To write a great homepage, try the “no-body-copy” test.

write homepage

First things first. This test and approach applies to static home pages for sites that sell stuff — products, services and subscriptions etc. It does not apply to publishers, blogs or websites which have a blog on the home page.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

When working with clients on their home pages I will often suggest the following:

“Let’s take a screenshot of the first screen of your homepage, erase all the body text, and then see how much of your core message survives.”

To put it another way, I want to see how much of the site’s message survives if people read only the headlines, subheads and text links.

What’s the point?

Because that’s how first-time visitors actually behave when they arrive on your homepage for the first time.

It might be nice to think that visitors dive in and read your 200-word introduction to how exciting you and your company are. It’s also tempting to think that people read a website page as if it were a letter from a friend – from top to bottom.

Sadly, this isn’t what happens.

When someone comes to your homepage for the first time, they are strangers. And you are a stranger to them. As they watch your homepage load, they are giving you only the slimmest benefit of the doubt. They feel no commitment or loyalty to you or your site. They will literally skim the page with their eyes and then decide whether to start reading, or leave.

During those first two or three seconds they are looking for answers to two questions:

1. “Am I in the right place?” They want to know if your site is relevant to their search. Does that first glance make them feel confident that they could find what they are looking for on your site, or not?

2. “Will I find the value I am looking for?” They may have answered yes to the first questions – they’ll find what they are looking for – but they also want to know how good or useful your products or services are.

As an example, if I am looking for a bed-and-breakfast on the Oregon coast, I’ll start searching. As I arrive at each site I first want to know if the site will actually have information on bed-and-breakfast places on the Oregon coast. “Am I in the right place?”

If the answer to the first question is yes, I’ll want to know if the information on the site is any good. Is it just a listing, or are their photos, reviews, and enough information? “Will I find the value I am looking for?”

Or I might be in search of a freelancer who can write copy for my home renovation business. Again, I start searching. As I work through the search results I’ll see a few homepages. I have the same questions. Does this person write sales copy? (If yes, I’m in the right place.) And do I get the sense that this person can do a really good job for my home renovation business? (Yes, it looks like I’ll find the value I am looking for.)

That’s it. That’s all the first screen of your homepage needs to achieve. Just answer those two questions for your first-time visitors.

And you don’t need a ton of body copy to achieve that. You just need a really good headline, subheads and text links. Some great photos, images, charts or video can often help too.

Am I suggesting you should remove all the body copy from your home page? Not at all. Just understand that nobody will start reading your body text until after you have answered those two questions. In other words, if you don’t give them a good enough reason to read the body text, they won’t.

If the only place someone can find the answers to those questions is in paragraph five of your body text, forget it. You don’t have that much time.

That’s why I like my test, and have used it often.

Take that screenshot of the first screen of the homepage, erase or black out the body text, and see if what’s left effectively answers the two questions above.

Does most of the core message and promise of the website survive?

If it doesn’t, rewrite the headline, subheads and text links until it does.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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4 thoughts on “To write a great homepage, try the “no-body-copy” test.

  1. Nick, thanks. I like the no body copy test 🙂
    Great idea to use in presentations and workshops!

    About the 2 questions Am I in the right place? and Will I find the value I’m looking for?
    These are very important, but I think you’ve missed a couple of other questions the home page will need to answer as well:

    What’s different about this? (Good value and usefullness are not always enough.)

    Where do I start? (What do they want me to do? What’s my next step? => The call to action.)

  2. Aartjan, hi

    Great feedback. Thanks. I agree with you, and perhaps I made the article too brief. I kind of folded in “what’s different” with the promise of value, and implied the importance of “where to go next” by including link text on the body-copy-free version of the page.

    But you’re right, I should perhaps have clarified and expanded on the issue of the links and the importance of helping people find the interior page that is most relevant to their needs. If people don’t click forward to another page, then the homepage fails!

    That said, the point I really wanted people to take away from the post is that you have to communicate your core message quickly and clearly, without assuming that people will read the body copy. The post is really about the first few seconds of the experience. The task of getting people to click through another next page comes next.


  3. Nick, great article – writing a home page is such a challenge.

    I think a while back you described a home page’s job is to move people quickly into the interior and this just helps underscore that purpose.

    Excellent point, Aartjan, about emphasizing the USP.

    Nick with video/carousels, etc. do you have recommendations? I tend to advise still having the main front and center copy be static to make sure your main message is made. Do you have advice about where to locate videos or slideshows to make sure you capture visitors?

  4. Sarah, hi

    With regard to carousels and slideshows, if they help speed up the communication of your core message, that’s good…and position them front and center on the page. If they distract, get into too much detail, or get ahead of the core message…not so good. : )


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