Your site visitors make all the choices when it comes to browsing the Web.
No other medium gives users, readers or customers such control over their own experience. TV, radio and print present information in a very linear, controlled way. But on the Web, there is no telling how your next visitor will experience your site.
Where will they click? Which pages will they visit? It's hard to tell.
Being sensitive to the fact that the user is in control, many sites simply present as many options as possible on their home pages. The thinking apparently being that the more choices you show on page one, the more likely you are to present something that connects with as many visitors as possible.
Perhaps this was the strategy behind Ford.com.
While a considerable improvement on how it looked a little while ago, the Ford homepage still offers almost forty links to other pages on the site.
In addition, no particular priority is given to any one individual or group of links. The choice is left to the user.
No emphasis or priority is offered. Ford is sitting back and saying, "You decide."
The trouble is, when they take that position, they are asking the visitor to do all the work. The visitor is now required to scan those forty links and try to figure out what to do next.
Does anyone smell conversion drop-off?
Now look at a site that takes a very different approach. Take a peek at GetSmart.com.
They offer a variety of different ways into the site. But they also present some clear preferences.
Dead center on the page they say...
* Refinance, Home Equity, and more...
* Pay virtually ALL your bills online
* Organize all your online accounts
* Consolidate debt, auto loans, and more...
Four simple choices, three of which open with an active verb. In short, they tell you what to do.
Click on that first link. You're taken to another page, with a variety of options. However, once again, they show a preference and tell you what to do.
* Refinance your existing mortgage
* Consolidate your debt
* Home Equity financing
* Purchase a home
For another example, visit TravelNow.com.
Again, you'll see clear directions on what to do.
* Search for Hotels
* Search for Cars
* Search for Flights
* Stay Drive Fly
These sites support their users by offering clear instructions on what to do.
Does this preclude someone from taking his or her own path through the site? Not at all.
But for many users, particularly those who are there for the first time, finding these simple instructions comes as a huge relief.
Here is the heart of it. Just because your visitors enjoy an unprecedented level of control over their experience at your site, doesn't mean that they don't want some help.
Don't simply give them numerous, passive options. Don't leave them to do all the work.
Help them out. Express a preference. Tell them what to do.
You're not being pushy when you do that. You're being helpful.
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing online. You can access all of his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web here.