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The First Fold Makes Your Site! (Or Breaks It.)

Posted on March 10, 2000

by Bob McElwain

Visitors to your site are not looking to make a new friend. They don't want to chat. And they don't give a darn what you think about anything, least of all your product. They only want to know:

    1) What's in it for me?
    2) Why should I believe you?
    3) Why should I buy from you?

They will answer the first two questions to their satisfaction within seconds. Only if they like these answers will they even consider the third. And at least a partial answer to it must come easily, or they'll never see your sales pitch.

Provided your page downloads quickly, visitors will stick around until it does. But as it starts to load to the screen, the first fold (screen) must fill rapidly. It must immediately provide information that compels the answers you want your visitor to decide upon. (If there are any graphics on the page, be sure dimensions are included in the HTML so text will quickly load up top.)

In the first fold, answers to the above questions must flow from ...

1) Benefits, benefits, and more benefits
2) Demonstrated professionalism and expertise
3) Clear statement of the USP (Universal Selling Proposition)

More About Benefits

They must be presented with words. While not easy to define, they are the only tool available to trigger the answer you want to the question, "What's in it for me?" This part of the message must be crafted as carefully as an ad central to a major advertising campaign.

On a single product site, the home page headline shouts the major benefit of the product. As with a good sales letter, each word draws the visitor more deeply into the site. All is benefits. And all points to the order form and a sale.

Most sites offer a variety of products and/or services, which means the simplicity in a single product site can only be approximated. The home page is the entrance to corridors leading to the sale of different products. (Or to great information, free stuff, etc.)

This requires even more judicious use of the top fold. The benefits presented must be specific to products, rather than to features of a single product. In the first fold, introduce those products most likely to be of interest to an unknown visitor. A possible alternative is to work with the products you most want to sell.

Professionalism And Expertise

Demonstrate these as the first step in answering the question, "Why should I believe you?" The way in which benefits are presented goes a long way toward achieving this goal. Given a sharp, professional presentation, your skeptical visitor is likely to say, "So far, so good." And to withhold final judgement, particularly as to trustworthiness.

In this regard, the appearance of the site is fundamental. Again looking at the first fold, all must support well stated benefits. Even enhance them. A garish or cluttered page destroys any credibility that might flow from the content. Likewise for any graphic that does not enhance the appearance of the site *and* the message.

About Your USP

When a visitor answers the question, "Why should I buy from you?" with, "Okay, you'll do," he or she is ready to buy. And the option to do so must be handy. Throughout, however, the content must continue to provide solid reasons for buying, for you don't know when the decision may be made. It is not likely to happen in the first fold. The initial response, though, needs to be at least, "Okay, I'll tag along a ways." A good USP is sufficient to bring this response.

The USP may be incorporated in a logo, offered in a colored cell within a table, or maybe as the last line on the screen at the bottom of the first fold. Where it is positioned is not important. But the visitor must see it and easily grasp its meaning in the first or second scan of the first fold.

But What About The Rest Of The Site?

Pieces of cake. Really. Some may argue the most difficult task in online marketing is generating targeted traffic. I don't agree. While it takes a good deal of time, effort and often dollars, it is largely a 1-2-3 sort of process. Do this, that, and then that. Others have clearly defined the steps that need to be taken, and the order in which to take them.

For me, the greatest challenge in marketing online is building the first fold on the home page. If your visitor scrolls down or clicks off into the site, you have a potential customer. In fact you have one who is likely to grant you a little slack. Thus perfection is not demanded throughout the site. Top quality is sufficient. But the first fold must be absolutely perfect.

Think of a newspaper. What part of it is assembled with the greatest care? The top fold of the first page. It's what shows in vending machines and on newsstands. How many millions have bought a newspaper because a single headline grabbed hard? Many, that's certain. Is the first fold on your website less important?

I have a strong hunch I can not demonstrate. Of those who click off a site never to return, ninety-some percent do so without leaving the first fold. Get it right and those who arrive with, "What's in it for me?" will say, "This might do." It's a giant step toward a sale.



Bob McElwain
    Web marketing and consulting since 1993
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