The home page. It's the mother of all web pages. The grand entrance to one of the most important marketing assets you own: your website.
There is no disputing the important role that a website can play when it comes to generating leads and sales for most organizations. In fact, a 2010 Pew Intern and American Life study found that some 87% of online college graduates and 88% of those earning $75,000+ use the internet to do research on product or services, before buying.
That said, your website had better be killer. When it comes to designing your website, the home page is the place where first impressions are made. Effective home page design can mean the difference between a visitor who delves deep into your website and one who hits the back button upon arrival.
So, what are the keys to creating a home page that does its job well? Read on to find out.
Having a website is something nearly every business has. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Why do you have a website? Is its job to generate sales? Leads? Is it intended to drive traffic to your retailers? Provide information on a particular topic? What do you want your website to do for you? If you're an IT consultant, your website might be intended to serve to demonstrate your thought leadership, showcase your experience, attract new employees, and capture new sales leads. If you're a retailer of consumer products, your website might be strictly intended to attract customers and sell products. For non-profits and associations the purpose may be to attract donations or new members. Knowing why you're designing your website is one of those basic questions that can be surprisingly difficult to answer; especially if this is your first time. But knowing your purpose is the first step to creating an effective home page because the answer will drive each of the next “keys” below.
Knowing what your website is for is important but you've also got to understand who it's for. Imagine hosting a dinner party without knowing who will be arriving. What would you cook? What would you wear? How many settings would you prepare? Same goes for designing a website. The people who come to your website can be grouped into “personas” and these personas will drive many aspects of your home page. Start by considering the breakdown of new visitors to return visitors. People who've been to your site before may require a different home page approach than those who are arriving for the first time. Your home page needs to address the personality, behavior, and needs of various types of personas who will hit your site and guide them to sections of your site that are designed especially for them.
Just like you wouldn't throw every ingredient in your kitchen into a soup, your home page shouldn't try to include each and every detail about your company. Take the time to determine your home page goals – what you want the home page to do -- then identify the ingredients necessary to accomplish those goals. Your final list of ingredients should pair perfectly with your overarching conversion goals (see #1) and should be 100% measurable through analytic software. Pare down your goals; carve out only the content that aligns with those goals, and save the rest for another dish (or another page).
What if you walked into a grocery store in a town you've never visited only to find that the checkout lines were in the back of the store, the aisles went in circles, and the products were haphazardly placed on the shelves in no particular order. Would you turn around and walk out? It's not an exaggeration to say that we've seen a few too many websites that reflect this type of organization. Visitors come to your website with certain expectations in mind. They've likely come to your website with at least a vague idea about what you do and will have expectations about what they'll find. So be sure your home page is organized with navigation that makes it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for. And don't be afraid to tempt visitors with your biggest money-makers on the end caps and checkout aisles.
What is the single most important action (or maybe couple of actions) you want someone to take on your home page? Do you have a compelling reason for them to take that action? If so, it's time to think about your calls-to-action. Usually these are eye-catching buttons that draw a visitor to ‘click'. Like the Salvation Army's bell-ringing approach, your call-to-actions are intended to draw attention to the action you want someone to take. “Donate Now,” “Order Now,” “Free Trial,” and “Get Details,” are examples of calls-to-action you might use and they should pop off the page, making it impossible for your visitor to ignore.
There's nothing worse than a home page that lacks depth and interest. Making your home page interactive by creating “scenes” and layering content in user-friendly and interesting ways will add interest and intrigue while making your home page easier to navigate. JQuery is probably one of the best inventions in modern web design because it allows site owners to present layers of content while keeping the website clean and clutter-free. When you have many competing or complementary priorities on your home page, use the interactivity of JQuery and other programming to guide your visitors to the content you want them to see. Here are some examples:
Most companies build a website in the hopes that people will visit it. And since search engines are the predominant source people use to find things online it makes sense to give your home page its best chance of being indexed and served up by Google when people are searching for what it is you do. Save the fancy Flash websites for another day. Don't neglect to include actual HTML content (not just images). And make sure your website is programmed by experts who use best practices for site structure, HTML, and CSS. These tips and more will give your home page a leg up in the competition for search engine visibility.
Just like you wouldn't tow your own car off a busy freeway, trying to design your own home page without the proper background, tools, and experience is ill-advised. Doing so risks missteps that may result in getting run over by fast-moving competitors who are running well-tuned, high performance websites. Find a company with experience and proven results in strategic planning, design, writing, SEO, and programming to build you a custom website and home page that will bring the results you dream of.
Here is a link to some website packages by the award-winning branding and online marketing firm ImageWorks Studio. They have packages designed to deliver big agency results at far below the hefty agencies prices, starting at only $495 a month.
For even smaller budgets the folks at ImageWorks used their award-winning designs and marketing “know-how” to pre-design some website templates and put them together with custom graphic design, messaging, and consulting to offer a site that looks like you spent a fortune for less than $200 per month!