There's so much conflicting advice about websites...
In search of backing information for this post, I ran into a lot of bullshit.
So, anyone wanting to find consistent, quality info on starting a new blog or website (in general) has a lot of crap to weed through.
Quickly, I saw how easy it is to get overwhelmed and agitated about the whole process.
And that's what this post was designed to do: Clear the muck for you so you know exactly what you need, right now, from 2017—I'll keep this baby updated—and beyond.
Anyhow, I remember when first starting Goff Creative over 3 years ago now.
I remember seeing a bunch of "authority" posts stating website necessities like:
- you've got to have a testimonials page, otherwise people won't trust you.
- you've got to have lots of social proof, otherwise you won't ever be taken seriously.
- you've got to have a portfolio or another showcase to show people how good you are.
Blah, blah, blah.
When reading this crap, I was thinking:
But I'm literally just getting started... Are testimonials and social proof and building a portfolio what I need to focus on? Or getting leads and customers?
Do I have to have all that before I can get customers and leads?
So how the hell am I supposed to get customers and leads if I don't have social proof?
And how do I get social proof with no customers or leads..?
Where the hell am I supposed to start?! Somebody please just TELL ME!
...it was the most aggravating thing ever.
So, as someone who's built 37 sites, I'll tell it to you straight: The only thing you should be focusing on when starting a website or blog are leads—building your email list.
(One thing done already, amirite?)
Why? Because you need email addresses or contact info to start building up social proof, testimonials, and even just getting customers.
So all the pages you have on your website, and the content you write for those pages should have the same goal in mind.
Your store page should focus on selling, not distracting your visitor with any form of subscription.
EXAMPLE: If a visitor is on your store page, they're there to look over your offering(s) and buy something. (Or they're a competitor scoping you out.)
The store visitor shouldn't see a pop-up or another form asking for a different commitment on the store page.
With that focused page tip, there are 5 critical pages that every blog or website needs to have.
- A homepage
- An "About" page
- An offerings (products, services) or tools page
- A blog (or podcast or videos) page
- A contact page (or link to direct contact in the footer)
There are plenty of pages you can have or add, but these are the 5 public essentials to a basic blog and website.
Grab the Website Pages Checklist + SWOT Analysis Worksheets, FREE, as a bonus guide for this process.
[ Includes the Start A Blog eCourse, also free ]
(Stick around till the end. I've got some bonus info you'll want to know.)
Page 1: The Homepage
Your homepage is generally the first page new visitors land on or navigate to to figure out what you do, how you do it, and why.
It should give your visitor a summarized taste of exactly what your site is for and what you offer.
In a nutshell, your homepage needs to do two things:
- introduce "what you do" (or what you offer, if that suits your niche better)
- direct your visitor to the next best step(s) for him/her
This is right from the start.
Once you gain some social traction, you'll add in subtle hints of social proof or a testimonial.
KEYWORD: A testimonial—not a laundry list of rambling testimonials that will annoy the shit out of your site visitor....
(I have several examples in mind, but I won't call them out. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it, though.)
The "inventor" of the Upside-down Homepage, Bryan Harris of VideoFruit.com, lays out my thoughts on a great homepage well.
Let's dissect it, shall we?
First, ever heard of the whole "above the fold" thing?
That's what this is referring to:
...the first content that shows up above a visitor's initial scroll on the desktop (and now mobile) version of your website.
On your homepage, your main focus should be presented "above the fold" to your new visitor.
In Bryan's case, he's showcasing what he does and what he wants from you on his homepage, above the fold. (That's a great start.)
Bryan shows you how to build an email list of buyers.
How? He'll show you after you "click that big green button" and sign up for his email list.
So, dissecting this, he uses the trigger word: Buy in his main headline.
This immediately attracts online marketers, eCommerce sites, and other online salespeople.
The next bit that stands out is his "big green button" which states: Start Your Email List.
This targets new-ish online commerce people and serves as a strong call-to-action (CTA).
And, what will someone who follows through on his offer get? their "first 100 email subscribers".
Bryan has tucked all that information neatly above the fold on his homepage.
When you scroll down, you're immediately shown that you're in trusted hands.
This is where the earned (and subtle) social proof part comes in handy.
SIDE NOTE: How do you get social proof and testimonials? By doing the work well and asking for it. Sometimes you'll get generous folks who Tweet to you or praise you on social media or via email.
Collect these things in screenshots and store it in a "Praise" folder that you can use whenever you need to.
To some people seeing a bunch of brand logos and praise means nothing. To others it can mean everything.
Something I've found after creating many sites over the past 3 years has been that the people who want to see social proof on your site are the people who tend to spend more money with you.
So, if you have higher dollar items like courses or offer services like coaching, social proof and testimonials are necessities.
The people who don't care to see "all that stuff" are the people who aren't going to spend a good deal of money with you, anyhow.
Now, this isn't "the word of the Marketing and Sales God"—this is my observed opinion.
With that said, check out your competitors' sites and see how their social proof or possibly endless testimonials make you feel.
Annoyed? Or does it evoke trust?
The third part of the Upside-Down Homepage is the Story.
This is where you prove your opt-in claim from the above the fold information.
In Bryan's Story, he shares exactly why and how he provides his audience the best solution for their email list growth needs.
Even better, he includes a screenshot of his Google Analytics stats as additional proof for his claims.
And it all wraps up with... The final call-to-action. In Bryan's case, it's another descriptive green button right before the homepage's footer of other places his new visitor can start.
The "big green button" on Bryan's very focused homepage reinforces the offer from above the fold.
(Seriously, this is one of the best homepage styles you can have if you're in a very focused niche. Check out it out live right here.)
Page 2: The "About" Page
I'm 50/50 about the whole "About" page content.
Have you heard?
Some people will tell you that the About page needs to be about your visitor.
I agree and disagree.
I believe it should relay how you can and will help your visitor to achieve / do / be [insert your specialty here], but I also believe it should be about you.
Not in the "I'm the best", show-off sense. But in the, "look, I'm a human being too" one.
So, my call is, make it 50/50-ish.
50% about your visitor and 50% about you.
Now, the longer you write content online for, the harder it seems to be to write about yourself. Because you're always writing for your reader, not generally for yourself.
(Boy do I get it...)
Brian Dean of Backlinko's About page reads like another great example of a high-converting homepage.
It's definitely a "marketers About page"—you'll see. But, this page gets his point across and doesn't waste any time, space, or otherwise.
With that, here's an example of a great homepage. I mean About page...
(It works both ways, beautifully.)
No, seriously. That is his About page. Not his homepage...
Brian's About page tells:
- What Backlinko does (and what it can do for you—the visitor)
- Concise social proof and testimonials (in this case from well-known and trusted brands)
- A brand-backed snippet about what Backlinko is and why you should subscribe to his emails
- Then a subscription box
- A reiteration of what and how Backlinko helps you "get higher rankings and more traffic"
- Then another opt-in boasting, "Want higher rankings?"
- A strip of brand logos Brian has worked with (reiterating that heavy-hitting social proof that he is a source to be trusted)
- And an actual "About Brian" section.
In this case his About page is 90% about his visitor and only 10% about himself.
(And that works incredibly well in the marketing and sales niches.)
But, what if an About page was about you—the creator?
I guess you just have to decide which would serve you and your visitors best through a little trial and error.
An Offerings Page
I'll say "offerings" because if you're anything like my new site, LifeViaSara, you don't have a product right now or a specific offer of your own.
So, I went with a Tools page for LifeViaSara.
If you offer services, go with a services page.
Products? Go with a store (products) page.
Affiliates? Create a Tools page. Just be sure to include an affiliate note.
You can steal my HTML code box right here:
<div style="text-align: center; margin: 0 auto; background-color: #fafafa; padding: 20px 30px; border-radius: 3px; border: 2px dotted #acacac;"> <p style="font-weight:400 !important; line-height: 1.5em !important; color:#606060 !important; font-size: 16px !important;"> <strong>DISCLAIMER:</strong> Some of the links in this post are affiliate links—if you click through and buy something following that link, I may receive a small commission from your purchase. (You don't pay more for me to receive the commission.) I'm super-picky about what I link to and only link to items I have or owned prior. Check out <a href="URL" target="_blank" style="color: #404040 !important;">the Legal section for more info »</a> </p> </div>
...which looks like this:
Now, the controversial part about the offerings page is this:
To show prices or not to show prices?
The actual sales pages need prices.
But, sometimes, someone skimming your store—your full display of products or offerings—and seeing the prices before learning more about the product is a turn-off and can break the sale.
But, there's also people who find it sleazy not to have prices listed on your main store page...
It all comes down to knowing your audience and whether or not it's a good or bad move for you.
I ran a test on GoffCreative.com's products page and found that it didn't matter either way.
That's just something you need to test out as you go to see if it makes a difference for you or not.
A Blog (Or Podcast Or Videos Hosting) Page
Some kind of regularly published to page on your site.
I won't say that "blogging is the only way to go", but it's most assuredly the way that's been around the longest.
However, podcasting and video marketing are increasingly popular forms of content creation that seem to get great results—it's just up to you on which type of content you'd prefer to produce consistently.
How did I decide to blog over doing something potentially more lucrative like podcasting or vlogging (video blogging)?
Well, I'm a mom of three with a husband, a social life, a business, and now a creative writing site.
I love writing.
Podcasting and videography would be insane for me to consistently attempt. Decision made for me.
So, are you going to blog, vlog or pod (is that a thing)?
A Contact Page (Or Link To Contact You)
Simple enough, right?
Since LifeViaSara is so new, I didn't really need a contact page starting out. But, I do offer my professional email linked with my social accounts in the footer.
Now, how should a site that's been around a little longer and offers more to their readership handle contacts?
Think of your Contact page as a filter. Whatever emails you constantly get from visitors, customers, and readers—answer them as best you can on your Contact page.
(Meaning no one Contact page should ever function exactly like another...)
As an example, here's Goff Creative's Contact page:
When creating your Contact page, think about things your potential visitors might want to know.
- What's your general response time?
- Do you accept guest posts?
- What are some frequent questions from other readers (that you can answer with a simple link to other content on your site... because it's been asked so often)?
- [If you offer products, what's your return policy?]
- A contact form or email link to get in touch with you.
- [An opt-in form?]
- A link to the "Legal" or Terms, Permissions, etc. page(s)
Other Pages You'll [Probably] Need
An opt-in focused page.
Like a "Subscribe" or "Free [Course, Hacks, etc.]" page detailing your main free offer.
In this case it's a 5 day email course promising a "more productive business in 5 days or less" and includes more details further down the page.
A confirmation / welcome page (or two, or three).
Before your new subscriber gets their confirmation email, think about the main thing you want your subscriber to do.
If you've got a big list, it's likely that your emails might hit the SPAM folder more often than a fresher email list.
You probably want your main "next step" to ask them to whitelist you with simple instructions.
Or, it could:
- introduce products related to the freebie
- ask for a social follow
- ask for your new subscriber to share the freebie with a Click-to-Tweet
A "Legal" or Disclaimer and / or Terms & Conditions page(s).
Especially once your site offers products, services, or any other type of transaction, you'll want a Legal page.
This page (or set of pages) can include your:
- Terms and Conditions
- Disclaimer / Earnings Disclaimer
- Return Policy
- FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
A custom 404 error page.
Let's face it, mistakes happen.
Might as well utilize the "mistake page" as best you can.
Whether you were the cause of a visitor hitting your 404 error page (like you removed a page and didn't forward it to another) or your visitor mis-typed a URL slug, you want a helpful and dually beneficial error page.
You can use your 404 page to:
- illicit a social response or contact
- help your visitor find similar content (specific 404 pages redirected from a removed URL)
- promote an opt-in gift
- offer up other content (general)
TIP: Go to a competitor's site and tag a /404 at the end of the url. (It should direct you to their error page.) Then, take screenshots or notes to get ideas for what you could do for your own error page.
Not everyone utilizes this page well.
And I hate to admit that mine converts at 28.2%... That's great! Don't get me wrong.
(I just hate to admit that I have that many people hit the error page...)
So, what pages do you need for your brand-new website or blog?
You definitely want:
- a [upside-down] homepage
- an "About" page
- an offerings page (products, services, and / or tools)
- a fresh media page (your blog, podcast, or video blog)
- a contact page or viable means of contact (like a link to directly email you)
Next, what platforms should you use for all this content?
Tomorrow I'll be covering choosing the right website platform for you (and why I went with Squarespace.com), as well as the right email marketing and social media channels for you.
P.S. Comments, emails, running a business and being a mom of 3 were just too much for me to handle. So, blog comments got the boot. But the lack of a comment box doesn't mean I don't want to hear what you think! Share your thoughts with me via @GoffCreative on Twitter or directly via email.
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