Tell me what your website does!

You know exactly what your organisation does and what your website offers its users. This information has probably become second nature to you, but first-time visitors to your site won't know this. As such, make sure you don't forget to tell them what you do.

As soon as new site visitors arrive at your website the first thing they need to know, before anything else, is what you do. You can talk all you like about how great you are, but unless you spell out what you actually do, they won't even know what you're so great at! This oh-so-overlooked yet such basic of information can be communicated to your site visitors in a number of different ways:

Page title

Don't just use the page title to tell me who you are; tell me what you do too. If your company is called Bloggs Ltd don't only place the words, 'Bloggs Ltd' in the page title as there's plenty of room for more information. If Bloggs Ltd sells widgets, a good page title might be: 'Bloggs Ltd - Buy widgets online'.

Note in this example, 'Buy widgets online' was used to describe what Bloggs Ltd does, and not 'Widget seller'. When describing what it is you do be sure to speak the language of your users, and don't talk from your point of view. From your point of view you sell widgets, but from their point of view they want to buy widgets online, so do bear this in mind when authoring the page title.

The page title is the first thing that appears on screen, and especially on dial-up modems can be the only thing that displays for the first 10 seconds or so. For many web users this is the first piece of content they'll read on your site.

The page title is also very important for search engines, which place more importance on the page title than any other on-page element. Descriptive page titles are also essential for blind web users utilising screen readers, as it's the first thing that gets read aloud to them upon arriving at the page.

Tagline

A good tagline is one of the most important usability features on any website. A good tagline should be explanatory and not vague, clear and informative and about four to eight words in length. A tagline is different to a company slogan, in that the former describes what the organisation/website does whereas the latter is designed to evoke certain feeling or create a brand.

'Priceless' and 'I'm loving it' are slogans by Mastercard and McDonald's respectively - they differ from taglines because they don't describe what the organisation does.

Taglines are so important because no matter on what page site visitors enter your website, they'll always be able to quickly gain an understanding of what your organisation and website offers. This can be especially true for site visitors coming into internal pages from search engines - by telling these site visitors what you do through the tagline, they may be more likely to explore your site beyond the initial page on which they enter.

Taglines are also good for search engine optimisation, as they appear on every page right at the top of the page, an area on to which search engines place importance.

Main heading

The main heading on the homepage is one of the first pieces of text web users notice, especially on clean well laid out websites. Sticking a 'Welcome to our website' may seem to be friendly and welcoming to you, but to task-driven site visitors it doesn't help in any way shape or form. A quick summary of what you do and/or what the website offers, in just four or five words can be highly effective (and very search engine friendly too!).

Opening paragraph

Perhaps the most important place on the homepage to tell your site visitors what you do, the opening paragraph must be short, succinct and straight-to-the-point. Just one sentence is enough to put across this most basic yet fundamental of information.

When writing this opening paragraph, remember to front-load the content (this rule actually applies to every paragraph on the website). Front-loading means putting the conclusion first, followed by the when, what, where and how.

Don't write a story with a start, middle and conclusion - generally speaking on the web, we scan looking for the information that we're after so put the conclusion first. This way, site visitors can read the conclusion first, which in this case is what your organisation actually does. If they want to know any more, they can then continue reading or jump to another section of the page. (To see front-loading in action, read any newspaper article.)

Exceptions

So, does every website need to tell users what the organisation does in these four different places? Well, not necessarily. We all know what Mastercard and McDonalds do, so it could definitely be argued that websites for household names need not explicitly say what they do. What these sites should do instead is tell us what the website offers, and this message can (and should) be put across in any of the above four ways - how else will site visitors quickly be able to find this out?

Conclusion

People are going to visit your site who don't know what you do. Before you can even begin selling to them you must tell them what your organisation and website does. In addition to fulfilling site visitors' immediate need (finding out what you do) you'll also be boosting your search engine rankings. If your organisation is a household name, then instead of explaining what you do, it may be wise to tell site visitors what they can do on your website.

This article was written by Trenton Moss. He's crazy about web usability and accessibility - so crazy that he went and started his own web usability and accessibility consultancy ( Webcredible - http://www.webcredible.co.uk ) to help make the Internet a better place for everyone. They offer fantastic accessibility & CSS support packages, which you can read all about at http://www.webcredible.co.uk/support .

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