Creating a Sense of Place on Your Homepage
You’re looking for a new leather bag to lug around your laptop. Or a health coach to get yourself back on track after the holidays. Or the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies for your partner’s birthday… Where do you turn?
More than likely, the internet, right?
You might find what you are looking for on Google, or in a recommendation from a blog you read. Or maybe through a link a friend shared on Facebook. Whichever way, let’s imagine you end up on a new website, looking for the bag or coach or recipe. Whether you know it or not, the first thing on your mind is:
You take a look around, and if you answer in the affirmative, you stay and poke around some more. If the answer is a “no” or “not really”, you leave. Simple as that. It’s the same when you walk into a new shop: you know pretty quickly if they’ve got (clothing, home decor, kitchen essentials) that suit your style or not. If the salesperson says hello, you might be tempted to do a little browse, but otherwise, you’re back out the door pretty quickly if they don’t appear to have what you’re looking for. Why waste your time?
The same is true online! If the site you’ve landed on shows no sign of the bag, health coach, or recipe you were promised, you’re gone. On the web, there is always another site that will have what you need.
Now, what you’re about to read next may seem obvious. But it’s very, very easy to overlook the obvious when you’re the one writing the content, which is the end goal here. So, it bears saying that: the same is true on YOUR website!
If your VBV arrives on your site and fails to answer the question, “Am I in the right place?”, with a loud, ringing, resounding, “YES!”, they are GONE. You’ve lost them. If you don’t let your VBVs know that they are in the right place right away, they will not stick around to find out if maybe you might have just a little something interesting hidden around in the corner under some dusty cobwebs and a stack of tumbled boxes. There are a billion other websites (no, really!) for them to choose from. And then you’ve lost a sale, even though you had exactly what your VBV was looking for.
Don’t let that happen.
Oh, did I mention you only have about 59 seconds? The Nielsen Norman Group released some fantastically boring charts that show just that – most VBVs spend an average of 59 seconds determining whether or not a website has what they need. Let’s be generous and round up to one minute – that’s not exactly a whole helluva lot of time.
What Creates a Sense of Place?
Now, what contributes to the “YES! I am in the right place!” assurance? Three things.
Three Things that Create a Sense of Place:
The first two go hand in hand, so let’s look at those together.
You’ve surely heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and it applies here. The right photo can say a lot in 10 seconds, and several photos can be processed within that one minute limit. Photos can set the mood, can tell your VBV what you’re selling, and to whom. They can cue for seriousness or humor, for classiness, or simply what you are selling (like custom school supplies).
If you’re good with a camera, your images might be good enough! If not, you’ll need to hire a pro or invest in good stock photography. Which is thankfully not an oxymoron any longer – Stocksy.com, iStockphoto.com, and Shutterstock.com all have great images at affordable prices. Don’t skimp here!
Words can be more exact than a photo or image, but they take longer to process. You can only reliably count on your VBV to read your headline in 10 seconds, maybe a short paragraph in one minute. Those 60 seconds go a lot moe quickly than you would like to think!
What Does a Sense of Place Look Like?
The words and images that you use do not need to be fancy – they just need to be representative of what you are offering, in a clear and concise way. I would argue that the words you use you shouldn’t be fancy – frilly words or overly detailed photos will only distract from a strong sense of place, rather than enhancing it. Unless your product or service actually is fancy; then, by all means, frill and fancy your heart out.
What might those words and images look like on a website, the ones that will create a sense of place? Let’s go back to the bag, the health coach, and the recipe:
Looking for: Camel Bag
Signals you’re in the right place might be: Photos of clothing, and perhaps more specifically, bags, would be a good sign. Categories at the top of the page might signal towards BAGS or ACCESSORIES or perhaps the more general WOMEN. And the site needs to feel like it will fit your style – you’re not looking for just any bag, you’re looking for one that fits with the rest of your wardrobe and your life. Anthropologie pulls different customers than Kohls; West Elm shoppers are different that Pier 1 shoppers.
Looking for: Health Coach
Signals you’re in the right place might be: a photo of the coach on the home page, and maybe some images that hint at a healthy lifestyle or a calming retreat. Plus, an about page that details credentials and a services page that lets you know how to work with them.
Looking for: Cookie Recipe
Signals you’re in the right place might be: photos of food! This one is probably a blog, so hopefully you’ve landed right on the post about cookies. The recipe should be easy to discern from the rest of the post. And there should be some photos, but not too many.
Do these things seem obvious? Good! They should. Because it is very, very easy to overlook the obvious when you know your product inside and out. So make sure what you think should be obvious about the product or service you are selling REALLY is, and even consider spelling it out in multiple ways.
Yes, I’ve said that before! So now I’ll just interject a little note: in some phrases and places in this book, you might feel as if I’m being repetitive. This is intentional. I am repeating myself. If you do feel the repetition, you hopefully add a little hatch mark next to the point in your brain; and if you don’t, hopefully you’ll process it the second time around. These points that I repeat are ones I really, really want you to pay attention to. You can do the same on your website! With really important information, it’s better for your VBV to be able to find it in multiple places than to lose a sale to frustration. Go for moderation in terms of repetition – no one likes being hit over the head over and over again.
Now, let’s look at item number three: Design. Design needs to be good – and you know what that is when you see it, even if you couldn’t describe it to me in words.
A Site with Good Design:
- is easy to navigate
- feels like it is “on brand”
- has little to no “quirks” or things that just feel off
- has a discernable style or color palette
- makes use of the same fonts
- feels professional
Good design can be summed up in one word: consistent. I left the design elements out of the examples above because design is less specific and concrete – it’s more about the feeling you get from a site. Within that one minute limit, that’s all your VBV will get – a feeling. It’s not your job to create the design that projects the feeling, but you do need to know what feelings you want your VBVs to have when looking at your website or product.
Part 2 Worksheets
Grab a sheet of paper, download the worksheets at rubyreddesignstudio.com/POW-method-worksheets, or note your answers right in the book.
These worksheets will help you determine how you want your site to feel, prize-winning info that you can pass on to your web or logo designer. They’ll love you for it!
Sense of Place Basics (10 minutes)
- Make a list of all the things that you think are completely obvious about your product or service. Start with what it actually is, no embellishments.
- Add more obvious features to the list.
- Next to each item on the list, label it with an I for image, a T for text, or D for design
Brick & Mortar (10 minutes)
Imagine you have the perfect office/meeting space/storefront. What does it look like? How do your clients feel when they walk into that space for the first time? Excited? Nervous? Comfortable? At ease?
Describe in detail what the space looks like and what you’d like your visitors to feel. Write down the colors, the types of furniture, the curtains (are there curtains?). What kind of art? Are there windows? Do you sit behind a desk, across from them in a chair, next to them on the sofa? Throw pillows? Minimal lines? Fresh flowers? Crazy patterns? Or maybe you’re outdoors, or in a yoga or art studio. Wherever it is that you think you could make the best impression for the VBV in a physical space, describe that.
The more details the better. Sketch it out, if you’re a visual person!
Extra Credit: Are you on Pinterest? Create a secret board and set a timer for 30 minutes. Pin all the things that you would want in your space and make notes about what you like on each. When the time goes off, set it for another 10 minutes and move all of the things that feel out of place to another board.
The Handshake (10 minutes)
How do you come across to new people that you meet? Or how would you like to come across to new people that you meet?
Your website is often the first time someone gets to “meet” you. Your content and design need to reflect you, or your business or product. Once your VBV has explored your site, they subconsciously feel like they’ve already met you. This sets up expectations of what it will be like to work with you or what the product that they are purchasing will be like.
These expectations MUST be congruent with what it is like to work with you in person! It will be a complete disaster for a client to hire you expecting one person, based on your website, and then find out you’re nothing like the oh-so-serious business (or earth-loving firecracker) face you put up on your site.
Same goes for products – if the product your VBV sees and reads about on your site does not meet the expectations when it arrives, you’ll have an irate customer on your hands. And that’s not something that’s great for your self esteem or your bottom line, so let’s set up those expectations accurately.
If you are a service provider and your site is primarily about YOU and the work you do, answer these questions:
1. How do you come across to people you’re meeting for the first time? Are you funny? Intellectual? A life-lover? Strong and bold? Quiet and soothing?
2. Describe what it’s like for someone to meet you in person. You might start by describing what you might wear, and what that might say about you. Like they say, first impressions count – and that includes what you’re wearing and how you style your hair.
3. Think of a character you are most like on TV, and try and use them as a stand-in for you.
4. Phone a friend (or two!) and have a little chat. Ask them what they would say about you if they were introducing you to someone new.
If you are selling a product, answer these questions:
1. What’s the typical reaction when you tell someone what you sell? Are they intrigued? Skeptical? Eager to purchase? Need to know more?
2. Describe what your ideal product presentation would look like in a store. A separate, branded display? At the checkout? Just on the shelf? What colors and fonts?
3. What product (in another category) is most like the one you want yours to be?
4. Phone a friend (or two!) and have a little chat. Ask them how they would describe your product to another person!
Aura (10 minutes)
Do you have a person in your life that talks about your “aura”? Maybe she says yours is calm as the sea, or that you project the power of the Buddha. Your business has an aura too – the feeling you project through the words you use (and then, secondarily, the design).
How do you want people to feel when they look at your site?
- Do you want them to laugh lightly, at your witty words and clever copy?
- Do you want them to feel safe and loved, like a warm grandmotherly-hug?
- Do you want them to feel assured in your skill set, that you are a top-notch professional?
- Do you want them to feel ______________________?
Brainstorm 3-5 feelings you’d like visitors to experience when viewing your site. Then circle the top two, and star the number one feeling.
Examples of feelings:
THE LOCATION Review
Take a look at your answers and descriptions for the three exercises. What words or feelings keep coming up?
Open up a browser (or an old school thesaurus!) and check synonyms. Write any down that resonate with you.
Let’s move on to:
THE GOODS: Do They Have What I Want?