Your Website and the Importance of a Value Proposition

A website tells a lot about a business. It shows how much thought the business puts into its brand and whether it values having a website.

Unfortunately, far too many companies don’t really value their websites and don’t get the full benefit out of them. They neglect design, website copy, and other important essentials. They put the focus only on making sales.

This results in a really bad website and leaves visitors unsure if the company is the best one to do business with. This is why it’s so important to have a value proposition. A website needs to tell visitors in a couple of sentences or less why their business is the best choice for the visitor, instead of sending a bunch of different messages that won’t be received.

The path I’m proposing is not an easy one, because building a great website isn’t easy. It requires the coordination of a diverse team, each member adding their own input. There’s an endless amount of iterations and feedback to process. It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is worth it.

There are many issues that face businesses when building their websites. I believe the biggest one is making sure that there’s one overarching message. There are many different messages to broadcast, but I believe it should be the value proposition (VP).

It’s the job of a business’s website to deliver this VP, and it should be concise and clear. After a few minutes of being on your site, people should know the value you bring.

Let me pose this question to you:

If you could survey all the visitors who left your site, what would they have taken away? (What key message or trait would they know about your business?) If you don’t know or think there would be all types of different answers, you may want to reconsider the objective for your website.

This post will be about making sure you have one or two messages that really stick with visitors. We’ll be examining all the different factors that affect your website’s message. We’ll first get into copy and then design, and we’ll be including some examples along the way.

Copy

Website copy plays a key role in forming the message that visitors will take away. Consistent writing throughout the website will help reinforce the message you want users to notice.

The key is to restrict the number of VPs that you broadcast. If you try to broadcast too many, then your visitors aren’t going to focus on any of them. Keep to a limit of one or two VPs, and they’ll remember.

Above the fold VP

The first thing people read on your website is the value proposition. It’s the initial text or image that is meant to spark interest in visitors, leading them to view more of the website.

One of the messages TaskRabbit wants to broadcast on their website is their safety. Let’s take a look at how TaskRabbit emphasizes this.

On the homepage VP, TaskRabbit mentions the safety of their taskrabbits:

taskrabbit value proposition

Directly underneath their VP, they mention their safety, elaborating a little more this time:

taskrabbit background check

On the How it Works page, they use similar language to describe their taskrabbits:

how taskrabbit works

Again on the How it Works page, they have a section about safety:

more taskrabbit

On the “Meet the Taskrabbits” page, they mention once again that “Safety is Task #1”:

safety at taskrabbit

As you can see, their safety badge and methodology are posted on many of their popular pages. So when people spend a little bit of time on the TaskRabbit website, they become assured that it’s a safe company. Any previous concerns are alleviated, while trust is built as the visitors realize that the taskrabbits are background checked and trustworthy.

Rackspace is a company known for their support. It’s a message they want to get across right from the homepage. They display this badge on the homepage:

rackspace has fanatical hosting

On every product page, they have a section about their support. Examples:

190,000 businesses use rackspace

rackspace support

rackspace statistics

rackspace industry SLAs

rackspace count on it

Visitors leave the site knowing that Rackspace places an emphasis on their support.

Both TaskRabbit and Rackspace are concentrating their efforts to get out a message. They both have their specific messages on their homepages and sprinkled throughout the websites.

For TaskRabbit the message is:

“We’re safe and our taskrabbits are background checked.”

For Rackspace the message is:

“We have a great support system, which you’ll remember as Fanatical Support.”

Here’s a graphic to illustrate the point:

value proposition mentions

What is your brand’s message? What is the VP you want visitors to recognize? We’ll talk about finding yours at the end of this blog post.

Let’s move on to another area that influences your message – design.

Design

Along with website copy, design gives the visitor an overall feel for the business. The website is a product of the business, and it reflects its work. If a website is slow, filled with errors, clunky, and ugly, most people will get a bad feeling about the business and not want to become a customer. But if the website is fast, has beautiful design, and is simple, then the business is increasing its odds of landing new customers.

Let’s look at some site designs and see how they influence our perception of the business.

This is what you’ll be presented with if you go to Square’s homepage:

square home page

From this image, you can tell a number of things:

  1. You can accept payments via credit card with an iPhone.
  2. The simple design makes everything easy to read and allows the visitor to see everything on the homepage.
  3. The card reader is free, and Square takes 2.75% commission on all payments.

Does Square get their message across? Well, they tell what they do, how much it costs, and give an early impression of a simple product.

Let’s take a look at what visitors see when they go to the UserTesting homepage:

usertesting.com home page

There’s a lot more information to take in than on Square’s, but here are some things I took away after viewing this page for a few seconds:

  1. They perform usability testing.
  2. It costs $39.
  3. They’ve had a lot of customers.
  4. There’s a money-back guarantee.

It would appear as though they get their main selling points across. I know what it is, how much it costs, and there’s a money-back guarantee. This is all the essential information that the visitor needs to know.

Let’s take a look at YourMechanic:

your mechanic home page

So does YourMechanic tell us what makes them unique? If you look at their homepage, they sure do:

  1. The mechanics are certified.
  2. The mechanics come to you.
  3. They offer a wide range of automobile services.

I understand the core of YourMechanic and what their VP is. Mechanics come to you to fix the car instead of you having to drive or tow a broken car over to them.

All three of the above are good examples of companies explaining what their businesses and VPs are.

Let’s take a look at some websites that don’t do a good job of getting their messages across.

Here’s a website called Ling’s Cars:

Ling's Cars Home Page

This is an extreme example. It takes effort for someone to create a site as confusing and bloated as this. It’s possible that it was made badly on purpose just to get attention. Either way, it doesn’t get the message across. All I learned from spending a few moments on this site was:

  1. They do car leasing.
  2. It looks a little untrustworthy. When a website has to say “You can trust me!” you know there’s something wrong.

I have no idea what the VP is. Total miss by Ling and her staff.

Digital Hollywood’s website has good intentions but fails to get its message across:

DigitalHollyWood Home Page

A few things I learned about it:

  1. It is a conference.
  2. There are a lot of logos that, when looked at, turn out to be sponsors of the conference.
  3. One third of the page is purple.

You can get the information you want with this homepage, but it’s bloated. They tried to fit too much information into it.

I simply don’t get the overall message. Who are the speakers? Why should I attend this conference? Who is it for? Instead, I’m left with these questions unanswered (unless I investigate). And it has actually brought an additional question to my mind:

Why is a third of the website colored purple?

Here is a website that flashes boxes at you at different speeds. Apparently, the user is supposed to click on one of the boxes:

The point is that it’s not just bad design; it doesn’t get the message across. I have no idea what this company does by viewing their homepage. It’s not bloated like the others, but it doesn’t explain what they do. I get no overall message about the business, other than the fact that they have a poor website. And because that’s all I know about them, it means that I am not judging their business favorably.

You’ve now seen both good and bad design and how it impacts the visitor’s opinion of the business. Some websites do a good job of broadcasting their message/VP, while others fail. Can you guess which ones took more time and effort? The ones that get their message across and take more time and effort clearly have better results.

Now let’s take a look at how you can find your VP.

Finding Your Message

Why did you start your business? What was missing in the marketplace before you entered? What major advantage does your business have over the others? All of these are questions you should be able to answer, and they will help you form your VP.

Here are some examples of VPs and the messages these brands get across:

  • Wal-Mart: Lowest prices
  • Duracell: Most dependable batteries
  • Mint: Free online money management
  • Verizon Wireless: Biggest 4G LTE Coverage
  • Southwest Airlines: No bag fee
  • Netflix: Stream movies instantly
  • Discover Card: Get 5% cash back

These brands have messages that tell why they deserve your money over any of their competitors. It’s what they (in their own opinion) do best.

What do you do better than anyone else? Why do people use your services? Answer these questions, and you’ll have your VP and main message for your website.

Any questions or comments? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here. You can also follow him on Google+.

  1. Good article Zach, as a user I prefer companies who have a website that is simple to understand but offers me a big chunk of the info I want on the front page, cluttered sites will just send me running an I know I’m not alone with this.

    • Hey Dean,
      Agreed. A site like Wikipedia that is just FILLED with content and little distractions are fantastic.

  2. Are you serious about Ling Cars? You have completely missed the point and shows a lack of research on your behalf. Her site sells somewhere around $50 million worth of cars per year.

    The website is purposely crazy because it attracts attention and guess what, it works. Guess what, she just got a nice link.

    • Hey Eoghan,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Her strategy may be very good, but it’s not something I would recommend people replicate. Purposely making an ugly and poorly designed website will get attention (not very good attention) and will drive people to the site, but it will not help you close sales. I’m not from the UK so I do not know how her prices compare with others in the market, but I would guess that her business and service is exceptional. So it’s not the website itself that makes Ling’s Cars a hit, it’s the service. The website is just the bait.

      The strategy seems to be:

      1) Make a bad website
      2) Get PR
      3) Get people to come to our website
      4) Once they see our prices, they’ll buy

      I just don’t believe that this is a repeatable business model.

      Also, I read a while back (wish I could find it now) that different countries have preference for website designs. For example, one country (I thought it was Germany) likes a simple, web 1.0 design. Other countries like a more sophisticated website. It could be that people in the UK have no problem with the Ling’s Cars website and actually prefer it. But it’s not something that Americans enjoy. Can you imagine pitching an investor and showing them a website like Ling’s Cars? Most would think you’re joking.

      Sure, Ling’s Cars is unique, but it’s not something to learn from. I think it’s much better off to focus on making a beautiful website, perhaps getting PR from that, and having excellent service that propels the business. I believe that there are certain industries where poor website design does harm. For example, can you imagine a website like this for SaaS? It would make the product more difficult to sell, and means that the business is giving themselves a steep hill to climb if they want to a good reputation.

      Look at the top websites on the web. Do they put a focus on design? One of the top grossing eCommerce sites, Amazon, clearly doesn’t skip on their design. Many people moved from MySpace to Facebook because the design was significantly better. eBay, which is the most similar to Ling’s Cars, is far more usable and focused than Ling’s.

      Now, I don’t want to take anything away from Ling. Her business is doing well. But once again, I don’t think people should replicate it. I was strictly using Ling’s Cars as an example of bad design. Don’t look too much into her business aspect of it.

      • Lings Cars is an interesting example…what it really is …it’s a Purple Cow website. And I’m sure they started with a terrible site. A site so terrible that it became awesome over time :) But like Zach said – sites like those are anomalies. It’s probably not the best thing to copy right out of the gate.

      • Good morning, Zach.

        I’m from the UK and I would say this Ling site is atypical – putting it mildly it looks a mess. Style and simplicity rule here just as much as anywhere else.

        Kind regards,
        L

      • Remember the design is just one piece of a complex jigsaw – there is so much more to the lingscars website than the chaotic initial impression.

        Does price affect conversion? (she’s very competitive – but not the cheapest)
        Does transparency affect conversion? (Explore the website and you will understand)
        Does brand awareness affect conversion?
        Does trust affect conversion?

        You can bet your bottom dollar that the average time spent on lingscars would be an eye opener!

        There is so much to learn from lings cars if you take time to explore and understand. On first impression its absolutely crazy but it captivates you and you inevitably spend 20 minutes on the site. Then once you start exploring you are hit with so many trust indicators whether it be the pure transparency of the business, the ease of communication or the good advice. All this builds and instant rapport. The website has so much personality.

        To be fair – if you had of said that lings cars website is not an example you should follow unless it is part of a clear strategy then that would have been good advice.

        To completely dismiss it and to claim it’s a ‘Total miss’ is very far of the mark, to say the least.

  3. Well done Zach, just what I was looking for!

  4. Very nice article. Good examples.

  5. Thanks for the article Zach. Everyone sees design differently and whilst some people may be attracted to a ‘crazy’ design such as the example you provide others will immediately turn away.

    As with everything you can only apply a general rule and I totally agree with you that the general rule for websites is that they should be simple, uncluttered with strong calls to action. Personally, I would be part of the bounce rate stats for a website that had design and content that was all over the place!

    • Yeah I like to side with simplicity. There are still so many popular websites with simple designs. Craigslist, Drudge Report, Wimp, and Zen Habits are just a few.

  6. Very good article with amazing examples/case studies – especially the Lings Cars example is a jewel. Thanks, Zach.

    • Thanks Wayne.

      Ling’s cars is a little controversial, but I think the main point stands–don’t intentionally make bad design.

      • Dana – So I just ‘met’ you and your wife through Jasmine’s blog your video was my foiaurvte by far! Congrats on the baby!I went to Jasmine’s workshop in May and it has seriously transformed our brand/business. I’m still a very young photographer and am a little embarrassed to put my web address down, but meh, we alls start somewhere. I’m loving looking through your blog! All the best to you and your cute little family!!

  7. Eoghan this is to your reply earlier, for some reason I don’t have a reply button:

    So what can we learn from Ling’s Cars? I just don’t get a lot out of the website.

    —————

    Hey L,
    Interesting–I still wonder why Ling’s Cars is as successful as they are. Does all the credit go to their website, or is the website just the bait?

  8. Re: Lings Cars… we need to be careful not to think every audience in every industry is the same. This design would never work for a bank website, but it clearly works in this case.

    I think too many websites are becoming generic, identical looking, glossy, WordPress style sites, with headers that are WAY too big and don’t consider the target audience or personality of the business. The personality of the business should definitely be reflected, and is sometimes one of the only things that separates one business from another within an industry. The internet is becoming very bland, with every business site looking like every other, often intentionally.

    Your Williams Glen example is especially funny:
    1) Fail for not having a single sentence that says what they do
    2) Fail for it being Flash! (Adobe moved to HTML5 development over a year ago)
    3) Fail for the text being too small to read even after you do find it
    4) Fail for the left-hand “navigation” links unexpectedly taking you off the site
    5) Fail for the layout being justified to the top-left, leaving huge open space on my (22″) monitor (like Digital Hollywood)

    Thanks for the article, nice one!

  9. Hey, I’ve just seen this blog. Thanks so much for all comments and analysis mentioning my website, LINGsCARS. Bear in mind, I don’t want a conventionally bleughhhh website, I want a website that works. If I am so weird… show me a competitor website of mine, that works well. Most are the usual boring nonsense that would get 10/10 marks on here. They get approved by “investors”. But they don’t work.

    Of course I need great service behind my website… but surely everyone does? Why on earth some people think they have to lay down rules and guidelines, that say “you’re good if you do this, you’re bad if you do that”, I’m not sure. Let’s see the experts create a website that turns so much business, one that works.

    This is mainly showbiz, entertainment and on the web you compete with many other distractions – porn sites, youtube, news, film of Hurricane Sandy etc etc etc. To me, it’s about having a bit of fun and telling the truth. Cars are fun, mainly (unless you get run over by one). They are often big boys/girls toys and people get excitable wanting one.

    I think some people take this design stuff far too seriously. They try and put everyone in boxes. You can make just about anything work if you inject a bit of emotion. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these experts. :) They seem to think they can give verdict on stuff they have no idea about, and they are usually followed by a herd of little sheep, nodding and agreeing. Very little exceptional stuff is achieved like this. One of the best things about the web is: There are no rules, really. You can do what you want.:)

    Ling, LINGsCARS.com

  10. “There are many issues that face businesses when building their websites. I believe the biggest one is making sure that there’s one overarching message. There are many different messages to broadcast, but I believe it should be the value proposition (VP).”

    It really amazes me when companies still haven’t thought this through in a clear way. EVERYTHING you do boils down to a clear value proposition. Trying to reach a new target customer? You need a value prop. Need a specific social media strategy? You need a value prop. Building a website? You need a value prop.

    Like this article points out, building a website that incorporates the value prop isn’t super easy, but it’s critical to reaching your customer. Likewise, building a clear value proposition will probably be painstaking and take a lot of time, but without it, your company is lost. Taking time to do the hard work on the front end will help other things fall in line — like making sure you actually HAVE customers you’re selling to!

  11. Related to this great article I have developed a website worth algorithm that you can try here:
    http://www.webuka.com
    Keep up the good work!

  12. Good tips for anyone in marketing- not only online marketers. Many more factors influence your success though, like learning to write effectively.

  13. Hey Zach!
    Very great insights. and you have given incredible examples.
    And really that bad website’s homepage is strange one.
    Thanks for your important tips.
    Matt

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