Does Your Writer Website Lead Visitors to a Dead End?

Freelance writer website leads to a dead endBy James Chartrand

Many writer websites have a home page that offers new visitors a basic introduction to the business: “Here’s what I do, who I do it for, and why I’m better than anyone else.”

That’s not a bad home page – but there’s a problem.

The problem is that the home page of your website rarely convinces new visitors that you’re the one for them. Many of these new visitors might become your clients if they just stuck around a little longer to learn more about you.

Sadly, most disappear before you have the chance to convince them.

Why? You haven’t compelled them to take the next step down your path.

It happens all the time. Thousands of websites out there describe their business using the standard ‘what we do, who we do it for, and why we’re better’… and then they rely on people to know where they want to click next.

Most don’t have a clue. And they could use a little guidance.

Generational differences

Losing people from your home page is most apparent when the website visitors are of an older generation. Generation X and Y visitors grew up with the internet – they know how websites work, inside and out, and they know exactly where to click. They don’t even have to think about it.

Baby Boomers? They have a little more trouble. The way this generation interacts with a website is wildly different than the way a younger person does. They’re not 100 percent comfortable with navigating websites.

There’s more hesitation. There’s more uncertainty. And this target market often has to peer at the page a little longer, trying to figure out where to click to learn more.

These website visitors get easily frustrated. They’ll leave if they can’t figure out where to go next from your home page.

They could use a little guidance. Here’s how to lead them down the path to a sale:

Getting them to take the first step

Keep the web copy you already have on your home page. It probably does a fairly good job of introducing you.

Then add a few leading questions that appeal to your target market. A good leading question can encourage people to click to visit the next page – which keeps them on your site, learning more about what you sell or offer.

Every click to another page gives you extra opportunity to convince these visitors to become clients.

What leading questions could you ask on your home page? If you’ve done your target market research, try adding questions that you know people already have in mind as factors that might make them hesitate to become your client.

Let’s use the example of a copywriting business. Some leading questions might be:

  • “Does the idea of having a stranger write your web copy feel weird to you?”
  • “What does ‘good web copy’ look like, and how would you recognize it?”
  • “Having trouble selling your phenomenal product?”

The first two questions are designed to address hesitations in hiring a copywriter. People are worried that strangers can’t make their website copy sound like their business. They worry that they wouldn’t be able to tell if the copy was ‘good’ or not.

These leading questions, if linked to a page on your website, will encourage them to click to learn the answers… and they’ve just taken a step down your path.

The last question? The one about having trouble selling? That’s designed to appeal to the person who wound up at your website more or less by accident. He doesn’t think he needs a copywriter. He saw a link somewhere and clicked out of curiosity.

This guy doesn’t have any concerns about his copy because he already has copy.

But he does have a product. And now that your question makes him think about it, he is having more trouble selling it than he thought he would.

So he clicks the link and reads the next page, even though he doesn’t need a copywriter – because he does need to fix that problem of selling more product.

On that page? You’ll be able to convince him why his copy might be the problem he didn’t even know he had.

Getting them to take the next step

Think about what you’ll put on that second page. You’ll have the opportunity to answer visitor questions, so do a good job of informing them, reassuring them and convincing them you know your business.

You could show them detailed case studies of people you’ve helped in the past and talk about exactly what you did. You could explain how your services help solve a problem, and what it’s like to work with you. You could talk about what the before-and-after looks like, and what a visitor can expect if he buys your product or hires you.

Secondary pages – pages past your home page – help convince a reader that he might actually get what he’s looking for out of a service or product he hadn’t considered as a solution. These pages help him learn more, and show what you can do, and why he should take advantage of this.

You could point your visitor to even more pages that answer leading questions you’ve added to your copy. You’ll want to avoid creating a winding path that doesn’t go anywhere, of course, but you’ll definitely want to make sure that you’ve given this person as much information as you can, so that he’s feeling good about your product or services.

Which is when you might mention the Buy Now, Hire Me, or Contact page.  It’s the logical next step.

Check your path

It might be very obvious to you that someone should click the button or the contact link – but it isn’t obvious to your visitor.

From the moment a person lands on your home page, you need to encourage him to take a step further. If at any point the next step becomes unclear (or worse, isn’t even there), that visitor will stop, turn around and not come back.

All paths on your website should lead to your contact or buy page. Are you sure they do?

Walk a mile in your client’s shoes. Start with the home page. Read your copy carefully, and see if the next step is clear. Follow each path to its end, double-checking the calls to action on every page until you’re sure that none of the roads bring visitors to a dead end in the middle of nowhere.

Once you do, your visitors will happily wander down the path that suits them best – and all those roads now lead to you.

Need to learn more about how web copy can lead more visitors to your ‘contact me’ page? Check out James Chartrand’s Damn Fine Words, the innovative writing course for business owners who want to learn writing skills that land more sales. Click here to learn more.

 

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51 comments on “Does Your Writer Website Lead Visitors to a Dead End?
  1. John McCoy says:

    James,

    This is a powerful article. I have been dithering for months trying to come up with a website structure that would work for me. After reading your article and thinking for a couple of days, I had a flash of clarity. All I had to do was create a home page and landing pages to capture leads – exactly what I have been taught to do.

    Pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. You moved one curmudgeon from dither to thither.
    John McCoy recently posted…Are your employee communications working for you?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Personally, I’m a big fan of the ‘all in one’ home page setup for freelancers, where if a prospect wanted they could quickly see a bit of everything needed to make a decision right on the home — testimonials, clip links, who your target client is, who you are, who you’ve written for. I like putting contacts in the sidebar so they’re visible on every page, so that ‘ask’ is always there. Can be a quick way to get it done with NO additional clicks…and then as you say, have landing pages that expand further on key topics for those who seek to learn more, that end with a call to contact you or to view testimonials or such.

  2. It’s been very interesting to read some of the comments, and it’s been a great debate, with plenty of good opinions from both sides of the table. Reactions certainly surprised me, I’ll admit!

    Out of respect for Carol, though, I think it’s time to get the conversation back on track, because this article isn’t about Baby Boomer internet usage, or whether Boomers are competent, smart people. Of course they are, and many absolutely use the internet marvelously. There’s never been a question of that.

    But for the majority, Boomers navigate websites differently than younger generations, and have different needs and preferences. This isn’t a slight towards older generations or an offensive statement by any means, and there’s plenty of information available on the internet that discusses the specific needs of Boomers in navigating websites when they land on a page.

    To mention just a few references, UX Mag reported on this here: http://uxmag.com/articles/romancing-the-boomer, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute did a study on this as well, which you can find here: http://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=uxdmrl-pubs

    Those two articles make for excellent reading, and I think they’ll be enlightening about how Boomers interact with websites… which is what this article is really about: how to improve your website in a way that boosts the overall user experience through simple tweaks and changes that encourage engagement, draw clear paths of navigation and increase sales.

    I’m more than happy to continue to reply to comments that fall within that topic of discussion!
    James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

    • I have to agree that the theme of this page seems to be keeping the visitor and potential client engaged with “my” website long enough to feel familiar with me and my work.

      Also, I think the emphasis here is creating highly visible links that lead to pages that answer client questions and needs. So, the question to ask is what are my potential clients looking for when they land on my opening page?

      I can see that this is a good strategy and it is client centered. It could result in garnering some steady clients – it seems to be another path for building trust.

      So, I think the best way to answer client questions and needs is to be authentic – be real – no phony baloney. I think the best attitude to have is that potential clients these days will be able to detect insincerity or a mere sales pitch.

      Also, doing what I said I would do, once assigned the project, will be just as important – and will have the added benefit of enhancing one’s reputation.

      Sorry about getting caught up in the “boomer” thing.

    • P.S.
      James, these are excellent references – thanks for the links. I didn’t realize that different generations can and do have different preferences when using the web.

      I read the UX magazine article and have started the WPI article. Hopefully, I can set aside some time for reading the whole WPI article.

      I hope you don’t mind me saying – with these references you are talking my language 🙂

  3. John says:

    I’m a boomer. I’m not insulted or put off by any remark: fact is fact. However, if some of you are on the net frequently and spending a lot of time there as well, maybe it’s your job or you are retired and have more time to do so, or more need to do so.

    I use the net most for following a few useful blogs for business and personal reasons, and for finding help and answers to specific questions and problems I have. I DO have navigation issues. I DO get annoyed at sites that waste my time with unwanted doodads (how’s that for a generational reference?). I don’t have a problem admitting this.

    The readers who have expressed issues about boomers clearly don’t have a business or don’t need customers who have money. Exactly which generation has disposable income and the time to spend it? Oh, yes, that would be us of course.

    @Susan Struthers: unwittingly, you have proven the author correct.

    @ Carol Tice: first time reader, but I’ll be back. The advice (and the debate) are great.

  4. Hi all . . .

    Been lurking around here a bit and decided to add a few more thoughts to the mix.

    As I read the post, I was somewhat put off by the characterization of Baby Boomers and their ability to use websites. I saw myself described generally as hesitant, uncertain, peering (don’t grannies peer?) at my computer trying to figure out where to click. I also saw myself described as someone who needs guidance and to be lead down the path to a sale–because I’m too old and too hesitant to make my own decisions. Not a flattering picture and not one I’d want to paint in a reader’s mind, especially if I’m trying to sell them something.

    Since I have been using computers for a long time and have a very high comfort level using the Internet, I set the picture aside and read on. I’m currently re-doing my home page and can use all the help I can find. The guidance and suggestions were on target and very helpful. I decided to ignore my reservations and click on James’s Damn Fine Words site.

    I spent at least twenty seconds on the site deciding that James couldn’t be all that great since he seemed to be working on his site and didn’t even have the correct picture of himself posted!

    I’ll be questioning my preconceptions and generalizations in the future.

  5. Hi James,

    Thanks for the homepage set-up, and for stirring up baby boomers. For a generation of youth guided by inner visions, we seem to have grown into a bunch of real snappers. I hope a case of thin skin isn’t related to a skimpy homepage.

    To avoid all confusion, and staying within the three click maximum, I’ve put my blogging intentions in my blogs title while still maintaining a baby boomer blogging focus.

    Thanks again
    David Gillaspie recently posted…SPORTS PRIMER IN BLACK AND WHITEMy Profile

  6. Tom McCauley says:

    Hi All:

    Some interesting discussions.

    But let’s focus on the purpose of the article – namely how to get more people to respond to you copywriter website.

    The article provide valuable tips on what to do to keep people on your site and get them to respond.

    The fact the James felt the need to editorialize about the capabilities of website users is distracting but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    As writers/editors we should be able to cut to the chase through the forest of irrelevancies.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve often said that the set of people who have marketing money to spend on copywriting, and the set of boomers…if you did a Venn diagram, they overlap quite a bit.

      Which I think is why James made that point about age differences. Understand who you’re selling to. If their site is great, that only increases the importance that your site also have great navigation and obvious calls to action that lead those prospects through your site and make them want to hire you.

  7. Daryl says:

    Lots of good information and suggestions here…but I’d love to address the “tempest in a teapot” discussion here:

    While I understand that of course James was making a generalization, I do agree that the article could easily have been nuanced to appreciate the fact that there are indeed many baby boomers who are comfortable with navigating the web.

    In fact, I would argue that the majority of copywriters would be catering to clients who CAN navigate the web, and understand the importance of good copy on their websites. I do appreciate that the older generation does have some difficulties in navigating the web – but I’m also of the opinion that these probably wouldn’t be your primary target audience for clients!

    I think the easy navigability of websites is far more important than just for baby boomers – as people in general won’t stay more than 3 seconds on a page that they cannot easily navigate!
    Daryl recently posted…What Nobody Tells You About Writing a Successful Guest Post PitchMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      We cater to clients, yes, Daryl — but the copy we write for clients is for their customer. If they have older customers, that’s something to keep in mind.

      But I do agree with you that design & usability are so important, no matter who the customer is! And most sites really fail at it.

      • I have to agree that it is the website and not the person. One message that is reinforced in these freelance writer circles is the simplicity and utility of the website. I think James is confusing geekiness with competence.

        I strongly agree with Lois. These so-called indecisive and incapable baby boomers brought us the computer, the internet, the mostly widely used operating system beginning 1995 (Windows), the internet browser, landed a man on the moon, and so on…

  8. At 58, I’ve used the Internet constantly for decades, not as a techie but as an oft-bewildered creative writer and former newspaper reporter, now a book publisher. I find sites confusing due to their owners’ mediocre layout and communication skills, often combined with theirs, or the host’s, determination to detour me every step of the way with sales pitches. What James outlined as “Duh” help for us old people strikes me as the kind of clear “follow-me” steps a lot of visitors would prefer to find on sites. I want basic answers to basic questions, not a click-through to vague paths where flashing lights give me an overload of information to questions I didn’t ask at all–while trying to sell me products I don’t want.

    • Carol Tice says:

      As a reporter, I used to be blown away by how bad most small-business websites were. Wish I could say that’s improved over the decades, but there are so many sites now where you still can’t find out where a company is headquartered, one of the basic reporter questions I often went to website to try to answer!

      • Agreed! In my everyday career, I’ve seen thousands of websites, and I’m often struck by how many new and modern ones leave me with a big question mark. “Uh, where’s the link to XYZ? Should be around here… man, what’s this bling? I don’t want bling. I want info.”

        It’s often hard to find, hidden in cool-kid design, and makes it hard to navigate a website for sure!
        James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

  9. Hi Carol,

    Jack Dangermond owns the largest mapping software company in the world. Also 68 years old. I’d call him a visionary, not an outlier, since he was able to birth GIS at a time when the technology tools were much more primitive (1969). I was selling the first personal computers in the 1980s — when the first touch keyboard computer, the Sinclair, bombed. My mom supervised a group of keypunch operators. Steve Jobs was 56 years old when he died in 2011. Bill Gates is a boomer.

    This isn’t a matter of being sensitive, it’s a matter of being accurate. Boomers DID come of age with computers and in fact invented some of them! Computers were just very different than they are now. While the internet came along much later, boomers and their parents still constituted the majority of the workforce during its development.

    To me, it’s neither obvious, a truism, nor a general rule that Boomers have difficulty navigating the web. I respect your abilities as a writer and teacher, but I think in this case, you and James are off base.

    Sincerely,
    Lois

  10. Michelle Sancho says:

    I found this article very useful. Sometimes it is the little things that get overlooked when building a user-friendly website. I am always grateful to run across reminders such as this. I am not understanding the backlash over the term baby boomers. I wonder when I have to teach Millenials(sp?) how to use a typewriter (yes our office still has them) if they get offended when I point out the backspace or return button?

  11. Edie Dykeman says:

    What a condescending attitude about baby boomers! I have no problem navigating around the net at all – in fact, I’ve created more than 50 websites with just one course taken several years ago.

    Don’t think for a minute that baby boomers are unable to figure out what’s going on in the world, be it related to technology or any other topic you might want to believe you (who obviously must be much younger than the baby boomers you are insulting) know more than they do.

    What a disgusting article slant. Better try again.
    Edie Dykeman recently posted…Fraud Prevention: How to Keep Your Senior SafeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m really surprised by the reactions to this! Though I’m web-savvy myself, I’m well aware that those of us who weren’t teethed on the Internet for the most part are less at home there. I personally ask my 12-year-old son when I need help figuring out how to download things on my iPhone.

      Seems like people are so sensitive about this! But I think it’s an obvious truism that our kids, who were raised doing their homework on cloud-based tools, are more at home online than we are. As a general rule. Obviously, there are outliers.

      • What I’m surprised about most is that the entire article, which is based on pure fact, is being outright dismissed for the value it offers based on one small point: that Baby Boomers and Gen Ys behave very differently on the net.

        Sorry that seems to offend, but that has nothing to do with me, or the article’s value and truth.

        There are always exceptions to the rule, for sure – but younger generations are, and always will be, different in how they interact with websites than older ones.
        James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

        • I’d like to know where these “pure facts” are. Really, I think this article is based too much on sweeping generalities. I have no problem navigating websites.

          And writing samples, prior experience, testimonials, tell me all that I need to know. Take a look at Angie Mansfield’s site. Take a look at some of the other experienced den members sites. Guest blogging, referrals, and query letters bring in clients.

          Also, I think you are making a mistake by not providing recordings of your webinars. I’m pretty sure you can increase your base by having recordings available. Sorry to say, right now I question your whole marketing approach. If you had hundreds of listeners then you could multiply that with available recordings.

  12. Angie says:

    Hi, James –

    Great post! I’ve been feeling like my site needs another makeover for awhile — this gives me the motivation to get on that. Love the tip about leading questions! Think that could work to “aim” your site at a couple of different niches? You could have one leading question that appeals to the first niche, and a second one that appeals to another. I know in the Den we have a lot of members wonder how to bring their two different niches together on one site – this seems like a good way to make that easier. Thoughts? 🙂

    Thanks for the great advice!
    Angie recently posted…Low Carb Cha-Cha (or, Diet Really Can Improve Your Mood)My Profile

    • Hm, that’s an interesting question, Angie, but a big one that I can’t answer in a small comment without more info. It depends on how closely the niches are related – ie, a particular product that both teens and seniors might use, but for very different reasons – or how different they are… I’ve seen people try to blend a dog service niche with a parenting niche.

      So… it all depends!
      James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

  13. Tom Bentley says:

    James, lovely to see you in Carol’s digs! You made me realize that my site is OK, but “OK” doesn’t really cut it. I’ll use your piece to guide a tune-up.

    Oh, and I’m one of those doddering boomer types too, but I took no offense at your phrasing, understanding that you were making a sweeping statement. (I have more problems navigating in supermarket aisle than on websites.)

    Thanks for some good advice.
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Writer Collaborations: Death Match or Delight?My Profile

  14. Thanks for the tips!

    I will definitely try to apply what I learned when I wake up, lol.
    Timothy Torrents Writer recently posted…Dealing With Loneliness When Working on Building an Online Freelance Business From ScratchMy Profile

  15. Thanks for a very informative article, James! I really appreciated the step-by-step guidance on what to look for/think about. In fact, I pulled up my website and read your article right next to it, bouncing back and forth between the two and assessing what I could do better.

    It’s easy to get ‘down in the weeds’ with one’s own site and forget that the visitor is coming with a unique set of needs and expectations. Thanks for the reminder to take a step back…

    • I had to grin at the “in the weeds” reference – I actually just learned what that meant about two months ago while reading Kitchen Confidential.

      I think a LOT of writer websites end up in the weeds, unfortunately – seems like a lot of us get so worried about how we’re perceived online and how our website looks to potential clients that we forget to actually work on landing those clients in the first place!
      James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

  16. Hi James,

    This is solid advice that any writer can use–regardless of generational differences. The first rule of copywriting is to rein in your ego a bit because you’re writing to persuade, and you can’t persuade someone when you’re stuck in “I’m so awesome” mode. People get bombarded with sales messages all the time, so I think it’s natural for most people to use objections in order to resist being sold to. One of the many lessons I learned from great copywriters is to address your audience’s objections in your copy to build trust and to erase doubt.

    Also, spelling things out for people using effective linking and CTA’s is great for all readers because if your site is confusing, people won’t hesitate to find a clearer alternative.

    • What’s interesting is that for every person that needs an ego reined in, there’s another that needs MORE ego – so many people are afraid of being clear and to the point when it comes to asking for the sale!

      I think this phenomena is very visible online, because I’ve never run into a shop or store owner who doesn’t try (at least a bit) to land a sale… but I’ve seen a lot of people online nearly run from it.

      Being obvious and plain about it is good. While making sure the ego is in check, of course!
      James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

  17. James

    I love call-to-action buttons. They kinda replicate the online shopping experience and give the prospect a sense that they’re being guided through the process.

    One thing I’ve recently done on my site though is make those buttons a different colour from the general theme of the website.

    They just stand out loads more now and make it much easier for the visitor to see what to do next.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…Two crafty conversion tricks copywriters can learn from eCommerceMy Profile

  18. This otherwise fine article is spoiled by the author’s condescending attitude toward boomers. He lost all credibility with me right at the beginning of the post and it was hard to get past that. By inserting a single word, such as “some,” or “might” he could have softened his tone sufficiently that I would have glossed right over it. Instead, he irritated me. At 68, I have no difficulty navigating anything. A cautionary tale for all of us.

    • Hi Lois, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      As I’m sure you know, there are always exceptions to the rule, and while I could’ve used ‘some’ or ‘a few’, the honest truth is that the majority of Baby Boomers navigate websites very differently than 20-somethings… which is perfectly natural. We didn’t grow up immersed in the internet as a part of life, and had to learn and adapt to it as it became integrated completely into daily routines.

      I’m not being arrogant or discriminatory – I’m a Baby Boomer myself, and I own a world-class website design company, so this is coming from industry-insider experience, and it’s just a fact. Definitely not intended to irritate exceptions like yourself who’ve mastered the internet!

      I’m really glad that you’re well versed in internet usage, though – that shows you have an open mind, genuine curiosity, very little fear and an eagerness to learn… which are ALL great qualities.
      James Chartrand recently posted…We’re doing it again – and you’re invitedMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        As a boomer myself, I had no problem with that generalization. I know I’ve taken the time to learn a lot about the Internet, but from my Freelance Writers Den experience with thousands of older writers, I can say most have many challenges getting around online. I’ve had to teach older members how to leave a forum comment, play an audio recording, create a signature, and more.

      • Stating that something is a fact doesn’t make it so. Some reference to science-based studies that support the article’s underlying assumptions would have lent credibility to it. Analytics and marketing statistics are data that is open to interpretation and do not necessarily establish a causal relationship, i.e., even though age may correlate with length of time spent looking at a web page, one cannot make the leap that it is because Boomers “can’t figure out where to go next.”

        As a best practice, it’s important to review our work and make sure our assumptions don’t have the potential to turn off groups of readers. You could counter that your article’s intended audience is not Boomers, but we are obviously a segment of Carol’s audience.

    • Rachel says:

      You do realize that James is really a woman? And that she’s a well-known writer at Copyblogger and is the founder of Men with Pens?

      If you check the stats, they do show that baby boomers are less comfortable being online, as evidenced by several factors, one of which includes the amount of time spend online per day, interaction with various social networks, and so on.

      The fact that you are comfortable with computers doesn’t negate the facts.

    • John McCoy says:

      I don’t have a problem with attitudes toward baby boomers. There are many who are technically proficient – after all, we are the ones who laid the groundwork. On the other hand, many of my contemporaries are not handling the change well.

      Let me give you an example. More and more web pages are using icons with mouse-overs instead of menus and labels. I have seen many people stare at the page wondering what to do and how to do it. Others of us who are steeped in the tech culture daily don’t even think about it – we just point and click or tap.

      Condescension is in the eye of the beholder.
      John McCoy recently posted…Does your Technology Own You?My Profile

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