The sad truth is, general Web users would love it if all our sites looked like Amazon.com.
They'd immediately be familiar with the interface, they would know how to find what they wanted, and they'd find it a breeze to check out and complete the purchase.
Or, if your site is crammed full of thousands of pages of content, make it look like Yahoo!. That's what FindLaw.com has done.
The trouble is, the creative spirit hates to copy the work of others. We want to make out own mark, do something different, be original. And the more creative we are as individuals, the greater that compulsion becomes. As a result, we build flash homepages, with unfamiliar scroll bars and use strange icons in place of familiar words like 'Home' and 'About'.
Or designers make a compromise and build a traditional homepage, but with a different look. They'll move the navigation links from the left side to the right side - anything to look different!
And writers are no better. We'll look for other ways to say familiar things in a different way.
Some writers say 'Entry Page' instead of 'Home', or 'Go to Checkout' instead of 'Buy Now'. Is this a problem? I don't have figures to prove my point, but my guess is that conversion rates drop off whenever you give a reader reason to pause. And when you say "Entry Page' you are giving your readers pause for at least as long as it takes for them to wonder to themselves, "I wonder if that means the homepage?"
But the issue of familiarity goes beyond the words we have come to expect on the Web. We should also keep in mind the many words and phrases that our prospects have grown to recognize from the offline world.
If you sell directly from your site - and that includes selling newsletter sign-ups and registrations - spend some time looking at the junk mail you receive each day.
Also, take a look at those small cards that drop out of the magazines you receive. Check out the language.
Limited Time Offer. Save. FREE. Reply now. Special Offer. Call 1-800-000-0000. Offer expires May 22. Free Gift. Trial Offer. Guaranteed. 30-Day money back guarantee. Subscribe.
And so on.
While you may not see all of these words and phrases in abundance online right now, you might want to try a few.
A sense of familiarity can cross boundaries between media. All of the terms above are also use successfully on TV and radio. So why not on the Web?
Learn from the hard-won experience of others and use terms and words that your consumers are familiar with, whatever the source.
When you do that, you speed up the decision-making process, you remove all those pauses when your prospects are figuring out what exactly it is that you really mean.
This is true for the look of your site, the navigation of your site and the copy you use to try and engage attention and close sales.
As much as we may hate to accept it, originality is usually the enemy of a smooth customer experience.
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.