How to create a more effective homepage
A step-by-step guide on improving your homepage content & copy to increase conversion
At least once a day, I see a startup’s website and think, “I have no idea what this company does.” If I am able to get a sense of what the company is building, many times I have no idea who they are building for or why someone would choose this product. And I don’t think I’m alone here. We’ve all scrolled down through an entire homepage and just thought, “huh?”
Many (most?) websites, especially for early and growth-stage companies are ineffective. They don't tell visitors who the product is for, what the product does, and why the product is better. When your homepage content and copy miss the mark, your conversion rate suffers, and all of your top of funnel efforts are wasteful.
There are many levers for improving homepage conversion, this newsletter focuses on the “fuel” of your homepage: copy and content. When you nail your copy and content, your audience understands exactly what you do, feels spoken to directly and specifically, thinks you’re credible, and wants your product now. For more on how to improve website conversion join my 1-day workshop.
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Through working with 50+ B2B startups, I’ve observed that too often startup’s websites are afterthoughts, rather than the center of all marketing efforts. I teach a workshop (4 hours over 2 days) to help startups fix this. We’ll cover topics in this newsletter in more depth, plus site architecture, technical SEO, landing pages, and basic web analytics through a mix of teaching, peer reviews, examples, and shared templates.
Step 1: Make a usable 1-2 page messaging guide
To create a homepage that tells your story effectively start with a simple messaging guide. Most messaging guides for startups are ~9 pages too long. They are so specific and so detailed. They take a ton of time to create, but often don’t get used. Don’t make one of those.
Use a simple framework instead and keep top-level messaging to <1 page. Create messaging building blocks that can easily translate into copy for web and other marketing assets. Get buy-in on the messaging building blocks up front, so you can move faster when copywriting for various channels and assets.
Before you start on your messaging guide, it’s extremely helpful to do basic audience analysis & persona development and competitive analysis that maps where you fall in the ecosystem. This makes the messaging guide process more fruitful and effective. Templates available for both audience and competitive analysis for paid newsletter subscribers.
Create top-level messaging building blocks
Start by creating messaging for your primary audience, then do the same process for additional audiences or personas. Fill out these main building blocks to start. These top-level building blocks will help you create the rest of your messaging guide, so I recommend getting buy-in on these from a (small) cross-functional group before moving forward.
Note: Messaging is not copy. Think of messaging as guidelines for copy. It’s the intent behind what you’ll actually say. Copy is the exact words tailored to channels and assets.
Create and get buy-in on additional messaging blocks
The other messaging building blocks you need are:
Benefits and corresponding proof points (like features or stats). These benefits should go one level deeper from your top-level “why it’s better” messaging and focus on the value or outcome your audience will get from your product.
Use cases with corresponding personas. You can list several use cases for one audience or list out use cases for different personas/audiences depending on if you have a vertical product or a horizontal product.
How your product works with ~3 clear steps, especially if you have a complex product or are a new category/type of product.
Messaging building blocks template, including examples, available at bottom of newsletter for paid subscribers. Subscribe here.
Step 2: Plan your homepage layout
We’ve all seen sites that are too difficult to navigate and too visually complicated for their own good. Cognitive overload sets in due to jarring animations, overuse of carousels, complicated UX, etc. Too often, startups create homepage sections and layouts that try to reinvent the wheel.
These websites are not only hard to maintain (since you likely don’t have a web dev team or dedicated web designers in-house early on), but also distract users from converting to qualified leads. For early-stage startups, you can follow a formula, adapt it a little bit, and use copy, color, font and visuals (images, screenshots, and diagrams) to differentiate your site without having to get too fancy with sections, layout, and animation. I recommend Webflow, over 50% of the startups I work with use it.
A clean, simple-to-scroll-through, easy-to-scan website is more likely to convert and even stand out than a confusing, atypical UX.
My formula for sections you need on a B2B homepage for early & growth-stage startups:
Scroll down for wireframe example
Top nav: Includes links to the product page, resources, pricing, etc. Plus a sign-in link and primary CTA button.
Hero: Include top-level messaging building blocks and (optional) product screenshot, diagram or video.
Social proof: Usually logos, sometimes logos + quotes. Include a heading that describes who your customers are.
2-3 benefits sections that include product images (stylized or screenshots; static or animated).
Use case and/or persona section (optional), include 1 or both of these:
~3 use cases in one section and how you do those use cases in your product, usually with links to separate pages on these use cases.
~3 different audiences or ICPs and how these personas benefit from the product, with links to pages for these audiences.
How it works section (optional): preferably including a clear diagram.
CTA Bar: Restate why someone needs your product now, with a primary CTA button. This should always be right above the footer.
Note: The order of the sections between the hero and CTA bar is flexible, whatever works best for telling a cohesive story.
Here’s a wireframe with recommended sections:
Plus the messaging building blocks you should use to write copy for each section.
Step 3: Use messaging building blocks to add copy to each section
Now take the messaging building blocks you’ve already gotten buy-in on and turn it into copy and content section by section. See the above wireframe for a visual on how to apply messaging building blocks to each section.
Use the headline plus the descriptive paragraph underneath to cover your top-level messaging building blocks: problem you solve, product solution, who it’s for, and why it’s better. Don’t add too much copy or too many CTAs in this section, your conversion rate will suffer.
In the example from Anrok above, you can see that they included all of their messaging building blocks in the copy:
Problem: Sales tax compliance is a manual process
Product: Sales tax automation platform for SaaS companies
Why it’s better: Automates sales tax compliance across your financial stack
Who it’s for: SaaS startups. In the next section, they explain it’s for finance and ops teams specifically, they could include that in the hero for even more clarity.
Social proof section
Often the headline in the social proof section of your website is wasted, it will say something like “Companies love us”. Get more specific in the copy and include your “who it’s for” again, e.g. “Top GTM teams love Pocus”, “Join thousands of developers using CodeSee”
Whether you include quotes, logos, or both, use this section to build credibility and make visitors feel like your product is specifically for them.
Benefits with proof points sections
You should include 2-3 benefits sections with similar layouts. Your 3 benefits combined should be differentiated from competitors. Each benefit should contain proof points underneath, in paragraph or bullet form. Proof points can be features or stats, as seen in the two examples from Guide.co below.
It’s helpful to include product shots here, whether stylized screenshots or gifs. I prefer screenshots over illustrations or photos in these sections because the visual context serves as an additional proof point.
Note: I see people get very hung up on the semantics of “benefits”, “features”, and “value props.” Don’t worry too much about this. Make sure your 3 “benefits” tell the web visitor why they need your product to solve their pain points. Why should they pick you? Focus on the value or outcome they’ll get from your product.
Use cases or personas section (optional)
In this section, include descriptions of ~3 use cases or descriptions of ~3 different audiences or ICPs. This section should give a deeper dive into what your product is and explain how your product works for different audiences or use cases. You can then link to the audience or use cases pages with more details. Don’t worry about having all these additional pages built out for your initial website launch, make them fast follows.
If you have multiple personas (ICPs) this section can be a really helpful way to route secondary audiences to the right place and avoid trying to speak to everyone on the homepage. You can even move the section higher on the page to route people to the right page faster.
You can see in the examples there are many ways to lay this out, I think the simplest way is the 3 or 4 column approach used by usenash.com and arrows.to.
How it works section (optional)
In addition to a section on use cases, it can be helpful to have a how it works section with a diagram. This is especially the case if your product is complex, integration-heavy, for developers, or in a brand new category (you don’t replace an existing technology).
CTA bar at the bottom
Just above your footer, you need another CTA section. This section is simpler and smaller than your hero, but restates your overall messaging and focuses on why someone should click your request demo or sign-up button immediately. Create urgency here.
There are lots of other sections you can include on your homepage, including recent press or blog post cards and security or award badges (think SOC 2 and G2 Reviews). But, for your early-stage site, starting with these will be your best bet.
All of these examples and a whole lot more available in Figma for paid subscribers, link at bottom.
Step 4: Finesse your copy
Side note: I’ll try not to use the word finesse again, especially in a heading.
You’ve figured out what sections of content you’ll have on your website, you’ve used your messaging building blocks to create rough copy and visuals for these sections, now you need to finalize copy and ship it.
Here are a dozen tips for writing better copy on your homepage:
Know your audience
It’s hard to do anything in marketing effectively without knowing your audience, this is especially true for your homepage. If you are trying to speak to everyone, you won’t really speak to anyone.
Don’t model your website after a late-stage company: If you are an early or growth-stage startup, don’t look at Stripe or Notion’s website. People know what Stripe and Notion are. For your early or even-growth stage startup, you lack brand awareness and solution awareness, and sometimes even problem awareness. You need to educate on the problem, your product solution, and your company. You can not skip these parts like Stripe can.
Don’t ship your pitch deck: Founders typically spend quite a bit of time creating a fundraising pitch deck that tells their story (especially in 2022). I then see founders ship this story and copy as their first homepage. The problem here is that pitch decks are made for investors when your product likely doesn’t target investors.
Don’t get too vision-y up front, instead make it clear you solve an immediate pain for the audience: When you ship your pitch deck or are still in fundraising mode, founders (and marketers collaborating with founders) often describe the vision, mission, or fully-featured product before addressing an immediate pain the audience is facing RIGHT NOW. Investors care about your radical vision, but most buyers don’t. Buyers do however want to know you are a legit company that they won’t have to switch off of immediately, so use social proof on the homepage and put founder and investor details on the company page.
Don’t try to speak to everyone: Speak to the majority of your TAM or your primary audience. To get secondary personas to the right pages, route people from your homepage and use landing pages for ads and content. And eventually, you can use a tool like Mutiny to automatically personalize the homepage based on the type of visitor.
Write clear & compelling copy that passes the read-out-loud test
I see startups spend too much time trying to figure out the perfect thing to say, or the most creative, when really, you just need to use clear, human language.
Be clear over clever: When it comes to early & growth-stage startup websites, clear copy wins over clever copy. Don’t try to get too cute. Don’t try to make the “perfect” tagline that says nothing at all. Just explain what you do.
Don’t assume people know anything about you: When you work somewhere for a while or are a founder, you think it seems basic to describe what you do. Don’t skip the obvious.
Compelling over comprehensive: Your homepage can’t possibly explain everything you do. Focus on your wedge in, your “land” use case or the most urgent pain point. Don’t make your product sound like a point solution if it isn’t, but don’t try to cover every single paint point you solve, every single feature, and every single use case on the homepage. You’ll lose clarity and urgency if you do.
Differentiated: While being completely comprehensive is impossible and often confusing on a homepage, you do need to make sure you’re differentiated. So don’t simplify your copy so much that you sound like every other tool.
For example, if you are the “David” (early-stage startup) going against the “Goliath” (market leader), you aren’t going to win on describing all your features, but you can potentially win on a simpler or faster experience. Exploit Goliath’s deficiencies in your content & copy; turn what you are missing into a positive.
Expectation set & redirect with CTAs: When writing your CTAs, reduce cognitive load. Be super clear on what’s going to happen when you click the button. Don’t say “Get started” if you are taking me to a request demo form with 20 fields. Say request demo.
Passes the read out loud test: Lastly, read your copy out loud. First to yourself, preferably recorded. Then to someone outside your company, preferably in your target audience. You’ll catch so many of the issues I just described when you do this. It sounds silly and simple, but it works.
Copy is only half the battle: You need design and images to augment the words on the page. And I’m not talking about a bunch of flat-style illustrations of humans—those don’t tell me much. Show the product.
Nearly every single person who uses your product will visit your homepage, whether it’s to sign up, request a demo, log in, navigate to help content, etc. You need to nail it. So, if your homepage doesn’t tell me what your product is, who it is for, and why it is better than other options, you need to drop everything and fix it.
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