You Had Me At the Search Engine

You've likely heard of the movie, Jerry Maguire, with its famous line, "You had me at hello." Jerry Maguire was luckier than web sites we find in search engines. Many web sites don't attract user devotion at the first word, let alone after scanning the home page.

How many times has this scenario happened to you? You've performed a search in a search engine or directory, reviewed the results and found a page description that fits what you were looking for. When you click on the page that looks the most promising, usually you arrive at the web site's home page, where one or more things might happen:

1. The page loads slowly due to too many graphics, dynamic applications or scripts

2. There are terms used on the page that you don't understand.

3. It promotes products or services that were not mentioned in the page description from the search engine.

4. The products or services are unrelated to what you searched for.

5. The page is "amateurish" in appearance and you're not feeling confident about things like customer service, user privacy and security, experience with the product, or other credibility issues.

6. The page is so busy you don't know where to go to next, or distractions caused you to forget your original mission.

7. Something has turned you off, such as swimsuit models that don't look like you do, corporate images of businessmen, not women, or multiple animated things.

8. An invasive advertisement appeared that you had to click away so you could read the content underneath it.

9. The page loads but your scum ware radar starts beeping like crazy or popup and security alerts appear.

10. You need a magnifying glass to read the content.

If a keyword search brings back an inside page, more common frustrations occur to drive people away from the web site. They include:

1. There is no navigation to the rest of the web site.

2. There is navigation, but no visible, easy to locate link to the main home page or main web site.

3. A link "home" is offered, but sub-navigation is missing, so that the user must start at the beginning to figure out where they landed inside the web site.

4. Link labels do not help explain what the web site is about, so the visitor may not be inspired to click around.

5. There is no suggested click path to follow. For example, if the page happens to be an article, it might be useful to say "Did you find this article helpful? Here are more articles that may interest you."

We often forget that search engines index more than our home page. People often stumble into our web sites while searching for other things, linking from another web site, or receiving an email link from a friend. The starting place isn't always home base.

So, how do you make a web site page approachable in a crowded room of search engine results? First, make sure your title tag is accurate. Every page requires a title tag unique to the content it represents. The home page is an overview page, so focus on the lead goal, which is often also your main keyword(s).

Next, write a genuine, honest description that isn't all hype and glorified self-worship about how great the web site is. If the site is going to sell something, what does it sell? Does it specialize? Avoid words like "unique", "amazing", and "special" because, frankly, everybody makes these claims.

It's important to not put too many keywords in your title and description tags because these are displayed in search engines as your site or page description. When read by humans, they don't make sense. People are getting wiser. They know that what you're doing is trying to get higher rank but it doesn't mean your web site is any better in quality that those lower in search results.

Whether a home page or inside pages, there are lots of ways to attract attention or generate curiosity so that your visitor becomes a potential customer, or simply finds the content interesting enough to keep browsing around. My favorite part of discount stores are the displays they toss clearance items into, or those "Oh yes, I forgot I needed that" type items. You can do the same thing with your web site. Simply place the toenail clippers, scotch tape and calling cards out front where they're easily seen. In other words, remind your visitors of what they didn't know they came for.

Here are some other ideas to try:

1. Provide a good reason to enter your site. Don't expect anyone to take your word for anything. Offer incentives.

2. Put a visible text link to your sitemap on every page. Even your local shopping mall has a map with a "You Are Here" pointer.

3. Be forthcoming and descriptive with pictures. If you sell shoes, show the tread. If you design and make your own crafts, show close-ups of the detail and workmanship. Furniture looks great alone, but can a woman site comfortably with her legs crossed? The sunglasses line you offer is likely filled with brand name shades, but what types of faces will they look right on? I have a difficult time buying artwork online because I can't visualize the dimensions in my head. A picture of a framed version, hanging in a room with furniture, will help me understand what I'm trying to purchase. In a virtual world, you must go to great lengths to sell things people can't touch or see in use.

4. Place words like "sale", "getting started", "first-time user", "learn more", "try now", "buy now", "free", "download", "we deliver" and "free shipping" on your pages, above the page "fold". This is what users are looking for.

5. On your home page, provide an introduction and suggestions for where your visitors might like to go next, based on their needs.

Search engines can only bring a visitor to your doorstep. It's your job to grab them by the hand, invite them inside and show it off.

Usability Consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of, & Her background in organic search engine optimization, combined with web site usability consulting, offers unique insight into web site development.

Copyright 2004

In The News:

Sr. Web Designer - WP Engine  Built In Austin
Web Designer (F/M/D)  EU-Startups
Front Street Media: Web Design and Development  Rocklin and Roseville Today
Web Developer  Seven Days
5 Ways SEO & Web Design Go Together  Search Engine Journal

You Need RSS, Atom, and ROR/RDF Codes on Your Website--Now You Need Google Sitemap as Well!

Do you have a website? If so, you need an... Read More

Website Design: Redecorate Your Web Site To Increase Sales

Getting traffic to your website is not the only factor... Read More

Hiring a Graphic Designer

You've come up with a great product. You've got the... Read More

7 Benefits of HTML Validation

You may not bother with html validation or writing simple... Read More

So Much About META Tags!

I've written about META tags in the past, and I... Read More

Website Polls For You And Your Visitors

Setting up a survey on your site is extremely simple... Read More

Positive Design Attributes for a Successful Website

Designing a website is hard job, and requires you to... Read More

Web Publishing Guide for the Beginning Entrepreneur (Part 1)

The best things don't come easy. - QuotedThe finished web... Read More

So You?re Hiring a Web Designer?You Have the Right to Demand these 7 Perks

Whether you're hiring a designer who has created 10 sites... Read More

The Testimonial Trick

One of the most popular methods of traffic generation is... Read More

Internet Tip of the Week: First Impressions

First impressions are extremely important if you hope to do... Read More

Converting Traffic into Sales

Making a successful online business can be a long and... Read More

Maximising Web Site Viewability - Resolution

This is my second article on maximising web site viewability.... Read More

How to Create a Great Landing Page for Your Website

The landing page or entry page of your visitors is... Read More

Using Your Personal Website To Clinch That Job!

With an increasing number of employment portals emerging, it is... Read More

Web Design:10 Magnificent Millionaire Dollars Ad Copy Secrets To Empower Your Website..

Hello, how is your website doing?Are sales flowing in?If you... Read More

What to Avoid to Make Your Website Design Effective

The effective design is this one, which is maximum simplified,... Read More

How to Create an Enjoyable Web Page Design

Novice and professional designers alike ? you may probably be... Read More

Using CCS to Eliminate Tables

CSS or Cascading Style Sheets has opened up tremendous possibilities... Read More

How Does Your Website Measure Up?

Does your website make a good first impression? Is the... Read More

10 Web Site Design And Writing No-Nos

1. Don't load your web site with a lot of... Read More

Increasing Conversions Through Action-Oriented Copywriting

I do site reviews. Needless to say, I see a... Read More

Building Your First Web Site?

Before doing anything on the technical side, you need some... Read More

How to Avoid the Biggest Mistakes Member Sites Make in Their Marketing Copy

If you have a web site to which people pay... Read More

Plugging the Dreaded World Wide Web Black Hole is Just the First Step

You have created your custom error page so now all... Read More