The Importance of Keeping A Focus on Your Site

Article written by Marc McDonald.

What's the focus of your Web site? If you can't answer this question in one short sentence, you're going to find it difficult to build an audience.
It's important to remember that when first-time visitors click in to your Web site, you've only got a few seconds to grab their attention. Web surfers are an impatient bunch. If they can't figure out the purpose of your site quickly, then they'll click off elsewhere.

In my Web business, I get a steady stream of submissions from Webmasters who want me to review their sites. I'm constantly surprised at the many submissions I get for sites that lack a clear focus.

We're not just talking about shoestring sites that have been set up by newbies on GeoCities. This goes for even large, corporate sites that are run by teams of Webmasters. In the latter case, I can only surmise that it is indeed true that "too many cooks spoil the broth."

The fact is, your visitors shouldn't have to play a guessing game in trying to figure out what your site is all about. Merely having all the information somewhere on your Web site is not enough. If your welcome page doesn't offer a clear picture of your site's focus, then you can't plan on your visitors finding it on a FAQ buried on an inside page. Odds are, your visitors will never find such information, because they won't bother to explore your site beyond your welcome page.

How can you ensure that your site has a clear focus for your visitors?
1. Consider coming up with a short, snappy slogan that basically sums up what your site's purpose. The slogan should be prominently displayed on your welcome page "above the fold." (That is, clearly displayed without the visitor needing to scroll down your welcome page).

Your slogan should be displayed in plain, easy-to-read HTML and not as part of a graphic image. The problem with the latter is that you want to grab visitors' attention right off the bat. Graphics take longer to load. (Remember, even in today's "broadband world," most Web surfers out there are still using plain old 56K dial-up modems).

Additionally, if you sum up your site's purpose in a plain text slogan, you increase the odds that you'll fare better in getting desirable positioning in the search engines.

2. Don't overdo your welcome page. Keep it as simple as possible and keep the focus clear and to the point. Too many Webmasters go overboard with information overload on their welcome pages. The focus should be to get the crucial information (and only that) on your home page. A well-designed welcome page offers just enough to "hook" in a visitor and encourage him to explore the site further.

3. Forget the gimmicks and eye candy. I've seen a number of Web sites, (particularly those run by large corporations), that offer state-of-the-art streaming video and Shockwave and Flash animations on their welcome pages. On a broadband connection, some of these sites appear quite impressive at first glance.

However, there are serious problems with using such cutting-edge technology on one's welcome page. In only very few cases, is it really needed. And only rarely does it offer anything that's going to encourage a visitor to actually bookmark a site.

In fact, when you go with a high-tech approach on your welcome page, you open up the door to a lot of potential problems. In reality, that nifty multimedia presentation that looks so good on your office's T1 line may take the average user forever to load in his or her browser.

Technology can also present other problems. As a general rule of thumb, the more cutting edge it is, the more potential bugs it has that have yet to be ironed out. Remember, if a visitors' browser crashes the first time he comes to your site, then odds are he won't be back.

In summing up, try to keep a clear focus on your Web site. Not only should your welcome page load quickly, but your visitors should be able to determine how your site can benefit them as quickly as possible. (Of course, ideally, your inside pages should load quickly as well--but the load time of your welcome page is the most critical).

How can you tell if your site has a clear focus?
A good, simple way to determine this is to occasionally take off your Webmaster's hat, step back, and pretend that you're a typical visitor, clicking in for the first time.

Ask yourself some basic questions.
Is this site's focus clear to me? If I were a typical visitor, would I bother to stick around and explore the site further? And most importantly, would I be likely to bookmark this site?

It's also important to enlist the help of friends and colleagues in this task as well. Encourage them to give you straight, blunt feedback and to tell you honestly whether they found the site a helpful resource, with a clear purpose.

Lastly, pay close attention to what your site's visitors tell you. Don't be insulted if you get E-mails critiquing your site. Instead, utilize any and all feedback you get in fine-tuning your site and making it a better resource, with a clear, easy-to-understand focus.

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