Just as many people will, against popular wisdom, judge a book by its cover, people are very quick to judge your website by its homepage.
And if the ‘synopsis’ they read (like the back cover of a book) only talks about how great the author is, and not the exciting ride they’ll be taken on within the storyline, they get no sense of why they should read on.
A website’s home page must quickly answer the visitor’s most basic question:
WIIFM? [What’s In It For Me?]
People are visiting a website to either solve a problem or to have a desire fulfilled.
Think about what your visitors want to find when they search for your products or services online. Make sure the home page answers their basic questions, such as:
1. “Can this site help me with what I was searching for?”
- Does it look like they provide the right products/answers/info?
- Do other people seem to like doing business with them?
- Can I do business with them, in my language/time zone/currency?
2. “What does this business offer that makes them just right for my needs?”
- Are they in the right location?
- Do they have the product I want?
- At the right price?
3. “Can I find out more, without much effort?”
- Is there an FAQ page?
- Or other info pages or an About page?
- Is there an easy contact method?
Some of these details may be provided on pages other than the home page, so the navigation menu needs to make that clear. [Read last month’s post on how to get your navigation right…]
Consider the Purpose and Goals of your home page.
The home page layout and contents will vary depending on the type of business and how you want it portrayed.
- A business that is solely eCommerce will want a home page that looks like a shop, showcasing products and special offers. Its purpose is to sell so its goals would be to get people to buy then and there, or at least to subscribe to a mailing list so that the sales relationship can continue.
- A restaurant, on the other hand, needs to indicate its locality, contact and booking details, while reflecting the type of food or ambience it offers. Its purpose would be to entice you to book and its goal is to make that as simple as possible.
Give just as much thought to what returning visitors might want to see when they return. Do they want the same reference stuff or the latest news?
Again, it might vary:
- Publish the latest blog post (if your site is mainly about the blog)
- Provide an obvious sign in button (if your site runs a subscription model)
- Offer simple navigation or a Search box to get to exactly what they want
- Make Contact details clear, and maybe click-to-call (so they can call out your plumbing service again)
Keep the home page clear of clutter
The home page is prime real estate, but unfortunately it can’t include everything! If you try to jam all your messaging onto the one page, it will end up diluting the message. Too much clutter and too many options will leave visitors confused.
In recent years, rotating banners (aka carousels or sliders or slideshows) have been used on home pages as a way to fit more messages into a cleaner-looking space. Unfortunately there have been plenty of studies (eg. this one from respected Nielsen Norman Group) that show they’re annoying and ineffective.
- Some people ignore them as they look like ads, or think they’re just pretty pictures.
- Some people are too impatient to wait for the next slide to roll around and miss the message completely.
- Some people don’t even realise that there’s more than one message or action there.
If you really want to use a large banner, stick to a single one, with a clear message and an appropriate Call to Action button.
(A pet hate of mine is the use of that same large banner as part of the template across the entire site, so I need to scroll past it to get to the meat of each page. No wonder so many people scroll past the home page banner too!)
You can also overdo the decluttering (call it minimalism, if you prefer).
It seems the difference between the home page and a “landing page” is becoming blurred. Sure, the home page is often the first page people land on, and you could call it a landing page. But strictly speaking, a landing page is a marketing device designed to get visitors to perform one specific action. They are normally linked directly from an ad or other marketing campaign, and are stripped of most functionality so that there’s no distraction from their singular purpose.
I guess if your business is a one-trick pony, your home page might be built that way.
I might cop some flak for citing this example, but Mailchimp’s home page is one that has taken minimalism to a detrimental extreme and acts too much like a landing page.
- I don’t think it reveals enough for first-time visitors – what exactly is “Send Better Email” all about?
- Not only that, but there is nothing here for return visitors – each time I go to Mailchimp, it is simply to click on the (discreet) Log In link.
Mailchimp’s main Call To Action is “Sign Up Free”.
- In the first instance, I want to know a lot more before signing up.
- And once I’ve signed up, I no longer care about that CTA. I’d rather be made aware of new features, or Premium features, that I can take advantage of as I continue to use the product.
Missed opportunity, I say…
Current trends in home pages
Love them or hate them, minimalist home pages are hot right now. Other trends that are floating around include:
- Scrolling single-page sites, where everything is displayed on one long page. A common variant of this is the “parallax scrolling” page, where images and elements transition at different speeds as you scroll past them. Really clever use of parallax can tell a story along the way, but mostly it seems to be used cosmetically – just to look cool.
- “Hero” images. This is a style that uses one very large, often moody, image that fills the home page and sits behind the logo, navigation and tagline. These are becoming very common, and are reminiscent of the “splash screen” trend made with Flash a decade ago. They certainly look pretty when you arrive, but subsequently become annoying and/or ignorable. To my mind, they’re a waste of prime real estate, once they’ve elicited the initial ooh’s and aah’s.
What every home page should include
Here are the things I think are essential on [almost] every website’s home page.
- The business or association’s name and logo
- A short description or tagline that explains what you do, especially if the name and logo don’t make that perfectly clear
- Your Unique Selling Proposition
- Keywords to help the search engines find you. Preferably as text, but you can also optimise images, for SEO. Read more [on DIY SEO and on optimising images]
- At least one Call to Action – what should the visitor do next
- Contact details or a clear connection to the Contact page
- Links to your Social media channels, if you have them
- The same as every other page: Simple navigation, clean layout, clear and legible fonts, attractive colours
What have I left out? Or what should be omitted from the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a compelling home page.