in the light without letting out the little naked toddler butts that tend to run by there half a dozen times a day. We wanted it to be welcoming to our guests, without overpowering the simple style of our house with something ostentatious. And, well, we needed something we could paint lime green without it looking ridiculous.

In the same way, you need to consider your guests as you’re building your website’s Home Page. Let’s say your website is throwing a party. What kind would it be? Are you rolling out the kegs? Hosting a book club? Afternoon tea? A Gatsby-esque black-tie soirée? Who is reading your site?

In Abby’s post, she discourages use of the word “Welcome” on your Home Page, because it reads as a lazy cliché. Simply put, your readers are going to gloss right over it, and you need something that will catch their attention. You only get one front door. Don’t waste it on something generic. So how do you welcome visitors? Well, as always, I like to turn to the Voice Values to guide me.

Each Voice Value has its own particular style, and you’ll find that knowing what kind of party you’re throwing (that is, what your blend of Voice Values says about your business) will help you decide just what kind of front porch you’re using to welcome in your guests.

Here are a few ideas for each of the Voice Values. Feel free to pick and choose, and blend the ideas that apply to your top mix of Voice Values. (Not sure what your Voice Values are? You can sign up for our free assessment here.)


These readers want to know specifically what they’re here for. Keep it short and to the point: we offer these services. No cutesy names, no gimmicks, no “I mean, technically…” If this is what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place. This front porch leads you straight to the door.


Ah, this is the lime green paint on the door of your website. Greet your readers like the badasses they are. Make a bold statement about your business or about your reader. If they see a generic, beige Welcome mat, they’re going to run screaming.


Much like Accuracy, those with a high Clarity value want to know what you do right off the bat. Simple and elegant, no hiding behind clever phrasing or overgrown shrubbery. What you see is what you get.


This is one instance where “Welcome” fits (though don’t lead with it — it’s still a lazy intro). Your readers want to know they’re being brought into the fold when they arrive. Invite them to join you. This door is always open.


Don’t try small talk on these readers; they don’t have time for that sort of shallow junk. Go deep — you’re not happy to meet them, you’re happy to know them. Skip the “Hey, there” or the “Welcome” and dive right into the statement you’re trying to make. This isn’t the place for a wide porch — they want to get inside.


Roll out the welcome mat — these readers are so glad to be here! Match their energy. You want to keep the excitement going! (Exclamation points help.)


These readers would never set foot in a doorway with an ant-ridden door. (Sorry.) When Excellence is a top Voice Value, it’s worth it to spend the extra time and energy perfecting that portal — they should feel like they’re arriving when they reach your Home Page. Hand them a (virtual) glass of champagne. Take their coat. Usher them in with class. Click here to view our Services menu, madame.


If you have a high Helpfulness value, you’re probably already trying to think of ways to make your Home Page more useful. Keep it accessible. Don’t go overboard with copy or links or promises, but do let your readers know you’re available. Take their coat, not because you want them to feel like they’re arriving at a swanky party but because you can see that their hands are full, and you know it’s warm inside.


Oh, Innovation. I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for a door with a gadget. (Bluetooth keyless entry locks, what??) But you don’t have to roll out the big, flashy gizmos right away. Just show readers you do things a little differently — maybe it’s the way you lay out your Home Page, or how you spell out what you do that’s different from other people in your field. These readers want to know that there’s something new and unique about you. It doesn’t need to be weird, just different.


This is the classic front porch. Think Pinterest — big, wicker chairs, a swing bench, a sweating glass pitcher of lemonade. Readers who react to a high Intimacy value don’t want to arrive for a party, they want to come by some afternoon for a one-on-one. Speak directly to them, first-person, singular. Show (don’t tell) them that they’re welcome. Make them feel at home.


You’re probably horrified we got rid of that old twist doorbell, aren’t you? (I didn’t throw it away, I promise.) This is a Home Page that should be timeless. Don’t bother with the gizmos and gadgets and trendy new themes here — your readers want to know they’re part of a tradition with some history to back it up.


You know those houses where the owners rush out with a hug even before you’ve rung the doorbell? That’s what a high-Love page feels like. Let your readers know you’ve been waiting for them, that they’re loved, that you’ve already put the kettle on for them and you picked up some of that tea you know they like.


It’s all fun and games on this porch. Think a smattering of pink flamingos and a cheeky sign about solicitors. Your readers know that anything on the other side of that door is sure to be a good time. Greet them with a joke or a nickname, and keep the whimsy coming.


This is the door of someone who knows what they’re doing — solid, capable, probably with some serious-looking brass fixtures you can’t find at your local chain hardware store. Let your readers know you’ve got it all under control — and that you can empower them, too. They’ve come to the right place.


How many deadbolts does one door need? And a security fence? If you have a high Security value…well, maybe a lot. Your readers want to feel safe with you. Let them know that this is a sanctuary — that, on the other side of that door, they can let down their guard because you, unequivocally, have their backs.


These readers love the open glass door — the more of your home (er, business) they can see from the street, the better. Lay it all out there for them, no ambiguity and no holding back. Explain your process, show the math, trust them to take it all in.


There are so many different kinds of front doors, and so many different ways to greet your readers. A generic “Welcome” just isn’t enough to stand out. There are a lot of houses on your street. How can you make sure your guests find yours?

P.S. Don’t forget, our Summer School Special is coming to a close soon. If you’re looking for more guidance on how to put your Voice Values to work for you, writing effective and authentic copy designed for your particular Right Person, you don’t want to miss out.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

How do you make sure your Home Page welcomes in the right type of guests? What kind of party is your website hosting?


Sales vs Salesy BlogI’ve heard it at least a hundred times.

“There’s nothing I hate more than copy that sounds ‘sales-y.’”

“What language to avoid? Anything that sounds…sales-y.”

“I don’t want it to sound like I’m selling to people.”

“I can’t stand a website that’s too sales-y.”

These are business websites. You know, ones where people…sell things. So what’s the hangup about letting readers know it?

I think, in order to unpack this, we need to take a step back and look at our overall business philosophies. How many times have you apologized for or made excuses about the “business” side of your business?

“I’m sending over the invoice, but there’s no rush.”

It’s not that I don’t trust you, but the contract makes sure we’re on the same page.”

I’m really sorry, but because you missed our deadline by six months, I’m going to need an extra week to rearrange my schedule.”

(No judgement here. I may or may not have pulled these statements from my own emails.)

I think there’s a tendency to hide from the details. We want to serve, to share, to guide…but yes, we need to get paid, too. It’s difficult because so many of us have chosen this road because it has such heart, because it allows us to connect and serve and build relationships in ways that our corporate jobs never did. But if we want to keep doing this work we love, we need to make it sustainable.

We’re doing ourselves a disservice as business owners if we pretend we’re ashamed to be in business. I have to remind myself at least twice a week that I don’t need to apologize for doing the things that keep my bills paid and a roof over my head.

There is no shame in sending out an invoice. There is no shame in discussing terms. There is no shame in writing up a contract. There is no shame in selling a product or service.

So how do we run a business — with all the messy, distasteful, transactional details — without feeling like we’re putting a price tag on the relationships we cultivate? When the idea of hustling for the next sale doesn’t jive with our business philosophy, how do we build a profitable business? And, to bring this back around to my original point, how can you write a Sales Page that sells without feeling “sales-y”?

The key is remembering why you’re here, and why your clients are here.

You are providing a product or service that fills a need they have — whether that need is for a therapist to guide them through some trauma in their lives or for a gorgeous throw pillow that perfectly complements their new couch. What you do, they need. Your passion, your specialty, your specific knowledge is what is missing from their life. They want to hire you. So, rather than focusing on the sale, focus on the need.

A Sales Page starts sounding sales-y when you say, “Buy now — this offer won’t last!” instead of “Let’s start now — you could see a change immediately.” (Okay, maybe don’t imply you’re going to change their lives if you’re selling a throw pillow, but you get the point. And actually, a really great throw pillow can make a room, so don’t underestimate yourself either.)

Your Sales Page should have very little to do with you — aside from explaining why you are uniquely qualified to fill this need — and everything to do with how you can help your client. What is the problem you solve? What do they need that you can provide? Create urgency by showing them how much better you can make things for them — and why should they wait to have that? — rather than by arbitrarily forcing some deadline.

The other way that Sales Pages become sales-y is when you talk at rather than with your prospective client. This is a conversation, not a pitch. Your job (or ours) in writing a Sales Page is to connect their need with your product. So start from the beginning: recognize their need. Show them that you understand the problem they have. And then show them how you can help.

Okay, so they need a throw pillow. Yours has a really cool design — it’ll really pop in their room. The colors are super saturated but won’t fade or rub off on other fabric. The material is polished but soft — you can take a nap on it, but it’s not a lumpy mess. The quality of the craftsmanship mean that it’ll last them, even if their dog decides to curl up with it every once in a while. How will they feel with it on their sofa? Can you make them imagine it in their space?

Once you’ve made your case, back off. No “But wait, there’s more!” No “This offer won’t last!” Share your facts, try to connect with your reader emotionally, and then make it easy for her to say “yes.”

I think “sales-y” is really just another word for “disingenuous,” when it comes down to it. We’re in business. Selling things is what we do. But it’s when we become disconnected from that desire to serve that we lose the authenticity of our copy. It’s when we focus on making the sale rather than improving the lives of our clients that we start sounding “sales-y.”

Selling doesn’t need to be cynical. Yes, you want a Sales Page to convert. You want it to bring in, well, sales. But it doesn’t need to be about gimmicks and hard sells and forcing a certain narrative. When you’re creating an emotional connection between your product and your potential client, you aren’t doing it to deceive her, you’re doing it so that she can envision it in her life. This isn’t a calculated move to pull at her heartstrings, it’s an attempt to share the relevant information to help her make the decision that she came here to make. You can provide something to improve her life — your job isn’t to “sell her” on it, it’s to show her how you’ll make things better for her.

Convincing people to purchase what we have to offer gives them something they need, but it also keeps us in business — which means we’re here another day to fill another need for another client. Don’t be embarrassed to sound like you have something to sell, but don’t feel like you need to over-sell it, either. Your Right Person is already on your site because she thinks she might want to purchase something from you. You just need to help her see that she’s in the right place.


There’s much more to writing a great Sales Page, obviously. If you need one and want to try writing it yourself, our Writing the Conversational Sales Page course might help. It’s seriously packed with directly applicable, easy to implement info on writing an effective sales page — one that connects with your reader, that makes your case, and that doesn’t leave you feeling…well, sales-y. We’ll be re-releasing it very soon for self-paced study, as part of our upcoming Summer School special. Make sure you’re on our mailing list so you’re the first to know when it’s available.


In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you struggle with coming across as “sales-y” in your web copy? Or do you overcompensate so it’s hard to know you’re even selling anything?


Common Sense SEO - Blog

A good website is more than just a business asset.

A good website is the employee who doesn’t take breaks. Who answers questions for potential clients at 4am or while you’re taking a much-needed vacation day. Who knows everything there is to know about your brand and can tell people just what they need at just the right moment. A good website is worth all the time and money and energy we spend making sure everything is just. right. Design. Copy. User experience. Layout. A good website takes it all into account.

And a good website is completely worthless if people can’t find it.

I recently wrote that SEO is BS, but that’s admittedly a bit reductive. It’s important that search engines can find your website, even if you’ve developed other sources of traffic. You may find that social media, incoming referrals from other sites, or email links make up a decent portion of your traffic, and once you’ve gotten a devoted following, readers will probably even come to your site directly. But in the past month, a bit over 50% of the traffic at came from organic search, which means that a large portion of our readers are still coming to us for the first time, and they’re coming from search engines.

(We like Google Analytics for tracking these things, but there are plenty of options you might check out, if you want to give something else a try.)

So here’s the thing about SEO: it’s not rocket science. Don’t bother researching some clever way of gaming the system, because 99% of those tricks will end up working against you, when you could just spend that same time doing things the right way. Don’t create duplicate pages just to fake having more content. We’re past the days of keyword stuffing (and the junky spam websites it created). Meta tags and keywords are useful, but they’re not going to make or break your site’s search rankings. Incoming links are definitely important, and that’s something you’ll develop over time as you use social media and write guest posts and develop partnerships. (Don’t buy links. Don’t get junk links in bogus online directories. This is not a quick fix — you need to actually have real links on real sites for this to matter.)

You do want to use title tags and meta descriptions, but you don’t need to bring in a team of experts to do an analysis on that for you — you just need to clearly describe what’s contained on that page, and make sure you include them all the time.

It’s true: the best way to get your website to show up in searches is to have lots of high-quality content that naturally uses the terms people use when talking about what you do.

Tags and descriptions are great for behind-the-scenes SEO, but the real workhorse of your website is going to be the copy itself. So how do you write a website that search engines will love? Well, let’s keep it really simple.

Don’t bury the lede — start with what the page is about.

Come up with, say, five to ten keywords that you want to naturally highlight on that page. This is going to vary depending on the point of the page — your About Page needs to lead with your name, while a Services page is going to lead with (wait for it…) the names of your services. But, generally speaking, let’s say your keywords could be:

  • your name,
  • your business name,
  • the “job title” of what you do,
  • what a client would call your key services,
  • your location if your business operates in-person,
  • a need someone might have that would bring them to you,
  • a key result someone might have from working with you.

For The Voice Bureau, my keywords might be: Katie Mehas (and/or Abby Kerr), The Voice Bureau, Copywriting, Branding, Brand Voice, Consulting, Courses. I might use the specific name of a course or product, if it was a page for that particular item. We wouldn’t use all of those on every page, and there are others we’d work in that would be specific to certain pages, but that would be where I’d generally start.

Use your keywords early in the page, using a header tag, if possible. Your main title should be H1. Subsections are H2. Important info that isn’t necessarily a heading could be H3.

For example:

H1 – The Voice Bureau’s Courses for Entrepreneurs

H2 – The E-Letter Atelier

H3 – Craft your solo-owned or small business e-newsletter from concept to content

Make it really, really easy for a reader to tell what your page is about, and what you are about. If a reader can see what’s going on at a glance, a search engine probably can, too. Fill out your tags and keywords so that the backend of your website is doing some work, too, but don’t try to get clever — these should match what you just put on the page.

And then…relax. Your page doesn’t need to cram in every keyword possible. You aren’t telling the entirety of your story on every single page of copy.

Something to keep in mind: you want to walk the line between being present in a larger pool of potential clients and standing out in your specialty. Think of it this way. Let’s say you have an in-person businesses with two locations, one operating in New York City and one in Tuscarora, PA. You want to make sure you’re advertised as being in NYC, because there are millions of people there who might benefit from your services. There are also a lot more competitors, so you’re going to get a much smaller portion of that market share. Now, you don’t want to ignore Tuscarora, either — you may well be the only business of your type there, and that means everyone looking for one of you is looking for you, specifically.

How does this relate to online businesses?

Well, let’s say you’re a coach.

(And please, say you’re a coach. “Joy consultant” or “lifestyle sparklepreneur” or “un-stuckening fixologist” are completely worthless in searches.)

So you’re a coach. Say that, and get yourself out there in the pool of “coach” search results. But do you have a specialty? Do you do career consulting? Wellness? Nutrition? Meditation? Touch therapy? Past life regression? Tarot? Don’t forget to bring that up early on, too. This is your Tuscarora — be the result when someone is looking for exactly what you do. A good website is going to tell search engines,“Bring me up when someone is looking for these things — whether I’m one of many, generally speaking, or the only one in my specific field.”

A good website is also going to speak to your Right Person when they get there…and this is where it can get a little trickier.

Speaking directly to that Right Person takes some work (I mean, it’s why we’re in business). Knowing — and using — your Voice Values helps. And the more you communicate with your readers, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking to them.

But, for now, focus on clarity. You can work on nuance and conversation and style later. A search engine isn’t going to be too worried about that sort of thing, and chances are, your Right Person is going to be using pretty vanilla search terms to find you. Get them in the door. And then you can show them why they should stay.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you feel comfortable working with SEO? What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about it?

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how to write a home page like a great front porch

This is an installment of The Voice Bureau’s blog post series on Writing Your Smart, Empathetic Website. This series is written with active and aspiring brand creators in mind — those of you who know that your website should be your business’s hardest working “salesperson” — and want to make that more of a reality. Click here to visit the intro to this series, and to find links to all the other installments.

A huge, cool, graciously-appointed wraparound front porch was the stuff of my childhood dreams.

Rather Anne of Green Gables-esque, I know. I longed for adulthood, when yea, verily, I could procure myself a home with such a porch, and thus begin a halcyon 50+ years of casual entertaining, reading late into the night underneath a blanket on a porch glider, and spying on the neighborhood.

Are you a front porch person? Do you like to keep an eye out for neighbors and passers-by, watch the comings and goings of daily delivery trucks, and take in the changing colors of the neighborhood as one season turns into the next?

When it comes to your online home — AKA your website — it pays for every business owner to embrace front porch living.

Door color, stylized address numbers, wreath, porch swing, retro glider, boxwood topiaries flanking the threshold?

Here’s how your home page is like a great front porch. But first, trend cycles.

Web design and layouts go through trend cycles, just like anything. When I first brought my solo-owned business online (back in 2006), it was the Age of the Blog, and it was popular to have your blog landing page BE your home page. No formal home page copy per se, just your freshest writing out front, with a nice header, nav menu, and sidebar to orient people. I bucked that trend and went with a traditional home page for my brick and mortar boutique.

Seven years later (it’s now 2013, for those of you who are counting), blog-as-landing page feels a little passé in the realm of Serious Business (even among solo-owned or very tiny Serious Businesses with a highly personal point of view). It’s not that leading with your blog is wrong (or even amateurish), it’s just that it puts enormous pressure on you, the brand creator, to publish great stuff frequently. And when your latest piece is something that isn’t the most apt reflection of your Value Proposition, you run the risk of confusing site visitors as to what you’re about. Too, it requires your other home page elements to work even harder in terms of communicating what you’re about, while remaining all the simpler, visually, because you’ve already got a blog post going on.

Most of the time, when I get a vote, I advocate for my clients to have a traditional Home page for their business website — one that clearly showcases what the business offers, who the offer is for, who’s behind the offer (if they want to be a visible part of the brand), and how this brand’s solution is the very best for its Right Person.

That’s not asking for much, right?

So back to our front porch metaphor.

A great front porch helps sell a home (ask any realtor). It helps establish curb appeal. It suggests a gathering place — guests to be welcomed, holidays to be prepared for — and homecomings to be had. The front porch starts the conversation — the one the potential buyer is having in her head that goes like this: Oh. OH. I think this might be The One.

Likewise, as a business owner, you have the opportunity to put your brand’s best foot forward, visually, energetically, and situationally speaking. So let’s do it!

Here’s a round-up of important features that every great home page and front porch needs. Take note and see where you could clean up, cozy up, or customize your website’s curb appeal —

Every great home page needs . . . a WORD COUNT LIMIT.

When budgeting for client web copy, we (at The Voice Bureau) allow about 50-300 words for home page copy. (50-150 is often best, for a site on which you don’t want to have to scroll, scroll, scroll).

(This is just like how every great front porch needs to be pared of tchotchkes. Too much going on right when your guests “land” creates a sense of unease, confusion, and disarray. Exactly how you don’t want your site visitors to feel when they land on your site.)

Every great home page needs . . . a POINT OF VIEW.

In business, your Point of View is your differentiator (or Unique Selling Position). It’s what makes YOU and your product or service the best choice for your Right Person. Your point of view must be allowed a chance to be seen and heard. It shouldn’t have to compete with a lot of other signals. A brand without a clear differentiator runs the risk of becoming a magpie brand — a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a shiny object here, a razzle-dazzle here.

(This is just like how every great front porch needs a stylistic point of view, preferably one that complements the architecture of the rest of the structure. What does a point-of-viewless front porch look like? Oh, you know, it’s the one sporting the Americana tin star, the nylon Bambi flag, the pink flamingos in the flower beds, AND French lavender in pots.)

Every great home page needs . . . to be USER FRIENDLY.

A user friendly home page is one with clear and simple navigation. Seven choices, maybe, in the main nav — NOT seventeen (and yes, multi-tiered nav menus, I’m looking at you). A definite Call to Action, so your site visitors know what you want them to do next. Tell them where they should go. And don’t be coy about it.

(This is just like how every great front porch needs to be user friendly — clear walkways, an accessible mailbox, safe steps and railings. Come on, people. Treat your visitors right!)

And finally, every great home page needs . . . a SENSE OF HOSPITALITY.

Don’t use the word ‘Welcome!’ but DO convey that you’re ready for who is likely to turn up (your Right Person site visitor, of course!). Convey HOW you share their point of view, and do it efficiently. Lightly. Without grasping. Do not barrage your site visitors with a bulleted list of “symptoms,” feelings, or self-identifiers. You don’t have to get very far into their heads — in an obvious, hey!-look-at-what-I’m-doing-here! way — on the Home page. But you DO have to connect. And offer the makings of a promising relationship.

(I’m afraid to think about what the front porch version of this point might look like. A bullet-pointed family credo hanging beside the door bell that all visitors “must” adhere to or be banished? Provocative political signs plastered on every available surface square inch?) You know what to do. Be the person you want to be in your brand, right on your brand’s “front porch.” Don’t be that guy.

Thinking of your home page like a great front porch is the first step to seeing how your site visitors — who aren’t invested in your business like you are — will experience it. It’s the most empathetic way to approach the design and writing of a page where hopefully, your site visitors won’t linger too long, because they’ll be ready to click on through and learn more.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What helps YOU experience a home page like a great front porch — one you’re eager to step up on to, because you can’t wait to get through the door and see more of what’s inside? What’s enticing or impactful for YOU on a home page?

(Image credit.)