The purpose of a websiteWhat is the purpose of your landing page? This seems like a simple question. But the vast majority of us cannot answer it in a simple and cogent sentence.

Websites and landing pages have a tendency to become overgrown like a dense jungle. With no clear purpose, they evolve into a grab bag of unrelated tidbits – each one seeking to compete for visitors’ attention.

It’s time to do some pruning. Here’s a simple method for defining the purpose of your site, and ensuring that your landing pages and overall site structure and content support that purpose.

Step 1: Define What’s Mission Critical

Mission-critical activities on your website can easily be identified. All you have to do is ask yourself the following question:

Would your business’s performance grind to a halt 
if the content in question was removed from your website?

You have to be very sober and ruthless in answering. In most corporate environments, very little website content meets this standard. But for most businesses, only activities that drive business revenues and sales truly fall into this category.

Here are some examples of typical site content that is not usually mission critical:

    • Investor relations
    • Company mission statement
    • Open job listings
    • Management bios

I am sure that counter-arguments can be brought up to each of these (e.g., job listings for a recruiting company, or management bios for a professional services firm). But as a rule of thumb, supporting company information is not mission critical.

Still not sure whether something is mission critical? Use this test:

Does the content create a meaningful transaction 
or deepen your relationship with the visitor?

A meaningful transaction does not have to be your ultimate conversion goal. It can be a small incremental step that creates psychological momentum toward that goal. Deepening your relationship means that you have been given a higher level of trust by the visitor. Tangible evidence of this includes spending more time on important parts of your site. So does increased page views of key content. Of course, the most important indicators are the sharing of information by filling out forms, calling, or chatting; downloading written materials or computer programs; signing up for free trials and promotions; or actually buying something. All other content on your site is at best irrelevant, or at worst a distraction from the mission-critical parts. This deadwood content should be reduced in scope and emphasis as much as possible in order to streamline the important parts of your landing pages.

Step 2: Who Is Your Landing Page Designed for?

Your business attracts a number of possible visitor classes to your site. These may include the following:

    • Prospects
    • Clients
    • Current business partners
    • Potential future business partners
    • Competitors
    • Members of the press
    • Job seekers
    • Current employees
    • Past employees
    • Investors

The usual practice (especially if your landing page is your main site home page) is to provide a comprehensive view of your company and to give each of these visitor classes equal billing. The company is often portrayed along product lines or as client-facing functional departments. This tendency to be even-handed is actually counterproductive. Your landing page should be modified to best serve the mission-critical visitor classes. What visitors are mission critical to your business? They are the ones who interact with the mission-critical parts of your website. In many companies, everyone wants some real estate on the home page. By applying the mission-critical standard, you can easily prioritize what content gets the most emphasis.

One tip to keep in mind is that some visitors are more motivated to find specific information on your site, even if it is not considered high-priority content. Job seekers, for example, will discover the page with available open positions no matter how deeply it is buried in your site. Likewise, potential affiliates will join your program regardless of whether this information is promoted on your home page or not.

Following this simple two-step process will not only help you clear out the deadwood, but also provide you with a tool to fend off future requests for home page or navigation real estate. There’s no doubt that everything in your organization is important, but the real test for website content is the mission-critical standard. Keep your content and audience priorities in mind whenever you are adding content and your website will stay purpose-driven.

This article originally appeared in Tim’s ClickZ column August 15, 2011

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