7 Ways Your Homepage is Like A First Date


Dating, in general, kind of sucks. Or at least that’s always been my impression. Unfortunately, unless you want to die alone in your gorgeous Troy, NY apartment under a mountain of cats who do nothing but leach off you and prevent you from sleeping a solid eight hours, at some point you have to get in the game. And that means going on the elusive first date. The first date is when you get to know someone. It’s when you get to observe their behavioral cues to determine whether you’d be a good match. It’s when you watch how he butters his bread and wonder if he’d be gentler with a baby. [Don’t tell me you’ve never done that, ladies.]

As wacky as it may sound, people are judging the homepage of your Web site in the very same manner that they’re judging their date. And they’re asking themselves the very same set of questions.

Questions like:

Are we on the same page?

During a romantic encounter, you want to make sure you both have the same goals, want the same things, and that you’re not looking for a first kiss while he’s trying to get you back to his place with as little effort as possible. And when you’re a searcher, it’s the exact same scenario, minus the creepy porn music, of course.

Someone conducted a search and was woo’d back to your place by a compelling Title tag and Meta Description. In a perfect world, you’d direct them to a properly optimized landing page, but if you’re not, then you need still need to make sure your homepage ‘matches’ their search. There needs to be some cue that, “yes, you searched for [delicious vanilla cupcakes] and here are all of our delicious vanilla cupcakes”. Because if you create disconnect between what they WANT and SEARCHED FOR with what you’re offering and the language you’re using, they’re gone. In an instant and they’re not leaving a phone number. Your homepage should be designed to address the exact concerns customers are arriving with.

What are you about?

A first date is a reconnaissance mission. You arrive trying to corroborate everything Google told you find out as much as you can about this person, including their profession, what they do for fun, where they grew up, etc. You want to get a feel for what this person is all about to see if you’re a match. And it’s the same process when a customer lands on your site for the first time.

When someone hits your site for the first time, they’re taking everything in and trying to get a feel for who you are. Your homepage needs to lay the groundwork for the entire culture of your business. You want to use not only your words and language to convey a message, but images, social proofing, video, white space, etc. One glance of your page (which is probably all you’re getting) should tell people who you are and what audience your business is looking to attract.

Can I trust you?

While you can’t create trust in one date, that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for the cues. They’re looking to see how you talk about your friends, whether you’re rude to the waiter and if you’re checking out someone else while they’re telling you a story. And, again, it’s not much different here on the Web.

On the Web, trust rules all and your homepage should be the first step in creating it. It’s really important that you focus on hitting all the important site trust indicators so that customers know it’s safe to enter their credit card information on your site, that you’ll still be around tomorrow, and that you have experience in whatever it is you claim that you do. Investing in a professional Web design and displaying links to security information, About pages, etc, are all great ways to let people know you’re going to treat them well and not rob them of their life savings.

Are you literate?

Part of that ‘trust’ thing means ensuring that if my life was in danger, you’d be able to use the phone book to call the appropriate authorities. On your Web site, I want to know you can spell newsletter before I agree to sign up for yours. It’s the little things.

Do other people like you?

When you’re chatting with someone on a first date, you’re trying to gather up some social proof. Essentially, you want to know that this person has OTHER people in their lives. Like, friends. This, as you may know, is a good sign that the person you are out with is not, in fact, a raging psychopath that their own mother had to move thousands of miles to get away from them.

On the Web, we look for social proof to help us determine whether or not this is a company we want to be associated with. For example, if your homepage shows you actively talking to people on Twitter, displays that you have 8,000 Facebook fans and that you have tons of testimonials from happy customers, I feel a lot safer doing business with you. People are sheep. We like doing business with the same companies the rest of the flock is doing business with. Show me your flock.

Are you gonna make me work for it?

When you’re out with someone, you want to know it’s not going to become a hassle to KEEP going out with them. For example, can the other person hold an intelligent conversation or do shiny objects distract them? Are their cute quirks like loud chewing, rambling, inability to hold their alcohol, etc, going to stop being “cute” and start becoming “annoying” three months down the line?

On the Web version, people are looking at your site and trying to determine how difficult it’s going to be to navigate and get through it. Are they going to have a hard time finding the right product? Is the check out process five more steps than it needs to be? Are things laid out sensibly? If your site looks like it’s going to be high maintenance, customers are going to go find a site that isn’t. We don’t have that much time to wait on BS these days. Yeah, boys, I’m talking to you.

Will you tell me what to do next?

The end of a first date is always a little awkward. Do you shake hands? Hug? Go in for the kiss? And what do you do once you figure that part out? Who’s going to call who? Should I just sit around and wait? Should I just say screw it and get the third cat now? For me, the sign of a successful first date ends with a plan for the next one. Some sort of follow up that lets me know, hey, this worked, next we should do X. Without it, I’m stuck on my couch wondering what just happened and waiting for the ice cream to thaw.

Once I’m on your homepage, you need to give me a road map for how I’m supposed to get off and get on with my life. Yes, I came to you looking for cupcakes and you seem to sell them, but now what? What’s next in the conversion path? A successful homepage will lay the groundwork for the rest of my site interaction. Without it, I’m fumbling in the dark. I don’t like to fumble.

Those are some ways I think homepage and dating interactions tend to mirror one another. Any others you can think of?

Your Comments

  • Jacob Stoops

    Love the analogy here. So many people don’t understand (especially in regards to SEO) that you can drive all the traffic you want to a page, but if the page isn’t designing to be a “match” with what the users want, then it will end like many of my own first dates…alone with nobody to console it but a case of cheap beer!

    Great stuff!

    • Lisa Barone

      Totally agree, thanks for the comment Jacob. And, mmm, cheeeeap beeer. :p

    • Mike

      Very well said, but we seo people always do not kill the design and we also take care of design point but you are also true that we are more concerned towards the code of the web site and assume that website should be clean and fast opening

  • Chad Haverfield

    Great blog. I would add a #8, though:
    Can I get you out of my head once our date ends?
    Okay, now that I’ve determined that you’re worthy of a second date, am I giddy over the thought of it? Did your site stir me inside somewhere? Make me laugh, cry, think? Show me that I’ve discovered a pearl in a tepid sea of average?

    On paper, you’re datable. But do you have the “it” factor?

    • Lisa Barone

      On paper, you’re datable. But do you have the “it” factor?

      Love that! It’s so true. Sure, we may get along okay and I don’t think you eat babies for lunch, but is that spark there? If you (or your site) don’t make my palms sweaty than this just isn’t going anywhere. I’m not settling. :p

  • Barry Welford

    I’m rather into Home Pages at the moment, Lisa. I wondered whether the inspiration for this might have been my revelation that Home Pages Suck On Google.

  • finn @ golden-tech

    Was this post in response to the CopyBlogger post about “The Myth of a Beautiful Design?” http://www.copyblogger.com/myth-of-beautiful-design/

    Because it really, really should be.

    Their post reads like someone who’s accepted their lack of photoshop skills and connections to friends who do and is resigned to write on an ugly blog.

    In the end, if you aren’t concerned about aspects of the user experience, you’re maiming yourself.

    Besides, as Doug Karr says, “nobody reads copy anymore.”

    Which makes me think of Brogan’s recent post on NM Labs, “Why Bother Blogging at All.”

    It just makes me want to run an hide back in the only alley cafe in Valparaiso, IN (Troy, NY we feel your pain :-P) and write.

    So long as I don’t get maimed by a mountain of alley cats.

  • Kat

    My homepage doesn’t have a lot of copy, but you definitely get a feel for who I’m like & what I do. That’s what I think an effective front page does.

  • Tim Staines

    I was just on a site that did a very poor job of that last item. I was a returning customer who hadn’t logged in to use their service in a few months, so I didn’t remember the steps I took to upload my audio files for transcription. Once logged in, the pretty sales navigation elements remain the most obvious places to click, but they take you away from the upload interface and don’t offer navigation to the actual upload page. Instead those pages just talk about the upload process, etc.

    It wasn’t until I clicked the tiny little, camouflaged “Account” link in the upper right corner of the page that I was headed back in the right direction.

    Now that I think about it, this is more of a second date analogy, but you get the idea. Once we’re hooked, don’t do stuff that makes us want to break up.

  • Brian V. Hunt

    And speaking of cheap alcohol, I just got rejected on my first date with an article distributor because of a humorous reference to cheap merlot in the first sentence. First impressions do matter.

  • Amy

    “Show me your flock.” LMAO
    Nearly spit my drink all over the computer

  • Christy Correll

    Adding to Finn’s comment, it doesn’t matter how beautiful a site is, if there is no substance to the content I am out of there. In an ideal world, I would say the same is true of a date with that guy that is absolutely gorgeous, yet cannot sustain a stimulating conversation.

    And when designing a home page, we must remember that the object is to interact with the user. On a first date, it doesn’t matter how interesting a guy is — there won’t be a second one if the entire evening is a monologue on his greatness.

  • Joshua

    I’m a bit troubled by the whole bread/baby thing. :)

  • Jen Adams

    Great post, Lisa. I also liked the “Show me your flock” and the concept of using social media as social proof.

    The other comments also pointed out the truth: If you’re all flash, I’ll dash. Shallow, arrogant, and selfish sites (and blogs) aren’t going to hold my attention. You’re neither as cool or as funny as you think, boys. I don’t care how many self-validating toys, animations, and link tricks you’ve got. Be real or get out.

  • John Soares

    Lisa, this is a very funny post that provides both good dating advice and good ways to create a sticky website.

    Thanks for making me laugh!

  • Shannon

    So I have been out of the dating scene for 15 years, does this mean I have no idea how to design a good home page?? Love it, great post!

  • Ricardo Bueno

    I can’t think of anything immediate to add but as I’m reading this I’ve been thinking of our company blog and how the content on the homepage may just be a wee bit overwhelming. Time to go tone it down…

  • Pamela Wilson

    Lisa, what a great analogy! I guess the only difference between a first date and landing on a home page is that it’s easy to click away from a bad home page. I remember some first dates I would have liked to click away from …

    Finn, I’m sorry the Copyblogger post gave you the impression that people should give up on design. That’s not what I was going for: I believe good design makes a huge difference, and I’ve built my career on that belief.

    What I was trying to say in the post (and obviously didn’t communicate clearly enough) is that design is one of the tools you should use to make your blog work, but it can’t be the only one. In my experience sites that get all of Lisa’s elements right: usability; social proof; trust; clarity, etc. and good design are the ones that succeed.

    By the way Lisa, your choice of photo for this post was awesome! Classic.

  • David Hackett

    I just looked at my company’s homepage for the first time in a long time. Let’s just say I ain’t gettin laid anytime soon.

  • Hannah Tighe

    I think I want to nominate this as one of my favorite blog posts of all time. I love the analogy, photos etc. I absolutely need to redo my site after reading this, or I may end up seeming like an insipid bimbo. Thanks for the great advice and the wonderful humor. “Show me your flock” and “minus the creepy porn music”, freaking classic!

  • Franco Lucchetti

    One of the most clever viral-article around about making a good homepage to not let people get away from a website..:)

    I had some laugh reading it!
    Now, I’ll certainly ask for a second night out so as to not let her flumbing in the dark..:)

  • Phil

    Great post. The people always do not kill the design and we also take care of design point but you are also true that we are more concerned towards the code of the web site.

  • louise marsden

    A really funny post and what a clever analogy, I’d never thought of it that way – I’ll look at my home page in a different light now perhaps I’ll even add some candles and some mood music. lol

  • Bharat Patel

    Lisa you really have a cool attitude it reflects in the post. I would have never compare homepage with my date.LOl.
    As far as the trust factor, i would say it matters most to the ecommerce site and very little to some low traffic blogs. If you have more visitors with whom you try to sale something then man you need trust factor like anything. If your visitor don’t trust you they don’t buy from you.