The Rise of the Live-Demo Homepage

by Art

Last updated on August 16th, 2017

The days of the long-form homepage are over! Or they might be anyway…

In the past few days I’ve noticed a trend being adopted, or at least being tested, by several different sites. Specifically, the format involves encouraging visitors to try their software immediately, on the homepage, without the need to create a demo account.

In case you’re thinking “I know a site that’s been using that format for years,” don’t feel the need to rush down to the comments to point that fact out (but please do share the sites with us!); I’m not saying that this format is brand new, only that I’ve noticed more sites trying it out recently.

A new breed of homepage

The live-demo format might seem like the natural culmination of using a demo video on the homepage, but there is another step between the two. For an example, check out MailChimp‘s homepage:

mailchimp homepage demo

You’ll see a clever little animation (that looks like a GIF but isn’t!) demonstrating the software. Contrast this with a competitor like AWeber, which doesn’t offer so much as a glance at the software, and it’s easy to see why newcomers to email marketing with no technical know-how might opt for MailChimp.

The next logical step is to offer a working demo of the software/service that the site provides, which is exactly what GeoRiot does. This page allows visitors to preview the functionality of their product without the need to sign up or enter any details.

georiot homepage live demo

In doing so GeoRiot removes, or at least delays, a barrier to entry. This has one very obvious advantage, and one that may not be so obvious:

  1. It demonstrates the power and ease of use of the software
  2. It improves the quality of leads

That second point may need some elaboration. Often, potential users or customers will sign up for a trial or a free account “just to see what it does.”

Trying to follow up with these leads can be fruitful sometimes, but doing so effectively requires a lot of manpower and a good degree of salesmanship. Unless you have measures in place to record how much, and how often, people are using their free trial/demo account, it can be difficult to separate uncommitted leads from those who are actually likely to convert.

If you’re curious about whether or not a live-demo homepage might work for you, you could always link to a demo account from elsewhere and measure the traffic/number of logins it receives. This is what PaperCut has done:

papercut live demo

But what’s wrong with the long-form homepage?

There’s an argument to be made that the traditional format of the long-form homepage is based on erroneous thinking. The top of the page generally looks like this:

This is what we do
This is how it will help your business

Or, if you prefer a real-word example, something like:

Powerful, easy to use photo-editing software
Professional quality results in a matter of minutes

Headlines like this are nice for SEO purposes, but they’re also built on the idea that this is the first time a website visitor has ever encountered the brand. Unless that visitor finds websites by entering random strings of words followed by a .com, or .org, that’s not the case.

The nature of the introduction varies—a website visitor may be enticed by the meta description after searching for, in the case of the above, ‘easy photo-editing software,’ or they may have seen it recommended on Twitter or read about it in an article in a magazine.

But the point remains that when someone visits a website, they aren’t looking to find out what a company does. They’re looking to find out how it does it, i.e., what sets it apart from competitors they may have used, how it can make their life easier, etc.

kissmetrics live demo homepage

I believe it’s this issue that the live-demo homepage is trying to address.

This is also reflected in the copy on such pages, which tends to take a slightly different approach—example headlines from live-demo homepages include What’s making your visitors leave? and The insights you need to optimize your marketing, and they don’t spell out exactly what the product in question does.

Instead, they assume at least a basic understanding of this, and focus on the problem it solves.

Potential issues with the live-demo homepage

While it represents an exciting approach to the role of a homepage, the live-demo format is far from perfect.

At the time of writing, CrazyEgg is experimenting with this homepage:

crazyegg google signup test

However, while the process above speeds up the registration process, it doesn’t actually allow the user to try out the software before inputting payment details.

In cases where software providers require payment details to be entered before users can start using the software or don’t offer a free trial, the live-demo homepage format isn’t likely to be suitable.

And there a couple of other disadvantages to the live-demo homepage too.

By nature, it tends to be quite minimalist—it doesn’t make a lot of sense to encourage visitors to test out the software then write about all of its features, because it pulls the reader in two directions and fails to present a clear call to action. As a result, there’s no opportunity to use compelling benefit-based copy to persuade visitors that you’re their best solution.

Additionally, some technical know-how is required. Creating a live-demo homepage will require anything from using API calls to linking a dedicated demo account to the page itself. While that’s not likely to be a problem, if you’re the owner of a SaaS product, it might be an issue if you make software primarily designed to be used offline.

Either way, implementing it will cut into development time because, unfortunately, it’s not exactly the easiest thing to whip up in VWO or Optimizely to test against your current homepage!

When might this format be appropriate?

As I’ve just covered above, this format won’t be suitable for everyone. There are a couple of closely linked circumstances, though, in which I think it could have some real mileage:

  1. An overstretched sales and/or support team
  2. An influx of poor quality or unsuitable leads

If you have trouble with one or both of the above, it suggests that potential customers aren’t finding the information they need on your site and are signing up for a free trial in the hopes of answering their questions.

While there are other ways to deal with this, a live-demo homepage is certainly one way of addressing the problem.

Bottom Line

Although it’s far from ubiquitous, the live-demo homepage speaks to the fact that consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to seeing things in action and getting hands-on experience very quickly.

The long-form page is far from dead in the water, but increased use of the live-demo format suggests that it may be a contender for its successor!

Have you noticed this trend? Share sites you’ve seen using the live-demo hompage in the comments.

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Art is a freelance copywriter/content marketer based in the UK. He's worked with both startups and large corporations on topics ranging from fitness to tech and business issues.


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