Your homepage is its face to the world and the page most people “land on.” It is the first impression most people have about your company or organization. Because this page is most often the page people first see when looking for your information (and is the most visited), for most website owners it is the most important page on your site. It is therefore important to have a well-planned, optimized site that will deliver value and quality to every visitor. Following a few key guidelines will improve your homepage usability/visitor interaction and for businesss, the bottom line.    

7 essential elements to a website’s homepage:

1. Navigation

Navigation is the most important part of your homepage. It doesn’t matter what else is on your site, if the visitors can’t get there. On your homepage your visitors must be able to reach every part of your site. The links on your navigation bars should be the same on every page. Your visitor will then know how to get back to whatever page really interested him. When users cannot find what they want they go elsewhere. The  navigation bar words and links should also be simple (one or two words) but descriptive. Use text for navigation not buttons. Buttons look great but they take time to download. Make the site navigation about the user experience. The highest priority tasks should be the pages with the benefits; the reason visitors come to your site in the first place.  Instead of putting the ABOUT US second on the navigation, include your services/ or benefits. You will notice on most of the fortune 500 websites, the about us is at the bottom of the site, not in the main navigation. Also only emphasize the highest priority tasks so visitors know where they should visit first. If you emphasize EVERYTHING, then nothing will stand out and visitors are confused about which way to turn or what buttons to click next. Understanding your visitors’ needs is key in determining WHAT to emphasize.

2. Branding

Branding is another essential element to a homepage. The branding can include your logo, tagline, special marks and features, offers, etc. Use your brand strategically on your home page either in your header or in your visitor message. Well, it should be posted in a predominate place on your website too. Displaying your logo, etc. on your homepage reminds users exactly where they are.  The company tagline should explain what the website is about. A concise, one-sentence tagline should peak the interest of the visitor to want to know more.  Tag lines should be brief, simple, and to the point. Emphasize what your site does that’s valuable from the user’s point of view, as well as how you differ from your competitors in the marketplace.

3. Content

It is important to write your content as though you are speaking to your visitor. This will create the necessary bond or connection between your website and the visitor. To make visitors want to go deeper into your site, your homepage content must be fresh and interesting. You can do this by create links leading to other relevant content in the text of your homepage.  Be sure to write the text in terms your visitor will understand. Don’t use jargon or company speak as this will confuse some. Tell your visitor what your website will do for them.  This goes back to the brand. A brand tagline is a promise you make to your customers. Allstate says “you’re in good hands; Electrolux (vacuums) says “nothing sucks like an Electrolux, BMW is “the ultimate driving machine” and so on…

4. Formating and Design

When you over-use formatting such as graphics it dilutes the rest of your homepage message. Visitors might think your graphics are ads and dismiss them. Use of colors, graphics, boxes and icons should only enhance the content, not distract from it.  Use Visual Design to Enhance, not detract from your message.

5. Use Meaningful Graphics

Don’t just decorate the page with stock art. Images are powerful communicators when they show items of interest to users, but will backfire if they seem frivolous or irrelevant. For example, it’s almost always best to show photos of real people actually connected to the topic, rather than pictures of models.

These things should get you started on building your homepage. There is one rule that I have learned. It is the KISS rule (Keep it Simple Student). Your homepage does not need to be flashy with all types of images, and flash design, or blinking. Most people like sites when they are simple and easy to understand. You must remember who your audience is. Therefore you need to speak in their language.

6. Welcoming Visitors

Website owners often make the mistake of welcoming visitors to their site by using the words “welcome to xyz company.” In the early days of the Internet that was considered acceptable, but today, a welcome is more about a feeling. If someone doesn’t feel welcome at your site you cannot make them feel that way with a welcome message. On the other hand, if you wanted to include a video welcoming visitors that would be acceptable as long as the video provided other value such as “guidelines or instructions to use this site” a tip or something of benefit to the viewer such as a knowledge sharing. Save the “welcome” for when someone takes time to register at your site and gives you their contact information.

7. A search box

Search boxes are considered standard for most websites today. If you have a site rich in content a search feature is absolutely necessary. If it takes more than 4 clicks to find content a visitor might be searching for, the best way to keep visitors engaged is to offer a search box. Make your search box 27 characters wide to accommodate multiple words.  

In Part Two of the key ingredients to a perfect website homepage we will talk about link names, privacy, security, popups, archives and shopping carts.

If you are in South Florida on May 19, be sure to check out our event taking place in Fort Lauderdale: Content Is Queen… How to Leverage your Website/Blog Content