Is "happy talk" killing your home page?

In his classic book on web usability, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug warns against seeding your website’s home page with “happy talk.” Happy talk takes the form of vague welcoming expressions. These include statements about how excited, thrilled, flattered, overjoyed, etc. you are that the user has landed on your site.

Here are some examples of happy talk that may sound familiar to you:

  • Thanks for dropping by. We’re so glad you’re here to check out our community.

  • Welcome to ClikCurry. We take pride in serving the greater Metro area genuine Indian dishes made with a heart of love and delivered to your door.

  • Welcome to our brand new website! We’re pleased to offer you an enhanced web experience, which our team of designers has been working on over the past three months.

  • Howdy, neighbour! At Big Tex Rentals, we’re committed to providing an online shopping experience that mirrors the in-person experience at our giant retail outlets.

These welcoming murmurings are, of course, a carry-over from the real world. If you think of your website as the equivalent of your office or store front, then it makes sense to make ingratiating noises when a potential client or customer comes through the door. Ching! The doorbell rings, and the polite response comes out as a habit: “Welcome! How may I help you today?”

But the web is not the real world, as I’m sure you’ve been painfully aware during these long weeks of social distancing. Even though many of us are now spending more time living in Zoom rooms than in our living rooms, the differences between the virtual and the physical remain glaringly obvious. Simply put: human connection online can never fully replicate human connection offline. That means that offline etiquette just doesn’t fit the online experience.

In the physical world, using happy talk is like laying out an extended welcome mat for visitors. But in the virtual world, any copy that doesn’t deliver immediate gratification to users just gives them something to trip over in their haste to get to the real goods—the high-value content that will help them fulfill the needs they’ve brought to your site.

Rather than trying to personalize your website by offering chitchat, make it a rewarding personal experience for your users. In lieu of happy talk, offer crisp, concise copy that empowers users to quickly skim your site and navigate to the content they’re looking for.

Instead of telling site visitors how welcome they are, show them. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Paint a word-picture of the situation they’re in, expressing empathy for their negative emotions

  • Use aspirational phrasing that resonates with their personal goals

  • Capture the positive emotions that come from using your products or services

  • Demonstrate through a stock photo what it feels like to benefit from your products or services

  • Use colors and images that convey emotions associated with your value proposition

In other words, in as few words as possible, create a welcoming space for your ideal customers or clients. Enable them to feel intuitively that they’ve arrived in a place where they’re understood and cared for. Rather than announcing how glad you are that they’ve arrived at your home page, just do everything you can to make them feel instantly and completely at home with you. That’s the surest way to earn their trust, make them curious about what you have to offer, and ultimately, win their business.

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