Now, keep in mind…

The simple techniques that follow are ones that especially apply to websites that feature a sales promo.

However, many of them will apply just as well to editorial-style websites too.

Shall we?

1) Define your purpose in five words or less:

Is this a sales site? If so, that’s the goal, “Sell ______________.” Is this a site to build the mailing list for an e-zine? Then, “Get names for mailing list.” It really needs to be that simple. The more you try to get your site to accomplish in terms of variety, the less it will accomplish in terms of quality results. Pick one result you want, make it narrow, and stick to it. You can always create other websites to serve other purposes.

2) Get a headline to the top of the first page:

Forget big logos. Forget splash pages. Forget Flash-driven, nifty menus that leave us glaring at a “Loading… “sign. Get words up top. Now. In bigger, readable type than you think you deserve. And not just any words. Here’s where you need a powerful emotional ‘hook.’ A big problem identified. A shocking statement. A huge benefit. See next…

3) Get a big benefit ‘above’ the fold:

If your headline that I told you to post at the top of the page (above) is benefit-driven, then you can check this one off as done. If your headline is fear driven or something other than a clear benefit, then just make sure you’ve got it mentioned in the body copy that follows the headline. And apply the “no-scroll” rule here too. That is, make sure the reader can see the benefit before he or she starts scrolling down the site for the rest of the text.

That said, about scrolling…

4) Get rid of “click here to continue” page breaks:

Ignore the grunts from the design department. For a fluid, more effective reading experience, you want one long scroll. You need one long scroll. The less clicking your readers do while they’re soaking up your message, the better. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

5) If it’s a site for building a mailing list, get that signup box “above the fold”:

If email addresses are what you’re after, where is the box that asks readers to sign up for your free e-zine? It should be in one of the corners, featured prominently, and should reassure readers that there’s no risk to their privacy in getting them to sign up (which had better be true, too).

6) Strip away wasted graphics, and pointless links:

You’ve got a message. It’s important. Why distract your readers and risk having them missing what you have to say? You don’t want images that aren’t relevant to your message, no matter how cool, cute, or stylish. Nor do you want to give links to other websites (at least, on a promotional page) or things that do not further the sale. Stay in control of the reader’s attention.

7) Eliminate most technological “tricks”:

Flashing banners, java-programming, flash-programming, animated .gifs, or — God help us– frames on a web page are not only unnecessary distractions, there is a risk they either will take too long to download or, worse, they’ll crash your website or even the user’s web browser. Resist, resist. And where they exist, obliterate.

8) Reread all your subheads:

Skim through the document and read the subheads you’ve used in the copy. Not all of them have to sell, sell, sell. But it’s a mistake for none of them to do so. You need the subheads to keep hooking the gaze of the page skimmer, which is what most people do when they both read online and read the printed page of, say, a direct mail package. The subheads are there to pull the reader back in. Very well crafted subheads even offer a kind of leading structure, a path, the reader will want to follow.

9) Check and recheck your offer:

After the mailing list is used, the offer for a product is vitally important. When sales go wrong, it’s often the reason they flop. Is it the best possible offer the owner of the business can make? Is there an aspect of the sale that can actually be fulfilled online (both to cut costs and to give some instant-satisfaction urgency to the buyer). Is there a better guarantee you can offer? And is the guarantee featured close to the push for action? By the way, you also need to make sure your reply page has some reassurance of the security of the information needed to make the sale. Let them know the site is secure.

10) Read the copy out loud:

This is an old technique that still works. Read the copy out loud from the screen. You can even record it and then listen to the playback. Are there any phrases that suddenly sound like lead balloons? Are there sections that got boring or sounded long-winded? Or parts so good you realized they should land closer to the front? You’ll discover flaws and opportunities this way that you’ll completely miss otherwise.

11) Get a cold read and local usability test:

Get at least three other people who know little or nothing about the product or the website. Ask them to give the whole thing a dry run. Let them read without giving them instructions on how to navigate. Provide no warm-up about what to expect. Then wait to see what happens. If they all have the same complaints, then you know what to do. If the best response you get is that they like the copy, then you still have work to do. If they start asking you questions about the product and how to get it, then you’ve got a winner.

Sound good? One hopes. Good luck.