Your Most Overlooked Home Page Opportunity

value propNOTE: This post is grounded in what you’ve shared with us in the persistent poll on Based on 273 responses to our question about the types of copy that challenge you most, 61% of you told us that THIS topic is top of mind for you.

(Oh, and in case there’s any confusion about who’s writing this – and making disparaging comments about Intuit – I’m Joanna’s other half, Lance Jones, former Intuit Web optimization lead.)

UVP. USP. Value props.

Whatever you wish to call ’em, yours needs to be communicated early and often. (Of course, I’m making the assumption that you’re here because you have a product or service to sell on your Web site or mobile site.)

UVP = Unique Value Proposition (aka Unique Selling Proposition)

To save words, I’ll simply refer to it as your value proposition.

What is a value proposition? Let’s start with what it is not. It is not a tagline. Think McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It!”… or Apple’s former “Think different.”… or Avis’ “We try harder.” While they’re all catchy phrases and have helped us associate a feeling with each respective company, taglines do not sufficiently convey the elements of a great value proposition.

A value proposition is also not a feature of your product called out prominently. No, it’s bigger picture than that.

What makes a great value proposition?

A great value proposition is specific. It’s an explicit promise of value to the reader about whatever you’re selling – a promise of something amazing, hopefully. It should quickly separate you from your competition. It should also communicate something highly desirable to your target audience. And it needs to do a lot of heavy lifting (without feeling heavy), and so a great value proposition typically requires more than a few words.

Unfortunately, a great value proposition is also a rare sight on the Web. There is a massive opportunity for those who spend time on it, test it and get it right.

Why all the fuss?

Humans don’t want to think too hard. Decision-making is nasty business for most of us, so when faced with a number of options, we look for shortcuts to aid us in making a decision.

A shortcut we use with fervor on the Web is scanning headlines.

People want to know immediately if they should spend more time on your site or bail. They’ve come to expect that you’ll say something meaningful in the first few seconds, and because westerners read top-down and left-to-right, the headline is your first real opportunity to make a splash with your value proposition.

The smart folks over at Marketing Experiments have studied this stuff for ages, and they’ve even managed to express the importance of value proposition on your conversion rate:


Their “conversion heuristic” states that of the 5 primary factors in a visitor’s decision to convert, your value proposition (represented as “v”) is second only in importance to the person’s motivation (represented by “m”) for visiting your site in the first place.

A person’s motivation is tough to influence in a few seconds, but a value proposition? You’re in complete control there… but the visitor needs to “get it” immediately. (Caveat: Unless you already have huge brand recognition – and if you do, please read our other post on testing button colors. :-))

Let’s look at some examples.

I’ve selected 7 Web sites – listed below alphabetically – from the first and second page of results for a Google search of “small business accounting software”. If you’re a small business owner, you’ll likely have performed this same search at one time.

Competition is stiff in this space. These companies want people who aren’t yet using software. (I know because I spent 6 years at Intuit.) It’s a huge market, and there are still people who use paper or spreadsheets to manage their books.

You’ll see some patterns emerge in how these companies think about and communicate their value proposition. With so many things to think about, sometimes it’s easier to copy the big guys (recall what I wrote above about decision making?). But at least one of the players in this space has been reading Joanna’s Book 3.

Let’s go!








Not much fluff – pretty decent.

The product is simple and it saves you time – sounds like a promise to me.

It’s tough to tell since it’s the first example, but you’ll see the same theme repeated by several competitors. Not so unique.

We want to save time on mundane tasks, and simplicity is a no-brainer.

Hard to say for sure, but the bit of social proof (“thousands of businesses”) helps.

Recommendation to ClearBooks: Take another look at how you stand out against your competition.








It’s only specific in that I know how I’ll access FreshBooks (i.e., online).

Painless billing works as a promise, but it’s a little buried.

Not in the slightest based on my [pretending-to-be-new to accounting software] Web research.

A real stretch.

Again, big numbers definitely help (as do the big name customers).


Recommendation to FreshBooks: You’re a smart company with a great product, so I assume you’ve made a conscious decision to move away from specificity, uniqueness, and desirability in your headline/hero copy.








3 distinct and important elements of managing one’s business – good.

Sorry, but I just don’t see “One solution” as a promise.

It’s not unique – unless they expect people to compare screenshots across the competitive landscape.

A single solution sounds good compared to multiple logins and monthly payments.

Nothing to support, as there are no claims.


Recommendation to inDinero: At these price points ($349/mth and up), you should say something unique (and back it up) about your product to justify the monthly investment.








Headline, no. But sub-head, absolutely.

An 80% time savings is a big bold claim!

They focus on bank data import, which stands out from most of the other sites.

Acknowledging the suckiness of accounting software? Brilliant! I want a less sucky tool.

There is proof offered in the video. Check.


Recommendation to LessAccounting: Go forth and multiply that value proposition in all your marketing campaigns! You take a real position on your product space… it’s a unique and fun approach that nobody else appears to have the courage to try (I’m just sayin’!).








Tip of the hat to your specificity.

My accounting will be in 1 place. Is that the most you do to help small businesses?

Ouch. What about one button click to save 80% on time preparing your taxes with TurboTax? (A promise that is unique!)

What do your 1000s of satisfied customers say? Where’s the energy in your copy?

Without a strong promise, there is nothing to back up.


Recommendation to QuickBooks: To my friendly former employer… your best messages are getting beaten down by too many HiPPOs in the room. You know who you are! BTW, Joanna may be taking on new clients this summer. 🙂














Recommendation to Xero: You’ve got to give us something to go on, guys. Anything.

ZOHO Books:







Specific, but no real information.

It’s easy and you will save time and effort.

How are you different from QuickBooks?

Why did you choose to go with “effort”? You may be onto something there, but you’ll have to bring it to life with more meaning.

Like the sun coming up in the east. Believable? Sure. But not very interesting.


Recommendation to ZOHO Books: Don’t copy the messages of a company who also struggles with uniqueness.

What’s next? Here’s your homework:

1. Leave a comment! What do you think of these organizations’ value proposition messaging? Employees of these companies get bonus karma.

2. Apply the very same 5 criteria to your own home page and see how you do. I recommend self-rating your home page messages, followed by asking co-workers, family, and strangers to do the same. I promise you’ll have fun with it!

3. Click to be notified of Joanna’s first Copy Hackers video course, where she’ll teach you exactly how she drove a 51% lift in paid conversion for her client with a single well-researched test. Value proposition is featured in Week 6 of the self-paced, 10-week course, which launches in 10, 9, 8…


About the author

Lance Jones

  • Kathy Long

    Lance, the link to Joanna’s video course is broken. (Nothing like a broken link in a conversion article. 😉

  • Gregory Uppington

    … this is the 4th or 5th time I’ve read this post and all its comments

  • Good if their value prop is a website without words.
    I’ve recently signed up to Xero. I went to the homepage and wondered how the hell they’ve managed to get customers. I didn’t want to. But… My accountant recommended them. There you go

  • Thanks for this Lance. I’ve tried to put your advice to use immediately. The bits on value proposition hit home for me.

  • Attila Fulop

    Xero. just. rulez. This is the first time I see Xero and in 30 seconds I’ll be watching that video 🙂

    • Lance Jones

      People really don’t like me coming down so hard on Xero. I think it’s nice you’re throwing some love their way! 🙂

  • Fantastic post Lance – especially for someone like myself who has just started on Joanna’s 4 book course. I am completely rebuilding my website which has plenty of information (too much, I think) but is almost devoid of messages tailored to my customers wants and needs. Having said that, my site has worked quite well so it is very exciting to think how much better it could work with copy writing based on more research and planning. For me, the Less Accounting home page stands out for simplicity, boldness and segmenting. I like your point about boldness. We are about the size of protozoa in an ocean of large fish so we have we have little to lose by making a bold statement (as long as we can back it up). My take on the Xero home page is that the image is intriguing because it appeals to the inner child. Who does not love tree houses? That may get visitors to explore further but are they the visitors the site needs? The architect is so dorky and typecast with the cliched architect spectacles that you almost want to see how a guy like this gets to create tree-houses. Thanks again for a great post.

    • Lance Jones

      Hi, Nick! I like your take on the Xero home page. I think you may be right, too. Problem is, it took you connecting the dots for me to see it. The image definitely conjurs up a feeling (you don’t know how many trees I fell from as a kid!) but without a more obvious connection between Arthur the Architect and Xero’s product, I’m left trying to make sense of everything. And you know what Steve Krug says…

      Hope you’ll continue to come back and visit!

  • Hi Lance, I bought Joanna’s ebook series and am delighted by the content and the ongoing stuff I get from you both.

    I think this analysis is excellent and gets down to the most crucial issue of all – VALUE.

    Value is a variable thing and it’s essential to be confident of it for yourself, and for your client.

    If you know your value clearly, you can set a realistic and market-driven price for your products and services. And you can eliminate those clients not a good fit for you.

    I run Google AdWords PPC campaigns professionally, worldwide, since 2005. Recently I introduced a commission-based service for eCommerce clients where they only pay for sales and profit, not a fixed monthly fee as most agencies in my position do.

    What is the value I bring to my client? Even if I were to do the same work for different clients in the same marketplace? (I’m exclusive, so I don’t compete like that)

    Well, for any given marketplace, for one (successful) client my value could be X dollars, yet for another (less successful) it could be a fraction of that. For another it could be wildly successful and worth many times X dollars.

    Even if using the same keywords and ad copy! Truly, every business is unique. I write more detail about that here:

    Pretty much anyone can drive traffic. Pretty much anyone can sell stuff online. And you can even get paid for it!

    BUT – the trick is, can you make Profit i.e earn more than you spend? That’s about Conversion, and Economics.

    To do that you need to know all your numbers – and since there are big high street retailers going bust left and right these days (e.g Comet and Jessop’s recently here in the UK), clearly this is not always the case.

    Your comparison of these landing pages is very revealing 🙂

    I’d appreciate comments on a test I am putting together on a home page at where I am trying to distil the essence of what I do down into something that is easily recognisable for just the right client – in other words, if you find your way there and you’re not almost immediately just the right fit in terms of my value to you, you will be gone very quickly.

    Thanks for this great post!

    • Lance Jones

      David, thanks for joining this conversation! Seriously, I think your comment is longer than my entire post!! 🙂

  • Very interesting article — the USP is absolutely critical in a successful marketing strategy.

    That being said, I have encountered all of these companies in my own search for better accounting software, and the only one that ever enticed me to sign up is Xero. Simplicity trumps clutter, even when the clutter is informational.

    What do you think? Am I missing something?

    • Lance Jones

      Jordan, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. 😉

      Actually, it’s a refreshing point of view — thank you for sharing it here.

      I am a big fan of simplicity. Joanna and I just recently moved, and we really got serious about what we wanted to bring with us into our next home. I feel the same way about Web sites — it feels better when there is some breathing room and the site owner isn’t a “word hoarder”, never willing to get crisp with their key messages.

      But like in a home, I think you can swing the pendulum too far in that direction. An “over-minimalist” home with bare walls and floors makes it difficult to get a feel for the family who resides there. A Web site without meaningful words and messages makes it nearly impossible to get a feel for the product or service being sold — and I know that Xero is in business to make sales.

      Without words, you have no idea if you want to invest more time learning about the product. What could you use to make an informed decision about their product? I think simplicity in and of itself is not enough to go on. The Web is still primarily a medium of words, and visitors rely on words (and supporting imagery) to understand where they are, what they can accomplish there, and why they should spend more time on that site versus jumping to another site. Can you imagine a Google search results page without words? Would URLs alone allow you to find what you’re looking for?

      Thank you for shaking things up a little here!!

      • ben

        Some of the best music in the world is produced by a guy who lives in a white box. It’s not at all difficult to get a feel for the person. The white box says they’re the opposite of a hoarder and are totally focused on one thing that’s important to them. It says they’re committed to simplicity. The words spoken in the video contain way more emotional information than words typed on a screen. Critiquing the words spoken in the video maybe would even the playing field though.

      • Lance Jones

        Welcome, Ben. Unfortunately for Xero, people still look to words to find meaning on the Web — especially when it comes to hunting around for business software. I agree that the video does a good job of connecting with viewers, but just because the video is there, doesn’t mean people will watch it.

        I read a study recently… I’m scouring my Firefox history for it now… it used eye tracking to show that when images are used in conjunction with captions, people first glance at the image, but then go straight to the caption. I’m guessing it’s to make meaning of what they’re seeing.

        I think musicians and other artists want you to feel something, but they don’t expect anyone to literally interpret the notes and melody (or brush strokes on a painting). There is no single interpretation of a song or a painting.

        IMO, however, business software is different. It’s about utility, efficiency, productivity. Nobody wants to spend their time experiencing the software… they want what the software provides. And without telling people what Xero provides, visitors are left with too many unanswered questions.

  • Thank you very very much for the post. I was probably one of the ones who voted for Value Proposition because still is hard for me to get it. In fact, a few days ago I was re-reading Ebook 1, trying to understand what it meant.

    The websites. I wonder if all of them are aiming to the same target market? Having no clue about accounting or finance, I personally find the LessAcounting the most appealing, I liked the idea of beginner, novice and advanced, and the “thats me” button, I related immediately, and the fact that they played with the sucking part, made me smile. So, points for that. I think, if I am looking for easy assistance for doing my accounting, is because its very very hard for me because I am not an accountant. So, at least in my case I would consider it at first sight, because in the screenshot, it doesn´t look that easy.

    I would also consider the screenshots, ZOHO books seems very simple, as the whole website, nothing appealing at all. Xero, no clue about it, if it was n´t in the post I would have no idea what it does. The screenshots in Clearbooks, Freshbooks and Quickbooks seem very easy and the trial buttons make them easier. I would just try them all to see how they work. If to try them or get them and the whole website is easy that may mean the program too. Unlike Indinero, the request an invitation back me off, as well as the price, although the screenshot in that one seems to be the easiest.

    Finally, remember I have no clue about accounting, but Quickbooks was specific enough for me to understand what I could do on the program, import bank data, etc. The rest, unless you are already doing your accounting work, you get it.

    Hope this help, and again thank you for the post, it really was very helpful.
    I understand the most of the examples come from your clients, but it would be great, if in the future you could also use examples with entirely different type of businesses and services (if possible, health and beauty, jajaja, mi area). Most are of some kind of online software or things related to business. Thanks.

    • Lance Jones

      Hello, Jeymi! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on these home pages. Value proposition is not an easy thing to “get”. Joanna and I continue to read other people’s thoughts on it — in my opinion, VP is something that needs continual reinforcement because it’s a little abstract, frankly.

      I also wonder if these companies are going after the same market. Does that seem like a good strategy? Not to me. From what I know of this space, the opportunity is HUGE, and so I’d think one of these players would want to go after a specific segment within the space. Going niche is a great growth strategy, because it’s difficult to appeal to anyone if you’re targeting everyone.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. And Joanna and I will look to expand our examples beyond the business verticals where we “play” most often. 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this great blog post – it has definitely energized me to keep pushing forward on our site! The company I work for is going through a major reinvention and redesign – front end, back end, external pages, internal pages, targeted customer base, pricing…. everything! I struggled to get us to reevaluate our headline so that it was a value proposition, and not just a tagline (we’d been using the same tagline as a headline for 7 years, so it was hard to let go), and the Copy Hackers e-books & blog posts definitely helped.

    We’re currently A/B testing a new version of our homepage (it hopefully shows what I’ve learned from Joanna’s e-books!) against our old page, and it looks like it’s doing well (though our homepage is so swamped with people just trying to log in, that it can be a bit hard to distinguish real differences between A & B).

    This post was a great reminder that you’ve got to reevaluate your VP multiple times, from different perspectives. I sometimes spend so much time focusing on one important recommendation that I come back the next day and realized I’ve totally ignored something else important.

    • Lance Jones

      Hi, Ramsay. You’re absolutely right — there are a ton of moving pieces with putting copy together, never mind an entire site. Getting it all to fit nicely takes a massive effort, but the payoff can be pretty massive, too (best of luck with the redesign you’re leading!).

      If your home page sees a ton of login traffic, it may take longer to complete a split test… but if the tool is doing its job properly, it shouldn’t factor into the actual test results. Joanna and I would love to hear how your test fares!

      We’re also excited to hear that the blog and e-books have helped you in your redesign journey — thank you for sharing that!

  • Aaron

    Great post, Lance. You’ve given me a great value prop assessment tool. Your take on Xero was hilarious. Not so sure about LessAccounting though – without test results. It is unique, for sure. Whether or not it works depends on who their market is. For someone going through these sites very quickly, looking for a solution – and didn’t have their funny hat on – that headline might be a turnoff.


    • Lance Jones

      Aaron, I appreciate your point of view! LessAccounting definitely comes off with an attitude. It’s bold, for sure — and I’d say memorable, too. Copy that polarizes people can work wonders for building a brand — I’ll take a strong reaction in either direction over apathy any day.

      When I worked for Intuit, we tried to push the brands to use more memorable copy, but they prefer to play it safe. It’s like someone who ends up wealthy… once they’re rich, their primary goal becomes capital preservation… and their tolerance for risk drops. Same goes for companies. You have to take big risks to achieve big results, but once you’re #1 in your market, you get gun-shy about taking more risks — and that leaves the door wide open for new players like LessAccounting who are willing to push the boundaries of memorable messaging.

      Really appreciate your comment!

  • Jack Dempsey

    great stuff lance, thanks for sharing. I was surprised with FreshBooks. I guess they can afford to be kinda bleh.

    With regards to Xero, if they had put some actual copy and then the vid, think it’s less bad? Curious if you’re anti-vid or just their poor execution in particular.

    BTW, do you have a “30 min consult” service? Sometimes a lot can be gained for even a quick chat, and I imagine it’d be interesting to those without a budget for a longer term engagement.

    • Lance Jones

      Hi, Jack! Ya, I dunno about FreshBooks. You’re right — it is kind of bleh. I’m really not sure about the “Say Hello to…” copy. It’s nearly as bland as a “Welcome to…” intro. I’d love to hear the rationale behind that and their “Cloud Computing” message.

      As for Xero — which I’ve followed for awhile and liked what I’ve seen — perhaps it’s a radical A/B test being run? You never know. I am certainly not anti-video on a home page, but give me a GOOD reason to watch it. And do I really want to meet Arthur the treehouse architect at this point? 🙂

      As for your final question, feel free to email me at lancecj at gmail dot com.

      Thanks for commenting!!

  • Great assessments and criteria, Lance. I especially liked your take on Xero. Good use of space. 😉

    Flint and the team at Marketing Experiment hammer on value propositions All. The. Time. They’re the first organization that really opened my eyes to the profound utility of a strong VP. As a result, I’ve really been tempted to take their VP course. Have you heard anything about it by way of review or recommendation?

    As for turning the light inward, Creo’s site (the wonderful folks I work for) is in the middle a complete redesign. Up to now, our web presence has basically functioned as a glorified portfolio. We’re just about to launch a new homepage, individual services pages, a few productized offering, and a blog. All that to say, VP’s aren’t easy. We’ve been working hard at shaping our more-or-less static content to be more sales focused (and I mean that in the best sense possible). Shifting from a barebones, here’s-what-we-do style to a conversational, narrative that focuses first on benefits and then on process has been a real game changer.

    Still, it’s one thing to try and put together a pitch or clever tag line; VPs are a different beast entirely.

    I’m definitely gonna revisit this post before the new site goes up.

    Aaron (@iconiContent & @CREOagency)

    • Lance Jones

      Aaron, thanks for reading and posting! WRT Xero’s home page, it’s always nice to see a wide range of examples on which to comment when putting one of these head-to-head posts together. I appreciate the fact that they’re really standing out in this comparison… although perhaps not for the right reasons.

      The thing about Marketing Experiments that initially drew me in was their focus on developing solid value propositions. Over the past several years, their advice has paid off, too — split-testing VPs is really straightforward. I’m still always amazed at how much you can influence a home page visitor with an awesome value proposition. I haven’t heard anything about the VP course from Marketing Experiments, so if you decide to take it, please drop Joanna or me a note about what you think.

      On the CREO site, I see you’re using iPerceptions. I’m a fan of their invite-on-entrance-and-answer-on-exit approach to visitor surveys. Have you managed to glean anything from your survey results that will help in nailing down your value proposition for the new site?

  • God I loved this post! Well of course I agree with your evaluation you brilliant copywriter you! That said…Though I admire the courage of the Suck campaign, I’m not sure I like that statement to be the very first thing I read when I hit the homepage. Maybe that’s just me being conservative ;-). Thus, I would switch out the statement positioning here. Lift the 80% stat and place the suck statement below. Also, really loved how they addressed their three target audiences directly on the homepage and went with “That’s Me” as opposed to the usual “Read more” or “Click here”.

    • Lance Jones

      Another contrary opinion about LessAccounting’s copy — thank you, Jenn! I think you’re exactly right about their headline: It’s courageous and it’s not for everyone. But that’s okay, no? For the people who do “get it” (not that you don’t!), might it not lead them to click to find out why they suck less?

      I’m so with you on their use of self-selecting segments. I wanted to call it out, but this post is about value propositions. 🙂 There is something very appealing about a company that truly understands its target market and lets me confirm, “Yes, that’s me!”. If you don’t “see yourself” in those groups, you save yourself some time and LessAccounting can focus on the people they want as customers.

  • Lance,

    i’m a devotee of both you and Joanna. The way I look and write copy will never be the same thanks to y’all being so willing to give usable, demonstrable advice.

    For small web based business owners like me, having ideas that can be implemented with relative ease is a big plus.

    I’ve shared your insights with several friends…their responses are always–Wow!

    Many thanks,
    Robert Porter
    Vvego International

    PS Let Joanna know i’m in the process of removing all the the “we’s” from our site’s copy…she’ll be proud.

    • Lance Jones

      Robert, that’s very kind of you to say — and I’ll definitely let Joanna know about your cleansing exercise!

      We’re both really thankful that good people like you continue to come back to read our content and leave comments. So thank you!

  • Lance – Thanks for the post. I really enjoy this blog. I like your points about clarity and differentiation, but one of the challenges is that your analysis based on your SUBJECTIVE opinion (albeit one backed by lots of experience and expertise).

    If I told you Xero had a much higher conversion rate and user engagement rate than LessAccounting, would you still rate LessAccounting’s as better?

    So, I agree with your intent for having solid principles, being aware of your competition, crafting a USP, etc., but I would also add that those things are just starting points. You then need to measure what works for yourself.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write this!


    • Lance Jones

      David, thanks for calling out the fact that this is very much a subjective exercise. If you told me that Xero’s home page conversion rate was higher than that of LessAccounting’s, I would follow up with “why?”. It’s possible that Xero is targeting a group of people who need next to no information before they decide to click or watch a video. Or their target audience has such a affinity for treehouse architects that it doesn’t matter what else is on the home page. But I strongly suspect that neither is the case.

      I really don’t like the term “best practices” because it leaves no room for deviation or experimentation. I mean, who doesn’t want to practice what is best? But in reality, best practices can make us lazy… we just implement the thing that supposedly works best. Cool. On to the next task.

      So you’re absolutely right in reminding readers here that they should experiment with the presentation of their value proposition!

      But should there be any boundaries for experimentation? Should we say, “anything goes”? Truth is there’s a cost for each test we run… it takes time, energy, resources, money… and so we have to make smart decisions about what to test (which usually means staying within a set of proven principles or guidelines).

      For example, we know how western cultures read text. Building a page that deviates from typical reading patterns would cause serious usability issues. We know that color contrast is important for reading — and so experimenting with grey text on a white background would be an easy test result to predict.

      Coming in a little from those extremes lands us in the area of guidelines/principles around how people process information and make decisions (versus pure usability). And I’d argue there is enough research in the area of effectively communicating value that you could pretty safely rule out testing Xero’s choices around messaging.

      Awesome comment — thank you!

  • Beatrix Willius

    I had to laugh at the Xero value proposition. Why should I care if the accounting software is beautiful? The rest of the website isn’t too bad.

    The inDinero website turns me instantly off with “Request an invitation”. This sounds like something that is either not finished or that uses custom pricing.

    Is social proof really necessary at this stage?

    • Lance Jones

      Beatrix, thank you for stopping by!

      Agreed. I can’t see how “beautiful” relates to what people expect out of their accounting software. If it addresses all my needs and also looks amazing, then YES! But leading with “beautiful” seems to be a miss.

      As for inDinero, I can’t help but think that the request for an invitation is a persuasion tactic… intended to promote the idea of exclusivity. And your perception of it suggests the strategy may not be working.

      See you in the comments on next week’s blog post, hopefully!

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