Your home page has to communicate who you are, what you do and what you want visitors to do. It's easier to say than to do well.
So here are a few tips and points of view on improving your homepage, to make the job a little easier.
Home page design
- Attractive things are perceived as being easier to use. Accept this as the starting point for your home page redesign. But good design alone isn't enough.
- Consistency is key; do not divorce your homepage from the branding on the rest of your site. There is no point having a beautiful, persuasive home page only to click through to a clunky, cramped site. A great homepage creates a great first impression, a great site creates a lasting one.
- Less is more. People spend a matter of seconds scanning your homepage, so it needs to say as much as possible with minimal copy. Use short, sharp and informative words, and slim down your obese copy. I counted a total of 50 words before scrolling on Netflix's home page, but I know enough to consider a free trial.
- Keep your ideas simple as well. Aim to do one thing, or send one message with your homepage. There's no value in putting a lot of stuff on your home page in the hope that this will make people stay longer. They won't. Google knows this. If they get you to the site you're looking for quickly, they know you'll come back.
- The video question. Videos have become very popular to showcase a product or concept in action, but the automatically launching video remains controversial. Unless you can pull it off well, then I'd avoid the risk of irritating visitors and making them click away just to stop the video.
Content for home pages
- Have the most important information clearly visible at the top: your contact information. Not a link, but actual contact details. Ultimately, you want people to get in touch, so why make them scroll and click about first?
- Make it obvious what you do. There are beautiful sites out there, like www.teehanlax.com, but honestly, from their homepage alone, can you tell me what they do? I still don't know, because like any typical user, I didn't have the time or inclination to go hunting for answers. Compare that with Mud.
- Not only do you need to tell people what you do, but more specifically, tell them how you can help them. Space is limited on a homepage, so don't waste it giving a company history or a product breakdown. Instead, clarify the problem that you solve.
- That said, you need to give people an idea of who you are. Sometimes this comes out in the design itself or it can be from a short mission statement as on McKinsey's homepage. People want to know there are people and ideas behind the homepage.
- A lot of different people might visit your site: potential customers, existing customers, press etc. You cannot cater to them all, otherwise you will cater to none. Anne Holland suggests focusing 80 percent of your homepage on a single primary audience.
Improving user experience
- We've covered how it looks and what it says, now to what it does. Simple, obvious navigation is essential if you want people to carry on past your beautiful homepage. Virginia Beach bases its navigation on types of tourist. Icebergs want you to do one of two things, and makes you hunt to navigate for more. Think about where you want visitors to go next, and why.
- Scrolling. With some home pages, like Mozilla, what you see it what you get. Others, like One Used Steinway, just keep giving. There's no hard and fast rule, just be sure to have the most important information at the top, and if you want visitors to scroll, let them know there is something to see.
- Of course sometimes, your home page is your website, like Coffitivity. It depends on what you offer or sell, but a single page, with no need to hunt for where you found something, and encapsulating a brand all in one go can be very effective.
- Load time is still critical, both for search engine rankings, and your reader's attention. So while beauty and fancy widgets might be fun, if you clutter up the code and have huge image files slowing down the home page, then no one is going to stick around to see them.
- Baked-in responsive web-design is set to go mainstream in 2013, according to net Magazine. People are using such a range of devices now, that they could be encountering your home page from any shape or size of screen. Look at Etch's home page, then play with the size of your browser: make it wide, narrow, big and small, and watch how the design responds.