I had to write to a client recently to tell them that their home page was failing. It was not delivering value, it was not doing its job and was actively causing problems for the business. And this made me realise that few businesses understand the job a home page does.
What should a good home page design do?
If you are an online shop, the home page has the job of showing the specials for the month or new product lines. It is often a straightforward design to implement.
If you are a software company, the home page is usually a sales page promoting and explaining your principal products.
But most business websites have a different challenge, especially those who do not sell by ecommerce. They have had a website for a few years; they may have had a couple of redesigns and the business website has probably grown to tens, hundreds or thousands of pages over this period. The priorities of the business shift over time and the website home page needs to support the new business goals and objectives.
This throws up questions
- How often should I change my home page?
- Should the home page have all the information about the business?
- What should the home page prioritise?
The job of a website home page is to get the visitor to her destination in as few clicks as possible.
Why do visitors come?
Your entire website comprises a heap of different information, advice, products and services and a visitor may be interested in all, one or none of them. So how can you guess what the latest web visitor wants?
This is where intelligent home page design comes in.
Home page as sign post
The principal task of the home page is to signpost the visitor FAST to where she wants to go. So let’s work out what this means for your website.
Go to your web analytics account and find two reports created from your actual visitor traffic this year. These are
a) the pages visitors went to on the site. This shows which are the most popular
b) the search queries people typed into Google which had your website showing up in search results (this comes by linking Search Console to Google Analytics – here’s how to set it up).
Your job is to line up b) with a) so we get the maximum number of people coming to the site and getting quickly to the exact page they are looking for.
Designing for Destination
You now know the top two to five pages on your website (after the home page itself). I’m going to offer some advice here which will help you brief your designer on the changes you need to make to your home page.
Firstly – simplify the main menu. Can you remove any of the top menu items? Give the visitor as few choices as possible, stay focused on those top destination pages. Can you reduce your menu to 5 options? (Home, About, Contact Us plus 2 others?). Can you remove sub-menus or drop-downs? We advised Armour Safety to put icon images of their popular product groupings on a side menu; ordered by popularity. Clicks followed immediately we made the change.
Secondly – highlight popular destination pages in the home page design. Make it very obvious in the home page design elements what these are. You can use images, boxes, icons, buttons, large text – all are useful devices to focus attention. By repeating these popular destinations in the home page design and the top menu, you increase the chances that the visitor will choose an already popular pathway. Coxmate.com.au now does not show its products on the main menu – they send visitors direct to the shop which has its own home page and details all the categories. Similarly, Apartment Specialists has 3 buttons on the home page, I’m Buying; I’m Selling and I want a Valuation. All three are on their menu, but the buttons make it easier for visitors to quickly decide where to click.
Thirdly – you have to reinforce the already popular page destinations – this may sound counter-intuitive. Don’t try and encourage traffic to pages that are not already popular i.e. double down your bets on the well-performing pages. This is the 80:20 rule in action. For the visitor who does want something unusual if they cannot find it from your menus, be sure to make it very clear how to get in touch to ask the question.
So go check how your home page is performing in its duty as a sign post – and don’t be afraid to make changes iteratively – one small change at a time so you can measure the effect before altering other elements.
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This article first appeared in Marketing Online Magazine