It happens every year, and it’s one of the most-attended events during “Fair Week” at many County Fairs, especially in the American South. What am I talking about? The annual contest that determines just which of the many teen-aged young ladies from across the County will become the next “Fairest of the Fair.”

Over the years one of my duties as a staff member at our local Christian radio station is to cover the events at the Fentress County Fair. Since 1993, I’ve covered nearly every “Fairest of the Fair” pageant, and as a result, I have come to better understand some of the key qualities that the judges are looking for in selecting each year’s pageant winner.

Well believe it or not, this same process occurs “in miniature” when people visit your website or blog. No, they aren’t judging it on beauty, poise or a perfect turn, but what they are looking for must be available almost instantaneously, or else your site will never get past the “first round” of what I’d like to call the “Online Beauty Pageant.”

First of all, instead of taking an hour or more to determine the end result, this online “contest” is over in about . . . three seconds!

Think about it: how long do you usually wait to decide whether or not to linger at a website or blog that you’re visiting for the first time? My guess is that your time frame isn’t much different: usually it’s a whopping three to five seconds before you’ll hit the “Back” button, right?

Next, we need to figure out just what it is that “the typical visitor” (if there is such a person!),  the Judge in this “Online Pageant,” has in mind when they come to your website or blog. Right now, you’re probably thinking, “That’s easy: they’re looking for the keywords they used to find the site!” Okay, let’s see how “easy” it really is.

Let me ask you this: “What’s the most important part of your Web page (or blog)?” You only get three seconds to answer because that’s the same amount of time it takes a visitor to decide whether to stay or “click away.”

Time’s up!

Want to know the answer? Well, according to what professional online marketers like Armand Morin, Ted Ciuba, Michel Fortin and scores of others not only teach at live events but also practice, the most important section of your webpage is the Top Third, or what the newspaper business refers to as “above the fold.”

Don’t believe me? Up until it was no longer effective, where did most marketers put their header graphic for their product, site or service? You guessed it – in the Top Third of their webpage.

And where do most website headlines appear? Surprise – in the Top Third!

Finally, where do most savvy marketers put their sign-up form for their free Report, Master Class or podcast episode? Hmmm… Could it be in the Top Third?

Okay, okay . . . so you’re dying to know why this portion of your page is so crucial to winning the “Online Beauty Pageant.” The answer is because it is the first thing the visitor sees when your page opens! And if they don’t find what they want – or don’t like what they find – when they see the Top Third of your webpage, then they are history – bolting for the door, never to return!

If your webpage manages to pass this first test, then you’ve made it to the Second Round, the “Semi-finals.” But you’re not home free just yet; the “Judge” has some additional qualifications in mind that your site must meet before it gets his or her coveted “Seal of Approval.”

Let me ask you: does your visitor have to wait up to fifteen seconds for your page to load before they can read the first word? Gong! Game Over! You’ve lost another visitor! (Hey! Just how long are you willing to wait for a site to load before “clicking away”?)

Here’s the next hurdle: How long does it take for them to figure out what your page is about, and whether or not it’s for them? Dr. Ken Evoy, author of Make Your Site Sell, coined the term “Most Wanted Response” (MWR).

Simply put: What is it that you want your visitor to do? Allen Says, founder of the famous Warrior Forum, teaches that your site should be a direct response site that gives them three options at the most: buy/sign-up, bookmark or leave.

With this information in mind, what do you think would be the best and quickest way for your visitor to find the answer to the ever-present question: “What’s In It (your site/product) For Me? The answer: a well-written, benefit-laden, headline that consists of your site’s keywords – located in the Top Third of the page!

Take a few minutes to examine the pages of Top Shelf Marketers who regularly pull down six and seven figures from their online business, and that’s exactly what you’ll find! Don’t re-invent the wheel; find out what’s already been proven to work and model it! Look, this same technique is used offline as well. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at your “junk mail”, a magazine advertisement or newspaper ad.

If your visitor is still at your webpage, then you’ve made it to the Final Round. This is where the “Judge” will determine whether or not your page meets the final qualifications and gets their “Seal of Approval” – when they take action either by ordering or signing up.

Most of the criteria at this stage have to do with Design: is the page appealing in its layout and is the form pleasing to the eye? These three items will ‘make or break’ your chances of winning “The Contest”:

Graphics: Do they take long to load? Do they compliment the web copy?

Images: (or text) that flash/blink/rotate . . . these only serve to distract (or even annoy) them: keep them focused on your copy to get them to the MWR.

Fonts: Serif for your headlines and Sans Serif for text. Are you using a standard font family, and just how many different fonts are there on your page?

And last but not least there is the dreaded “advertising.” Look, if your page is a direct response page, there shouldn’t be any advertising to distract from or disrupt the reading of the copy. If it isn’t a direct response page, then the ads should be considered in the same class as an image: they should compliment or be relevant to the copy, be small, not obnoxious in appearance and few in number.

Finally,  if your page has met these qualifications, and the copy (benefits, offer, guarantee, etc.) are targeted to what the visitor is looking for, then more often than not they will give you their “Stamp of Approval” by granting you that Most Wanted Response.

And when that happens, your site or blog has just become another winner in the “Online Beauty Pageant”!