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Website Copywriter Tips Homepage Copy - The Transition Zone

By Expert Author: Ralph Adams

Have you read Paco Underhill's fascinating book, Why We Buy, about the psychology of retail store shopping? One of his major tenets about brick and mortar shopping holds the key to effective homepage copy - something he calls the "transition zone." If your homepage copy creates a sales zone not a transition zone, you could be losing sales.
The Transition Zone Explained
Think about the last time you visited a brick and mortar store... Maybe it's raining or snowing outside. Maybe you just left the dry cleaner before arriving at the electronics store. As you first enter the store you constantly make adjustments to changes in lighting, temperature, sounds, and visual stimulation. You need to get your bearings. Underhill calls this part of the store the "transition zone," a place for adjusting from outside to inside, not selling. Selling attempts in this early stage are lost. When does your homepage copy start selling? Unless your answer is never, it is too soon.
The Trade Show Lesson
I remember that the worst trade show booth to have was just inside the front door of the trade center. Instead of making sales I was giving directions, demoted from VP Sales to greeter, gopher. You would think that being first was an advantage. This position might be true in search engine ranking but not in trade shows booths. The fact is many people don't even notice the first booth until they have completed their adjustment process. By that time they are well past the first booth and buying from booth number 4.
Most website visitors behave like trade show guests. Is your web site copy trying to close business in booth one or giving the visitor time to adjust to the new digs? Why not put your actual sales copy in booth two or three or four? Better still distribute the message across all three.After all, that's where the customers are headed anyway once they have transitioned to your site.
Cushion Don't Convince
So if selling is inappropriate what can you do to make your homepage copy sell without selling? Effective homepage copy cushions the hard landing strangers feel when they first arrive at your site. A soft landing is a receptive landing. Why not use your homepage copy to give visitors what they need:

Acknowledge Your Visitors
Let's go back to your recent store visit... You're barely inside the door and the overly friendly sales clerk asks, "Can I help you find what you are looking for?" Most times this clumsy sales attempt is made too early in your transition to the store from your previous location. For most people shopping is an experience not a mission. Instead of being sold during their time of transition, most customers simply want to be acknowledged - greeted, recognized.
How does your website copy acknowledge visitors to your site?
Does your homepage copy confirm that your visitors are in the right place?
Does your copy welcome them?
Does your web copy make demands of these shaky travellers too soon?
How does your homepage copy help them adjust to the change in environment?

Build Anticipation
You're standing ten feet inside the store. And there it is, way over there - the outline of that gorgeous HD TV you've been after. As you walk towards this target your heart races a little as you anticipate getting up close and personal with your quarry. The closer you get, the more you notice the details of your treasure.
By putting products a little off in the distance smart retailers build anticipation. You know what it's like. Details come into focus over time. Expectation increases.
Where could you put your best offerings to heighten anticipation without killing transition?
How can you replace assertiveness with anticipation?
Wouldn't it be a good idea to introduce your value proposition in your homepage copy, without demanding customer action right away?
Where could you place the copy that supports this value proposition?
Shouldn't your remaining pages build expectancy and familiarity at the same time?
How about making your web site copy one integrated "time release capsule"?

Deepen Acclimatization
Whenever copy goes against the customer's natural order, it becomes a threat, losing credibility and any chance of influence. It doesn't make sense to challenge the site visitor's natural need for transition. Why not embrace this idea? Remember the old ABC's of selling? Instead of "always be closing," why not use the transition zone strategy "always be comforting."
Think of ways your homepage copy can help your customers acclimatize to your site.
Do you repeat your key ideas to build familiarity?
Is the look and feel of your copy consistent?
Does your copy give a snapshot of what's possible on your site?
Is your navigation system explained?
Has your homepage copy briefly highlighted your content?
How can your visitors gain quick control of their journey?

That's acclimatization. Now you're ready to sell. YES!
Effective homepage copy smoothes the transition from stranger to guest using acknowledgement, anticipation, and acclimatization. Done well and it's sales zone time for the customer. Done poorly and it's cortisone time for you.

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