Two Easy Ways to Improve Your Website Homepage
I’ve been looking at a lot of websites for software development tools, and I’ve discovered something: Many software website homepages are not very good. I’m sorry, but it’s true — and someone needed to say it.
Though I say it bluntly, I also say it with love and admiration for the products they’re selling and the teams that developed them. Frankly, these tools are made by and for people much smarter than me.
However, the more I look at software websites, the more it’s evident that their products’ benefits are almost invisible to many in their potential audience.
In this article, I offer my two simplest tips to improve your homepage and make it easier for people to understand what your product does.
Why Should You Listen to Me?
I am a copywriter who works in communications and marketing for Octopus Deploy. My specialty is writing for the web using plain English, but that doesn’t mean I have no technical expertise. Before moving into writing, I worked in many support roles, giving help to those without technical knowledge.
Combining these two different skills has made me very good at explaining complex concepts in ways people — even non-technical people — understand.
When I joined Octopus two years ago, I was completely new to software development. I didn’t know my CI from my CD, and I was only 70% certain about what “a Kubernetes” is. I jest, but the point remains: I had a lot to learn in a short time.
Given Octopus makes a tool that helps software teams, it meant learning and writing not only about technologies adjacent to Octopus but also others related to those technologies.
I’ve found that too many tech websites make you work too hard to understand what they do. Because of my background, I know the kinds of mistakes product homepages make that are super easy to avoid.
Tip 1: Immediately Tell People What Your Software Does
It’s surprising how many software providers hide their product’s entire purpose in the most obscure ways. You can’t expect someone to understand your tool’s value if you don’t explain what it does when you introduce it.
For example, when researching tools to help with microservices and related frameworks for several Octopus posts last year, I found many tools’ homepages fail to explain what the tools do. Many hide their purpose behind context-free technical jargon or refer back to the tools and frameworks used to build them.
And that’s if the homepage tries to explain anything at all.
One homepage hid what the tool did in its FAQs, comically implying people ask the question often because it’s not answered elsewhere. The FAQs were only accessible from the site’s footer. The explanation was the final FAQ in the list.
Without spending time hunting, I would have no idea what purpose the tool serves. People with far less time than I have would value knowing what the tool does.
Frontloading the purpose and value of your software on your homepage saves potential customers’ time, and that’s the outcome you want.
After all, if the solution is not right for someone, they can move on without digging through other pages to figure it out. And if your tool is the answer to their problem, they’ll instantly know they’re in the right place.
Tip 2: Use Simple Language
This one can be pretty contentious in technology, but you need to hear it: Tech speak and jargon are helpful only to those who already know it.
You may think that’s fine because you’re marketing a product to fellow technical people. They know what it all means, right?
That might have been true years ago, but not always in modern software development. Technical people are no longer the only people you need to win over.
What about those working in enterprises or large DevOps teams, in which technical understanding differs between roles but all need to understand your product?
Think about it. Managers fully understand their business and might have some technical knowledge alongside their management skills. But that knowledge will be broad compared to technical specialists.
And they’re less likely to sign off on a tool if they can’t quickly and easily understand its value to their team’s processes, even if specialists advocate for it.
Likewise, why would a DevOps engineer or an operations member agree to add a solution to their tech stack if understanding it seems more hassle than it’s worth?
Don’t get me wrong, in technology, jargon is sometimes unavoidable. You can be more technical in your docs, guides and other areas where you are more certain of the audience’s technical ability.
To say it simply, though: No one decides to buy or use a tool because it sounds technical. Teams adopt tools because they’re useful. The easier it is to understand your product’s value, the easier it is to sell it.
Give your tool the best possible shot by leaving no one locked out of understanding it. Technical language helps some. Accessible language helps everyone. Even you.
How to Know If You’re Doing These Things Well Enough
These problems tend to happen when people are too close to something to recognize its flaws. Just like the struggling artist who needs time away from the canvas (or me writing the first draft of this post).
When you’re heavily invested in something because you built it or are an expert, it’s natural to be subconsciously blind to its problems.
To combat this, ask an outsider who’s less technical (or even non-technical) to read over your homepage to help find these issues. See if they understand what you sell and what you’re trying to say about it. If they get stuck on your terminology or ask questions about things you didn’t include, those are the areas you need to target.
Another great tactic is to work from the simplest starting point possible. If your homepage content exists, edit it down to its most basic form. If you feel it’s oversimplified, add in clarifying elements incrementally.
By starting from the simplest place possible, it’s easier to find the tension points between the level of information you think you need and the level you actually need. Plus, it’s easier to build up than scale back.
When applying for my role at Octopus a few years ago, I knew exactly what the product did and its value in just four words: “Complex deployments made simple.” We’ve evolved our messaging a little since as the product’s grown, but we still try to explain what the product does as simply as possible.
Our website is our product’s greatest communication tool. It’s where we explain how we add value. It’s where we send people for more information. It’s where people sign up for trials or download demos or installers. It’s where they read our documentation. It’s where they come to us from search engines.
If your homepage makes a poor first impression by not communicating your product’s value quickly in an understandable way, then it’s failed its primary purpose. You’re not only doing a massive disservice to your hard work, but you’re making your product harder to sell.