Tell and Sell

You are here:
Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 2: Your Customers and Your Website
Post 4: Tell and Sell

Images sell. But they can only go so far.

Words are the real workhorses. You must show and tell if you want to sell.

Design grabs attention. Content holds their attention and moves them forward if you do it right.

Write like a real person to a real person

Here’s a little mental exercise to engage in every time you think about copy for your website:

Remember the customer persona you created? (If you want to refer to it, just go to Part 2 – How to Attract the Customers You Want – in the Differentiate Your Brand Guidebook from Module 1.)

Picture yourself with that person. If you do business face-to-face, picture that setting. If it’s some other way, call that image up in your mind.

What would you say? How would you say it?

What questions would they ask? How would they say it?

This is how you need to write on your website. And never forget to…

Dumb it down – not because your customers
are dumb, but because they’re so busy.

They don’t have time (or they won’t take the time) to decode your message. So remember the K.I.S.S. principle:

Keep it super simple!

You understand the complexity of what you do. But you have to be able to communicate its features and benefits simply and clearly.

It should be so clear that a fifth grader can understand it. Even better, make it so simple that they can explain it themselves!

Here are three keys to writing as a real person to real people:

  • Your company doesn’t do anything

As a real person writing to real people, remember that your company doesn’t do anything. People do everything!

So don’t say: “Acme Consulting has a proven track record…” Instead say, “We have a proven track record…”

Which one would you say in real life? The first one is stiff. The second is conversational. Yet the copy on most websites is like the first.

You want yours to come across as friendly. So use “I” or “we” instead of your business name or other formalities.

Before we move on to the next point, here’s something to know about “I” and “we” – “we” makes you sound bigger. So if you provide a very personal or exclusive experience, “I” may be better.

And don’t think you can’t use “we” if you’re a solo entrepreneur.

After all, you still have suppliers. You may work with a coach or coaches. You may partner with other professionals to deliver your product or service.

There are a whole lot of people at work in just about every business. So “we” is appropriate.

Of course – when you’re telling your story or talking about something you personally did, you’ll use “I”.

  • “You” trumps “me”

The sweetest word to any person is his or her name. You won’t be able to call your customers by name on your website.

However, you can use the second sweetest word – “you” or some version of it. All persuasive communication should be written with the “you-view” in mind.

So if you want a website that sells, you’ll want to talk about “you” and “your” much more than “me” and “mine”. How can you be sure you do this?

Count – literally! Count the number of times you use words which refer to your customer (you, your) and how many times you mention yourself (we, our).

In most cases, you-view terms should far outnumber me-view terms.

  • Communicate with customers, not competitors

This may surprise you – we’ve seen many websites which are written to competitors, not customers. They don’t do it knowingly, of course. It’s just that…

They’re so used to talking the way they talk, they don’t think a thing about it. They understand the jargon, the lingo and the buzz words. So do their competitors.

Unfortunately, their customers don’t. They get confused. When people get confused on your website, they leave.

So take off your industry cap. You’re not at a conference. It’s more like an expo.

Potential customers are walking by your booth. You need to capture their attention.

Others are already in it. You need to keep their attention and move them forward.

How can you do these things? With clear communication.

Remember this – the best marketing engages future customers in the conversation they’re already having in their own minds.

They’re not talking jargon. They’re speaking plain English. If you use their language, they’ll do business with you.

There’s a trap which is easy to fall into when writing for the web – you only see the computer, not the real person behind the computer.

Avoid this trap by keeping your customer persona in front of you whenever you write copy for your website.

Start short and sweet, lead to long and luscious

Long story short, short copy sells better…except when it doesn’t.

As a general rule: start short and sweet. Lead to long and luscious. In other words:

Summarize early. Get specific later.

Think about your buyer’s journey. When buyers first become aware of you, they want simple, short and sweet. Spark their curiosity!

Then let them click through for more details. When we’re ready to buy, we want specifics. We have questions. We need answers!

If you get too specific too early, you’ll destroy trust.
If you’re not specific enough later, they’ll lose patience.
In either case, you lose them – perhaps forever.

So if you want to move them from browser to buyer, you’ll need longer, relevant (i.e. luscious) copy. How long? It depends on two things:

  • Complexity

The more complex your product or service, the more you’ll probably need to explain – in simple words, of course. Buyers won’t buy if they don’t understand.

  • Cost

The higher your selling price, the more information you’ll likely need. You have to convince people of its value before they’ll commit.

Keep in mind – all of this depends on your purpose for your website and the page they’re on. For example:

You may not “sell” your product or service on your website. You may “sell” a free report in exchange for their email address.

There’s much less complexity and no cost to that sale. So you can get by with relatively shorter copy. Sell the benefits of the report. Then you can continue the conversation in subsequent mailings.

Once upon a time leads to happily ever after

Stories sell. We talked about this in Module 1. (To review the stories you recorded, go to Part 2 – The One Thing Your Customers Really Want to Know – of the Create Messages That Sell Guidebook from Module 1.)

Stories are like images. They reinforce your copy.

So tell stories to give your content a boost. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind what we just said about length. But sometimes, a short testimonial is all it takes to persuade a visitor to take the next step.

Watch your adjectives and adverbs

Boy, this is starting to sound like school!

Just in case grammar class is a little foggy – an adjective is a word which adds to a noun, an adverb does the same for a verb. For example, “fast” is an adjective in “fast service” and an adverb in “deliver fast.”

Here are some rules about adjectives and adverbs to keep in mind as you think about copy for your website:

  • Eliminate them if you can

As you look over your copy, ask yourself: How much does this word add to the meaning? If it’s not significant, ditch it.

Same message. Fewer words. Better results.

  • Use them to spark emotion

Remember – we humans buy on emotion. We rationalize with logic. So use an adjective or adverb to spark an emotion.

For example, “There are few things as precious as your files. Your time is one of them.” They go on: “Keep your files protected automatically, with Secure Cloud Backup from Carbonite.”

Note how the words “precious,” and “secure” make you feel. They definitely add immensely to the copy, don’t they?

  • Support your superlatives

Be very careful about using superlatives. If you can’t support it, don’t say it.

For example, don’t say “best pasta” in town unless you cite the source. Otherwise, think about alternatives: “home-made pasta” or “pasta made daily from our family recipe.” It’s just as bankable, perhaps more so.

Headlines & Lead Ins

As we said when we talked about the most valuable space on your website – writing for the web is different than the way we learned to write in school.

The most important copy on every page is your headline. It must be so compelling that your website visitors just can’t resist it – they have to know more.

So they go on to the most important paragraph on every page – the first paragraph. It’s the lead-in for the rest of your content. You may even want the font size for this paragraph to be bigger than the rest.

You’ll want to spend a disproportionate amount of time on your headlines and lead paragraphs. Sure, they’re a tiny part of all your content.

But they’re responsible for 100% of your sales. Visitors must pass them to get to your call-to-action.

How to drive your site visitors away

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about one of the most certain ways to drive visitors away from your website. It’s the dreaded wall of text – line after line of copy with no breaks.

You’ll want to make sure you plan to break up your pages by using:

  • Images

Not just any image, of course. It must support the copy or it will detract from it.

  • Short paragraphs

As a general rule, keep your paragraphs to four lines or less. Then start another one.

  • Headers

Headers will be bold and in a bigger font than the text around it. Try to include a header after every three or four paragraphs.

  • Bullet points

Include bulleted lists rather than paragraphs of copy when you can, like we’re doing here.

All of these things create white space. They give your site visitors room to breathe and make your pages more appealing to the eye.

While design is certainly important, it’s your copy that converts ultimately. So think about your future customers, at each stage of their journey.

What do they need to know to move forward? Put the answers in writing. Tell and sell!

Next Step

Congratulations! You’ve completed the reading for Section 2 of Module 2. Here’s what to do to complete it:

  • Go to the You and Your Website Guidebook. Complete Part 4 (if you’ve been doing each part as you go) or Parts 1 – 4 (if you read straight through).
  • Then you’ll be ready to move on to Section 3 of this second module – Search Engines and Your Website.

Of course – if you have any questions, email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.

Show and Sell

You are here:
Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 2: Your Customers and Your Website
Post 3: Show and Sell

In the original Wall Street movie, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) is in his limousine with Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen). Gekko is making a point about success, as they are driven through the streets of New York.

He points to two men, standing on a busy corner. One is in a well-fitted suit, briefcase in hand. He looks clean and fresh. The other is digging through a trash can. He’s the opposite of the first man.

Gekko points at them and says, “You gonna tell me the difference between this guy and that guy is luck?”

We could launch into a social commentary here, but that’s not the point. The fact is – we judge people instantly by their look. Just like we judge books by their cover. And…

People judge your website by its appearance.

We discussed this in the first post of this Module – in the first split second on your site, people are already forming an impression of your brand.

Study after study shows that what people say and what they actually do are two different things. The reality is:

Content drives their ultimate experience. But early on, their opinions are based on the visual look and feel of your website.

Here’s an important principle to understand:

Trust is destroyed with poor design.
Trust is built with great content.

So design is defense. It won’t help you win the game, but it allows you to keep playing (i.e. the visitor stays on your site). Content is offense. It’s how you win them over.

In this post, we’ll talk about the visual part of your site. Don’t worry – we’re not trying to turn you into a web designer.

We do want you to understand what design that sells looks like. Then we can put together the pieces so you get a truly exceptional website.

What destroys trust on a website?

94% of the factors which form the first impression are related to design, according to research. [PDF]

Trust-destroying factors include:

  • Inappropriate name for the website
  • Complex, busy layout
  • Lack of navigation aids
  • Boring web design, especially use of color
  • Pop-up advertisements
  • Slow loading
  • Small font
  • Too much text
  • Corporate look and feel
  • Poor search capabilities

These factors are based specifically on a study of health sites. But a broader study [PDF] of various industries confirmed the importance of design in establishing credibility.

Out of 24 factors, “design look” was the #1 factor with nearly half (46.1%) of the study’s participants. They wanted clean, professional looking sites with related graphics that aren’t out-of-date or too flashy.

Now that you’re convinced of the importance of good design, let’s discuss some items to consider for your website.

Accentuate the negative for a positive user experience

Clutter creates confusion. So you don’t want your layout to be too busy or you’ll risk driving visitors away.

You can avoid this with white space. White space – also known as negative space – is the portion of a page left open.

It’s the area between your copy, photos, columns, etc. By leaving white space around a particular item, you make it stand out more than if other elements are crammed up against it. In other words…

White space helps visitors determine what’s important.

White space gives your visitors room to breathe. It’s especially important if you sell elegance or sophistication.

We can look to the real world for an example of this. Generally, upscale stores leave more room between the merchandise than a discount store. The same is true online – more white space creates the feeling of higher value.

Many business owners and professionals don’t understand the use of white space. It may be a carryover to the days when they crammed as much as they could into an ad.

After all, they were paying good money for it. White space was considered wasted space.

Ironically, their ads probably would have pulled better with more white space. But we digress. You don’t have the same constraints on your website as you do in a print ad or direct mailer.

You want each screen – what a visitor sees on their computer – to draw attention to what’s important. White space helps you do that.

Size sells (and so does contrast)

BIGG and bold will always get more attention than dinky and dull. For example, all else equal:

  • Bigger trumps smaller
  • Contrast conquers complementary

We’ll start with images to help you understand these two points. First, which box draws your attention in this photo:

Image - Size

It’s the second one from the left, right? A bigger image will get more attention than a smaller one, all else equal.

Rather than using size to call attention, you can also use contrast:

Image - Contras

All these boxes are the same size. Yet the second one stands out, doesn’t it? A contrasting color will grab the eye faster than a complementary one.

But these principles aren’t restricted to images:

Font - Size

Font - Contrast

You’ll want to remember these two as you think about your compelling value proposition and call-to-action. For example, some people argue that the best call-to-action button is BOB. BOB is an acronym for BIGG Orange Button.

However, the most famous test of call-to-action buttons was reported on Hubspot:

CTA Button Test

As you can see, the two pages are exactly the same with one exception – the one on the left used a green call-to-action button while the one on the right had a red button.

They tested the button on over 2,000 visitors. Was there any difference?

The red button got 21% more clicks!

What’s the takeaway? Only use a red button? No. Use what works for you.

Just realize that it will probably be a contrasting color. Notice the red really jumps off the page at you whereas the green complements the other colors more.

Many business owners and professionals unwittingly sacrifice profitability for prettiness. You’ll get better results if you use contrasting colors to make your most important elements pop.

Another way to use contrast is to document before and after. Some products and services naturally lend themselves to this type of comparison.

But almost every business can find ways of doing this. For example – let’s say you provide a service for business owners. Last year, you increased their profit margin from 3% to 7%. Instead of just saying it, show it!

Profit Pennies

Break the pattern

As we said in the last post, website visitors want simple and familiar. It lends credibility to you, your business and your website.

But we humans are fascinating creatures. Our brains are wired to look for patterns. Once we find one, we get bored quickly.

And you know what people do when they get bored on your website? They leave.

So break the pattern to give them the variety they crave. How do you do this?

Think in screens. They may start above the fold on your Home page. Then they scroll down or click through to another page. You probably don’t want it to look exactly the same.

A simple way to break up the monotony is to rotate images left and right. Apple is a master of this. They use this style for a lot of their services. For example, here’s a snippet from iTunes:


You’re seeing below the fold here. It’s the second screen which you would only see if you scrolled down.

The key for you is: Make sure your website mixes it up.

Say “cheese” to avoid being cheesy

All photos are not created equal. A lot of business owners and professionals think this is the reason to use stock photos.

But they’re generally worth only one word: cheesy. Research reveals that people ignore them.

Many businesses think photos of “pretty people” are the way to go. But actually, it’s just the opposite.

Photos of normal people will get more attention than pictures of models. So assuming you’re normal, say “cheese” to avoid being cheesy – make sure your photo is on your site. If you have employees, we suggest that you include them as well.

Remember – business today is personal. We engage more digitally than in person these days. But your current and future customers still want to see who they’re doing business with. Photos of you and your people fill this void.

Accounting software-as-a-service provider Freshbooks is a great example of this. They have a photo and bio for all of their employees under their About tab.

Note that it’s not a team photo. These can quickly become outdated. For example – if you add a new employee, the team photo is now dated. So we recommend individual photos.

WHERE you see is what they get

When you’re face-to-face and you want to sincerely communicate with someone, what do you do?

Look them straight in the eyes!

You’ll want to do the same thing in your photos on your website. Research shows that people connect with you better if you’re looking right at them.

No fancy shot will work as well. No need to worry about which is “your best side.” Just look straight into the camera.

Here’s a snippet from the Home page for 37 Signal’s Highrise customer relationship management product:

Eyes - Straight

You instantly see a customer telling you about their experience, while looking you straight in the eye. Real people telling real stories build real trust.

However, there is one exception to this rule. You can use the eyes to direct your website visitors.

They will look at whatever the person in the photo is looking at. So point them to something important.

Here’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen of this. It comes from dating site

Eyes - Directing

Note how this plays to what we discussed in the last article. Your eyes naturally start in the middle looking right at the person in the photo.

You can’t help but look at what her eyes are pointing to. They take you the primary purpose of this page: sign up to take their free test.

Of course, arrows will serve the same purpose. But doesn’t feel more personal with a human directing you?

They can’t touch your products, but they need to feel them

You’ve probably been somewhere – maybe even a retail store – and saw a sign with the following message:

Do not touch.

It’s a daunting sign (especially when you’re a kid). Doesn’t it just make you want to touch all the more?

Bricks-and-mortar retailers thrive on consumers touching their products. Research shows you’re more likely to buy an item you’ve held in your hand. And the longer you hold it, the more you’ll pay!

You don’t have the luxury of touch online. However, you can make your customers feel your products. How?

We’ll use Apple once again. When they launched the MacBook Air, they highlighted its unique advantage with this photo:

MacBook Air Envelope

They knew they were competing on size, not power. So they showed someone pulling their computer out of an envelope.

You can’t touch it. But can you feel how small and light it is? It lives up to its name!

Here’s another thing to think about when it comes to showcasing your products online: bigger photos tend to sell better with one caveat. (We’ll get to that in just a minute.)

So instead of four columns of products, think three. Instead of three, try two. These can be products you’re highlighting with a specific strategy in mind. Here are some examples – they may be:

  • seasonal
  • trending
  • loss leaders (if your strategy is to be a low-cost provider)
  • high turning products (you feature them so customers find them quickly)
  • your most profitable products (the ones you really want to sell)

So bigger product images are better – as long as they don’t get in the way. Then people ignore them.

However, testing shows people will click on a link to a larger photo. But many site proprietors don’t make them large enough – they should be at least twice as large as the regular photo.

In addition, picture a person picking up your product in the physical world. Would they just look at it from one point-of-view?

If not, show shots from alternative angles. You might even consider letting them see it from a 360 degree view using a low-cost service like

If you sell products, make them the stars! Spotlight them by helping customers feel what they’re like.

Don’t overlook video

Video is growing rapidly as a marketing tool. It’s becoming pervasive. In fact, video is used by more marketers than live demos by their reps.


Susan Weinschenk (aka The Brain Lady) is a consumer behavior psychologist. She’s worked with major companies in retail (e.g. Best Buy, Kohls, Target, Walmart), financial services (American Express, American Family, Charles Schwab, Vanguard) and more.

She says there are four reasons why videos sell. We humans love:

  • Faces

She says our brain is hard-wired to pay attention to faces. They help us gather information and judge believability.

  • Voices

When you bring voice to your content, it comes alive. We’re better able to process the information we’re receiving.

  • Body language

We convey emotions through our body language. We naturally connect to people through the experience.

  • Motion

Our species survived by paying attention to motion. So movement appeals to an old part of our brain.

Of course, video alone probably won’t do the trick. It supplements all your other great content.

Why doesn’t video stand alone? Because most people won’t watch it.

But your most interested prospects very well may. And aren’t you most interested in moving your most interested prospects along?

Now, don’t think you need to go out and spend a bunch of money on professional videos. There may be times when it’s appropriate. But don’t neglect home-made, informative videos either.

Invest in your front door

We know a successful real estate developer who taught us an important lesson. He spent a disproportionate share of his budget on the entrance of the buildings he owned.

Why? Because he understands first impressions. He knows people who have a positive first impression subconsciously bring that into every interaction.

You know all of that. We talked about it in the first article of this section, Do You Have a (Split) Second.

Your Home page is like the developer’s front door. You’ll want to invest an inordinate amount of mental energy into determining exactly what you want on it.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There’s still more to tell you.

So for now, just realize that images are not decoration. If you treat them as such, they’ll be ignored at best or drive visitors away at worst.

Images serve an important purpose – to show and sell. In the next post, we’ll look at how to tell and sell.

Next Step

At this point, you can either can either dive into the next post or go through Part 3 of the Your Customers and Your Website Guidebook. (As you might guess, we recommend going to the Guidebook but you’re the boss!)

Should you have any questions at this point or as you go through the Guidebook, please email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.

The Most Valuable Space on Your Website

You are here:
Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 2: Your Customers and Your Website
Post 2: The Most Valuable Space on Your Website

The most valuable space on your website is closely related to the amount of time you have to make a first impression. As we discussed in the last post:

  • a visitor starts to from their first impression in a split second
  • within three seconds, they focus on the element which will fully form it

So you have to showcase your most important elements. By that, we mean things like your:

  • Logo
  • Navigation menu
  • Search Box
  • Main image
  • Compelling value proposition
  • Call-to-action (related to your site’s purpose)

You’ll want to place these most important elements in a prominent position – the area above the fold. Research shows

Website visitors spend 80% of their time above the fold.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, “above the fold” is a carry-over from newspapers. It’s the upper half of the front page – where the most important story of the day goes.

In web terms, above the fold means the area visible without scrolling. Yes scrolling is becoming more acceptable. But most people still make snap decisions based on what shows up on their screen with no further action.

If your business is like most, your Home page will get more hits than any other page of your website. Which means…

The area above the fold on your Home page
is the most valuable space on your website.

So make your case, powerfully yet almost pithily. And remember – you don’t have to tell the whole story. You just have to spark curiosity or make an offer they can’t refuse.

Conventional trumps creative

There are an infinite number of ways to design a website and the pages on it. We’re going to talk about the ones which have been demonstrated to work best.

Like the grocer we talked about in the Overview post of this Module, you want to…

Give your website visitors what they want
as you guide them to do what you want.

According to research by Gazehawk – when someone lands on a page of your website, they initially focus on the center of the screen. In a split second, most people tend to move up and to the left as shown in this diagram:

Fixaton 1 and 2

From there, they go in one of two directions. They either keep moving up and to the left or they move down and to the right as this diagram shows:

Fixation 4 and 5

As Google discovered, visitors love simple and familiar when it comes to websites. Remember – no matter how popular your site may become, people will always spend way more time on other people’s sites.

Couple this with the eye pattern studies we’ve mentioned and you can understand why conventional layouts outperform creative ones.

Placement in the most valuable space on your website

You want visitors to quickly grasp what you and your website are all about. Then they’re more likely to stay longer and take the action you want.

Most visitors won’t read all the content on your Home page. They’ll survey it.
You want to capitalize on their natural eye movements as they view your site.

So let’s look at a common yet effective website layout method. It divides the screen into four areas:

Gutenberg with Z

Notice the pattern of movement forms a Z. We’re showing you a combination of two design theories here: the Gutenberg Diagram and the Z-Pattern layout.

Picture the above the fold area of your Home page. As we discussed earlier – when visitors arrive, they move up and to the left from the center.

This is the Primary Optical Area. You’ll want your most important content here – your compelling value proposition (CVP).

From there, they scan to the right. It’s the Strong Fallow Area. This is a great place to put images which support your content.

Next, they’ll move to the Weak Fallow Area. This is the place to put things like the CVP boosters or a secondary call-to-action.

Finally, they move to the Terminal Area. Your call-to-action should be clearly visible here.

So what about pages other than the Home page? How can you get people to see what you want them to see there?

Your website visitors get an “F”

Most people read left to right. So not surprisingly, the left side of most pages gets more attention than the right. Research from the Nielsen Norman Group shows:

Viewing Time

As you can see in the diagram, users spend 69% of their time on the left side of the page – over twice as much time as on the right side.

And with one important exception (which we’ll talk about in just a minute), they don’t actually read. They scan.

They do so in an F-pattern as illustrated in these eye-tracking studies from the Nielsen Norman Group. This first one is an About page on a corporate website:

Eye Tracking - About

To help you understand what you’re seeing with these heatmaps:

  • red = the most viewed areas
  • yellow = the next most viewed
  • blue = the least viewed
  • gray = no views

Let’s look at one more. It’s a Product page on an ecommerce site:

Eye Tracking - Product

Now put your hand over one eye, squint and focus on just the red areas. You should see a roughly formed “F”. That’s why this is known as the F-Pattern.

So the first few words in each line are more important than the ones that follow. This is especially true near the top of the page.

Important images should be placed on the left as well. For example, your product photos should be at the top, on the left.

There is one notable exception – buyers. They read. They want as much information as they can get, especially if your products or services sell for a relatively high price.

So you need to unlearn something we were taught in school. We were told to introduce the topic, spell out its main points and then show our conclusion.

For the web, you’ll generally want to start with your conclusion. End with your call-to-action.

In the next two posts, we’ll talk more about images and copy. You’ll see what your customers want from these two kinds of content.

Next Step

You’re ready to move on. So you have a simple choice to make. You can either go through Part 2 of the Your Customers and Your Website Guidebook or dive into the next post. (We recommend the former as usual, but it’s completely up to you!)

Of course, if you do have any questions, email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.

The Most Valuable Space on Your Website

Do You Have a (Split) Second?

You are here:
Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 2: Your Customers and Your Website
Post 1: Do You Have a (Split) Second?

In Section 1 of this Module, we focused on what you want from your website. It’s the best place to start, because it has to work for you. Otherwise, what’s the point, right?

Now we want to talk about what your customers want – specifically your future customers. Because if you don’t please them, you won’t be pleased!

We’ll start with a demonstration. Let’s count out a second. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way, without a timer. Say it out loud. Are you ready?

One thousand one.

Okay, now let’s repeat our count – only this time we’re going to stop you. Here we go…

One th…STOP!

This simple demonstration illustrates how much time it takes to make your first impression on a visitor to your website.

Do you have a second? No. You have a split second.

Specifically, research shows you have 50 milliseconds. That’s 50/1000th of a second or 0.05 seconds, for those of us who struggle with “nano numbers.”

The better their first impression, the longer they stay on your site. The longer they stay on your site, the more likely they are to do what you want.

Plus a study showed that first impressions last. A third of the participants read a positive review about a product. Another third read a negative review. The final third read no review.

Then they used the product and rated it. Those who were positively “primed” gave the product much better reviews than the other two groups.

So if your website visitors like what they see in a glance, they’ll be more forgiving. This raises an important to understand as you think about your website. When it comes to your relationship with future customers…

The first second on your website is the most important.
It shapes their opinion for all the seconds that follow.

6 critical elements (for most sites)

So let’s move beyond the first split second. An eye-tracking study showed that visitors zero in on an area of focus in 2.6 seconds. Here’s what they look at (and the time spent on it):

  1. Logo (6.48 seconds)
  2. Navigation menu (6.44 seconds)
  3. Search Box (6.00 seconds)
  4. Main image (5.94 seconds)
  5. Content (5.59 seconds)
  6. Footer (5.25 seconds)

One or more of these may not be relevant for you. For example – if you don’t have a lot of pages, a Search Box may not be necessary.

However, most of them are part of every website. It’s important to get them right. We’ll go into more detail about these six elements in the next post on layout.

2 tests you must pass in seconds

While your website visitors are looking at the six critical elements, you’re being tested in two ways. They’re asking:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why buy from you?

If not, they bounce. “Bounce” is web lingo. It means to leave quickly (in less than 30 seconds) without clicking past the page they landed on.

How do you keep them on your site? With a compelling value proposition (CVP).

(NOTE: Just read through the following for now. Then go to Part 1 of the Your Customers and Your Website Guidebook which will walk you through this material.)

The most important content on your website

Your CVP is the single most important content on your website. It helps your ideal customers quickly see you’re ideal for them too.

Established companies may not need to prominently feature their CVP.
But younger, less known businesses almost always must.

So let’s assume it’s important for you. What exactly is a CVP?

Your CVP tells your ideal customers why they should buy from you.

The “why” is composed of two parts: what you really sell and what makes you unique.

Fortunately, we laid the groundwork for all of this in Module 1. As you work on the Guidebook for this section, you may want to review your prior answers:

  • your ideal customers

Section 1: Differentiate Your Brand Guidebook
Part 2: How to Attract the Customers You Want

  • what you really sell

Section 2: Create Messages That Sell Guidebook
Part 2: What Do You Really Sell?

  • what makes you unique

Section 1: Differentiate Your Brand Guidebook
Part 3: Your Business is Like a Castle with a Moat

You also may want to take another look at the three benefits we discussed in the post The Secret to Building A Brand Today.

  • functional (level of quality)
  • experiential (level of service)
  • relational (level of trust)

The components of a great CVP

Your CVP will include the following components:

  • Headline: grabs attention
  • Sub-headline: clarifies
  • Introduction: 2 to 3 sentence paragraph
  • Bullet points: highlights benefits
  • Visual: supports the message
  • Call-to-action: so they take the next step

If that list looks familiar – good! We discussed it in the last post on pages with purpose. We felt it important to introduce it there and then come back to it here.

To create your CVP, answer these two questions:

  • What keeps people from buying from you?
  • How can you convince them to move forward?

Once you can state your answer simply and cohesively, you’re on the way to a great CVP.

A technique if you get stuck

We won’t kid you – a CVP is one of the most difficult messages to craft. If you find yourself stuck, try stepping outside your industry. Fill in the blanks:

If my business was a __________, we would NOT be a __________. We would be a __________. We would… (expand on your idea).

Here are a couple of examples:

  • If my business was a discount store, we would not be Walmart. We would be Target. We would offer higher quality products at low prices. Our stores would look more upscale. We would train our associates to excel at customer service.[By no way is this meant as a slam on Walmart or an endorsement of Target. It’s for illustration purposes only.]
  • If my business was a grocery store, we wouldn’t be a discount grocer. We would be a community store. We would sell the freshest, all-natural, locally grown foods in season.

The key is to use a business you’re familiar with where you can clearly see differences between two competitors. It’s not important for this exercise that other people agree with you. You’re drawing inspiration from your perceptions.

The final test

When you’re done, you should be able to say “Yes” to this question – Does your CVP clearly spell out…

  • What product(s) and/or service(s) you sell?
  • What you really sell (i.e. the ultimate benefit)?
  • Who your ideal customer is?
  • What makes you unique (compared to your top 3 – 5 competitors)?

Then you’re ready for the final test: Can a fifth grader answer these questions?

If so – congratulations! You have a good CVP. But you never know until you take it to the market. So don’t be afraid to test and tweak. CVPs are made to be remade.

And one more point before we move on:

You don’t have to be unique in the eyes of the whole world.
You just want to be unique in the minds of your ideal customers.

CVP boosters

When you think of land right off the interstate, what kind of businesses do you think of? Before you answer, let’s add to the complication…

This particular plot of land is in a town of less than 3,000 people, 13 miles away from the biggest city in the area – which has a population just over 30,000 people.

So what kind of business would you put there? A feasibility study was done. It came back with the conclusion that the highest-and-best use of the land was a gas station. No surprise there, right?

But one entrepreneur decided to put a steak house on it. Can you believe it?

Worse yet, they don’t make the best steaks you’ll ever eat. They don’t have the cheapest prices. They shouldn’t make it. Yet The Beef House thrives. What’s their secret?

Strawberry jam! Homemade. Full of strawberries. The owner says they’ve never been able to put their finger on any significant difference between his place and his competitors’ restaurants. However, they do a lot of little things better than anyone else.

For example, most people remember their homemade strawberry jam – with full strawberries. It’s a taste of heaven on their piping hot biscuits.

That’s an example of a CVP booster. Think about something similar in your business. Here are some thought-starters:

  • Free

Is there something you throw in for free? It may be something you don’t even think about.

If customers perceive it to be valuable, include it in your CVP. For instance, Amazon built their business in part on free shipping.

But it wasn’t free on all purchases. They set a dollar limit which made customers spend more on each purchase.

  • Special deal

Maybe it’s not free. But maybe there’s something you can bundle in for a special price. Consider using it in your CVP.

  • Multiples

It could be you allow multiple uses or more than one user. If so, that’s worth something. Mention it in your CVP.

  • Customization

Perhaps you enhance your “mass” offering with some sort of personalization. Be sure to let prospects know you do this automatically or for a really good price.

Can you deliver quickly? “Quickly” depends on your industry – it may be an hour or a day or a week. It doesn’t matter if it means something to the customers you want. Let them know to give you an edge.

  • Endearing terms

You may not require any long-term contracts. Or you may allow customers to cancel their arrangement at any time. Spell these things out as part of your CVP.

  • Guarantee

Do you offer a money-back guarantee? Spell it out. Let them know there’s no risk in giving you a try.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but you get the idea – look for anything and everything you can do to add value to the transaction. Then pick the ones which are most important to your customers to give your CVP a boost.

What a CVP doesn’t do

We want to emphasize one more point before we share some examples. Your CVP is supposed to raise curiosity. It doesn’t have to – and probably shouldn’t – tell the whole story.

You want to reduce everything about your business down to its essence. If you do that well, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to elaborate.

Sample CVPs

Here are a few examples of CVPs at work. The first one is an accounting firm, GGFL:


They’re not bean counters. They’re fellow entrepreneurs. They’re not just number-crunchers. They’re consultants.

They’re not using a stock photo. You’re looking the Managing Partner square in the eyes. (We’ll talk about images more in the next post.)

They also have an image with arrows in it. It points to their menu, where you self-select what you want to know more about.

All in all, this serves as a good example of a CVP for a small firm.

The next example is an insurance broker, The Thompson Group:


We bet you never thought you’d see copy like this on an insurance website. Thompson is different – they’re obviously not lizards, ducks or cavemen. Don’t you want to know more?

We did. Unfortunately, the page we landed on didn’t explain what they meant. Opportunity lost.

But it still serves as an example of a CVP which does its job – it makes you want to go further. Surprise can be effective. So don’t eliminate it as a possibility as you consider your CVP.

Nobody does CVPs better than Square, the mobile payment provider:


Note that they’ve reduced their CVP down to next to nothing. Yet you completely understand their business model.

As a merchant, you don’t have to pay for the card reader. Square provides it for free. They make their money on each transaction. You get your money the next day. It’s simple yet extremely effective.

Next Step

With this background, you can either go through Part 1 of the Your Customers and Your Website Guidebook or go on to the next post. (As usual – we recommend the former, but it’s up to you!)

Also note – if you do have any questions, you can simply email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.