From the July 2014 issue of Entrepreneur

It's apt that we refer to the main page of a website as home, because that word evokes warmth and belonging. That's exactly the mindset to get into when you create content for your company's homepage--the first thing that appears when your domain name is typed into a web-enabled device.

That page is a metaphorical threshold to your business. Just like at home, you want visitors to feel welcomed as soon as they step in, to feel comfortable and understand that you're happy to see them. And because this is your business, you want them to get a sense of their surroundings in the blink of an eye: an idea of who you are, what you do and--this is critical--why it should matter to them.

What follows are some guidelines for writing homepage content. But a caveat: There are many variables that will define a successful page, based on the nature of your business and its goals, so keep in mind that I'm advocating a general approach, not delivering a prescription.

Speak to your audience. Who do you want to attract? And--just as important--who do you wish not to appeal to? All good content is rooted in a clear understanding of who your customer is.

That sounds obvious, but it's surprising how often companies overlook their audiences, using their homepage to talk only about themselves.

For example, you may be tempted to use your homepage to describe yourself as "The world's leading business-to-business sales training and research firm." That might be true, but where is your audience in that description? Why should they care? It's far better to tell people what's in it for them: "You will make smarter sales decisions and grow your business faster with the help of our training and research."

And, by the way, did you notice that I'm referring to your "audience," not your "customers"? That's because your homepage should appeal to those who might not know you yet, not just to those with whom you do business already. It should be written and designed for those who might've stumbled onto your doorstep--to impart to them a sense of why they belong there.

They like me! They really like me! Part of understanding your customers is knowing what motivates them; when you know what that is, you're able to communicate how you can help them.

You want your homepage to say, "We get you. And, what's more, you belong here. We understand your challenges, your fears, your pain, your hopes, your needs. We shoulder your burdens. We've got your back."

Whichever of those metaphors you prefer, your main headline should communicate that customer-centric value. Remember: Your value is not what you do or what you sell, it's what you do for your customers. That shift may seem subtle, but it's everything.

The biggest wasted opportunity is to say, merely, "Welcome." Take a note from Kitchener, Ontario-based video-marketing platform Vidyard. Video is hot, but proving a return on investment is a big problem for marketers. Vidyard makes its value clear right on its homepage with a headline about how it can help potential marketing clients: "Turn viewers into customers."

Keep it stupid-simple. Don't be tempted to cram the space with copy and graphics, especially "above the fold"--the part of a web page that appears first. This is what takes up the entire top of the Dropbox homepage:

There's more below that explains the company's purpose. But the top is so simple, so calming, so Zen. It feels like an anti-anxiety prescription--which, in a sense, is what Dropbox is all about.

Your own product or service might warrant a bit more explanation. That's perfectly fine. But still, try to pare your value to the essentials. Avoid the impulse to explain all you are and everything you do right away, upfront, which can overwhelm the visitor.

Use the words your audience uses. You don't need to embellish. Use words that are familiar to your potential customer. Did you notice that Dropbox says "stuff" rather than "files," "data" or "photos"? I suppose they could've come up with a more sophisticated-sounding word (assets? resources? content?)--but stuff really does cover all the things we have stored on our devices, and that's exactly how we refer to all those things.

Use "you" generously. Your homepage should say "you" more than "us" or "we." An easy way to test your audience-centric approach--a kind of "empathy hack" or shortcut--is this: Count your use of these words. Make sure the you's are not just winning but sweeping the series.

Now what? Your headline communicates your clear value. But what do you want visitors to do next?

Offer three or four clear choices, or calls to action, each framed for a specific problem, with the mindset of helping customers and drawing a path for them to follow. Consider your content (the words you use) and the layout (including usability) when you design those calls to action.

I like the way Chicago-based consulting firm SideraWorks (their tagline: "Collaborate better") neatly articulates a few familiar problems to entice visitors into the site. For example, here's a path SideraWorks offers visitors to follow if they have a problem with collaborative software:

The button links to a post on the company's blog that speaks to that pain point.

Offer a party favor. The homepage is a great place to offer a gift (assuming it's helpful and customer-centric). Consider a free download, sample, trial, workbook or other tool. Content-marketing software and training company Copyblogger.com says this on its homepage: "Grab 14 high-impact ebooks and our 20-part internet marketing course." (I like the action verb grab here.)

Even an e-mail signup can be framed as a gift with clear value, as opposed to the common corporate-centric approach of "Sign up for our e-mail list." (Pop quiz: Do any of us feel e-mail-deprived? Answer: Ummm, nope.)

Witness how Eat24, a San Bruno, Calif., web-based food-delivery service, offers clear value and conveys personality: "Want coupons, love notes, deep thoughts about bacon? Get our weekly e-mail."

Convey trust. Your homepage should include evidence that people trust you. That can take many forms; you might show, for example, that you are a member of or recognized by a trusted community.

That might be expressed as social proof (links to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter, or "Join 634,249 of your peers ...").

It might also be defined literally. Airbnb--a company whose reputation is built on trust and safety--addresses those issues right on its homepage, with a link to a fuller explanation of how it verifies and stands behind its properties.