As with most things web-related, there are best practices that apply to home page design which have been developed through rigorous research and good old trial and error.
The first thing to consider is the fundamental objective of a home page. When a visitor arrives at your site, you have roughly 15 seconds to capture their interest and keep them on your site. If you do not manage to do this everything else is meaningless, so this should be the primary goal.
OK, so how do you accomplish that goal? Let’s break the problem down into three general categories: visual design, content development, and success metrics.
Nothing is more annoying than a lack of visual hierarchy on a web page. While the visitor’s eye is bouncing around the page seeking a place to land the clock is ticking away those 15 seconds. Good layout is a basic skill of graphic design - if you are not a designer you can at least organize stuff into these conventional areas: a header at the top of the page to include your branding and navigation; a main content area that showcases your message; a footer that includes contact information, disclaimers and legal notices, and a site map.
You may have heard that important content should be kept “above the fold”, an old newspaper term that roughly translates to the top 700 pixels of your screen. This is becoming less of an issue as screen sizes grow larger and mobile devices enter the mix. In any case, you should avoid trying to cram everything into that 700 pixel space - studies show that a majority of people are now comfortable scrolling down.
Remember that good web page design is all about getting across some message. You should have a reasonable amount of “white space” and design elements should serve to showcase the message rather than vie for center stage.
There are two general classes of visitor - first-time and repeat. Your home page content should be relevant for both.
First-timers want to know what you do, so the single most important thing to do for them is to state your business in simple, unambiguous terms, i.e. provide your “elevator pitch”. If yours is more than about 25 words, you need to pare it down. You can expand on it elsewhere on the page with the specifics of your value proposition, but make sure that your business purpose rises above the details.
Repeat visitors will want to know what you have done lately. Your home page is the place to announce new products or services, make special offers, and post success stories or testimonials. But keep it current! The biggest sin you can commit is to have expired content on your home page - your credibility goes down the drain when “January Sale Event” is still on your site in February.
Now that you have addressed the basic needs of both visitor groups, you should look to your own objectives. In most cases, that means converting a visitor into a client. What action on the part of a visitor will fulfill that objective - buy something online, register for email updates, join your social network, or send a follow-up form? Whatever it is, be sure it is both obvious and that it provides a satisfying experience.
One of the more important things to understand about the web is that it changes constantly. Things that were important a year ago may no longer be relevant or, more likely, there is some new trend that is influencing success, such as growth in mobile marketing. The point here is that historical reference is of little use - you need to monitor your website’s effectiveness on a regular basis and be prepared to act quickly on the information.
Luckily, it is fairly easy and inexpensive to get real time statistics on website performance. Google Analytics is probably the best known tool, but there are plenty of others. These tools provide loads of detail how many times a page was viewed, the average length of time on each page, and the “bounce rate” for each page, amongst many other things. A bounce occurs when a visitor lands on a page and then leaves the site without visiting any other page. A bounce rates of less than 35% is considered good, so this is one way to judge how well your home page is working for you.
If you are not using an Analytics tool (gasp!) and reviewing the data on a regular basis, you would do well to get started. Analytics deliver valuable performance data and provide insights that will help you build a better home page.comments powered by Disqus