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Honors Copywriting

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. This series is geared toward 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.)

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This is the Introduction to 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. As brand voice specialists, we know you need doable, clear cut strategies for planning and writing web copy that will help you achieve your goals. We also know you value head (intelligence) and heart (empathy) in equal measures; that point of view is part of what makes your approach to business so well rounded. This is OUR approach to business copywriting for the web: smart and empathetic. This series teaches you to write your website in a way that will inspire your Right People to visit often, to share your work with others like them, and ultimately, to do business with your brand.

Let’s set the scene:

Writing a smart, empathetic website is a lot like carefully constructing a physical structure for people to hang out in.I live near the campus of an ivy-covered, red brick college. A campus with a creek running through it. Although this particular highly-ranked liberal arts college isn’t known for wildly raucous college house parties, living just off-campus often brings to mind my own college days. We all can conjure up the image in our mind of just that kind of wildly raucous college house party. (I should know. I graduated from a large, state university known for such things, besides being known for its stellar academic programs — ahem.)

In case you’ve never had the experience of attending a wildly raucous college house party, allow me to paint the picture: sensory overload. Loud music. Damp, humid air with suddenly drafty corners where someone has broken out a window. Bad lighting. Sticky floors and kitchen countertops. Upholstered furniture nobody (sober) really wants to sit on.

Anyone and anything goes at a party like this. The “guest list” is suspect, people are sneaking in their (often underage) friends, and you never know what those two hooligans standing near the porch are planning to get up to. Social norms are ambiguous, and the insider parlance is always in flux, and never entirely straightforward. It’s a strange milieu, one very few people actually feel comfortable in, if they’re in their right mind.

And what are most people there to do at a college house party?

Hook up. Numb out. Blow off stream.

Time to hop out of this metaphor.

Your website — and the community you welcome there — should NOT a college house party resemble.

Is that really what you want your website visitors doing on your site on a metaphorical level?

Hooking up? Okay, maybe yes to that, depending on what kind of a business you are.

Numbing out? Not unless you’re a social media interface designed to foster addictive use in exchange for an influx of advertising dollars. [AhemFacebookahem.]

Blowing off steam? That sounds potentially . . . fraught.

Blueprints for business owners

At The Voice Bureau, we have a strong point of view on what sort of place a business website should be.

We think your website should be a thoughtful, gorgeously appointed structure built to appeal to your exact Right People readers and potential buyers.

There’s a fundamental structure to every solid small business website, one without a lot of bells and whistles.

Once you learn this structure, you are free to adapt and iterate it to suit your brand conversation, your business goals and objectives.

There’s a framework for understanding how certain pages connect to certain next pages (in a progression of emotional logic), and why a certain type of Call To Action works better on one particular page than on another.

Once you learn this framework, you can strategically intuit what will work best for your Right People.

Smart and empathetic?

In this blog post series, we’ll teach you how to write (or rewrite) a smart, empathetic website for your business brand — one that feels like just the kind of place in the world you’d like to invite your Right People to come hang out.

When we say “smart,” we mean, let’s assume that both you, as brand creator, and your Right Person site visitor, are equally intelligent. No talking down to them. No flicking at their pain points. No irresponsible, puffy-sticker promises of something you can’t actually guarantee (because no human being could). No histrionic adjective-spangled prose that no sane person can actually live up to in delivery.

When we say “empathetic,” we mean, you, as brand creator, make the choice to step out of your own well-worn shoes and into the shoes of another — namely, of the person most likely to engage with your brand (read: read, share, or buy).

Only you can decide exactly what kind of place you want your website to be. But we can give you a framework to help you do that. Throughout this series, we’ll share loads of cues, clues, and insights with you based on our own Voice Values methodology, which draws on well-documented marketing frameworks, the universal empathetic approach to stepping into the shoes of another person (seeing the value of what you do through someone else’s eyes), and the world’s most renowned personality typing systems.

Your website might end up feeling like a luxe lounge, or a boho treehouse. It might feel like a minimalist meditation space, or like a vintage-industrial warehouse workshop. It might feel like a grand, welcoming, well-appointed manor, or like a slick penthouse office overlooking an impressive view.

The vibe is yours to create.

Here’s the rundown of what we’ll be sharing in this series over the next couple months.

(As we publish each post, we’ll update this list with links.)

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

Do you ever visualize your website looking like a physical place? If so, what does it look like? Paint the picture for us. And — where could you use help translating that vision into your website and content plan?

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