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Melt Digital
November 18, 2015

Is your homepage copy the ‘weak first paragraph’?

Your homepage is a chance to tell visitors what your business is all about. Don't just window-dress it with generic copy

Try cutting the first paragraph. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing or feature writing course, there’s a fair chance you came across that tip. It’s a popular heuristic for tightening up openings, based on the notion that writers instinctively circle a bit before really sinking their teeth into a topic.

Here’s an example (fake article, real story):

Sheffield touts itself as one of Europe’s greenest cities. But despite the city council’s pride in open spaces, it has found itself engaged in a quiet war with residents over plans to fell several mature trees. In the latest skirmish, a protest camp has appeared in the city’s Endcliffe Park, part of an affluent suburb that doesn’t generally ‘do’ direct action.

Dave Booth emerges from his tent and hands me a cup of tea. “Look at them,” he says, gesturing at one of 11 lime trees across the road. “Now why the hell would you want to fell that?”

The first paragraph isn’t irrelevant, but it isn’t much of an opening either. It focuses on things that writers often feel they have to put in place before readers will buy into the rest of the story: location, protagonists, background.

Now try reading from the second paragraph. This time we go straight into an ordinary guy being quietly angry about a stand of trees, which is fundamentally what the story is about. To some extent it’s a matter of taste, but for me, the second par is a better opening. It gets the reader involved immediately, and you can do your fleshing out later.

I often talk mention this idea when talking to clients about copy, because we frequently see the same dynamic play out on a larger scale across websites. The ‘hero’ copy does a generic scene-setting job, and it’s only deeper into the site – sometimes on surprisingly obscure pages – that we find a clear sense of the business’s mission and identity.

What does getting it right look like? Try this example from The Goring. Instead of using its hero paragraph to talk luxurious rooms and five-plus stars (attributes every luxury hotel has) The Goring simply says this:

“London’s last remaining family-owned luxury hotel. Crafted over a century by one family, The Goring is the genuine article – a grand hotel with impeccable manners and a subtle streak of wit and wonder.”

goring-homepage-strip-700x184

Concise and confident, it gives me an instant feel for what the hotel is all about. I’m not simply being told that The Goring is a luxury hotel, I’m being told how it differs from other luxury hotels. Spend enough time looking through travel sites and you’ll be amazed how often strong statements like this are buried in the middle of an ‘About us’ or an ‘Our history’ page.

So the take-home tip: if you feel like your homepage copy is a little flat and you’re looking for something that really defines you, review some of your less prestigious pages. You might find you’ve already written the phrase you need.

Nathan Midgley
Editor, Melt Digital
@nathanmesq

 

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