Can Visitors Figure our What your Product is?

    February 5, 2004

In the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly aware of a major problem among websites: It’s very difficult to figure out what the site is actually selling.

I’ve encountered this problem numerous times recently due to emails from people asking for advice on their websites. Unfortunately, when I visit their site, I can’t tell what kind of product or service they are offering. I can usually get a general idea of their industry, and I can figure out at least some features of the product or service. However, there have been multiple instances where I can’t get a concrete grasp of what the product IS.

Case in point: This week, I got an email from a company offering financial services. They were interested in having me build a website for their product. The product, as they described it, is a financial tool enabling companies to save $1,000-2,000 per employee per year on their health insurance plan without altering their coverage, carrier, or plan.

Despite the fact that the company sent me a fair amount of information, I nevertheless had not a clue what the product is.


Because they didn’t explain the exact nature of this “tool.” After reading everything they sent, I was still left to wonder: Is it an actual product, such as a piece of software? Or is it some sort of membership in a program or organization? Or is it more of a service provided by the company and not really a concrete product at all?

In their defense, they actually did a good job of conveying the benefit–saving $1,000-2,000 per employee per year. But I still wanted to know what the product IS.

Such lack of clarity can be devastating to a website. Visitors detest uncertainty, and they will not spend time or money on a site that leaves them with an incomplete understanding of what’s being sold.

In my experience, many people don’t actually know how to define their product or service in a single sentence. And even if they can define it, they don’t define it in a way that someone unfamiliar with their product would readily understand.

Apparently, many companies suppose that if they provide lots of information, it will translate to understanding on the part of a visitor. But this frequently isn’t true.

If the information is vague, even if there is lots of it, visitors won’t be able to deduce the exact nature of the company’s services. And they certainly won’t be able to do it in a timely manner.

An equally significant problem is that although a site may eventually define its product clearly, it doesn’t happen fast enough. The problem is that visitors won’t stick around long enough to hunt and peck for the answers they seek. You have to be clear up front.

What’s the key to solving the problem? For starters, here are four suggestions:

Recognize the problem. Consciously make a note of the fact that lack of clarity is a serious issue. By your very sensitivity to the issue, you’ll be better prepared to deal with it.

Focus on getting your message across in the first seconds of a visitor’s visit. You ordinarily have a very short period of time in which to convince visitors to stay or leave, so make the most of it. Make it your top priority to proclaim your message very clearly on the home page.

Write for a twelve-year-old. If at all possible, try to make sure your message would be comprehensible to a kid. Even if you have a product or service that a twelve-year-old wouldn’t be interested in, it’s usually possible to write in terms they would understand.

Write a good site definition (see my previous article on the topic: A site definition is a concise, objective one-sentence statement explaining what a site does. This statement should appear in a high-visibility location, preferably at the top of each page near the logo.

Get the perspective of a few outsiders. Round up a few people who are unfamiliar with your service to help you, and see if they are able to adequately describe your product to you based on your copy.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of clarity. Be clear, be concise, be specific.

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